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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

This Green And Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik (Paperback Release)

 

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik.

Published in hardback 13th June 2019, and in paperback 1st October 2020, by Zaffre Books.

From the cover of the book:

In the sleepy village of Babel's End, trouble is brewing.

Bilal Hasham is having a mid-life crisis. His mother has just died, and he finds peace lying in a grave he's dug in the garden. His elderly Auntie Rukhsana has come to live with him, and forged an unlikely friendship with village busybody, Shelley Hawking. His wife Mariam is distant and distracted, and his stepson Haaris is spending more time with his real father.

Bilal's mother's dying wish was to build a mosque in Babel's End, but when Shelley gets wind of this scheme, she unleashes the forces of hell. Will Bilal's mosque project bring his family and his beloved village together again, or drive them apart?

************************************

Bilal Hasham is not a man who is comfortable with his Muslim faith. He cannot even remember the last time he set foot in a mosque. When he moved away from Birmingham with his family, their intention was to live an "English" life in the country, and for eight years they have succeeded. For all intents and purposes, they have settled into village life, as members of the community of Babbels End, although they are the only non-white family for miles. On the surface, they seem content with their lives and have made many friends, but things are not always what they appear to be... 

When Bilal feels compelled to proceed with his task to build a mosque whatever the cost, the relationships both within his own family and with many of their neighbours change significantly - the majority of the villagers are outraged at the suggestion, seeing it as an attack on their traditional way of life, and Bilal is not really sure of his own standing with his wife and stepson either.

In the midst of strife, an unexpected light at the end of the tunnel appears, in the form of Bilal's aunt Rhuksana, who has lived most of her adult life in the shadow, and home, of Bilal's mother, after being tragically widowed at a young age. She speaks no English and has always been content to stay at home, away from the busy world around her, saying her prayers and writing poetry. She is not really arriving at the best of times, but her quiet presence and endless kindness has a profound effect on Bilal's family and the village of Babbels End. Rhuksana does not understand why everyone is so angry, and is determined to forge friendships where she can - even with the difficult Shelley. Why can't they all just get along? 

This is a pretty complex story, with multiple themes beyond that of a Muslim man who is compelled to question his own faith and identity, at the behest of his dying mother. It is actually the ideas of friendship, love, home and finding a compromise in the face of change that shine through, above all else.

The nature of love is explored in the stories of many of the characters in this book - romantic love, matrimonial love, and parental love - both happy and sad. Friendships are broken and sometimes remade, but the story also shows that kinship can be found in unexpected places as well - even if those friends appear to have nothing in common. And I rather enjoyed how Ayisha Malik makes you think about what home actually means to us too, and how is this tied to our identity? Is it the place we are born, where we are living, or the people we live with? Plenty to think about here. 

Big chunks of this book are really very funny and touching, which balances out nicely with the parts that deal with controversy and strife. It is loaded with humour and there are more than a few odd-ball characters for you to laugh at - in fact, it reminded me a little of some of the characters from the old Tom Sharpe books (Blott on the Landscape springs to mind). 

This book was a slow burner for me, but once Rhuksana made an appearance she worked her magical way her way into my heart and made this story very special. Her kindness, her ability to see beyond the surface and her persistence in forming a friendship with even the most reluctant of villagers - while she was suffering from her own secret sadness - really made this book for me. 

This is a very emotional story, which made me shed more than a few tears, and has left me with lots of things to ponder over too. This is a perfect read for the post-Brexit age.

This Green and Pleasant Land is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer - also available in ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Ayisha is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing. She has spent various spells photocopying, volunteering, being a publicist at Random House, and managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Her novels include, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and The Other Half of Happiness. She is also the ghost writer for GBBO winner, Nadiya Hussain and has contributed to the anthology, A Change is Gonna Come.


 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart

 

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart.

Published 10th September 2020 by Orbit Books.

From the cover of the book:

The emperor's reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire's many islands.

Lin is the emperor's daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright - and save her people.

