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Blog Tour: The Christmas Wedding Guest by Susan Mallery

Blog Tour: The Christmas Wedding Guest by Susan Mallery

‘A year since she was dumped by her fiancé, the last thing Reggie Somerville wants is to come back home for Christmas. But when her parents announce their plans for a lavish Christmas wedding she has no choice. She expects to face town gossip, she does not expect to run into her first love Toby, or deal with the feelings he stirs in her…

Dena Somerville is single and pregnant-on purpose. Wanting a family her way she’s determined to do it alone. She didn’t expect the distraction of a handsome musician checking into her inn-and one snow-kissed moment-to make her question what she really wants this Christmas…

As the Christmas wedding draws closer, these two sisters may just find the most unexpected gift of all—love.’

The Christmas Wedding Guest is a cute and fun read that primarily follows the lives of sisters Reggie and Dena, who have both have both been rather unlucky in love – or have had the misfortune to become involved with people who have treated them rather poorly or simply haven’t turned out to be someone that they wish to spend the rest of their lives with. Dena has decided to take as much control over her future as she can, and so has chosen to have a baby through artificial insemination, while, after her fiancé called things off only a day after celebrating their engagement, Reggie has tried to put the past behind her and has a job that she enjoys and a motherly devotion to her dog, Belle. When their parents decide that they are going to hold a ceremony to renew their vows, decades after a rather low-key wedding, Reggie finds herself headed home to Wishing Tree, where she anticipates questions and gossip will follow her. What neither Dena nor Reggie expect is to find their attention drawn from wedding plans and to new loves, one old, one a stranger.

The story is one that ultimately focuses on family, starting with Dena and Reggie’s relationship, which binds the different threads of the narrative together, and takes a look the generations within families, what it is to be a single parent, loss, community and what time has to teach. Though the sisters embark on quite different journeys and have their own individual narratives, there is no disconnect and they don’t feel like separate stories, and neither does it become a case of favouring one character over another. I do tend to end up liking one story thread or character point of view quite often, but, in the case of The Christmas Wedding Guests, I really enjoyed reading the sections belonging to Reggie, Dena, and their respective prospective partners, and wasn’t racing to get back to a particular character. They are all characters that are easy to care for and want positive endings for, each sympathetic and likeable even through their occasional missteps.

I loved Belle and her role in the story, and she plays an instrumental role in bringing Reggie, Toby and his son, Harrison, together, after taking a shine to the latter and instating herself as his loyal guard and protector, despite often being frightened by the world around her (especially certain dachshunds…). Belle reads like a character in her own right, and Reggie’s affection for her is adorable and speaks volumes about her own. Toby and Reggie’s story explores what it is to return to a relationship with a good many more years’ experience behind you, learning about what you may have been too young (or too immature) to notice and truly understand before, and the hold the past may have on you – and how you respond to the prospect of a future you find frightening.

Dena is the sister who likes to plan, and, after deciding that she is unlikely to be able to find ‘the one’ in time to have a family, has chosen to build a family of her own without a partner, something that she is confident and comfortable in. From her family and friends, she receives nothing but support, but, as the story unfolds, not everyone is as kind, and she can’t quite escape society’s idea that a single woman with a child is ‘condemning’ herself to a life on her own. Thankfully, Micah sidesteps the cliché of a man taking an interest in a woman, only to find himself uninterested upon discovering she’s pregnant, and is as supportive of her as her nearest and dearest are from the start. He doesn’t judge her decision and does his best to help her with things such as morning sickness, having learnt from some very recent losses, and their working together at the school to bring music into the classroom is a lovely feature of the story.

The Christmas Wedding Guest is a an uplifting, romantic story with community at its heart, and is the perfect festive read. Thank you to Mills and Boon for sending me a copy and for the chance to be part of the blog tour!

Blog Tour: The Hidden Child by Louise Fein

Blog Tour: The Hidden Child by Louise Fein

‘London, 1929.

Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and an adoring wife to a celebrated war hero. Her husband, Edward, is a pioneer in the eugenics movement. The Hamiltons are on the social rise, and it looks as though their future is bright.

When Mabel, their young daughter, begins to develop debilitating seizures, they have to face an uncomfortable truth: Mabel has epilepsy – one of the ‘undesirable’ conditions that Edward campaigns against.

Forced to hide their daughter away so as to not jeopardise Edward’s life’s work, the couple must confront the truth of their past – and the secrets that have been buried.

Will Eleanor and Edward be able to fight for their family? Or will the truth destroy them?’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Hidden Child by Louise Finn, published by Head of Zeus!

As with Fein’s first novel, People Like Us, The Hidden Child is a book that I found impossible to put down. It follows the lives of Eleanor, Edward and their daughter, Mabel, who begins to have seizures in her early years and experiences them with increasing frequency while her mother – who loves her fiercely – in particular struggles to accept what is happening. To them, it seems their only course of action is to keep Mabel’s condition a secret and avoid directly referencing fit or what it is as much as possible, ensuring that she’s not seen by those outside the household and that anyone who learns of her epilepsy is sworn to secrecy. As Mabel’s health deteriorates and Edward continues to prioritise his work and the beliefs of the ‘academic’ crowd he is a part of, Eleanor is faced with the choice of accepting her husband’s decisions or fighting for what is best for their daughter – and hopefully making him see a better future for her and their family than the one he seems determined to cling to.

