Book Review

Clara & Olivia – Lucy Ashe

If you enjoy historical fiction and are a fan of the ballet, then I have the perfect book for you as I join the blog tour for Clara & Olivia by Lucy Ashe. Many thanks to Lucy and Magpie Books for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting my to join the tour.



I would kill to dance like her.

Sisters Olivia and Clara rehearse with Ninette de Valois at the recently opened Sadler’s Wells. Disciplined and dedicated, Olivia is the perfect ballerina. But no matter how hard she works, she can never match up to identical twin Clara’s charm.

I would kill to be with her.

As rehearsals intensify for the ballet Coppélia, the girls feel increasingly as if they are being watched. And as infatuation threatens to become obsession, the fragile perfection of their lives starts to unravel.

An exquisite goose-bumping debut from a former ballerina.


Amazon UK

Amazon US


I adore historical fiction and the ballet, so a novel set during the early years of the Vic-Wells company was always going to capture my attention. I particularly enjoy historical fiction where real people intermingle with the books characters, and in Clara and Olivia, Lucy Ashe seamlessly blends her fictional characters with the stars of the English ballet of the 1930s.

The beauty of the ballet is echoed in the wonderfully atmospheric writing, but the sense of foreboding that begins in the prologue lingers in the corner of the stage like a shadow. In fact, there is an unsettling feeling about the whole book, with the dark spaces of the theatre (not least the well) lending a gothic feel to the story. Something about the girls’ relationship feels dangerous, too close for comfort, as if they could destroy each other, in spite of loving each other dearly, and being prepared to fight to protect each other.

I love the ballet and whilst I usually read in silence, I found myself heading to Spotify to set Coppélia and Swan Lake to play in the background. I thoroughly recommend this, as the beautiful music really adds to the emotion and drama of the book.

Even before reading her author bio (see below), it was easy to see that Lucy Ashe has a great deal of experience with the ballet, and has poured her love for it into every word of Clara and Olivia. This book is an exquisite balance of beauty and tension, of emotion and drama, and it evoked the same feelings in me as if I had just sat through the most wonderful performance of my favourite ballet.


Lucy Ashe trained at the Royal Ballet School for eight years, first as a Junior Associate and then at White Lodge. She has a diploma in dance teaching with the British Ballet Organisation. She decided to go to university to read English Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford (MA Oxon), while continuing to dance and perform. She then took a PGCE teaching qualification and became a teacher. She currently teaches English at Harrow School, an all-boys boarding school in North London. Her poetry and short stories have been published in a number of literary journals and she was shortlisted for the 2020 Impress Prize for New Writers. She also reviews theatre, in particular ballet, writing for the website


“I have a great love of ballet and am fascinated by its history. I was lucky enough to meet many of the great dancers of the Royal Ballet, even Dame Ninette de Valois when she came to White Lodge to celebrate her 100th birthday. I have performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and learnt the repertoire for many of the classical ballets.

My novel is closely researched, re-creating the early years of the Vic-Wells company at Sadler’s Wells, and the story is immersed in ballet history featuring characters such as Ninette de Valois, Lydia Lopokova, Constant Lambert, Alicia Markova and Nicholas Sergeyev. Frederick and Dora Freed and their pointe shoe workshop play a key role, as does the history of Sadler’s Wells theatre itself. In a book shop on Cecil Court, I found beautifully preserved theatre programmes from the 1932-33 season at Sadler’s Wells and it was magical to imagine my characters holding those pages.

One major inspiration for me was my twin sister. We spent the first part of our lives doing everything together: first day of school, first ballet class, first piano lesson. We were a unit, referred to simply as the twins, and we had a very special connection. That connection remains even though our lives are so entirely different now. And so, in my novel, I have been inspired by the connectedness and the bond of twins, Olivia and Clara staying so close despite their lives starting to take them in different directions.”




Make sure you pay a visit to the other blogs that are joining the tour for this fantastic book.

Meet the Author

Anya Bergman

Next week, I will be joining the blog tour for The Witches of Vardø, the beautiful historical fiction novel by Anya Bergman, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. In the meantime, Anya was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions for me, and I can share those answers with you now.

