‘The Butcher’s Daughter’ spoiler-free review!

Hello my beauties ❤ Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Butcher’s Daughter by Victoria Glendinning! This is part of the Summer Reads series hosted by Duckworth Books all month long – so thank you to them for sending me a free copy to review! All opinions are my own.

the butcher's daughter


synopsis

In 1535, England is hardly a wellspring of gender equality; it is a grim and oppressive age where women—even the privileged few who can read and write—have little independence. In The Butcher’s Daughter, it is this milieu that mandates Agnes Peppin, daughter of a simple country butcher, to leave her family home in disgrace and live out her days cloistered behind the walls of the Shaftesbury Abbey. But with her great intellect, she becomes the assistant to the Abbess and as a result integrates herself into the unstable royal landscape of King Henry VIII.

As Agnes grapples with the complex rules and hierarchies of her new life, King Henry VIII has proclaimed himself the new head of the Church. Religious houses are being formally subjugated and monasteries dissolved, and the great Abbey is no exception to the purge. The cosseted world in which Agnes has carved out for herself a sliver of liberty is shattered. Now, free at last to be the master of her own fate, she descends into a world she knows little about, using her wits and testing her moral convictions against her need to survive by any means necessary . . .

The Butcher’s Daughter is the riveting story of a young woman facing head-on the obstacles carefully constructed against her sex. This dark and affecting novel by award-winning author Victoria Glendinning intricately depicts the lives of women in the sixteenth century in a world dominated by men, perfect for fans of Wolf Hall and Philippa Gregory.


my thoughts

The Butcher’s Daughter is an assured addition to the world of historical fiction. Glendinning sets the scene extremely well, conjuring a vivid picture of the 1500s, a time period which I have not read about often. The historical detail was accurate but not over-bearing, giving the story a chance to shine in its own right.

The long chapters in this book make it easy to get caught up in this story, despite its slow pace. Most people would claim to know something of Tudor history – even just the story of Henry VII’s wives at its most basic. This book offers a fresh take on that time period and I felt like it gave me a greater understanding of the possible reasons behind what happened during this era, despite some of the historical events not being described in great depth.

The narrative voice is confident and readers cannot help but root for the protagonist, Agnes. It was refreshing to read about a woman of that era who knew her own mind and could confidently convey her thoughts to the reader, while maintaining a meek appearance as demanded of her by the society in which she lived. (Yes, I’m aware that I’m talking about Agnes as if she were a real person but she was just such a fully realised character!) I would describe this as a quietly feminist book; it doesn’t shout about its themes but there is a definite sense of righteousness evoked when reading about Agnes.

Overall, this is definitely a slow read but one which fans of historical fiction should find worthwhile!

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To hear what other readers thought of this book, check out the other stops on the tour! x

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Are you a fan of historical fiction? If so, what are some of your favourites? Let me know in the comments! xsignature (2)

‘Last Letter From Istanbul’ spoiler-free review!

Hello everyone! I hope you’re all having a great week 🙂 Today, I’m reviewing Last Letter From Istanbul which I received from Harper Collins UK, along with a lovely box of Turkish-themed goodies! Sadly, while I loved the box of gifts, the book was a little disappointing.

last letter from istanbul


synopsis

Constantinople, 1921

Each day, Nur gazes across the waters of the Bosphorus to her childhood home, a grand white house, nestled on the opposite bank. Memories float on the breeze – the fragrance of the fig trees, the saffron sunsets of languid summer evenings. But now those days are dead.

The house has been transformed into an army hospital, it is a prize of war in the hands of the British. And as Nur weaves through the streets carrying the embroideries that have become her livelihood, Constantinople swarms with Allied soldiers – a reminder of how far her she and her city have fallen.

The most precious thing in Nur’s new life is the orphan in her care – a boy with a terrible secret. When he falls dangerously ill Nur’s world becomes entwined with the enemy’s. She must return to where she grew up, and plead for help from Medical Officer George Monroe.

As the lines between enemy and friend become fainter, a new danger emerges – something even more threatening than the lingering shadow of war.


my thoughts

I struggled a lot to get into this one. There were a LOT of perspectives and time jumps which made it difficult for me to get sucked into the story; I felt like it was darting around too much and I couldn’t focus.

I also found the tone of the book a little pretentious at times. I don’t know what it was exactly that bothered me; I think it was just trying too hard to be this piece of great literary fiction but it did not succeed. The writing got quite convoluted and irritating at times.

