Blog Tour: The Gifts – Liz Hyder

Blog Tour: The Gifts – Liz Hyder


Release Date:
24th February 2022
Publisher: Manilla Press
Pages: 400
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4.25/5 stars

Synopsis

October 1840. A young woman staggers alone through a forest in Shropshire as a huge pair of impossible wings rip themselves from her shoulders.

Meanwhile, when rumours of a ‘fallen angel’ cause a frenzy across London, a surgeon desperate for fame and fortune finds himself in the grips of a dangerous obsession, one that will place the women he seeks in the most terrible danger . . .

Review

The Gifts is a beautiful and engrossing tale set in October 1840. When a young woman finds a pair of wings protruding from her back, rumours of a fallen angel begin to take London by storm. When a surgeon finds the most unbelievable corpse, he believes this will be the making of the fame and fortune he has always dreamt of. As the obsession grips him tighter, he goes in search of others like the corpse, threatening the lives of those he seeks.

The Gifts has quite a mysterious synopsis so I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in. I won’t say much about the plot – this is definitely one of those books that it’s best to go in knowing nothing. Early on in the story, I was hooked and I raced through the book in a few days. Hyder has written a really engaging story, one I could not look away from. It was well-paced and the sights and sounds of London really came to life. I really enjoyed the blend of historical fiction and magical realism and felt it was really well crafted.

The Gifts has some really compelling characters and I grew really invested in the story of these women. The story focuses in on the treatment of women and is at times quite hard-hitting. The multiple perspectives in this book were also well crafted. Rarely do I find a book where I enjoy all the points of view equally, but I was eager to see what was going to happen to all the characters in this one. The Gifts is a dark and addictive read – in particular the short chapters had me turning pages faster and faster, desperate to know how it was all going to end.  If you’re looking for a story that will have you hooked right until the very last sentence, The Gifts should definitely be your next read.

Book Review: The Key in the Lock – Beth Underdown

Book Review: The Key in the Lock – Beth Underdown


Release Date: January 13th 2022
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 304
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4.25/5 stars

Synopsis

I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unfurling out of an upper window and a hectic orange light cascading across the terrace.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

For Ivy is sure that there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the Great House, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.

Brimming with secrets, this lyrical haunting historical thriller is perfect for fans of Elizabeth Macneal, Sarah Waters and Diane Setterfield.

Review

The Key in the Lock is the newest release from Beth Underdown, author of The Witchfinder’s Sister. I absolutely loved The Witchfinder’s Sister so I was really intrigued to pick this one up. In the book, we follow Ivy Boscawen who is struggling with the grief of losing her son Tim in the war. Mourning the loss of his young life, she reflects on the death of another boy decades earlier – a mystery that still haunts her. Though there was a fire and a tragic death, Ivy knows that isn’t the whole truth. Ivy soon discovers if she is ever going to let that night go, she must find out what really happened.

The Key in the Lock is a slow burn mystery. It is atmospheric and Underdown feeds the reader little bits of information as the story progresses. It’s incredibly well-paced and throughout the tale, I was never quite sure who to trust. Each character has their own motivations and Underdown does a terrific job of bringing the characters to life. Ivy is a brilliant protagonist, determined to uncover the truth whilst still learning to cope with the loss of her son. She felt like such a realistic person – she’s flawed and makes mistakes but ultimately wants to do the right thing. The Key in the Lock is a beautifully told story and one that kept me reading for hours on end.

I really enjoyed the way the story was told in two different timelines and the Cornwall setting really comes to life in Underdown’s prose. The Key in the Lock feels very well researched and I did not want this story to end. The Key in the Lock is a stunning historical fiction read and I am so excited to see what Beth Underdown does next.

Book Review: The Witch of Willow Hall – Hester Fox

Book Review: The Witch of Willow Hall – Hester Fox


Release Date:
October 2nd 2018
Publisher: HQ
Pages: 384
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: I bought a copy of this from a local bookshop
Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis

Years after the Salem witch trials one witch remains. She just doesn’t know it… yet.

Growing up, Lydia Montrose knew she was descended from the legendary witches of Salem but was warned to never show the world what she could do and so slowly forgot her legacy. But Willow Hall has awoken something inside her…

1821: Having fled family scandal in Boston Willow Hall seems an idyllic refuge from the world, especially when Lydia meets the previous owner of the house, John Barrett.