What was it about the 1662 trials that caught your attention rather than the earlier trials at Vardø or similar trials across Europe?

It was when I was living in Norway that I became obsessed with researching the history of witch trials. I was immediately drawn to the history of witch hunts in Finnmark in the far north of Norway where the island of Vardø is situated. The landscape is so extreme with the snow, ice and winter darkness that it felt like a suitable setting for a novel about witch trials. Also it is a region where the indigenous Sámi people live and I wanted to include how they were treated during this period. The trial testimonies of those accused in Vardø still exist and have been translated into English, and it was when I was reading these records I came across the startling testimony of Maren Olufsdatter in 1663. I was immediately fascinated by her fearless confessions. The 1662/3 trials also stuck out because young girls were convicted of witchcraft and denounced their mothers. How could this have happened? I came across the figure of Anna Rhodius who was outspoken and confrontational, and though privileged got into big trouble because of it. She was blamed for the witch panic and I wanted to dig deeper and find out why.

You bring the landscape to life so vividly in your writing that I feel as though I am there. How much time did you spend at the fortress in Vardø and the surrounding area as part of your research?

I lived in Bergen in Norway for six years and had travelled to the north and the snowy interior where I saw lynx before I started working on the novel. But once I began my research I travelled to Vardø twice. Once in mid-winter to get a sense of how the island felt at that time of year. I flew to a town called Kirkenes and then took a boat to Vardø to get a real feel of how it was to approach by sea. Although I was used to ice and darkness living in Bergen, the island of Vardø was on a whole other level! I experienced snowy blizzards, 24 hours darkness, and the otherworldly spectacle of the northern lights. I visited the Steilneset Memorial to the victims of the witch trials which is the most stunning memorial I have ever encountered, and is on the execution sight. From this place, the sea crashes onto the shore and you can see the outline of Domen Mountain on the mainland where the Devil was supposed to have dwelled. I returned to the Varanger Peninsula in the mid-summer flying to Kirkenes again but this time hiring a car and driving along the whole of the peninsula through the villages where the accused women would have lived and staying in the village of Ekkerøy. The landscape reminded me of Connemara in the west of Ireland, wet and marshy, with lots of bog cotton. I ended up again on the island of Vardø with 24 hours of daylight and the midnight sun. It was hard to sleep with the never-ending screeching of sea birds, and in a way it was as eerie as during the winter dark! I drew so much inspiration from visiting the locations of the book.

Ingeborg and Anna are such different characters. Did you find one of them easier to write than the other? Why do you think this was?

In my early draft of the books, I had written solely from Ingeborg’s point of view so I feel I have been with her for a long time. She is very close to my heart because I wanted to create a quiet heroine. I think she is very identifiable because she is holding her whole family together, and though not as dramatic as her mother or sister, is resilient and true. I also love her friendship with Maren, who for me is a pivotal character in the narrative. She is the ‘fuck patriarchy’ part of ourselves, and also invites us to trust in our own magic. I do believe we all have this witchy essence in all of us.

But I also have a special place in my heart for Anna, because she is neither completely bad nor good, and I am drawn to writing from the point of view of characters who are conflicted. I was also intrigued by all the historical documentation surrounding her that she was viewed as insane and hysterical, and was behind the Witch Panic. I wanted to reappraise her part in the witch trials. Anna is going through menopause in the novel, and there are very few representations of menopausal women in fiction. Those that do exist are usually stereotyped as mad, bad and sad. Since I have just gone through menopause myself, I found writing Anna in first person came very naturally. I wanted to present a different image of the menopausal protagonist. So it was possibly easier to write Anna’s story just because I can identify a little more with her experiences.

Do you have a set writing routine that you like to follow?