What predominantly shines through in The Hidden Child is Eleanor’s love for Mabel and her desire to do the best she can for her when faced with ‘advice’ and paths for her that seem more designed to make her less of an issue for society than thought out to give her a chance at a good future. When Mabel’s seizures begin, she doesn’t attempt to sidestep their existence because she is negligent, but because she is frightened about what they mean for her child and what they are doing to her. She may have worked in the same field as her husband and harboured the same prejudiced views, but her concerns consistently revolve around Mabel and her wellbeing, with the effect on Edward’s work seemingly a secondary concern. Her pain at seeing the treatments that Mabel is made to endure through various attempts to treat a condition that the medical profession simply doesn’t know about in the era in which the novel is set is increasingly heartbreaking and it is a huge relief that she does not let her former views about those with epilepsy control her response to her daughter. She is the one who insists that there must be better treatments available for her and that different opinions matter, fighting against a husband who would much prefer that Mabel be settled in an institution, so that he need not explain her condition to his colleagues. As the narrative unfolds, Eleanor increasingly becomes a woman of clearer moral integrity and finds the strength to fight for her child, a devoted mother in the face of society’s condemnation and her own mental health struggles.

For much of the story, Edward is a character who is difficult to sympathise with, especially considering his views about those he sees as less mentally capable and his ideas about forced sterilisation and genetics controlling potential. It’s his insistence that he cannot possibly be the ‘reason’ for why Mabel has epilepsy – repeatedly backtracking to his genetics being absolutely unable to be a contributing factor, being supposedly ‘superior’ – that makes him particularly repulsive at times. He sees Mabel less as his daughter and a child who needs him to protect her and look out for her best interests, and more of a burden and an embarrassment that he must conceal if he is going to be successful in pushing his troubling agenda. Edward is a man contending with shame that has nothing to do with his daughter, and he lets his previous patterns of behaviour lead him into making similar mistakes that threaten to be just as irreversible as those that he wishes he could undo. His journey feels not as focused on Mabel and his family as Eleanor’s is, as he seems driven by different factors, such as the aforementioned shame, trauma experienced in combat, and his determination that his views be accepted as fact, but he slowly learns that the reality he so wants to reject needs to be considered from different viewpoints – and with different priorities. There are moments when Edward appears to be a lost cause and it is easy to intensely dislike him for what he says and the choices he makes, yet it is satisfying to see him begin to take responsibility for the mistakes he has made and re-evaluate his beliefs.

Fein’s writing is brilliant and emotive, her characters crafted in a manner that, in the case of Eleanor and Edward, makes them not defined by the views they have at the novel’s beginning, but by the ways that they respond to what they experience and learn, and their capacity for growth. They are, in many respects, the products of their era, but they are also human and their beliefs and attitudes do not remain static. They are affected by the events around them, if in different ways and at different rates, and the character development over the course of the story is absolutely one of its many strengths. One of the structural features I found most effective is the use of short chapters from the point of view of epilepsy itself, created as a being that sees all of what Mabel experiences and highlights the pain caused by some of the attempts to manage it.

The Hidden Child is a book that I cannot recommend enough (along with People Like Us) and is one that I know will stay with me for a long time. It is simply an incredible read. Thank you very much to Head of Zeus for the chance to be part of the blog tour!

Blog Tour: The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman

Blog Tour: The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman

‘On an orange-tinted evening in September 1905, Scheherazade is born to an opium-dazed mother in the ancient city of Smyrna. At the very same moment, a dashing Indian spy arrives in the harbour with a secret mission from the British Empire. He sails in to golden-hued spires and minarets, scents of fig and sycamore, and the cries of street hawkers selling their wares. When he leaves, seventeen years later, it will be to the heavy smell of kerosene and smoke as the city, and its people, are engulfed in flames.

But let us not rush, for much will happen between then and now. Birth, death, romance and grief are all to come as these peaceful, cosmopolitan streets are used as bargaining chips in the wake of the First World War.

Told through the intertwining fates of a Levantine, a Greek, a Turkish and an Armenian family, this unforgettable novel reveals a city, and a culture, now lost to time.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman, published by Head of Zeus!

The Silence of Scheherazade is set in the city of Smyrna and follows the not entirely linear paths of four families as history unfolds and gradually reveals the ties between them, as well as the fate of the city that they call home and has seen much conflict and dispute. It’s a story grounded in the very real history of Smyrna (later Izmir), but has an air of the magical and mythical about it, especially in its references to stories, voices, and the way the non-linear structure is excellently exploited to expose some of the tale’s most precious secrets.