In terms of characters, I didn’t really feel like any of them were very fleshed out. I didn’t feel invested in their lives and found them all to be forgettable. I felt totally apathetic towards them all.

As for the plot, I was promised a sweeping historical romance but this was non-existent. I don’t know, maybe I went in with the wrong expectations but I thought there would be some level of intimacy between Nur and George. There was none. Not until the very end of the book was there a flicker of something but even then, there was no chemistry whatsoever.

So, sadly, I didn’t enjoy this book. I’d say I was fairly bored most of the time. Maybe it’s partly my own fault for expecting something of a romance but I also don’t think the book was marketed accurately. Though I’m still super grateful to the publishers for sending me a free copy and the accompanying gifts!

last letter from istanbul

Have you ever gone into a book expecting one thing and been surprised to find it was something completely different? Let me know in the comments! x
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‘The Photographer of the Lost’ spoiler-free mini review! Featuring an exclusive extract!

Hey everyone! Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Photographer of the Lost and I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt alongside my review! Thank you to Anne Cater/Random Things Tours and the publisher Simon and Schuster for sending me an ARC 😀

photographer of the lost


synopsis

1921. Families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she beings to search.

Harry, Francis’s brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph gravesites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers, Harry also searches for evidence of his brother.

And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history, The Photographer of the Lost tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins, and the even greater number of men and women desperate to find them again.


my thoughtsI’m going to keep my thoughts on this one brief because I want you to see for yourselves how gorgeous the writing is!

I was immediately hooked by the prologue of this one (which you can read below, you lucky devils). The writing flows absolutely beautifully and I was completely swept away in the story. The setting was conjured so effortlessly; I could picture every desolate French field and every detail in Edie’s Lancashire home.

The author made me feel for every single character in this book, even those we only meet in passing. I totally felt like I was on this journey with them. And wow, was it an emotional one. This book will seriously make you feel things.

The book moves seamlessly between past and present, and between Harry and Edie’s perspectives. I loved the chapters detailing the brothers’ time at war; these chapters felt so raw and visceral, and I couldn’t get enough! I definitely recommend this one for fans of historical fiction!

I know I haven’t said a lot in this review but I really think one of the best ways for you to get a feel for this book is to let you read a sample of the it for yourselves. So what are you waiting for?!

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Read on for an extract of this gorgeous novel!

Prologue

Edie

 

Lancashire, May 1921

Edie doesn’t hear the postman. She only notices the envelope, there on the linoleum, as she passes through from the kitchen to the sitting room. She bends to pick it up, sure it is a thing of no great consequence, just another bill that will have to wait, until she sees the postage stamp. It is the same stamp that used to be on their letters from France.

She turns the Manila envelope in her hands. The address is typed, so that it has a vague look of being official. She has written a lot of letters to France and Belgium over the past four years and, in return, receives envelopes full of apologies and repetitions. Her mind flicks through the names of agencies and bureaus, charities and associations, official offices and cemeteries.

At first it is merely a white sheet of paper inside the envelope, with nothing written or printed upon it, but when she turns it over, she sees it is a photograph. For a moment she doesn’t know the face. For that one moment it is the face of a stranger with no place or purpose being here, in her hallway, in her hand. It is an item of misdirected post, a mistake, a mystery – but only for a moment.

Edie leans against the wall and slides down the tiles. She hugs her arms around her knees. There’s a flutter in her chest like a caged bird beating its wings against the bars. The photograph has fallen from her hands and is there, at an angle to the chequerboard pattern of the floor, an arm’s stretch away. She rocks her head back against the wall and shuts her eyes.

Edie tells herself that she needs to look at it again. She must look. She ought to look, to bring it up close to her eyes, and to be certain, because while those are surely his eyes in the photograph, everything else makes no sense. How can it be? Certainly it is only a resemblance. It can’t possibly be him, after so long. Can it? But she doesn’t need to see the photograph a second time to know the truth. It is undoubtedly Francis.

She bites at her knee and makes herself look up. She can see her own footprints on the floor, the habitual patterns that she makes around this house. The linoleum needs mopping again. She should find time to paint the scuffed skirting boards and to beat the doormat. An oak leaf has blown under the hall table, and there next to it is that library card she’s been searching for. She notices all of these things, so that she doesn’t have to look at his face.

