Book Review

Reading Challenge Update – February

I can’t believe that’s another month gone already! I just ticked a couple more books of my challenges this month – it was more a month of catching up on reviews and reading for relaxation than picking challenge books this month. The books I did read for the challenges this month though are all firm favourites of mine.

The Island – Victoria Hislop

This was my choice for the “read a book inspired by a place in a movie you’ve watched and enjoyed.” I am pushing things a bit here because I chose the setting of Crete taken from the “In-Betweeners” film, which I didn’t love, but the location was beautiful and I have been meaning to reread The Island for a while to refresh my memory before reading One August Night.

The Embroidered Book – Kate Heartfield

This little beauty is my selection for “a book with a magical element.” To be honest, I could have chosen any number of books off my shelf for this prompt as magical books are my “go to,” but I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of this gorgeous book by the publisher as part of the blog tour, so I just had to include it. You can read my full review HERE.

Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

I choose this as my “book that makes me happy.” I read this during a power cut in aftermath of Storm Eunice when I really needed a comfort read. I first read this book years ago, and have been meaning to re-read it for ages to jog my memory before diving into the rest of the trilogy, and honestly, I had forgotten how much I loved it.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E Frankl

This was my “book that is a memoir” selection, and is a book that was recommended to me years ago, but that for some reason I had never got round to reading. I am only halfway through, so I will share more in next month’s round-up, but for now I can just say that it is a very powerful book.

OTHER BOOKS READ THIS MONTH:

The Millionaire Murders by Rachel McLean

The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn (read review HERE)

The Stone Monkey by Jeffrey Deaver

Rock Paper Killers by Alexia Mason (review coming soon)

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (review coming soon)

Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen

The Butterfly Garden – Dot Hutchinson

Sparks and Shadow – Ceara Nobles (review coming soon)

In case you would like a reminder, here are the challenges that I am following.

Book Review

The Embroidered Book – Kate Heartfield

I am joining the blog tour for the exquisite historical fantasy novel The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield today. Many thanks to Kate and to Harper Voyager for my copy of the book, and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to be a part of the tour.

BLURB:

“Power is not something you are given. Power is something you take. When you are a woman, it is a little more difficult, that’s all.”

1768. Charlotte, daughter of the Habsburg Empress, arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Her sister Antoine is sent to France, and in the mirrored corridors of Versailles they rename her Marie Antoinette.

The sisters are alone, but they are not powerless. When they were only children, they discovered a book of spells – spells that work, with dark and unpredictable consequences.

In a time of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, they use the book to take control of their lives.

But every spell requires a sacrifice. And as love between the sisters turn to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

REVIEW:

The Embroidered Book is a beast of a book, but despite its size, I found I read it quite quickly as I was captivated by the story. Part historical fiction, part fantasy, The Embroidered Book is full of magic and intrigue, all based around one of the most interesting and turbulent periods of European history.

Kate Heartfield’s attention to detail and the level of research that must have gone into this project is incredible. It must have been a real labour of love, and I felt that this comes through in the writing.

I think Charlotte and Antoine’s stories would have been fascinating enough on their own, given their place in history, but the addition of magic and a secret society made this all the more appealing to me. Kate Heartfield weaves magic and history together so artfully that it seems more than plausible that these two astonishing women had access to hidden skills. It would certainly explain a lot of what went on throughout the period!

Despite knowing how this story must end, I still found myself on the edge of my seat, willing the sisters on to a different ending to their tempestuous relationship. I was totally under their spell from start to finish. Kate Heartfield is, quite simply, a genius.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kate Heartfield is the author of The Embroidered Book, a historical fantasy novel out in February 2022. Her debut novel won Canada’s Aurora Award, and her novellas, stories and games have been shortlisted for the Nebula, Locus, Crawford, Sunburst and Aurora awards. A former journalist, Kate lives near Ottawa, Canada.

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Book Review

The Hollows – Mark Edwards

I have a creepy thriller to share with you all today, as I am reviewing The Hollows by Mark Edwards. Many thanks to Mark for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

From the bestselling author of The House Guest comes a chilling story set deep in the woods…

With his marriage over and his career in freefall, journalist Tom decides to reconnect with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Frankie. Desperate to spend precious time together now that they live an ocean apart, he brings her to Hollow Falls, a cabin resort deep in the woods of Maine.

From the outset there’s something a little eerie about the place—strange whispers in the trees, windchimes echoing through the forest—but when Tom meets true-crime podcasters David and Connie, he receives a chilling warning. Hollow Falls has a gruesome history: twenty years ago this week, a double slaying shut down the resort. The crime was never solved, and now the woods are overrun with murder-obsessed tourists looking to mark the grim anniversary.

It’s clear that there’s something deeply disturbing going on at Hollow Falls. And as Tom’s dream trip turns into a nightmare, he and Frankie are faced with a choice: uncover the truth, or get out while they still can.