The story ostensibly begins with Edith, or perhaps it is that she, in a manner of speaking, repeats the history of her own mother, a young Levantine French woman who cares little for social rules and what is expected of her, despite the ‘best’ efforts of her aforementioned mother. She seeks independence and attempts to shrug off the rules her family would have her follow, and, once the opportunity presents itself, shortly becomes infamous in the wider community for her unwillingness to conform and her scandalous behaviour, such as her living alone as an unmarried woman and her choice of lover (not to mention her reported addiction to opium). It is she who is the mother of Scheherazade, and one of a cast of strong and prominent women from different walks of life, who demonstrate their strength in a variety of manners and scenarios, yet, ultimately, perhaps the key thread that binds them together is their capacity for love, whether that is for family, friends or homeland. Through the lives of these women and their families, The Silence of Scheherazade explores issues of identity, motherhood, sisterhood and what it is to be a woman in a land of conflict, but to name a few of the subjects that are considered over the course of the story.

Scheherazade’s story is not hers alone, but that of those who have shaped who she is, whether deliberately or otherwise, and the manner in which almost the entire cast is written about makes it feel as if there are no minor characters or those which have simply been added for the purpose of moving the plot forward. There are multiple points of view in the novel, through which the reader learns about a broad range of characters, and enough time is spent with each that even those that have only a few details revealed about them feel part of the fabric of the story and significant to a character who may have a larger role, or one that we have spent more time with. In a fashion, there are a thousand and one stories that are a part of Scheherzade’s and those of others, representing the impact that we have on each other’s lives and that parts of us will always be because of the influence that others have had on us.

As the lives of the families stretch on, the tale doesn’t shy away from showing the darkness of conflict, from the physical brutality and treatment of civilians, to the fate of young people drawn into fighting. There are moments that are very difficult to read and that may well make the reader flinch, but that this is the response to these moments is a reflection upon the quality of the writing and emotive impact of the scenes that unfold. There is nothing gratuitous of this nature – only a realistic representation of the situations that civilians would have found themselves in and a sensitively handled understanding of the fear and uncertainty surrounding such events, especially for women at the mercy of enemy forces.

The Silence of Scheherazade is a wonderfully crafted and hard-hitting read that’s most definitely one to look out for for fans of historical fiction and the nature of storytelling. Highly recommended! Thank you to Head of Zeus for sending me a proof for review and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour.

Blog Tour: The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

Blog Tour: The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

‘Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.

Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts–she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.

Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects–or wants–to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.

Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again… or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery! I really enjoyed this book and its look at family dynamics and the relationship between sisters, and how it isn’t up to marriage, blood or otherwise to define what sisters mean to each other.

The Stepsisters first introduces the reader to Daisy, who is married (before husband, Jordan, decides to suggest otherwise), has two young children, and an inheritance from her late mother that means she is able to live a comfortable life in a large home and employ a housekeeper to look after things when she’s at work or otherwise can’t be at home. This is quite the contrast to the life of her stepsister, Sage, who she meets again after many years apart, and who has a string of divorces and her savings all tied up in expensive designer handbags (for a good reason). Then there’s Cassidy, the youngest of the three, who actively hates Daisy and finds herself forced to live with her to recuperate from serious injuries gained when trying to retreat from human feelings. Having been thrown together as children when Daisy’s father married Sage’s mother, the two have never got along, and while Cassidy – the result of said marriage – is sister to them both, the machinations of some of the adults in their lives has led to her being a real friend to neither.

As the book progresses, it becomes very clear that the damage done to the relationship between Daisy, Sage and Cassidy hasn’t been done by them, but by the adults in their lives who should have known better. In various ways, they have been blaming themselves and each other for the breakdown of their parents’ marriage, and unable to have any sort of relationship with each other because those who should have been more responsible and ultimately better parents were more focused on their own needs and feelings. Daisy’s father seems the more passively responsible for various issues, though this is not to say that he is not manipulative, for even now he continues to try and turn Daisy into the daughter he wants her to be. I could write a lot more about Joanne than I already have a little further on, but, frankly, her treatment of Daisy, Sage and Cassidy is despicable and if there were to be a real villain of the piece, I would say it was her. That the adults in their lives were unable and unwilling to communicate when they were children has had a huge impact on each of the women, particularly in Sage and Cassidy’s inability to deal with emotions and their lack of confidence in themselves in any professional capacity, and it is perhaps their closer proximity to Joanne that has resulted in what read like deeper wounds. This is not to say that Daisy has escaped the situation without harm, as she too likes to sidestep her feelings and constantly compares her physical appears to Sage’s, believing she is less than she is. Combined with a need to serve others, it seems that Daisy is trying to avoid the mistakes of the past with her own children and make up for the breakdown in her relationship with Cassidy when she tried to play mother to her.