*********************************************

I am a huge fan of an immersive fantasy yarn, but they can get a bit samey and filled with repetitive plotlines after a while, so when I come across a gem like this one that offers something new and exciting it fills me with joy! 

Welcome to the Phoenix Empire, a world of floating islands, ruled by the Sukai Dynasty whose bone shard magic has kept their enemies at bay for over a century. But there is trouble afoot in this land - the rule of the reclusive emperor is failing, and rebellion is on the rise, along with rumours that an old and powerful enemy may be about to return to their shores.

The story follows four glorious threads within different parts of the Empire: Lin, the daughter of the Emperor, living in the palace on Imperial Isle and desperate to learn the secrets of bone shard magic that her father is reluctant to share with her; Jovis, a smuggler who has stolen from both the authorities and the criminal syndicate he was supposed to be working for, and pursuing a quest of his own for his missing wife; Sand, trapped on a distant island with no memory of who she is or why she is there; and Phalue, daughter of the indolent Governor of Nephilanu Island, who longs to be worthy of the hand and heart of her lover Ranami.

I became completely immersed in these threads, as each of our characters and their compatriots follow their destiny, yearning for the points at which their separate stories might touch - and when they eventually did, it sent shivers down my spine.... but no spoilers from me!

There is a deft hand at work here on the part of our debut author, Andrea Stewart, and her world building is accomplished, detailed and completely seductive - drawing cleverly on the Oriental side of her Chinese-American heritage. The people, the creatures, the environment, and the magic that underlies it all, are beautifully drawn, telling us just what we need to know to carry the story along and sprinkling the revelations we are desperate for at the perfect moments - but also leaving enough questions to be answered in the next part of the epic drama to ensure the reader is along for the ride beyond the final page of the book.

I adored the whole wonderful, entrancing story, and the pages of this sizeable novel just flew by in no time at all. This is one of the best fantasy novels I have read in a very long time and the next book in cannot come quickly enough, as I am desperate to find out what happens next in the Phoenix Empire!

The Bone Shard Daughter is available to buy now in hardcover, ebook and audio formats, from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Andrea Stewart and Orbit Books for providing me with a beautiful copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Andrea Stewart is the Chinese American daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of
places across the United States. When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon
slayer didn't pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California.



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Old Bones by Helen Kitson (Cover Reveal)

COVER REVEAL 

Old Bones
By Helen Kitson

Publishing 18th January 2021
from Louise Walters Books


Today, I am honoured to be able to reveal the cover for the brand new book 
from Helen Kitson and Louise Walters Books: 
Old Bones!

“So much of life is about pretending to
be something other than what one is:
prettier, cleverer, less ordinary.”


From the cover of the book:

Diana and her sister Antonia are house-sharing spinsters who have never got over their respective first loves. Diana owns a gift shop, but rarely works there; and Antonia is unemployed, having lost
her teaching job at an all girls’ school following a shocking outburst in the classroom after enduring
years of torment. Antonia enjoys her “nice” magazines, Diana is a regular at the local library, and
they treat themselves to coffee and cake once a week in the village café.

Naomi lives alone, haunted by the failure of her two marriages. She works in the library, doesn’t
get on with her younger colleagues, and rarely cooks herself a proper meal. Secretly she longs for
a Boden frock.

When a body is discovered in the local quarry, all three women’s lives are turned upside down.
And when Diana’s old flame Gill turns up unexpectedly, tensions finally spill over and threaten to
destroy the outwardly peaceful lives all three women have carefully constructed around
themselves.

Helen takes us back to the fictional Shropshire village of Morevale in this, her brilliant second novel
which exposes the fragilities and strengths of three remarkably unremarkable elderly women.


About the author:

Helen Kitson is an acclaimed poet and lives in Worcester with her husband, two grown-up
children and two rescue cats. Her first poetry collection was nominated for the Forward Best First
Collection Prize. She has published three other poetry collections and her short fiction has
appeared in magazines including Ambit, Feminist Review and Stand. The Last Words of
Madeleine Anderson
was published by Louise Walters Books in 2019. Old Bones is her second
novel.