But a subtle menace haunts the grounds of Willow Hall, with strange voices and ghostly apparitions in the night, calling to Lydia’s secret inheritance and leading to a greater tragedy than she could ever imagine.

Can Lydia confront her inner witch and harness her powers or is it too late to save herself and her family from the deadly fate of Willow Hall?

Review

The Witch of Willow Hall is the beautifully told tale of the Montrose family, who move to the countryside following a family scandal in Boston. The family take up residence at Willow Hall but as the family attempt to build their lives back up there are some strange sightings and a sense of dread that lingers in the house. When Lydia meets the previous owner John Barrett, she begins to suspect the house has a dark past, but will she be able to uncover the truth and confront the secrets of her own past before it’s too late?

The Witch of Willow Hall is an atmospheric tale, full of beautiful writing and captivating characters. I picked this one up on a whim and I’m so glad that I did – I ended up completely devouring this book. The mystery kept me hooked right from the very beginning and it was well-paced, keeping me intrigued right to the very end. There are some spooky, eerie moments in the book that definitely added to that tense, uneasy atmosphere. The Witch of Willow Hall is an impressive debut and I’m incredibly excited to read more from Hester Fox.

Lydia has a really strong narrative voice and I really liked her as a protagonist. The sibling relationships were really interesting – with Lydia having a really close almost motherly relationship with Emmeline and a strained relationship with Catherine. Fox does an excellent job with the characters and I loved the mixture of historical fiction, mystery, and a dash of magic. The Witch of Willow Hall is the perfect read for a dark winter night and you won’t want to put it down.

Book Review: A Painted Winter – H. Bernard

Book Review: A Painted Winter – H. Bernard


Series:
Pictish Conspiracy #1
Release Date: December 21st 2021
Publisher: Shadowfax Publishing
Pages: 341
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4.25/5 stars

Synopsis

In the misty highlands of fourth-century Scotland, two Pictish brothers conspire with the Ancient People from beyond the Great Wall to attack the Romans.

Roman power in Britannia is weakening. Brothers Brei and Taran, Princes, and warriors of a Pictish Kingdom, seek revenge against the Romans for attacking their city, killing their father, and taking their mother as a slave. The sudden arrival of Sorsha, a mysterious woman with an incredible gift, sets the brothers on a path to warfare.

A Painted Winter is book one of the four-part Pictish Conspiracy series. H. Barnard’s debut novel blends historical fiction and Celtic mythology in a thrilling adventure that will leave you wondering who the real barbarians are…

Review

A Painted Winter is the first part in a four-part story that follows two princes from a Pictish Kingdom in fourth-century Scotland. Taran and Brei are still reeling from the Roman attack that took their mother and killed many in the village. When they come upon a strange woman whilst out on patrol, she tells them that the Romans were the cause. The power of the Romans in Britannia is fading and this sets Brei and Taran on a path of revenge against those who took their mother, but the strange woman isn’t all that she seems and within her lies an incredible gift.

A Painted Winter is an impressive debut novel. It’s a beautifully told story and was captivating from the outset. It felt quite fast-paced and I raced through this one pretty quickly, eager to know the fate of the characters. The author combines history and Celtic mythology and the story felt incredibly detailed and well researched. I found myself getting lost in this story for hours at a time and I cannot wait to see where Bernard takes the story in book two.

The story is mainly told from the perspective of Brei and Sorsha and both characters felt very realistic and fleshed out. I was completely fascinated by Sorsha’s powers and I can’t wait to see how that develops in the sequel. Brei too is an interesting character, wrestling with the mistakes he has made and trying his best to protect his people. A Painted Winter is a really compelling historical fiction tale, one that hooks you in from the very first chapter. It was an excellent start to the series and I am eagerly awaiting the release of book two. If you’re a historical fiction fan – this one is a must-read.

Book Review: The Women of Troy – Pat Barker

Book Review: The Women of Troy – Pat Barker


Series:
Women of Troy #2
Release Date: 304
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 304
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: I took part in a Tandem Collective readalong for this book
Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Synopsis

Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.

Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.

Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.

Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.

And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.