I found Jordan’s behaviour towards Daisy incredibly manipulative in what seems like a very deliberate manner from the beginning. He refuses to communicate with his wife and makes decisions based solely on his needs, while blaming her for the choices that he is making. It appears apparent very early on that he is determined to make their inevitable divorce her fault in the eyes of others and is intent on provoking her through a series of accusations, ‘changes of heart’ and trying to tear her down. Rather than address his own feelings and failings, he pushes them onto her, claiming that she should fully understand why he feels as he does without giving her any actual information or explaining himself. Though he claims to care for his children, he has absolutely no problem with hurting their mother and playing games with her state of emotional and mental health, seemingly unable to understand (or too selfish to care) that, by doing so, he also stands to hurt them. His selfishness is echoed in Joanne’s treatment of both her daughters, as she too is unable to put them – or anyone else – first. From the way the story unfolds, it’s easy to forget that Cassidy is her daughter, as there is next to no evidence that she cares for her at all, seeing her perhaps only as a reminder of a marriage that she is still bitterly angry about the breakdown of. She is willing to use Sage as a way to hurt Daisy and her own ex-husband, and is uninterested in the lives of her children, only really paying attention when there might be something that she can gain from their respective situations.

It was lovely to see Daisy, Sage and Cassidy gradually unravel all that happened to them as children and begin to see past their misconceptions of each other (and themselves). Daisy is the most responsible and the one who I would suggest holds the three together, but is also the one who feels that her child self failed and that she is the cause of the divorce of their parents, feelings that have been capitalised on by Sage and Cassidy’s mother. Each of them is envious of the others in more ways than one, whether it be for perceived intellect, lifestyle or appearance, and while I do wish that Daisy had stopped comparing herself to Sage in this last respect, they eventually begin to realise that much of what they think of each other has more to do with what they have been told to think and childhood misunderstandings and immaturities than the truth. Sage’s journey to realising what she wants for herself and who she wants to be feels particularly satisfying, especially as she seems ignorant of her talents for much of the book. To see the sisters becoming sisters by choice and despite the meddling of others is the best feature of the story.

The Stepsisters was published on May 25th and is available now in a variety of formats! Thank you to Mills & Boon for my copies of the book and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Bookstagram Tour: The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

Bookstagram Tour: The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

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

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

But Amara’s spirit is far from broken.

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

Today is my stop on the bookstagram tour for The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper! The Wolf Den is a book that I began reading one evening, read until the early hours, eventually – reluctantly – had to sleep, and then picked up again right away when I woke up. As a Classicist, it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and in no way did it disappoint – I simply adored it and wanted it never to end as much as I wanted to read on. The historical detail and the way in which Pompeii is brought to life in such a vivid manner is absolutely brilliant, and I cannot recommend this book enough.

The story follows Amara, who has been taken from her home and sold into slavery, and now finds herself with a new name and forced to work as a prostitute in one of Pompeii’s brothels. The man who has bought her has a cruel and somewhat mercurial nature, intent on using her to make as much money as possible, which includes encouraging her to use her intellect when it suits him, and reprimanding and both verbally and physically harming her when it doesn’t. Having taken the measure of what sort of man he is makes Amara all the more determined to achieve her freedom and make a better life for herself by any means possible.

The Wolf Den does not shy away from the brutality of Amara’s life and what it is to work in a brothel, though never crosses the line into any unnecessarily graphic depictions of what her days and nights involve. The absence of detail in this respect only highlights that it is something that she doesn’t wish to think about and cannot handle focusing on, and there is an awful bleakness in knowing what she is being made to endure in her silences and the spaces between where the narrative breaks and picks up again. The sexual violence is only one aspect of her cruel world; a world that sees her primarily as an object to be possessed and only as a woman in the rare instances in which it suits someone. Even when she exhibits artistic talent that men find pleasing, they still ultimately view her as something they want, and praise inevitably leads to being claimed and reminded of what she has become. She is never truly respected for her mind or talents and has to learn to play the game that others use to exploit her, becoming sharper and more manipulative in her efforts to free herself and find her way back to being a semblance of the woman she was before she was sold into slavery. Amara does not escape the brutality of her environment in this respect, having to make it part of herself in order to make her own way.

There are some friendships among the women that endure better than others, but it seems that many cannot afford to trust another, being that they are all rivals and need to survive; need not to be seen as weak and expendable. Their ways of caring are based around survival and may even seem unkind on the surface, especially regarding the arrival of the Briton they name Britannica. They cannot help her in any way but to let her endure it, unable to protect her without risking both her and themselves, forced to surrender to the inevitable and try to give what support they can in the aftermath. For them, it is a cycle they have seen before and are unable to escape, death or worse being the only alternatives, and while their trauma brings them together, it also creates distance and distrust, the chance for better or escape a rare and precious opportunity. As individuals and collectively, they have to take power in the small moments that they can, knowing that it is unlikely to last. Amara’s determination to get herself out of her present situation doesn’t entirely distance her from others, and while it begins to set her apart and create jealousy when its effects start to become more obvious, she never forgets Dido and seems set on making plans to assist her too, their love perhaps the most important relationship in the novel.

The Wolf Den was released on May 13th and is now available to add to your shelves! It’s among my favourite reads of this year and I’m so glad that it’s the first of a series and that we’ll get to see Amara and everyone again. Thank you to Head of Zeus for sending me a copy of the book and a parcel of goodies, and for the opportunity to be part of the tour!