‘How?’ She asks the question out loud.

The envelope has crumpled in her hand, but she needs to check inside it. There must be more than that picture. There must be an explanation. A meaning. But there is nothing else there. No letter. Not a sentence. Not one word. She turns the envelope over and sees her address has been typed on a machine with worn keys. The curve of the u is broken, the dot on the i is missing, but the inky perforation of the full stop is emphatic. She can’t read the smudged postmark. There are hyphens in the chain of letters, she makes out, and it is perhaps a Saint- Something- or- Other, but the blur is a divine mystery. Her hands leave damp fingerprints on the brown paper. She has grown to accept that there must be a full stop after Francis’ name, but could she have got that wrong? Could there really be a chance? It is strange to see her own fingers tremble that way.

She rocks onto her side and feels the cold of the floor against her cheek. The photograph is there, inches from her hand. She hears footsteps going along the pavement outside, the buddleia tapping against the sitting- room window in the breeze, the beat of a waltz on Mrs Wilson’s wireless next door, but mostly there is the noise of her own breathing. She shouldn’t be here, lying on the hall floor on a Tuesday morning, with her face pressed down against lino that needs mopping, but how hard it is to make herself move. Why is it so difficult to stretch her hand out towards the photograph? To believe that it really is him?

The sun is slanting through the fanlight now, and the harlequin colours of the glass are elongating across the tiles, jewelling his face in red and green and gold. The face of her husband, who has been missing for the past four years.


I hope you enjoyed that! Make sure you check out these other stops on the tour to find out more, see the official cover reveal and be in with the chance of winning a finished copy! 

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The Photographer of the Lost will be released on October 31st 2019! x
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‘Horizontal Collaboration’ spoiler-free review!

Hey everyone! I’m delighted to be on the blog tour today for Horizontal Collaboration, a graphic novel originally published in French, written by Navie and illustrated by Carole Maurel. I haven’t read a lot of graphic novels but they’ve been catching my eye lately (particularly thanks to bloggers with great recommendations, such as the lovely Sara!) So I took a chance on this one when I was offered a copy for review and I’m really glad I did.

horizontal collaboration


synopsis

“Horizontal Collaboration” is a term used to describe the sexual and romantic relationships that some French women had with members of the occupying German forces during World War II. In this poignant, female-centered graphic novel created by writer/artist duo Carole Maurel and Mademoiselle Navie, the taboo of “sleeping with the enemy” is explored through the story of a passionate, and forbidden, affair.

In June 1942, married Rose (whose husband is a prisoner of war) intervenes in the detainment of her Jewish friend and then accidentally embarks on a secret relationship with the investigating German officer, Mark. There is only one step between heroism and treason, and it’s often a dangerous one. Inside an apartment building on Paris’s 11th arrondissement, little escapes the notice of the blind husband of the concierge. Through his sightless but all-knowing eyes, we learn of Rose and Mark’s hidden relationship, and also of the intertwined stories and problems of the other tenants, largely women and children, who face such complex issues as domestic violence, incest, and prostitution.

This fascinating graphic novel tackles the still-sensitive topic of who it is acceptable to love, and how, and the story’s drama is brought vividly to life by intimate and atmospheric illustrations.


my thoughtsAs I mentioned in my introduction, I haven’t read many graphic novels but I’m going to do my best to review this one well because it deserves it. I’ll start by talking about the art itself since obviously that is a large percentage of the story.

Before I even started reading, I flicked through the pages and I was struck by the beauty of the colour scheme. The neutrals and muted tones really added to the book and allowed the story to shine. There were, however, pops of brighter citrus colours at appropriate moments, which I loved because they added emphasis to important plot points.

The illustrations were also really beautiful. I’ve photographed a couple of my favourite spreads for you to see!

Now in terms of the story, I thought this was a very unique take on a period of history that has been written about often. I have a soft spot for WWII fiction but I acknowledge that the market is somewhat saturated. However, this is the first time I have read about that era from this perspective. Navie captures the innocence of children, the hardships of war and the complexities of loveless marriages with nuance.

I will admit that I would occasionally lose my bearings while reading, as the scenes would change very quickly and without warning. I don’t think it helped that I was tired while reading though! I was able to sort things out in my mind without too much difficulty and didn’t have any problems understanding what was going on.