Review

I had never read anything by Pat Barker until I picked up The Silence of the Girls and I ended up reading it and The Women of Troy back to back. The story continues on where we left off in The Silence of the Girls, following Briseis and the other women after Troy has fallen. The Greeks have been victorious, but the winds are not strong enough to sail and they are stranded with only the women of Troy for company.

Whilst this was an interesting sequel, I found myself much more gripped by The Silence of the Girls. Barker has created some really compelling characters, dealing with the grief and trauma of losing everything and everyone they know and love. She really captures the sense of loss and I was really captivated by the well-crafted characters. Briseis in particular was a really interesting character – now a free woman and pregnant with Achilles’ child, she is still completely at the mercy of the men around her.

I did feel like there wasn’t an awful lot happening in the story and there were a couple of points where the story dragged a little. I do wonder whether Barker will write a third installment in this series and I would be excited to see where she takes it. If you’re a Greek mythology fan this is definitely one for you.

Blog Tour: The Shadowing – Rhiannon Ward

Blog Tour: The Shadowing – Rhiannon Ward

Release Date: September 16th 2021
Publisher: Trapeze
Pages: 320
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4.25/5 stars

Synopsis

When well-to-do Hester learns of her sister Mercy’s death at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, she travels to Southwell to find out how her sister ended up at such a place.

Haunted by her sister’s ghost, Hester sets out to uncover the truth, when the official story reported by the workhouse master proves to be untrue. Mercy was pregnant – both her and the baby are said to be dead of cholera, but the workhouse hasn’t had an outbreak for years.

Hester discovers a strange trend in the workhouse of children going missing. One woman tells her about the Pale Lady, a ghostly figure that steals babies in the night. Is this lady a myth or is something more sinister afoot at the Southwell poorhouse?

As Hester investigates, she uncovers a conspiracy, one that someone is determined to keep a secret, no matter the cost…

Review

The Shadowing is the latest novel from Rhiannon Ward and this compelling tale follows Hester, a young woman who learns of her sister’s death in a workhouse. Determined to find out how her sister ended up in such a place, Hester travels to Southwell for answers. Hester is told her sister was pregnant and that they both died of cholera, despite there being no outbreak at the workhouse. Hester soon learns of children going missing from the workhouse, and a sinister pale lady who takes them. Hester must uncover what’s really going on in order to find out what really happened to her sister, but will she be strong enough to discover the truth?

The Shadowing is a dark and creeping story, full of atmosphere and tension. I was immediately hooked on this story and ended up reading it in one sitting. I really enjoyed Ward’s engaging writing style and whilst this is my first book from the author it definitely won’t be my last. I loved the mix of historical fiction and paranormal in this story and the mystery and suspense kept me turning pages because I had to know how it was going to end.

Hester is a really fascinating protagonist and I enjoyed seeing her delve deeper and deeper into the mystery. She’s a determined woman and her shadowings were really interesting. The Shadowing is a haunting story, with a strong sense of atmosphere and unease. The Pale Lady in particular fascinated me and the horror of the workhouse really came to life in the story.

The Shadowing is a book that’s hard to put down. If you’re looking for a tense and spooky Gothic tale to keep you hooked this autumn, this one is definitely worth checking out.

Book Review: Poison Priestess – Lana Popovic

Book Review: Poison Priestess – Lana Popovic


Series:
Lady Slayers #2
Release Date: April 6th 2021
Publisher: Abrams Books
Pages: 288
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4.25/5 stars

Synopsis

In 17th-century Paris, 19-year-old Catherine Monvoisin is a well-heeled jeweler’s wife with a peculiar taste for the arcane. She lives a comfortable life, far removed from a childhood of abject destitution—until her kind spendthrift of a husband lands them both in debt. Hell-bent on avoiding a return to poverty, Catherine must rely on her prophetic visions and the grimoire gifted to her by a talented diviner to reinvent herself as a sorceress. With the help of the grifter Marie Bosse, Catherine divines fortunes in the IIle de la Citee—home to sorcerers and scoundrels.

There she encounters the Marquise de Montespan, a stunning noblewoman. When the Marquise becomes Louis XIV’s royal mistress with Catherine’s help, her ascension catapults Catherine to notoriety. Catherine takes easily to her glittering new life as the Sorceress La Voisin, pitting the depraved noblesse against one other to her advantage. The stakes soar ever higher when her path crosses with that of a young magician. A charged rivalry between sorceress and magician leads to Black Masses, tangled deceptions, and grisly murder—and sets Catherine on a collision course that threatens her own life.