REVIEW:

I am a big fan of Mark Edwards, and having read a number of his books now, I couldn’t wait to add this one to my list. Within a couple of pages, I knew this was going to be Mark’s creepiest book yet. A remote resort in the woods with no phone signal or WiFi, a mysterious, unfriendly town complete with a deeply disturbing set of twins, and a trip to The Hollows really is the stuff of nightmares. I absolutely could not put this book down from start to finish, and not just because I was scared it would haunt my dreams if I tried to sleep before knowing the outcome! Mark’s writing just gets better and better with every book, and I look forward to what comes next.

Book Review

The Space Between Worlds – Micaiah Johnson

I have a bit of a genre switch today as I am reviewing Micaiah Johnson’s sci-fi novel, The Space Between Worlds. Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

A multiverse-hopping outsider discovers a secret that threatens her home world and her fragile place in it–a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

CARA IS DEAD ON THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR WORLDS.

The multiverse business is booming, but there’s just one catch: no one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive.

Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying–from diseases, from turf wars, from vendettas they couldn’t outrun.

But on this earth, Cara’s survived. And she’s reaping the benefits, thanks to the well-heeled Wiley City scientists who ID’d her as an outlier and plucked her from the dirt. Now she’s got a new job collecting offworld data, a path to citizenship, and a near-perfect Wiley City accent. Now she can pretend she’s always lived in the city she grew up staring at from the outside, even if she feels like a fraud on either side of its walls.

But when one of her eight remaining doppelgangers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined–and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

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Science fiction and fantasy are genres that are often grouped together, but whilst I read a lot of fantasy, it is a rarity for me to read sci-fi. I dabble occasionally, but I often find that I struggle to fully connect with the story. Right from the lovely dedication to the author’s grandma and an undisclosed “you” – which made me chuckle but feel sad at the same time – The Space Between Worlds has a very human feel that is sometimes lacking in sci fi books

Micaiah Johnson has created an intricate web where not only are there the different worlds of the multiverse, there are different incarnations of the same people. It is a multiverse full of interesting twists, and I can imagine it was tricky to keep track of everything while writing. It really is a very clever story, and I enjoyed every page.

I don’t know how well I would cope knowing that there were hundreds of other Mai Taylors out there. I have a feeling that finding out about them and how they died would become something of an obsession!

Book Review

Blue Lilies – Lucy Holden

Happy publication day Lucy Holden! Blue Lilies, book six in the fabulous Nightgarden Saga is released today. Many thanks also Lucy for entrusting me with an advanced copy of this book

BLURB:

Time. Truth. Tears.

Everything has led to this moment. Harper thought she was ready. But now everything is different. Everything she fought to protect is lost in time. Her greatest enemy is her only friend. And Harper is no longer the girl she once was.

REVIEW:

Blue Lilies is the penultimate book in the Nightgarden Saga, and as happy as I always am to have a new book in the series to read, each book also makes me a little sad as the end of the series draws ever nearer.

There is a lot of information to take in at the start of this book, before the story really gets going, but it was so interesting that it didn’t just feel like an information dump. In fact, I found it so fascinating that it left me wanting more. Aside from the characters, who I think you all already know I adore, one of my favourite things about this series is the way Lucy Holden has included so much from cultures that I knew next to nothing about, and how she has managed to intertwine different mythologies so beautifully.

Where Dusky Dahlia is my favourite book in terms of the depths of emotion, Blue Lilies is perhaps the most exciting. I was completely gripped as the story built and built to the dramatic events that were coming and I devoured this book in a matter of hours. I don’t think I have ever been more glad that I already had a book’s sequel ready to read as I was when I finished Blue Lilies! Watch this space for more on that book coming soon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lucy Holden is a pseudonym for Paula Constant, Random House published author of Sahara and Slow Journey South and indie author of the Visigoths of Spain historical fiction series. The Nightgarden Saga is Paula’s first foray into YA/NA paranormal romance.

Lucy Holden is Paula’s alter ego. She is a romantic tragic and has a deep fascination for all things supernatural. Starting with Anne Rice as a teenager, Paula has read her way through the vampire panoply. Her passion for the supernatural is so ingrained, she can recite whole scenes from The Vampire Diaries.

Her favourite thing in the world to do is sit on Cable Beach at midnight under a full moon with a glass of wine, something she gets to do almost every month not that she lives in the tropical North West town of Broome, Australia.

While off work with a broken leg, Paula wrote the entire Nightgarden Saga and now has plans for two related series set in the same world.