The Trials Of Koli (Rampart Trilogy Book Two) by M.R. Carey


The Trials of Koli (The Rampart Trilogy Book Two) by 
M. R. Carey.

Published 15th September 2020 by Orbit Books.

From the cover of the book:

Koli never planned to set foot outside his small village. He knew that beyond its walls lay a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and Shunned men. 
But when he was exiled, he had no choice but to journey out into this strange world where every moment is a fight for survival.

And it's not just Koli's life that is threatened. Whole villages just like his are dying out.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If he can find it, there may still be a way for him to change his own fate - by saving the lives of those who are left.

****************************************

The Trials of Koli continues the story from the first book in The Rampart Trilogy, The Book of Koli, published in April 2020 - which introduced us to the terrifying post-apocalyptic world of Ingland, with its few surviving human communities, in which nature has turned against mankind. 

This one carries on seamlessly from book one - which you really do have to have read before getting to this one, so make sure you have (and it's very enjoyable, so why wouldn't you...?).  This time around we follow Koli after he has been exiled from his village, Mythen Road, for stealing tech and also the narrative of Spinner, who Koli fell in love with in the first instalment of this trilogy but has left behind - the two parts of the story swap back and forth between each other throughout.

Koli and his companions Ursala and Cup, who he met in book one, are on a quest to follow a mysterious radio signal to old London, where they hope to find more survivors who will help to save the future of the human race - with the intriguing Dreamsleeve Monono (a sentient piece of tech that Koli stole from the village) along for the ride. But this is a terrifying place and danger lurks around every corner as they try to reach their destination - this is going to be far from easy.

Spinner's part in the tale shows us about the life Koli has left behind and why he is so invested in the fight for survival. Spinner has married another - one who has become a Rampart Knife - and her story gives us a very interesting insight into the world of Rampart Hold. Danger of a different kind is headed the way of Spinner's people and she has an interesting role to play in helping to save them.

The second book in a trilogy can be a tricky thing, as it has to bridge the story between introductory world building and the big flashy finale, but M.R. Carey has managed to pull off the balancing trick well in this book and keeps the action rolling all the way through both sides of the story to the cliff-hanger of an ending that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

I don't want to say too much about the story itself, for fear of spoilers, but be assured that this is every bit as good as the first book and will leave you yearning for the final part of the trilogy, The Fall of Koli, which will be arriving on March 2021.



If you like your sci-fi/fantasy on the dystopian side, with good world building and plenty of thrills and chills, then this is the series for you. There some very interesting moments of humour along the way too, as the humans of Koli's world try to fathom out what some of the technology that has been left behind was actually used for!

The Trials of Koli is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to M.R. Carey and Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

M. R. Carey has been making up stories for most of his life. His novel The Girl With All the Gifts was a word-of-mouth bestseller and is now a major motion picture based on his own screenplay.

Under the name Mike Carey he has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on Lucifer, Hellblazer and X-Men. His creator-owned series The Unwritten appeared regularly in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list.

He also has several previous novels, games, radio plays, and TV and movie screenplays to his credit.



Sunday, September 20, 2020

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp.

Published 15th September 2020 by Source Books.

From the cover of the book:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp comes a shocking new thriller about a group of friends tied together by a game and the deadly weekend that tears them apart.

For five friends, this was supposed to be one last getaway before going their separate ways—a chance to say goodbye to each other, and to the game they’ve been playing for the past three years. But they’re all dealing with their own demons, and they’re all hiding secrets.

Finn doesn’t trust anyone since he was attacked a few months ago. Popular girl Liva saw it happen and did nothing to stop it. Maddy was in an accident that destroyed her sports career. Carter is drowning under the weight of his family’s expectations. Ever wants to keep the game going for as long as they can, at all costs.

When the lines between game and reality start to blend with deadly consequences, it’s a race against time before it’s game over—forever.

*******************************

Marieke Nijkamp is known as an advocate for diversity in story telling, with the aim of making novels more representative of the world around us, so this was one I was really interested to read.