Review

Poison Priestess is the second instalment in Lana Popovic’s Lady Slayers series. I really enjoyed the first instalment in this series – Blood Countess – so I was intrigued to see where Popvic would take the series next. The story follows Catherine Monvoisin, who lives a comfortable life with her jeweller husband. It’s far away from the childhood she spent in poverty, and her husband is happy to leave Catherine to pursue her interest in the arcane. When their debts begin to mount and Catherine’s way of life is threatened, she finds herself as sorceress to the Marquise de Montespan – the mistress of Louis XIV. As she rises higher in society she becomes tangled in a web of murder and secrets, but will she be strong enough to survive it?

Poison Priestess is a really engaging story. It sucked me in from the very beginning and the fast-paced writing style had me racing through the pages. It’s a relatively short book but manages to pack quite a lot of story in. I ended up reading it in a single day on holiday and it’s left me desperate for another instalment in this series. Like Blood Countess, this is a standalone, based on a historical figure. I knew a little about Elizabeth Bathory – the inspiration for book one, but knew absolutely nothing about Catherine Monvoisin. It was a fascinating tale and I did end up doing some googling to learn more about her.

Catherine is a really interesting protagonist, one who is flawed and makes mistakes but is determined never to return to that life of poverty. I did really like the relationship between her and Marie but wished there was a bit more time to explore the relationship and see it develop. I particularly loved the seance scenes in the story, and Popovic’s beautiful writing really brought them to life. This is an entertaining and fast-paced read, one that will keep you hooked till the very last page.

Book Review: The Metal Heart – Carolina Lea

Book Review: The Metal Heart – Carolina Lea


Release Date:
April 29th 2021
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Pages: 464
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Synopsis

Orkney, 1940. On a remote island, a prisoner-of-war camp is constructed to house five hundred Italian soldiers. Upon arrival, a freezing Orkney winter and divided community greets them.

Orphaned sisters Dorothy and Constance volunteer to nurse the men. Dot is immediately drawn to Cesare, a young man fighting on the wrong side and broken by war and destruction.

The soldiers spend their days building a secret barricade between the islands. By night, however, they construct a reminder of their native land – an exquisite chapel.

As tensions between the islanders and outsiders grow, the sisters’ loyalty is tested. Will Dot choose love or family?

Review

The Metal Heart is a beautifully written historical fiction set in 1940s Orkney. It follows the story of two sisters – Dot and Con, who volunteer at the nursing station for the Italian prisoner of war camp. As the soldiers spend their days building a barricade against rivalships, Dot becomes drawn to Cesare, a prisoner and painter. As tensions grow between the prisoners and the islanders, Dot and Con have to fight for their very survival.

I must admit I don’t read much historical fiction set during the war. It’s not really my thing but I thought this sounded so intriguing and I couldn’t resist picking it up. It’s a fascinating story and led me to spend a fair bit of time googling the Italian chapel that was built in Orkney. Lea does a brilliant job bringing to life the harsh, remote landscape of Orkney and I became totally swept up in the story. It’s an emotional tale and I shed more than a few tears at the ending.

The story is quite a slow-paced one and gives the reader plenty of time to get to know the characters. Dot and Con are such fascinating protagonists and the story really highlights the hardships they have been through and how much they have done to survive. I thought the romance between Dot and Cesare was well crafted and I loved seeing their relationship develop. I similarly liked the way Lea portrayed the islanders, who are unhappy with the prisoners being brought to Orkney. Lea did a brilliant job of building that tension more and more as the story progressed.

The Metal Heart is a captivating tale and I read the last hundred pages in a single sitting. The book has an absolutely stunning cover, but it has an even more fascinating story inside. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, this book is a must-read.

Blog Tour: The Tsarina’s Daughter – Ellen Alpsten

Blog Tour: The Tsarina’s Daughter – Ellen Alpsten


Release Date:
8th July 2021
Publisher: Bloomsbury Books
Pages: 464
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: I was kindly sent a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4.25/5 stars

Synopsis

When they took everything from her, they didn’t count on her fighting to get it back…

Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and Catherine I, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the world’s loveliest Princess and the envy of the Russian empire. Insulated by luxury and as a woman free from the burden of statecraft, Elizabeth is seemingly born to pursue her passions.