Finally, I enjoyed how the characters’ stories all interlinked and I was impressed with the amount of empathy the author and illustrator were able to evoke from me in such a short amount of pages. The ending was very poignant.

I definitely recommend this one to fans of WWII fiction! Thank you to the publisher and Anne Cater/Random Things Tours for providing me with a free copy!

horizontal collab


If you’re interested in this one, keep an eye open for the rest of the stops on the tour!

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Can you recommend some more graphic novels that I should try? I think I’ve got the bug now! xsignature (2)

‘Sunwise’ spoiler-free review, and an interview with author Helen Steadman!

Hey everyone! I’m delighted that today is my stop on the blog tour for Sunwise, the sequel to Helen Steadman’s Widdershins which I read in 2017 and loved! I have been eagerly awaiting the sequel since I found out that Widdershins wouldn’t be a standalone – especially since I’ve had a fair bit of communication with the author on social media and she is so lovely! So not only am I reviewing Sunwise today but I’m also sharing an interview with Helen herself! I hope you’ll enjoy it 🙂

Sunwise


synopsisWhen Jane’s lover, Tom, returns from the navy to find her unhappily married to his betrayer, Jane is caught in an impossible situation. Still reeling from the loss of her mother at the hands of the witch-finder John Sharpe, Jane has no choice but to continue her dangerous work as a healer while keeping her young daughter safe.

But, as Tom searches for a way for him and Jane to be together, the witch-finder is still at large. Filled with vengeance, John will stop at nothing in his quest to rid England of the scourge of witchcraft.

Inspired by true events, Sunwise tells the story of one woman’s struggle for survival in a hostile and superstitious world.


my thoughts

Straightaway, I was reminded of how fantastic the author’s writing is. There is a real sense of quality to it, in her word choices and sentence composition. I particularly enjoyed the kern supper scene; Helen’s talent for descriptive writing is really displayed well here. It made me so hungry! Honestly, you could probably get away with reading this book as a standalone but I recommend reading the whole duology simply because the prose is such a treat.

Just like Widdershins, the narrative voices in this sequel are distinct and believable. I had no trouble whatsoever switching between the two perspectives; it was an instant shift. The reader goes from sympathising with Jane one minute to incredulous loathing towards John the next, and there is never any confusion or delay.

Once again, I adored the familiar settings of Scotland and North East England. I think part of why I love these books so much is that I recognise the local area and feel a connection with it.

I love witchy stories anyway but what Helen Steadman has created here is one of my favourites. The multitude of herb lore included shows that the author clearly knows her stuff, lending a wonderful level of believability to the story. Widdershins and Sunwise are both fabulous, and I passionately recommend them!

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And now onto the interview!

 

Hi Helen! I’m delighted to be helping promote Sunwise today and I’m so grateful to you for agreeing to answer my questions. Can you tell us what inspired you to write your first book, Widdershins?

I signed up for an MA in Creative Writing to help improve my novel-writing. I had ages to think about what to write before starting. After reading Hilary Mantel’s amazing Wolf Hall, I immediately knew I wanted to write a historical novel (even though I’d not read many and had no real clue about research). I had no idea what to write about, but I wasn’t too worried as I had a considerable stretch of time ahead of me. One day in the woods, I came across loads of felled trees, which revealed a natural amphitheatre. This set me thinking about what might have gone on there. Florence Welch’s song ‘Rabbit Heart (We Raise It Up)’ sprang into my head and I knew I was going to write about witches. So, I started reading widely about witches and was stunned to learn there’d been witchcraft trials on my own doorstep.

I read that despite the witchfinder being accused of fraud, sixteen people were still hanged on one day, making it one of the biggest (and least well known about) witch trials in England. I was intrigued by the girl who escaped the hangman’s noose, and so Widdershins came into being. That makes it sound a bit easy, but in reality, there were six years from having the idea to getting the book in my hand. At the outset, I was terrified of doing the research, and it seemed very daunting, but once I started, I absolutely loved it.

 

It’s fascinating that Widdershins is based on true events. Did you always plan to write a sequel or was Widdershins originally going to be a standalone?

Widdershins was going to be a standalone, and by the time it was published, I’d begun a PhD at the University of Aberdeen to write my next book. But once Widdershins was out in the world, the characters sprang back to life in my head and I realised they had a lot of unfinished business. The only way to get them out of my head would be to write them out, so Sunwise came along.

 

Who would you say are your writing influences?