Not really if I am honest. I just try to write as much as I can as often as I can. As well as writing, I am doing a PhD and I am teaching and lecturing so it’s full on. I have to be very organised with my time to make sure I get enough head space to write. With historical fiction, research is so important too but you can go down rabbit holes so I have to ensure I balance research time and writing time equally. I might spend a few weeks ‘thinking’ about a novel – I do alot of ‘writing’ in my head before I put anything down and this usually saves time in the end. I also do pre-writing in the form of working on characters, and structure but I also remain very open in terms of storyline as this keeps the writing process very alive. Once I get stuck into writing, I can write non-stop for hours (sometimes 5/6 hours in a go) and write up to 5000 words a day. I would not recommend this! It can be very hard on the body in particular (hence I am a yoga fan). But it’s just the way I have always worked. I go into a zone and live in the world of my characters. When I was writing The Witches of Vardø I would have dreams that I was in the Witches Hole with the other women, and wake up in the middle of the night in terror.

I was excited to read that your next book will be set during the French Revolution. How much are you able to tell me about this?

The working title of my next book is ‘The Tarot Reader of Versailles’ which might give you an idea of what the novel is about! It’s inspired by a real historical figure who was a tarot reader during the French Revolution. I have been reading Tarot since I was fifteen, and for a time worked as a professional Tarot reader, so it’s an area I have always wanted to write about in fiction. Tarot Cards are powerful tools of self-knowledge, while they possess a magical quality to them as well. They were incredibly popular during the Reign of Terror as people searched for certainty amid the chaos of the French Revolution.

Thanks so much to Anya, for taking the time to talk to me. The Tarot Reader of Versailles sounds right up my street, and I cannot wait to read it. While I wait impatiently for that to be published, here are all the details of the blogs taking part in the tour for The Witches of Vardø, which kicked off last week.


Top 10 of 2022

Happy 2023 folks! It’s that time of year again when I share my favourite books from the outgoing year. I always struggle to narrow it down to just ten books, but this year was particularly hard as I have read some truly amazing books. After much toing and froing though, I have managed to whittle my list down from 40-something to just ten. These are purely in the order that I read them rather than a chart run down. Click on the titles to read my reviews of each of these:

  • Dusky Dahlia – Lucy Holden
    • I absolutely adore the Nightgarden Saga by Lucy Holden, and having read the final three books in the series in 2022, it was hard to choose just one. In the end, it had to be Dusky Dahlia because of the depth of emotion in the story.
  • The Embroidered Book – Kate Heartfield
    • Two of my favourite genres are historical fiction and fantasy, so when the two collide, it is a dream come true for me. This stunning book is a reimaging of Europe at the time of Marie Antoinette, and I could not put it down!
  • Nothing Burns As Bright As You – Ashley Woodfolk (review coming soon)
    • This YA novel in verse is as beautiful as it is devastating. I wanted to review it as soon as I read it, but I just could not find the words – to be honest, nine months later, I am still struggling.
  • Confessions of an Alleged Good Girl – Joya Goffney
    • This was a tricky decision for me, because I also read Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya in 2022, and I loved both books equally, but only had space for one. I ended up choosing this one because I think that its subject matter is something that should be spoken about more.
  • The Ghost of Ivy Barn – Mark Stay
    • I can’t get enough of the Witches of Woodville series by Mark Stay, and I loved this latest instalment. Each book has a slightly different feel to it, and I found this one a lot more emotional than I had expected. Oh, and I cannot stress this enough, you HAVE to look up Mr Stay’s unboxing videos!
  • The Wedding Cake – Isabella May
    • If you don’t know by now that I am a huge Isabella May fan, then I don’t know where you have been for the last five years! I love, love, love her Foodie Romance series! It is just wonderful.
  • Words In Deep Blue – Cath Crowley (review coming soon)
    • Oh my, this book! It was recommended to me by a friend, you know the type, “You have to read this book, it will destroy you!” and she certainly wasn’t wrong. I know this is a book that I will keep coming back to – just as soon as I recover from reading it the first time!
  • We Are All Constellations – Amy Beashel
    • Yet another book that left me in absolute bits! I think maybe I should read some happier books in 2023, but I just can’t help myself with the emotional rollercoasters!
  • Goblins of Lapland – Caedis Knight
    • While a lot of the books on my list this year are YA, this one is most definitely an 18+! The latest in the Blood Web Chronicles is a festive prequel full of Christmassy delights!
  • The Witch and the Tsar – Olesya Salnikova Gilmore
    • Finishing off this year’s list is one of the last books I read in 2022, and another where history meets fantasy, this time in Russia as Ivan the Terrible encounters a reimagined Baba Yaga. It was the perfect wintery read to curl up with in the days before Christmas.