Blog Tour: The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

Blog Tour: The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

‘Angrboda’s story begins where most witch tales end: with being burnt. A punishment from Odin for sharing her visions of the future with the wrong people, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the furthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be the trickster god Loki, and her initial distrust of him-and any of his kind-grows reluctantly into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces the most important things in her long life: a trio of peculiar children, each with a secret destiny, whom she is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life-and possibly all of existence-is in danger. Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family-or rise to remake it.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec!

The Witch’s Heart is a tale that takes its inspiration from Norse mythology, which I confess did make me expect a rather formal or heavy tone, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find it a much lighter and brighter affair, the dialogue natural and engaging, while the prose is beautiful and quite direct in nature, making it very easily to envision the physicality of characters and the world around them. I have to say that the dialogue between Angrboda and Loki is of my favourite things about the book, often humorous and blunt, with a rather modern feel and perspective that brings the both of them to life. Ultimately, I made the mistake of picking up The Witch’s Heart at 11:30pm, intending to read perhaps thirty pages, and it was well over two hundred before I could put it down (and that was only out of the necessity of sleep!). I loved it and I’m going to have to read it again very soon!

Angrboda’s relationship with Loki is a difficult one that at times seems simple in its acceptance of all that is not quite normal about it, yet it is all too easy for the reader to feel conflicted about it and Loki’s treatment of her. The worst of it is that he never does seem to lie to her, too blunt and open in his observations and his lack of understanding of the consequences of his actions, but she knows too well that much of what he does is deception and for his own gains. That he loves her and his children is something that, in most instances, seems unquestionable, but this goes hand in hand with the knowledge that everything he does is with himself at the forefront of his mind. He manipulates those around him with ease and an often unsettling openness about it, and while it’s obvious that Angrboda is an intelligent woman, that she doesn’t always make the best choices for herself becomes more evident as Loki waltzes in and out of her life – and those of their children – playing at husband and father as he pleases. They accept that their relationship doesn’t look like a ‘normal’ one, and it’s Angrboda who could rage and let jealousy consume her, only she doesn’t, choosing to focus on her children, knowing full well that there will be no changing Loki. Does she really even want to change him? It’s only when the worst thing he has ever said is about their children that she finally seems to see the extent of what he is and start to decide who she is going to be.

I think it’s quite obvious from the outset who the voice is that Angrboda hears and is afraid to listen to, whether literally or metaphorically, as there is a good measure of well-crafted foreshadowing early in the novel, and, in my opinion, it adds another layer to her character as the story unfolds, in that there are untold reasons for her behaviour that even she isn’t completely certain about, yet there is a sense that she truly does know and is unwilling to acknowledge them. It’s interesting to consider just how much of her ‘slow’ recovery is a result of Odin’s punishment and the repeated burnings, or because she simply cannot bear to understand who she was and regain the power that has caused her so much distress – and only causes her more and more as she recovers the depth of it. That the reader catches on to who she is and what is likely to happen before she does essentially grants them her prophetic powers, and one of the most interesting features of the narrative is seeing her put together the pieces and what she does with the information.

Another aspect of the novel that I loved was Angrboda’s relationship with her children and her absolute acceptance of who they are and what forms they take. They are the most important people in the world to her and her simple love and acceptance of their natures impacts how the others in the story see them, meaning they are not deemed to be odd and abnormal by the few who know of them – not until it is their own father who missteps and brands them monsters. Their supposed fates are what drive her to reclaim herself and finally make her see the truth of the world and her choices more clearly, both in terms of what has been taken from her and what she has to give.

The Witch’s Heart is a beautiful, immersive read, written in an addictive style that leaves the reader wanting more. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it, particularly for those with an interest in mythology. Thank you, Titan Books, for sending me an e-copy of the book for review (the book in the image is one I purchased myself) and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Bookstagram Tour: The Silent Stars Go By by Sally Nicholls

Bookstagram Tour: The Silent Stars Go By by Sally Nicholls

‘Seventeen-year-old Margot Allan was a respectable vicar’s daughter and madly in love with her fiance Harry. But when Harry was reported Missing in Action from the Western Front, and Margot realised she was expecting his child, there was only one solution she and her family could think of in order to keep that respectability. She gave up James, her baby son, to be adopted by her parents and brought up as her younger brother.

Now two years later the whole family is gathering at the vicarage for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking for Margot being so close to James but unable to tell him who he really is. But on top of that, Harry is also back in the village.

Released from captivity in Germany and recuperated from illness, he’s come home and wants answers. Why has Margot seemingly broken off their engagement and not replied to his letters? Margot knows she owes him an explanation. But can she really tell him the truth about James?’

The Silent Stars Go By is a wonderful read that I enjoyed immensely. It’s very good at using little details of the time period to create atmosphere and evoke the time in which it is set, and it was so fun to read through it and open all the little parcels that the publisher had included. I read it cover to cover in one go and was quite sad when I reached the end of it, as it’s a beautifully transportive book that manages to pack a real punch in the issues that it examines.