However, a dark prophecy predicts her fate as inexorably twined with Russia. When her mother dies, Russia is torn, masks fall, and friends become foes. Elizabeth’s idyllic world is upended. By her twenties she is penniless and powerless, living under constant threat. As times change like quicksand, an all-consuming passion emboldens Elizabeth: she must decide whether to take up her role as Russia’s ruler and what she’s willing to do for her country – and for love.

Review

The Tsarina’s Daughter is the incredible new book from Ellen Alpsten, author of Tsarina. Having never read Tsarina I ended up reading both books back to back. I was just so engrossed in this story. Russian history isn’t something I know too much about but I was fascinated by the complex characters Alpsten has brought to life. The Tsarina’s Daughter follows the life of Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I. She is a beautiful young woman, the envy of all Russia and free to spend her time how she likes. When Elizabeth’s mother dies her world is turned upside down and she must learn to navigate the treacherous world she finds herself in.

The Tsarina’s Daughter is filled with beautiful writing and it’s one of those books that just completely sweeps you away. As mentioned I don’t know much about Russian history but it felt like an immense amount of detail and research has gone into this book and Alpsten has crafted some really brilliant characters. Despite knowing nothing everything was well explained and I never once got lost in all the characters and titles. I really enjoyed her writing style and her descriptions of the lavish court life lept off the page.

The story is full to the brim with political intrigue, with every man out for themselves. Alpsten depicts the treacherous life at court, where you never know who you can trust. The Tsarina’s Daughter is a really gripping read and if you’re a fan of historical fiction this is definitely one to try. Part of what intrigued me about these books is the quote from Daisy Goodwin saying ‘makes Game of Thrones look like a nursery rhyme.’ This definitely rings true and I think if you’re someone who reads a lot of fantasy books you’d love these ones too. While the two books are linked you can absolutely read The Tsarina’s Daughter as a standalone but you won’t regret picking up book one. If you’re looking for a book to keep you entertained on a long summer evening, definitely check this one out. I cannot wait to read more from Ellen Alpsten and these books have without a doubt rocketed on to my favourite historical fiction books.

Book Review: The Wolf Den – Elodie Harper

Book Review: The Wolf Den – Elodie Harper


Release Date:
13th May 2021
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Pages: 464
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Synopsis

Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii’s brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den…

Amara was once a beloved daughter until her father’s death plunged her family into penury. Now she is a slave in Pompeii’s infamous brothel, owned by a man she despises. Sharp, clever and resourceful, Amara is forced to hide her talents. For as a she-wolf, her only value lies in the desire she can stir in others.

But Amara’s spirit is far from broken.

By day, she walks the streets with her fellow she-wolves, finding comfort in the laughter and dreams they share. For the streets of Pompeii are alive with opportunity. Out here, even the lowest slave can secure a reversal in fortune. Amara has learnt that everything in this city has its price. But how much is her freedom going to cost her?

Set in Pompeii’s lupanar, The Wolf Den reimagines the lives of women who have long been overlooked.

Review

I have been reading quite a bit of historical fiction lately so when I heard about The Wolf Den I was desperate to read it. The story follows Amara, a young woman sold into slavery and forced to work in an infamous Pompeii brothel. Working for a man she hates, Amara fights every day to survive the streets of Pompeii and find a way to secure her freedom.

The Wolf Den is a beautiful story and Harper has executed this story to perfection. I got completely wrapped up in this story and I didn’t want to put it down. I really fell in love with Amara and her fellow slaves, how they find a sense of comfort and friendship in each other despite the horror of their lives. The story is well-paced, giving the reader a chance to get to know these well-crafted characters.

Ammara is a wonderful protagonist. She is strong-willed, determined to survive life as a slave. She is also clever, doing what she needs to do to get what she wants.  The time period isn’t something I know too much about but the story was incredibly detailed and it felt like an immense amount of research had gone into this novel. The sights, sounds and smells of Pompeii all come alive in this novel and I was completely captivated by the story.

The theme of powerlessness is strong in the story and there are quite a lot of trigger warnings for violence and abuse. While it was at times dark and disturbing, it really stuck with me and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book was amongst my favourites of the year. Harper has created a really compelling and engaging tale – I cannot wait to see what she writes next.