What were your favourite books in 2022? I would love to see your lists to add to my TBR!

Book Review

The Witch & The Tsar – Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Well, 2022 is certainly going out with a bang – my final blog tour this year features one of the best books I have read this year, the wonderfully wintery The Witch & The Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore. Many thanks to Olesya and to Harper Voyager for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour.


As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumours about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia – now the wife of the tsar and suffering from a mysterious illness – arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realises that the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.

As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan – soon to become Ivan the Terrible – grows more volatile and tyrranical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

In this stunning debut novel, the maligned and immortal witch of legend known as Baba Yaga will risk all to save her country and people from Tsar Ivan the Terrible – and the dangerous gods who seek to drive the twisted hearts of men.



Wow! I thought I was almost set on my favourite books of 2022, but this one has certainly put a spanner in the works. From the cover to the very last page, The Witch and The Tsar is an utterly beautiful book, exquisitely written and absolutely captivating. I studied Russian history at A-level many years ago, and this book brought the rich culture, landscape and folklore of the country to life in a way my teacher could only have dreamed off.

Part historical fiction, part reimagining of Russian folklore, The Witch and The Tsar weaves together the facts of Ivan IV’s reign of terror with the traditional tales of Baba Yaga and Koshey Bessmertny, giving a twist to their stories and offering a new explanation for Ivan’s behaviour. I was not hugely familiar with Russian folklore prior to reading this book, but it has left me wanting to know more and I will certainly be looking for more about Yaga and Koshey.

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore’s characters are simply wonderful, and I felt an emotional attachment to each and every one of them. She even managed to make Ivan the Terrible seem somewhat relatable! Even the worst, most evil of the characters had motivations that were understandable, whilst their actions remained awful. It is no mean feat to make a reader feel sorry for the antagonist, but Olesya succeeds in this beautifully.

It is hard to believe that The Witch and The Tsar is the debut novel from Olesya Salnikova Gilmore. I think we can expect great things in the future, and personally, I can’t wait!


Olesya Salnikova Gilmore was born in Moscow, Russia, and raised in the United States, and graduated from Pepperdine University with a BA in English/political science, and from Northwestern University School of Law with a JD. She practised litigation at a large law firm for several years before pursuing her dream of becoming an author. She is happiest writing historical fiction and fantasy inspired by Eastern European folklore. She lives in a wooded lakeside suburb of Chicago with her husband and daughter. The Witch and the Tsar is her debut novel.






Make sure you check out the other blogs taking part in the tour.

Book Review

The Winter Garden – Nicola Cornick

I have a lovely timeslip novel to share today as I join the blog tour for The Winter Garden by Nicola Cornick. Many thanks to Nicola and HQ for providing me with a copy of the book, and for inviting me to be a part of the tour.


Remember, remember, the fifth of November…

1605: Anne Catesby fears for her family. Her son, the darkly charismatic Robert, is secretly plotting to kill the King, placing his wife and child in grave danger. Anne must make a terrible choice: betray her only child, or risk her family’s future.

Present day: When her dreams of becoming a musician are shattered, Lucy takes refuge in her family’s ancestral home in Oxfordshire. Everyone knows it was originally home to Robert Catesby, the gunpowder plotter. As Lucy spends more time in the beautiful winter garden that Robert had made, she starts to have strange visions of a woman in Tudor dress, terrified and facing a heartbreaking dilemma.

As Lucy and Anne’s stories converge, a shared secret that has echoed through the centuries separating them, will change Lucy’s life forever…

Sweeping generations from the 1600s to the present day, with the enthralling Gunpowder Plot at its heart, Nicola Cornick’s utterly enchanting new timeslip novel will sweep you off your feet. Perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley, Barbara Erskine and Kate Morton.