I’ve always loved reading and it’s always hard to answer this question! Hilary Mantel inspired me to write historical fiction – I’ve read all of her books, but I love her historical ones best and cannot wait for her next book. My favourite book is Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News and I read this at least once a year. She has such amazing economy of language, and yet she elevates it into something quite beautiful. My favourite author is Peter Carey, and for me, no one does character better. I particularly love Illywhacker, Oscar and Lucinda, and Theft: A Love Story by him. The book that had the biggest effect on me in my whole life was George Orwell’s 1984. I read this at school, and it exposed me to new worlds of ideas and writing. I’m currently reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck and I’m hugely impressed with how he deals with landscape. And poetry-wise, I love Sylvia Plath.

 

One of the things I loved most about your first book was the setting; I grew up in the North East of England, so I recognised a lot of the places mentioned. Did you always plan to write a book set in your local area?

I hadn’t really thought about writing about my local area at all, but when I found out about the Newcastle witch trials, it was impossible to write about anywhere else. My third book is set pretty much on my doorstep and the fourth will be a little further up the east coast. What’s good about writing about the local area is that I know it so well – so I have years and years of pictures of plants, landscapes and so on through all the seasons and can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that a particular plant blossoms at a particular time, which is vital in Widdershins and Sunwise, given the number of plant-based references.

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It was a brave decision to include some Geordie colloquialisms in your books (though one that I thoroughly appreciated!) Were you ever worried that non-local readers would have difficulty understanding certain phrases?

While I wanted to use some vernacular language to make the characters’ speech authentic, I tried to have a light hand. During my MA, we studied Lewis Grassic Gibbons Sunset Song, which made me think about dialect and how much is too much. In the end, I pared it right back, because what works in real life can quickly become overwhelming on the page. What I tried to do was to keep the Geordie dialect primarily with Tom and Meg. Likewise, I tried to be light-handed in the Scottish chapters. I hope what I’ve done is given a flavour, without bogging the reader down too much, or sending them off to dictionary corner too often.

 

Your two main characters, Jane and John, both had very distinctive narrative voices in Widdershins and Sunwise. How easy do you find it to write from different perspectives?

I found this quite easy, really, and I like trying on new people for size. In the original draft of the book, which ran to well over 120,000 words, there were seven different points of view. If memory serves: Jane, John, Tom, Rev Foster, Meg, Lambert Hobson (the ship’s surgeon) and Annie. A few people in my critique group complained (vociferously, in some cases) that this was too many and so I cut it down to three: Jane, John and Tom. This was still a very long version. Slightly before I submitted the novel for my MA, I worried that it was still over long, and I rewrote it without Tom’s perspective. This was a bit of a shame as he has quite an adventure at sea, and I really enjoyed all the medical and nautical research.

 

I love all the natural remedies featured throughout your books. Are you a believer in these practices yourself?

I suffered from terrible allergies for many years (face and head would swell up alarmingly, huge lumps all over me) and nothing helped – it just kept getting worse and worse. My GP insisted on sending me to the NHS Homeopathic Hospital in Great Ormond Street. I protested, saying I’d tried homeopathy, and it hadn’t worked, but she asked me to trust her. I chatted to a lovely homeopathic doctor for about an hour and she prescribed three vials of Calc. Carb. along with a list of what not to do while taking them (no strong-smelling food or drink like coffee, mint toothpaste, etc). After I took them, I had one of the worse reactions in my life and thought I was about to die, but as promised by the doctor, each subsequent attack was less violent until eventually I had no further problems. So that converted me!

Once I realised that many people accused of witchcraft were just healers quietly going about their business, I decided to learn more about herbal medicine. So I signed up for a course in Tree Medicine at Dilston Physic Garden and I can highly recommend it for courses, herbal remedies and just for a lovely day out. I learned to identify different trees and plants (probably the single most important skill to learn in herbal medicine) and then gathered various barks, leaves, berries and flowers and turned them into a variety of linctuses, tinctures and powders. I then bought lots of herbs and set up a herb patch at home. This really helped me to understand the plant lifecycles, smells, tastes, properties and so on. My cupboard is still full of various herbs, spices and essential oils! That said, sometimes all else fails and I get a bad chest infection and then I’m usually to be found begging the GP for antibiotics.

 

How do you switch off and unwind when you’re not writing?