This is not the first diverse book to ever makes its way into my reading pile, but this the first one I have absorbed that weaves a gripping story around a broader range of characters than usual, thankfully without resorting to tokenism, and does it so well.

This is a story about five high school friends, with three years of shared history, who all seem to have something to hide and reasons to mistrust each other. Before they part ways, and head on to the next stage of their lives, they share a weekend together in a remote cabin, but things go seriously wrong - and murder and mayhem ensue!

Yes, we have versions of the popular high school rich girl and the jock, but we also have characters who would not normally have a role in a story like this, because our cast also features autistic, physically disabled, trans and non-binary characters - and refreshingly, these traits are not related to the secrets they are keeping. Hurrah for a story that manages to break away from those old stereotypes!

There are some really interesting themes explored in this book, all wrapped up in a good old murder mystery cum slasher tale. 

Our characters have all bonded over a shared role playing game - one which allows them to be themselves without being defined by the issues they encounter in their real lives. They have been able to escape into the game and leave their troubles behind, but recent events have changed the group dynamic and this is what gives rise to bloodshed. 

The story touches on the troubles that each of our characters has experienced - including discrimination, parental expectation, addiction and financial woes - and the truth behind their circumstances and motivations is eked out ever so gradually by the author, as the story shifts back and forth between the narratives of the different characters. Even though the story progresses quickly, all the little pieces come together gradually, until the truth is finally revealed.

One of the things that works so well in this book is that our 'diverse' characters are the ones who really show their strength, rather than being easy prey for the traditionally stronger ones - it is actually their ability to look at things in a different way that works to their advantage.

I will admit that there were some things I struggled with in the story, such as the assumption that the reader will be au fait with some of the language used - particularly around the game playing parts - but I am not really the target audience for this one and I was able to find out everything I needed via good old Google. It is also a little tricky getting your head around the non-traditional use of pronouns when referring to a non-binary character, but you get used to this after a while - as in all things, it is just a matter of becoming familiar with this.

There is plenty of suspense, gore and mystery here to keep you guessing, and a nice thread of supernatural spookiness provided by a ghost story about the mountain that was lots of fun. This is essentially a page-turner, with a twist.

This is a book that is a fine example of what can be done with diverse literature, and it proves to be both gripping and thought provoking at the same time - although it will primarily appeal to the YA audience it is aimed at. I look forward to reading more titles of this kind.

Even If We Break is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in hardback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Marieke Nijkamp and Source books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Amber Choudhary of Midas PR for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Marieke Nijkamp is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of This Is Where It Ends and Before I Let Go. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globetrotter, geek. 

She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, has served as an executive member of We Need Diverse Books, and is the founder of DiversifYA. 
She lives in the Netherlands.

Find out more about Marieke on her WEBSITE.



Friday, September 18, 2020

Chronoscape by Roger Ley (audio book)

Chronoscape by Roger Ley (audio book).

Releaased 28th August 2020.
Narrated by Craig Bowles.

Listened September 2020.

From the cover: 

Will physicist Martin Riley get the rewards he feels he deserves? 

He's discovered a way to receive news stories from two weeks in the future but the Government has cloaked the technology in secrecy. 

Riley sees the danger in altering the Timestream but despite his warnings, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic make radical alterations to political events. The first temporal alteration saves Princess Diana, the next saves the Twin Towers, but ripples travel far ahead and disturb Earth's future civilisation. 

The Timestream must be realigned, but at what cost?

********************************************

There is nothing I like more that an good story about the vagaries of time - time travel tales, time slip adventures and journeys between alternate universes - I can always make 'time' for them (pardon the pun) and it is extra special when they turn out to be something a little different.

I don't think I have listened to a story quite like Chronoscape before. It starts with a scientist with an idea... what if you could send messages back in time? Except in this case, the scientist gets this idea because he has started receiving messages with racing tips in them, apparently from the future... oh, and apparently from himself. This is one of those circular conundrums that will drive you mad for some time - who actually comes up with this idea? But I digress...