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Book Review

Time’s Convert – Deborah Harkness

For today’s review, I have a book by one of my favourite authors in the form of Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness. Many thanks to Headline for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

On the battlefields of the American Revolution, Matthew de Clermont meets Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon from Massachusetts, during a moment of political awakening when it seems that the world is on the brink of a brighter future. When Matthew offers him a chance at immortality and a new life free from the restraints of his puritanical upbringing, Marcus seizes the opportunity to become a vampire. But his transformation is not an easy one and the ancient traditions and responsibilities of the de Clermont family clash with Marcus’s deeply held beliefs in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.

Fast-forward to contemporary Paris, where Phoebe Taylor–the young employee at Sotheby’s whom Marcus has fallen for–is about to embark on her own journey to immortality. Though the modernized version of the process at first seems uncomplicated, the couple discovers that the challenges facing a human who wishes to be a vampire are no less formidable than they were in the eighteenth century. The shadows that Marcus believed he’d escaped centuries ago may return to haunt them both–forever.

A passionate love story and a fascinating exploration of the power of tradition and the possibilities not just for change but for revolution, Time’s Convert channels the supernatural world-building and slow-burning romance that made the All Souls Trilogy instant bestsellers to illuminate a new and vital moment in history, and a love affair that will bridge centuries.

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REVIEW:

As I write this review, I am deep in the middle of watching the third and final season of A Discovery of Witches – a TV series I love almost as much as the books it is based on, which is a rare occurrence. 

Marcus is one of my favourite characters from the All Souls trilogy and I was keen to uncover his story, to see what had made him into who he is. I loved all the touches linking him to Diana for hundreds of years before their paths actually crossed. The balance between the historical fiction of Marcus’s story, and the contemporary beginnings of Phoebe’s journey is beautifully done, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Phoebe evolve.

I adore Deborah Harkness’s writing style. Her world building is completely absorbing, and I always find it incredibly hard to stop reading her books to do real world things like eat or sleep! I live in hope that one day she is inspired to write further based in the world of the All Souls Trilogy, so that I can learn more about my favourite characters (I’m looking at you Gallowglass and Miriam).

Oh, and if the TV folks are reading this, I would love to see this book as a spin off series from A Discovery of Witches.

 

Book Review

The Hemlock Cure – Joanne Burn

Today I am reviewing the dark historical novel, The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn. Many thanks to Little, Brown Book Group for my copy of the book which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

It is 1665 and the women of Eyam keep many secrets.

Isabel Frith, the village midwife, walks a dangerous line with her herbs and remedies. There are men in the village who speak of witchcraft, and Isabel has a past to hide. So she tells nobody her fears about Wulfric, the pious, reclusive apothecary.

Mae, Wulfric’s youngest daughter, dreads her father’s rage if he discovers what she keeps from him. Like her feelings for Rafe, Isabel’s ward, or the fact that she studies from Wulfric’s books at night.

But others have secrets too. Secrets darker than any of them could have imagined.

When Mae makes a horrifying discovery, Isabel is the only person she can turn to. But helping Mae will place them both in unimaginable peril.

And meanwhile another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all . . .

Based on the real history of an English village during the Great Plague, The Hemlock Cure is an utterly beguiling tale of fear and ambition, betrayal, self-sacrifice and the unbreakable bond between two women.

REVIEW:

The Hemlock Cure is part historical fiction, part coming-of-age and part love story, making it a book that will appeal to different people on many different levels.

Joanne Burn’s decision to have the book narrated by Mae’s dead sister Leah as she watches over the people of Eyam made for a compelling hook, making me very curious as to how she and her mother died. The flashbacks to Leah’s own memories and the excerpts from Wulfric’s diary built on this mystery as Mae’s own story unfolded, making for a tale that I found hard to put down. Mae is a character that I quickly became attached to, and my heart broke for the life that she found herself living.

Whilst reading about a community ravaged by the plague, it is impossible not to draw comparisons to the situation the world has so recently faced. It was startling how little has really changed in the intervening years. Knowing that the book is based on fact, and that the people of Eyam really did lock themselves away from the world in an attempt to limit the spread of the plague made it all the more fascinating to read.

I think I went through the entire emotional spectrum whilst reading this book as I fell under the spell of the wonderful characters stored within its pages.

Book Review

Unspoken – Guvna B

Today I am reviewing the raw, honest memoir, Unspoken, by Guvna B. Many thanks to HarperCollins UK for providing me with a copy of this book which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

Men are bold. Men are brave. Men are strong in the face of fear. But what happens when that strength crumbles?

Growing up on a council estate in East London, rapper Guvna B thought he knew everything he needed to know about what it means to be a man. But when a personal tragedy sent him reeling, he knew he had to face these assumptions head on if he was going to be able to overcome his grief.

In this intimate, honest and unflinching memoir, Guvna B draws on his personal experiences to explore how toxic masculinity affects young men today. Exploring ideas of male identity, UNSPOKEN is an inspirational account of Guvna’s journey.