In the past, I would unwind by reading and writing, and by taking occasional walks, but my sedentary lifestyle is catching up with me, so, I’ve recently bought a bike. I must confess that this is an e-bike as I live in a very hilly area, and between my dodgy knee and my asthma, I wouldn’t make it up some of the steep hills without a bit of battery assistance. I haven’t been out over the winter, but I’m looking forward to getting back out in the spring. I was really pleased when I managed to get all the way to Newcastle Quayside and home by myself. I’ve also changed my office into a home gym to try and get a bit fitter and I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoy this – especially the cross-trainer and weight lifting. Otherwise, I take my dogs for walks in the woods and on the moors, and I still spend a lot of time reading and writing, because that’s what I love. I would have added drinking red wine at the weekend, but I’m on the wagon for a bit (we’ll see how that goes)!

Helen and Eric

 

Are there any aspects of your work that you find particularly challenging?

The thing I struggle most with is just not having enough time. I work full-time, I’m doing my PhD, writing and researching novel 3 and currently promoting novel 2. But I love writing and researching, so these are lovely problems to have really. I sometimes find social media a bit overwhelming. I had to get to grips with Twitter and Instagram quite quickly when Widdershins came out, but it feels like sometimes it can take over your life if you let it. I’m trying to limit the number of times per day I look at email, social media and so on to try and get back some control (and much-needed time)!

 

I think you do very well with the social media side of things! Can you tell us anything about the projects you currently have on the go? Anything exciting that we might get to see in the future?

I’m currently writing book 3, whose working title is Running Wolves. This is about a group of Lutheran swordmakers who left Prussia in the late seventeenth century and came to live in the north east of England. The research for this has been very exciting as I’ve carried out some blacksmith training. So far, I’ve made a (badly burned) pendant, a rat-tailed poker, a firesteel and – best of all – my very own sword! I also have a substantial chunk of book 4 written, but to keep myself relatively sane, I’ve banned myself from doing any work or research on it until next year. I must confess, though, there is a sparkly notebook next to my bed (bought by a kind friend with excellent taste) and bits of book 5 keep finding their way into it…

 

How exciting! I look forward to the day we get to read more of your work. Thank you so much, Helen, for your wonderfully eloquent answers; it was fascinating to learn more about you and your writing process.

Thanks very much for having me along to talk about Widdershins and Sunwise today, Alex, I’ve really appreciated it, and thank you for being such a champion of my writing.


Well I hope you all enjoyed that! Helen is genuinely such an interesting and lovely person to chat with; I could have gone on all day! If you’re a fan of historical fiction, particularly stories about witches, I highly recommend Widdershins and its sequel Sunwise.

You can find Helen at the following social media links:-

Website/Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

And don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour! x

Final blog tour

‘The Sewing Machine’ spoiler-free review!

 

The Sewing Machine

Hi everyone! Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie. Huge thanks to Anne Cater/Unbound for sending me a free copy to review!


synopsisIt is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again.

Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.

More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams.

He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.


my thoughtsThis was a really enjoyable historical fiction! Fergie has a nice writing style, not too flowery but captivating enough to sweep you up into another period in time. I found it difficult to put the book down, constantly telling myself “just one more chapter”.

There are a LOT of characters to get to grips with in this story and I will admit to being confused at times as to how everyone was linked. This is in part due to the incorrect assumptions I made from reading the blurb, as well as the fact that the actual point of the story was to not reveal the links until the very end! So I recommend just going with the flow and not trying too hard to figure things out before their time; you’ll only give yourself a headache 😉

Even though there are a lot of characters, they are, on the whole, incredibly likeable. I felt invested in every individual storyline and there were no characters that made me feel bored or want to rush through to get to a different perspective (which we all know can sometimes happen with multiple POVs!) Every single narrative voice and time period was compelling.

I really loved the idea of the sewing projects being recorded in notebooks and how these were passed down through the generations. I’m sentimental at heart so I love things like that, real pieces of the past that you can tangibly experience.

This is clearly a very well-researched novel, into which has been poured a lot of love. I would recommend it to fans of multi-generational family sagas!

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A final rating of 4 musical notes!

4 notesMake sure you check out the other stops on the tour if you’re interested! And thanks, as always, for reading x


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‘The Story Keeper’ spoiler-free review!

Hey everyone! Today is my day on the blog tour for The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola. I’m so grateful to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for the opportunity to read this one.