Amazon UK

Amazon US


With 5th November fast approaching, now was the perfect time to immerse myself in a book steeped in the history of the Gunpowder Plot. I have been fascinated by this particular period in history since visiting Coughton Court a few years ago, and discovering that Guy Fawkes was not the most important player in the plot. As such, I thoroughly enjoyed this peek into the lives of the Catesby family, and devoured the chapters written from Anne Catesby’s perspective.

Lucy is a character who really got under my skin, and my heart broke for her and what she had lost. Having first-hand experience of how chronic illness can affect your life, the grieving process that we see her go through over the course of the book felt very real, and Nicola handled it beautifully.

Usually, with books told from multiple points of view, and particularly with timeslip novels, I find that there is one point of view that I am more invested in, and it is generally the historical period that captures me the most. However, in The Winter Garden this was not the case, and I was equally keen to find out what happened in both timelines. The intrigue surrounding the missing treasure and the mystery of who was interfering with the project at Gunpowder Cottage held my interest just as much as Anne’s struggles to keep her family safe.

The Winter Garden is a beautiful book, and I only wish that I could visit Gunpowder Cottage to see Catherine’s wonderful garden in all its glory.


Nicola Cornick is a writer and historian who has published a multitude of best-selling books around the world.

Nicola Cornick has wide ranging experience of media work, both in print and broadcast. In print she has provided interviews, reviews, Q&As and articles for both news and magazine publication such as Countryfile Magazine and The Daily Telegraph. She has also done both live and recorded broadcast media work for both local and national channels including BBC Radio 4 and History Extra.

Nicola has spoken at a range of literary festivals and live events over the years, including Oxford and Sharjah festivals, London Book and Film Week, and events for the National Trust and other heritage organisations.






Don’t forget to visit the other blogs joining the tour for this fascinating book.

Book Review

The Widdershins Series – Helen Steadman

I have a double bill of reviews today as I jump on board the blog tour for Widdershins and Sunwise, (the Widdershins series) by Helen Steadman. Many thanks to Helen for providing me with copies of both books (and the lovely goodies that came with them!), and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to be a part of the tour.


Jane Chandler is learning the art of healing while John Sharpe wants to rid the world of witchcraft. In an English town gripped by superstition and fear, two destinies collide in these absorbing historical novels based on true events.


“Did all women have something of the witch about them?”

England, 1649. A sadistic witch hunter. An apprentice healer accused of witchcraft. Can she escape the hangman’s noose?

When John’s parents die at the hands of a witch, he faces a choice: an easy life with a woman who serves Satan, or a hard life with a preacher who serves God. The cursed orphan chooses the church. Raised on raging sermons, he discovers his true purpose: to become a witchfinder and save virtuous souls from the jaws of hell.

In a town mesmerized by superstition and fear, two destinies collide. As John rounds up the local witches, Jane gets more than she bargained for when bartering with the apothecary. Instead of trading herbal remedies, she finds herself on trial for consorting with the devil. Can she prove her innocence, or will she be condemned to death?


“There is a madness come upon England of late.”

England, 1650. A sadistic witch hunter. An innocent healer and her child accused of witchcraft. Can they escape the hangman’s noose?

Filled with vengeance, John will stop at nothing in his sworn mission to free the world from the scourge of witchcraft. When his quest to vanquish evil is thwarted by Jane, he decrees that she must die.

After defeating the witchfinder, Jane must continue her dangerous healing work. Alone in a hostile and superstitious village, she struggles to keep her little girl alive.

Determined to keep his vow, the witchfinder must put mother and daughter to death. When John brings the witch hunt to Jane’s home, can she herself and her child from certain slaughter?





The books of the Widdershins series make the perfect duology, with book one, Widdershins, following Jane and John from childhood to their early adult lives and Sunwise picking up the story after their first encounter in Newcastle. I found both books utterly engrossing, and as such sped through them, all the while wishing I could make them last longer and really savour them. Of course, I failed completely to do that, and actually read Sunwise from cover to cover in one sitting.

John was a character who sook me by surprise, and I enjoyed the chapters from his perspective more than I expected. I had thought that I would hate him but instead I was a presented with fascinating insight into what could change someone from sweet, kind boy to a fanatical witch hunter. I bounced from raging at his actions against innocent women and actually pitying him for the damage his early life experiences had done to him. He is a complicated man indeed!