Margot’s history is revealed through looks into the not so distant past while she’s visiting home for Christmas, where her young son is being raised by her parents as her little brother so that she (and they) can avoid the ‘shame’ of her being an unwed mother, after her fiancé is considered to be lost to the war. The Silent Stars Go By looks at her changed relationship with her family and her struggle to accept the decision she has made, watching her son believe that someone else is his mother and prefer her presence to her own. This is further compounded by the fact that her former fiancé is very much alive, leading her to entertain ideas of a future where she can reclaim her son and marry to legitimise him, only she doesn’t quite know how to share her secret with those it would impact most.

The novel not only considers Margot’s struggle, but that of other women in similar positions, who have had children out of wedlock and are inevitably going to be judged by a society that does not accept relationships outside of marriage, dooming them to be pushed to the fringes of their communities and struggle to support themselves (and their children, if they keep them). There are flashbacks to a maternity home, where other women are not as ‘fortunate’ as Margot and have been abandoned by their families either permanently or until such a time as they return home without their babies. Decisions are made without the consent of these young women, their children taken away and given to other families, and Margot attempts to reason with herself that she will at least get to see her son grow up and not have to wonder about his life, even if that means enduring the pain of keeping her secret and not getting to have the relationship with him that she would prefer. Margot often thinks about different paths she could take to reclaiming her child, trying to reason with herself that she can make things right if she can just go about it in the correct way, yet she slowly comes to the realisation that what she wants most of all may not be what is best for her son or for her family, who may have committed to raising him to avoid condemnation, but have forged bonds with him that are far, far from being merely out of obligation.

The impact of the war is hinted at in the behaviour of Margot’s brother, Stephen, who displays symptoms of PTSD and is having great difficultly integrating back into a society that simply doesn’t understand the effect that the fighting has had on its soldiers. His parents are unable to comprehend his behaviour and grow angry that he can’t hold down a job and doesn’t care to, not knowing the trauma that he has experienced and how it has changed him. This echoes the experience of many soldiers who returned from the war, who received next to no support and were often left bereft of home and work, as those around them were unable (and sometimes judgementally unwilling) to understand what they had been through and the lasting impact of the war on their behaviour and ability to function as they had before.

The Silent Stars Go by is a novel that takes on a range of heavy emotional material and examines a post-war world in a sensitive and compassionate way that promises hope in a world that has changed and may never be the same, and may never be the perfect ideal, but will be a life worth living again. Thank you, Andersen Press and Kaleidoscopic Tours for the book package and the chance to be part of the tour!

Blog Tour: Boy Queen by George Lester

Blog Tour: Boy Queen by George Lester

‘Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart.

While his friends prepare to head off to University, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet.

Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realizes there might be a different, more sequinned path for him…

With a mother who won’t stop talking, a boyfriend who won’t acknowledge him and a best friend who is dying to cover him in glitter make up, there’s only one thing for Robin to do: bring it to the runway.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the brilliant new YA release, Boy Queen, by George Lester, and I have a review to share! I read this book from cover to cover without putting it down and loved the story – I particularly think that it deserves a spot in and some attention from school libraries, especially with its look at first relationships, identity, and the anxiety and pressures surrounding the end of secondary schooling.

Boy Queen follows Robin, who is in his last year of sixth form and has applied to drama schools as his next step towards his chosen career, his days occupied by school and extra classes in dance and the theatre arts, the latter something he devotes his time to in an effort to ace the rigorous exams that drama schools require their applicants to pass to earn a place on their courses of study. Unfortunately for Robin, he doesn’t manage to secure a place at drama school, leaving him adrift and unsure of what his next steps are, certain that going to university like some of his friends isn’t for him, even the prospect of applying again next year something that the knock to his confidence initially finds him unable to truly contemplate. Robin is presented as a young man who works hard and wants to dedicate himself to his craft, his confidence a seemingly fragile thing that fluctuates with his sense of self-worth, which is impacted by his experiences with the outside world’s reaction to his sexuality and how he presents himself. When what he has worked so hard for becomes an impossibility in the short term (which should not be downplayed, especially given the pressure that young people face to know their paths and follow them immediately at the end of schooling), he finds himself adrift, his future daunting and uncertain, and his parting from his closest friends and support network inevitable. On his eighteenth birthday, he visits Entity, a club where he gets to see drag artists live for the first time, allowing drag to make the jump from something he has experienced on-screen and at a distance, to something he realises he has the opportunity to take a much more active interest in.

The relationships in Boy Queen are a huge part of the story and, though there are lots that I’d like to talk about, I’m going to focus on two of them. However, I do want to say that I loved the found family features with Robin and his circle of friends, and with the drag artists that he gets to know, such as Kaye, who take him in as one of their own, not just to protect him, but also to teach and to challenge what preconceptions he has about drag and sexuality. The most supportive influence in Robin’s life is his mother, who accepts her son for who he is, while seeking to protect her child from a world that she knows is largely not as accepting as the friends he has found, and wants to keep him safe from the negative influences who will judge him and attempt to make him feel bad for being who he is. Though Robin clearly loves his mum, in his frustration and growing worry over his future he often fails to see all that she does for him, at one point accusing her of never being around, while not understanding that she is rarely home because she is working to make sure that she can pay for everything he needs to embrace his dreams. There are some things that they take for granted about each other that are challenged by Robin’s shifting evermore from child to adult, a time that is proving stressful for the both of them, yet, ultimately, his mother is his biggest fan, certain in the good heart of the son she has raised, and that he has the talent to be whatever he wishes to be.