What the book is about…

story keeper

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the word-of-mouth folk tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857, the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and the crofters are suspicious and hostile, claiming they no longer know their stories. Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters tell her that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl has disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the spirits of the unforgiven dead. Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but then she is reminded of her own mother, a Skye woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. It seems there is a link to be explored, and Audrey may uncover just what her family have been hiding from her all these years.


What I thought of it…

This Gothic mystery was an absolute delight to read. I immediately fell in love with the setting of Skye, with the author conjuring a perfectly gloomy picture that truly transported me. The atmosphere was practically dripping from every page.

It is not often that I am so absorbed by a book that I am never distracted by my phone or things going on around me. This one did it. Seriously, every line held my attention; I was captivated.

This is a wonderful portrait of a moment in history. Finding out in the author’s note that this book was based on real events added an extra level of awesome. Anna Mazzola has done a great job of capturing the misogyny of the era and the difficulties women would have faced.

The Story Keeper is very slow-burning (something which didn’t bother me but that other readers should bear in mind). Events in the novel unfold at a glacial pace but I enjoyed the creeping feelings of tension and the slow reveal of information.

Honestly, this book hit all of my buzzwords: an atmospheric setting, unreliable narrator, ambiguity and intrigue, and dark fairytales. If any of these things tick your boxes too, then you should definitely give The Story Keeper a try!

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To find out more about this one, check out the other stops on the tour! x

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Mini reviews: ‘Love is Blind’ and ‘The Silence of the Girls’!

I was recently sent two books by the lovely people at Penguin Books and today, I’m sharing my thoughts on them!


Love is Blind

What the book is about…

Love is Blind is William Boyd’s sweeping, heart-stopping new novel. Set at the end of the 19th century, it follows the fortunes of Brodie Moncur, a young Scottish musician, about to embark on the story of his life.

When Brodie is offered a job in Paris, he seizes the chance to flee Edinburgh and his tyrannical clergyman father, and begin a wildly different new chapter in his life. In Paris, a fateful encounter with a famous pianist irrevocably changes his future – and sparks an obsessive love affair with a beautiful Russian soprano, Lika Blum. Moving from Paris to St Petersburg to Edinburgh and back again, Brodie’s love for Lika and its dangerous consequences pursue him around Europe and beyond, during an era of overwhelming change as the nineteenth century becomes the twentieth.

Love is Blind is a tale of dizzying passion and brutal revenge; of artistic endeavour and the illusions it creates; of all the possibilities that life can offer, and how cruelly they can be snatched away. At once an intimate portrait of one man’s life and an expansive exploration of the beginning of the twentieth century, Love is Blind is a masterly new novel from one of Britain’s best loved storytellers.

 

What I thought of it…

I struggled to summarise how I feel about this one. I neither loved it nor hated it. I felt apathetic towards both the protagonist and the love story. I didn’t mind the writing at first but it did become a bit too wordy as it went on. It took a lot of concentration, especially with the inclusion of all the French and Russian names and phrases.

Considering this is historical fiction, I was surprised by the amount of swearing and lude sexual descriptions that were included. Coupled with a few other minor things that felt inconsistent with the time period, I felt frustrated on a number of occasions.

Obviously, I loved all the talk of pianos but, sadly, this was really just a device to move the story between locations. It felt like a bit of a geography lesson at times. The plot itself was very weak and if I had to describe to someone what this book is about, I would struggle to think of much to say!

Overall, this was fairly bland and I feel like I will forget about it rather quickly.

I rated this book 3 stars.
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The Silence of the Girls

What the book is about…

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war–the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead–all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives–and it is nothing short of magnificent.

 

What I thought of it…

I initially picked this up to read a couple of months ago but found it hard to get into. I’m really glad that I put it down and came back to it at a later point because I found it much more accessible and gripping on my second try!

It feels strange to say I enjoyed this, when it really is about the atrocities of war, so instead I’ll say that I found it a powerful and visceral read. Barker created some really strong imagery and captured the harsh realities of these women in some truly harrowing scenes. Briseis had a very compelling narrative voice and I sympathised with her enormously.

I’ve never read The Iliad but I’m intrigued now after this excellent feminist reimagining.

I rated this book 4 stars.

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Have you read either of these books? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! x

‘The Black Prince’ spoiler-free review!

Hey everyone! Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Black Prince which was kindly sent to me by Anne Cater/Random Things Tours (thank you!)