REVIEW:

Toxic masculinity is a concept that I have only a vague awareness of, but I decided that 2021 was the year that I needed to educate myself on a number of matters, and this brutally honest memoir from Guvna B seemed a good place to start.

Isaac’s faith is a strong theme throughout the book, so if this isn’t something you are comfortable with then this may not be the book for you. Personally, it made me wish that I could be even half as strong in my own faith as he is. The warmth of his personality shines through in his writing along with his commitment to helping people. I am a long way from the target audience, but I found him so relatable and it really felt like I was talking to a trusted friend. I think it was this instant familiarity that meant parts of this book completely and utterly destroyed me, to the point that my chest hurt through crying.

I don’t know what drew me to this book. As a white, 40 something female I could hardly be further from the target audience, I am not a fan of rap, had never heard of Guvna B before, and my faith is on somewhat shaky ground. But, something made me pick it up to read and the words within went right to my soul and the grief that I still feel after the loss of grandmother. Guvna B is a man who cares passionately about making things better for today’s teenagers, showing them opportunities and guiding them to live the best lives they can and frankly we need more people like him in this world.

Book Review

Sisters of Shadow – Katherine Livesey

Today’s review in the great NetGalley review catch up is for fantasy adventure Sisters of Shadow by Katherine Livesey. Many thanks to One More Chapter for my copy of the book.

BLURB:

All she knew was vengeance…
Alice has lived in the forest on the fringes of Alder Vale ever since her parents abandoned her. Alone, exiled, feared by all. All except Lily.

But something is stirring beyond the mountains, whispers of spectres stalking the moors, women of unfathomable power luring children into a cult that has haunted local lore for a generation.

Then, in the dead of night, Alice receives a letter promising answers to the questions that have always tormented her. And so she meets Grace. The red-cloaked cultist pledged to protect her, a scarred warrior born of storm and sea, the girl who will steal her heart.

Anne of Green Gables meets His Dark Materials in this whimsical fantasy adventure following the unlikely alliance between an apothecary, a witch, a warrior, and a witch-hunter. Perfect for fans of Garth Nix, Natasha Ngan, and Diana Wynne Jones.

REVIEW:

Sisters of Shadow is a lovely fantasy adventure story which reads like a centuries old fairy tale. The world of the Shadowlands was intriguing, completely cut off from the modern world, stuck in the past while everywhere else seems to embrace modern technology.

Alice and Lily make unlikely friends. They are complete polar opposites, Lily all sunshine and warmth, Alice dark and distant.  As I got to know them, they reminded me a little of Glinda and Elphaba from Wicked.

I loved getting to know the supporting cast of characters, and quickly fell for Grace and the gentle care she took of Alice.

The end of the book felt quite sudden and easy but I loved the hints of what was to come. At times, the pace felt a little slow, but I could tell it was building to a sequel, and this is a book that I am looking forward to reading.

Book Review

Once Upon A Broken Heart – Stephanie Garber

I have another review from my NetGalley backlog today. I read Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber the very second I had it in my possession, but honestly, it took me a while to even think about what I wanted to say in a review, never mind actually write the review. Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with a copy of the book.

BLURB:

From Stephanie Garber, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Caraval, Once Upon a Broken Heart is the first book in a new series about love, curses, and the lengths that people will go to for happily ever after.

Evangeline Fox was raised in her beloved father’s curiosity shop, where she grew up on legends about immortals, like the tragic Prince of Hearts. She knows his powers are mythic, his kiss is worth dying for, and that bargains with him rarely end well.

But when Evangeline learns that the love of her life is about to marry another, she becomes desperate enough to offer the Prince of Hearts whatever he wants in exchange for his help to stop the wedding. The prince only asks for three kisses. But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’s pledged. And he has plans for Evangeline that will either end in the greatest happily ever after, or the most exquisite tragedy…

REVIEW:

I loved Jacks from the moment I met him in the Caraval series (maybe not as much as my beloved Julian, but then he takes some beating in my eyes), so I was thrilled when I heard the news that Stephanie Garber was writing a new trilogy featuring the bewitching Prince of Hearts. Even so, I was a little nervous going into this book because I loved the Caraval books so much and I was scared this wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Thankfully though I had nothing to worry about because I quickly fell back under the spell of Stephanie Garber’s wonderful writing.

While I may have initially have had doubts about whether anything could live up to the wonder that was Caraval, I quickly realised that Nocte Neverending was more than a match for Legend’s festivities. Jacks is the ultimate bad boy, the terrible decision that you just can’t resist making. Knowing Jacks as I do, I was nervous for poor, broken hearted Evangeline from the second she set foot in the temple but my inner romantic was also hopeful that she would be the one to change him.

I already have the next instalment of Jacks and Evangeline’s adventures pre-ordered and I am absolutely itching to get my hands on it!