In contrast, Jane is a much gentler character who just wants to live a quiet life with those she loves. Her story and everything that she goes through absolutely broke my heart, not least because for many women of the time, Jane’s experiences were very real dangers that they faced.

The Widdershins series is not a cheerful read, and is in fact quite harrowing in places, but it is clear to see that the author poured her heart and soul into researching the witch trials of Newcastle and Berwick and bringing them to life. I have something of a fascination with this topic, and I have to say that Widdershins and Sunwise are right up there with the best of the books that I have read about the trials.


Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins, and its sequel, Sunwise, were inspired by the seventeenth-century Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf, was inspired by the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, who defected from Solingen, Germany in 1687. Helen’s fourth novel is God of Fire, a Greek myth retelling about Hephaestus, possibly the least well-known of the Olympians. Helen is now working on her fifth novel.

Despite the Newcastle witch trials being one of the largest mass executions of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.

The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History journal.


Author Website

Publisher Website




Don’t forget to visit the other blogs taking part on this tour.

Book Review

Reading Challenge Update – April – August

Oh dear, I have fallen so far behind with my reading challenge updates! Life has not been the easiest just recently, but things are looking up again now, so I finally have the spare brain space to catch everyone up with what I have been reading. Brace yourselves, this post is going to be a long one!


Witches Steeped in Gold – Ciannon Smart

It feels as though I read this book an absurdly long time ago to be talking about it now, especially as I have its sequel on my list to read in September. I absolutely loved this book, and I will be writing a full review of it, together with Empress Crowned in Red very soon, but in the meantime, I give you my selection for a book with a colour in the name.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

This is a very helpful challenge book, as it fits beautifully with a prompt from each challenge, being both a book that was made into a movie and a book written in epistolary style. I have been putting off watching the film adaptation as I always prefer to read the book first, but now I can finally sit down to watch.

Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie

No huge surprise here that this book is for the prompt to read a book by Agatha Christie. I must confess that this is only the second Agatha Christie book I have ever read, the first being And Then There Were None. I have also never watched any of the Miss Marple adaptations, so this was my first real encounter with the amateur detective. I don’t think it will be my last though.

Lark Rise – Flora Thompson

Okay, I am cheating a little bit here. Whilst this book nicely fits the  book that is more than 20 years old prompt, it has a slightly more tenuous link to the other prompt I am using it for – a book set in your city/town. I live somewhere pretty small, so I couldn’t find a book that was actually set here, but Flora Thompson did live in the village for some years, and was actually the post mistress for a while.

A Secret History of Witches – Louisa Morgan

For my book set in the 1800s, I took advantage of the broad nature of the prompt to head back to the witchy books that I love so much. I read and loved Louisa Morgan’s The Age of Witches a couple of years back, so I was keen to read this book which spans the generations of a family of witches, and it didn’t disappoint one bit.

The Raven Spell – Luanne G Smith

This was my choice for a book suggested by a member of the Fiction Cafe (if you aren’t already a member, look us up on Facebook!) within the last seven days, and actually, I had seen it recommended by more than one member, so it seemed the obvious choice. Again, this author is one I have read previously and enjoyed, so I was glad to find a way to fit another of her books to my challenges.

The Queen of Nothing – Holly Black

I chose this as both a book that is part of a series and a book that is the last in a series – as you will see below, I actually binge read the entire series whilst on holiday in Dorset. YA fantasy is my absolute favourite genre, and I adore Holly Black, so it was a no-brainer for my holiday reading.

The Ghost of Ivy Barn – Mark Stay

This is a book that I was reading for a blog tour when I realised it was the perfect choice for my book with chapter titles. I absolutely love Mark’s Witches of Woodville series, and you can read my full review of The Ghost of Ivy Barn here.

Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s – Jennifer Worth

I am absolutely addicted to the Call the Midwife TV series, so I was delighted when I realised that Jennifer’s book was the perfect choice for a book that features a compass direction in the title. It absolutely made my day that I could so easily recall the characters and events in this book from scenes in the TV series, and I am looking forward to reading more of Jennifer’s writing.