Robin’s relationship with Connor throws up all sorts of warning signs early on for the reader, from Connor’s reluctance to acknowledge Robin in public, to his insistence that nobody find out that they’re a supposed item (I hesitate to say that they are a couple). While these things are easy for the audience to pick up on, that their relationship is one in which Robin is manipulated and emotionally wounded on more than one occasion is far less clear to him, not only because he wants to be loved, but because he believes he understands the reasons that Connor cannot be as open as he is and has many of the same fears of the consequences of expressing his sexuality. It takes Robin time and support to realise that Connor’s attitude toward him is not acceptable for someone who claims to care for him, and to stop supplying excuses for him to reason away his behaviour, both because he wants to believe better of Connor and because he has convinced himself that he may not be deserving of love and affection; that losing Connor – in whatever way he is willing to be with him – might mean the end of any chance he has at love and he would be foolish to throw it away. Further layers to his experiences with Connor are uncovered as the novel unfolds, the nature of these revelations well-structured within the overall arc of the story and Robin’s realisations about their relationship as he begins to grow into a new confidence in himself.

Boy Queen was released on August 6th and is available on shelves now! Thank you, Pan Macmillan, for the ARC and the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

 

Blog Tour: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Blog Tour: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

‘Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Morts they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In a fast and furious story full of the glamour and excesses, intrigue and deception of these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Kat Dunn’s new YA book, Dangerous Remedy, which is a wonderful read from start to finish and one I didn’t want to put down.

The story follows Camille and the group she has assembled to free people from prison and help them escape certain death, her view that they are doing what they must to help ordinary citizens who have no hope of influencing a corrupt system or of evading their deaths once they are in custody. As the book opens, they have been paid to free and rescue a girl their client claims is his daughter, yet it soon becomes all too obvious that they have not been told the whole story, not about the mission or the girl herself, and so their plans must change while they attempt to figure out the truth and muddle through the ethics of the situation that they find themselves in.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Dangerous Remedy was the group dynamic and the fact that it’s never entirely clear one hundred percent what anyone’s motives truly are or what they might be willing to do to protect themselves and each other. Al is perhaps the most openly scathing of their work together and quite often cuts straight to the point, but it’s quite evident that his darker humour and sarcasm are methods that he uses to protect himself from the reality of what he has experienced and the hand that the world has dealt him. Ada believes that she is doing what she must for Camille and her friends, though knows full well that the secrets she keeps would be abhorrent to the girl she loves, while Camille herself seems to struggle with her own motives and what drives her.

The more magical elements of the story are reminiscent of Frankenstein in their execution, which I found quite suitable for a time in which science was often believed to be magic, and to meddle with what was considered beyond the realm of man was to invite certain doom (this also ties in nicely with the arguments against fate and choice being what determines the future). Olympe is much like the monster, created and turned into something others view as inhuman, with a power not entirely under her control and understanding of who she could be in the right circumstances – when not considered a ‘thing’ and treated as such – just beyond her reach. She has been dehumanised for so long that it would be easy for her to lash out, admitting that she does not remember what it is for people to be kind, and still, she tries, as all of Camille’s group do in their own way, to find a way to a better way.

I loved Camille and Ada and found the murky mix of their family’s pasts and elements that catch up with each of them to be some of the most engaging parts of the novel. Though they clearly love each other, how they feel about each other appears to differ, to the extent that Ada’s devotion and guilt leads her to turn towards Camille and what she can do to help her (even risking her hatred), while Camille seems to retreat inwards and fixate, not as confident in expressing sometimes uncertain feelings, instead taking refuge in action that she has not always thought through or considered the consequences of.

Dangerous Remedy was released in hardback on August 6th and is available from both online and high street book sellers! Thank you, Zephyr Books, for sending me a signed ARC and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

 

Blog Tour: The Switch Up – LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Blog Tour: The Switch Up – LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Switch Up: LA Exchange, which is the sequel to The Switch Up by Katy Cannon! You can read my review of this fun and brilliant read for young adult and middle grade alike here! This morning, I have a post from Katy titled Summer 2020: A Guide for Introverts!

As an introvert, I have to admit that, on paper, that sounds pretty great.

But over the last few months of lockdown, even us introverts have learned there’s a limit to how much we actually want to stay home alone.

Last summer, I wrote a guide to surviving summer as an introvert. It was based around the idea that summertime is fun time – it’s parties and outings and holidays with the family and days with friends. Except this year it kind of isn’t.

So I figure we need a new summer guide for introverts, to help us navigate this new, weird summer we have ahead of us.