 

Before I tell you what I thought of the book, check out the synopsis!

 

What the book is about…

‘I’m working on a novel intended to express the feel of England in Edward III’s time… The fourteenth century of my novel will be mainly evoked in terms of smell and visceral feelings, and it will carry an undertone of general disgust rather than hey-nonny nostalgia’ – Anthony Burgess, Paris Review, 1973

The Black Prince is a brutal historical tale of chivalry, religious belief, obsession, siege and bloody warfare.

From disorientating depictions of medieval battles to court intrigues and betrayals, the
campaigns of Edward, the Black Prince, are brought to vivid life by an author in complete control of the novel as a way of making us look at history with fresh eyes, all while staying true to the linguistic pyrotechnics and narrative verve of Burgess’s best work.

 

What I thought of it…

Anthony Burgess said that he wanted to create a visceral reading experience. I would say that he and Adam Roberts absolutely succeeded. There was definitely no sugar-coating in this book! I do have to say that the battle scenes felt like a little much at times. I understand that wars are gruesome and I am by no means squeamish but some of the graphic detail here was too much even for me. So yes, very visceral. However, if you like your historical fiction on the gory side, this is definitely a book for you!

Despite all the blood and guts, there was actually some really lovely writing in parts. I haven’t read A Clockwork Orange but I’m aware that Anthony Burgess had a very distinctive writing style and I would say that Adam Roberts definitely stayed true to it in this extension of Burgess’ original script, while also adding his own stamp.

The style is a little difficult to get used to at first, feeling quite disjointed with its many sections. I can only surmise that this is due to the amalgamation of the two different authorial styles? However, I did quickly come to enjoy it and found it fascinating to see a period in history through the multiple perspectives used. The inclusion of newspaper headlines, songs and prophecy-style sections made for a nice framing technique; it was interesting to see things through the eyes of royals, soldiers and common people alike.

This book provided a great way to learn more about a period in history of which my prior knowledge was non-existent. I would actually enjoy reading about other historical events in this style; the book felt almost like non-fiction but nowhere near as dry. The Black Prince is a very informative read (if a little too cerebral for me at times) and I’m sure it will satisfy those interested in royal history.

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Thank you again to the publishers for sending me a copy of this book! Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour 🙂

Black Prince Blog Tour poster

‘Her Hidden Life’ spoiler-free review!

Hello my dears! Thank you for bearing with me – I am now back from my trip home for the week and playing catch-up! So you can all expect a lot of likes from me as I get through your recent posts 😉

I have to say a huge thank you to Avon Books for sending me a copy of Her Hidden Life to review; the premise totally grabbed me and I couldn’t live without getting a copy of the book!

 

What the book is about…

It’s 1943 and Hitler’s Germany is a terrifying place to be. But Magda Ritter’s duty is the most dangerous of all…

Assigned to the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat, she must serve the Reich by becoming the Fuhrer’s ‘Taster’ – a woman who checks his food for poison. Magda can see no way out of this hellish existence until she meets Karl, an SS officer who has formed an underground resistance group within Hitler’s inner circle. 

As their forbidden love grows, Magda and Karl see an opportunity to stop the atrocities of the madman leading their country. But in doing so, they risk their lives, their families and, above all, a love unlike anything either of them have ever known…

 

What I thought of it…

As I already said, I was fascinated by the premise of this book. I have read a number of books set in WWII but I had never heard of the ‘tasters’ – women who sampled Hitler’s food to check for poisons. I absolutely had to read this book based on that idea!

Magda had a captivating narrative voice and I was truly invested in her story. I felt a connection with her and found her easy to root for. I didn’t feel much towards the other characters, except for the obvious hatred towards Hitler. Considering a large element of this book was the romance, I was mostly indifferent to Karl.

Her Hidden Life definitely felt like a book of two halves. The first half is quite light and romantic; it’s not insta-love exactly but the romance did feel very quick. I would have liked it to develop a little slower. However, with the turn things take in the second half of the novel, I can understand why things needed to move at the pace they did. The story definitely becomes darker and, at times, quite bleak. There were some scenes that were particularly harrowing.

Overall, I found this an intriguing book from start to finish and definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction who are looking for something a little different. I rated this one 4/5 stars.

 

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Has anyone ever heard of ‘tasters’? Do you enjoy reading WWII fiction? Let me know your favourites in the comments! x