My New Superjob and Post-molecular Comfort Food  by Anton Eine – these are fantastic, quick reads by Ukrainian author Anton, and you can read my review of both here.

The Fatal Oath – Michael L Lewis – I thoroughly enjoy this series about elite boys school, Blackleigh, (more on that soon), and you can read my review of this instalment of the boys adventures here.

Snow Blind – P.J. Tracy – I love the Twin Cities series and I am slowly making my way through them. I like to dot them between other reads so I don’t run out too soon!

With This Kiss – Carrie Hope Fisher – this delightful romance with a sprinkling of magic was another book that I read for a blog tour, and you can read my full review here.

The Fossil Beach Murders – Rachel McLean – if you don’t know by now that I love everything Rachel has written, then you must have been living under a rock. I can’t recommend her books highly enough

The Magicians – Lev Grossman – this was a book club read that I actually had mixed feelings about, mainly because it didn’t match my recollections of the TV series (I watched that before I knew there were books), but I will still be reading the second book because I have to know what happens next!

Confessions of an Alleged Good Girl – Joya Goffney – another blog tour book and one that I just thought was beautiful and important in equal measure. Read my full review here.

The Write Balance – Bonni Goldberg – although my writing has taken a backseat recently, I couldn’t resist signing up for the blog tour for this fab book. Read my review here.

Hotel Magnifique – Emily J Taylor – this is a book that I received via NetGalley and really need to get the review written for. If you are a fan of the Caraval series, I thoroughly recommend this book, and even if you aren’t, how gorgeous is that cover!

The Missing Girls of Alardyce House – Heather Atkinson – I got a bit more than I bargained for with this gothic historical novel. Sadly, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I have seen a lot of positive reviews for it.

Fantasy Short Stories – Suzanne Rogerson – another favourite author making an appearance. I love Suzanne’s full length novels, so I knew I wanted to be a part of the blog tour for her short story collection. Read my review here.

The Trial – S.R. Masters – I took part in the One More Chapter readalong for this thriller and had an absolute blast sharing thoughts with everyone else taking part. My review is long overdue, but is coming soon.

The Seawomen – Chloe Timms – this is another book that I read on holiday, and it is gloriously atmospheric. I can’t wait to share my thoughts in my review which will be available soon.

Bad Things Happen Here – Rebecca Barrow – and another holiday read, (we had a very lazy holiday by the river), this time a YA thriller for which the review is coming up.

The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and The Lost Sisters – all Holly Black – as mentioned earlier on, I adore Holly’s writing and binged all four of these (including The Queen of Nothing) whilst on holiday.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Juno Dawson – another witchy book (is anyone sensing a theme yet?), and this one is an absolute cracker. The review of this one will be up soon, but in the meantime, just know that I am VERY excited for the sequel.

The Wedding Cake – Isabella May – well, you all know I love the Foodie Romance Journeys and dive into them just as soon as I can get my little hands on them. Read my review of Isabella’s latest showstopper here.

The Name She Gave Me – Betty Culley – this is a beautiful novel in verse about finding yourself no matter the obstacles. My review is coming soon.

Blood and Money – Rachel McLean – well, I did say earlier that I love Rachel’s books, and here she is making another appearance on this epic round up!

The Hike – Susi Holliday – I got a bit ahead of myself reading this because I was so excited to have it, so you will have to wait until October for my review!

Equinox – Paul McCracken – another blog tour, and this time I am making one of my occasional forays into sci-fi. Read my review here.

The Temple House Vanishing – Rachel Donohue – much the same as anything with witches in, I also find it very hard to resist books based at boarding schools – although this convent school in Ireland is a bit bleaker than the elite boarding schools that I seem to normally read about.

All Eyes On Us – Kit Frick – well, I haven’t quite finished this one yet, but I am nearly there so I am including it for August – more to come when I reach the end.

Phew, we made it to the end of the list! As you can see, I have a LOT of reviews to catch up, so keep your eyes peeled for those coming soon!

If you need a reminder, these are the challenges that I am aiming to complete this year. I think I am a little behind schedule!

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.


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.


“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.


Amazon UK

Amazon US


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.


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.





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.


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.


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.