Here are my top 5 tips for summer 2020:

Accept that things are weird.

As the lockdown eases and the world starts opening up again over the next few months, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that things are getting back to normal. But they’re not, and it’s important to remember that – not just for our own physical health and safety (let’s not forget about social distancing now when we still desperately need it) but for our mental wellbeing too.

If we think that things are normal, we start telling ourselves that we should feel normal, too. But we’re actually still living through a hugely stressful time – one where our plans and expectations about the year have been tossed out of the window. Exams have been cancelled, schools closed, proms abandoned, birthdays celebrated without parties, holidays skipped and friends and family missed. Many of us have lost loved ones suddenly, and without a chance to say goodbye. And we’re all still living with a huge sense of uncertainty about what happens next. Will schools be open in September? Who knows. Can we go on holiday later in the year? Maybe. Will there be a vaccine? We hope so.

I don’t mention all this to stress you out, but because we’re all already stressed out. This stuff is stressful! Our bodies and minds are in a permanent state of uncertainty, and that takes its toll. So accept that things are weird, and be gentle on yourself. Do what you need to do to keep yourself balanced and well, and don’t feel bad about any of the stuff you need to say no to in order to get there.

Avoid Zoom Fatigue

One of the things you might need to say no to is your twentieth Zoom request of the week. While it’s important to stay in touch with friends and family on video calls, social media and so on, it’s just as important to take a break from it sometimes.

The rule is this: if you feel better and more energised after spending time talking to people, then that’s great! (Yes, I know that introverts usually recharge our energy by not talking to people, but even we like a bit of social interaction with the right people.) But if you feel drained and down after an online chat, then it’s not adding anything to your day.

Of course the problem is that you might not know how you’re going to feel about that virtual meet up or online pub quiz until after its happened. But you know yourself better than anyone, and now we’re all more used to this kind of interaction, we can better predict how we’re going to feel. So take a look at your virtual social calendar – and don’t forget to include any actual garden meet ups or socially distanced walks with friends – and triage it.

What are the things you really don’t want to miss? Your best friend’s virtual birthday party, for instance, or a walk with a friend you haven’t seen in months? What are the ‘nice to do’ items – a weekly quiz on Facebook or a cup of tea in the garden with your aunt who lives round the corner? And what are the ‘can miss’ items? Maybe the weekly zoom call for your drama group where everyone talks over each other anyway, or yet another video call with that friend who is so bored she insists on calling everyone daily?

Make sure you have energy for the most important items by keeping space around them in your calendar for recharging. Fit in all the nice to do items you can manage around that space. And if that looks like a full week, save the can miss items for a quieter week.

It’s okay to flake out on the virtual socialising that you don’t have energy for. It’s maybe harder now we can’t claim other plans, but honestly? You can just say ‘I can’t tonight, but maybe next week?’ That’s okay. (It’s also okay to just say no, if you never want to do it!)

Protect your energy. You need it more than people on the other end of a video call.

Keep a fun list

It’s easy to find ourselves scrolling through our Instagram feed for hours, or at the whim of someone else’s schedule, especially since our actual schedules are kind of empty right now. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to make a fun list.

It’s exactly what it sounds like – a list of fun things to do. It’s a present from your past self to your future self.

So sit down one afternoon and write a list of things future you might enjoy doing. The only catch is that it has to be specific to be useful. When you’re slumped on the sofa feeling like you should do something but not sure what, you need explicit instructions from your past self.

So instead of ‘read a book,’ put ‘read the next book in the series I’m enjoying’ or the title of a book from your TBR. Instead of ‘bake’ put ‘bake chocolate chip cookies.’ You get the idea. And make sure that you have that next book available, and the ingredients on hand. That way, when you’re looking for something else to do, it’s easy to pick something and get started.

Journal

Taking time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings, as well as events going on around you, is always time well spent. It helps you process your emotions, and deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them all up. At times like this, when the world is a worrying place, just writing down how that makes you feel can really help your mood.

Including a gratitude list is also a great idea. Each day, jot down three things that you’re grateful for. It can be anything – from the rain stopping, to eating your favourite dinner, to your loved ones being in your life. Focussing on the good things in our lives helps us remember that the world isn’t all bad.

Recharge

Even now things are starting up again, Britain is still a quieter place than it has been in decades. Our calendars are empty of actual social events, and the number of places we can go is severely limited. As introverts, this gives us a little breathing room. Use it. Recharge your batteries, enjoy your space, make the most of the quiet.

One day, hopefully soon, the world will be back to normal again, maybe even better than before. And if we recharge now, we can celebrate with our loved ones without feeling overwhelmed when the time comes.

Thank you very much, Katy! I know there’s some advice here that I definitely need to take, particularly when it comes to over-saturating zoom/media/messages and realising it’s okay to take a step back and not be available all the time because it’s assumed we’re all available in lockdown.

The Switch Up: LA Exchange is out on June 25th and is the perfect summer read! Thank you Little Tiger and Stripes Books for the chance to take part in the tour!