Once he has established that this is not a hoax by placing bets on the tips and winning every time, he knows he is on to something, and after confiding in his mathematician girlfriend, they come up with a plan to try to get some funding to explore how to get this to work.

I am loath to give spoilers, so I won't, but suffice to say the idea becomes a reality and things go seriously awry as result - what a surprise!

Martin is the focus of the piece and he is likeable enough, although he does have his moments - and his narrative is laugh out loud funny in places. I loved his turn of phrase, and his use of swear words is wide, pointed and hilarious. There is plenty of suspense and real action among all the science too.

What made this so intriguing for me is that there comes a point in the story where the perspective changes big time and it becomes a whole different speculative beast - imagine Blake Crouch morphing into Philip K. Dick, if you will - and takes you to some mind-bending and philosophical places.

The story is thrilling, engaging and very thought provoking, but for me, the narration by Craig Bowles does let it down a bit, as I found his voice rather flat and expressionless, which was a shame.

Even so, this was a cracking listen and there is plenty here to capture the imagination. Highly recommended it you love a time tale too.

Thank you to Roger Ley and The Book Club Audio Listeners Facebook group for providing me with a copy of this audio book in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Let's Hear It For: Louise Walters Books


Since I started book blogging about eighteen months ago, I have learned so much about the publishing industry that I was not aware of before, even though I have always been a big reader and worked as a librarian for many years.

One of the most revelatory things for me has been finding out about the wealth of publishers and imprints, both big and small, that actually exist - including the number of independent publishing houses.

I sometimes feel like I have now been inducted into some sort of secret society that the world at large has no idea about, and it has been a wonderful experience to find out about all the different offerings that publishers bring to the table - especially the little guys.

Times have been very tough for publishers this year, and even the big players have found it difficult to operate in the strange world we now inhabit, but it is the little publishing houses that have suffered the most, as they simply do not have the resources to keep going without help when pickings are slim.

More than a few of the small publishers have had to appeal for our support over the last few months to stay in business, through calls to buy books direct, and even contribute towards funds to help them pay the bills, but the wolf is still lurking just outside their doors.

Of course, we can all try to be a little more conscious about where we buy our books... I am not saying you can't buy from the massive online retailers like Amazon (goodness knows, us bloggers do love a Kindle bargain), but there are other ways to fund your book habit if you are able. Even if you only occasionally buy from another source, and there are some fabulous independent retailers out there, every little helps.

But it is not my intention to talk about independent bookshops and retailers here in a broad sense - instead I want to talk exclusively about the little indie publishers themselves, inspired by a recent heart-felt blog post from Louise Walters about the ups and downs of setting up and running her small publishing house, Louise Walters Books. If you missed this then I urge you to have a read, as it is very enlightening - you can find it HERE.

Have you ever gone direct to the site of a small indie publisher and bought their books this way, or do you always use a third party retailer? Many of them offer the facility to buy direct, and you can browse the amazing selection of books available from the little guys at the same time this way.

So, to the point! I have decided to write a few blog posts entitled "Let's Hear It For..." to spotlight some of the amazing little guys of the publishing world who have brought me such a lot of reading pleasure since I began blogging about books, and to share some of my reviews about the gems they offer.

It seems appropriate to start with my muse, Louise Walters, who is nearing the third anniversary of her tiny publishing house, so read on. booklover, read on....

Louise Walters Books


In Louise's own words...
"I'm a reader, writer, editor and publisher. My imprint Louise Walters Books is tiny, indie, and receptive to books bigger publishers may not be able to consider. I aim to publish only the very best in adult literary and literary/commercial fiction, across all genres."
Louise is an author herself and offers a critiquing service to writers. In 2017, inspired by the notion that her fiftieth birthday was approaching and if she did not do it then she never would, Louise set up her own publishing house, Louse Walters Books (LWB).

LWB, operates as a 'one woman band', has seven fabulous authors on the books and publishes up to four titles a year in a range of genres - in hardback, paperback, ebook and audio formats.

You can see the amazing range of books available from LWB, and purchase them direct, HERE.

Louise also offers a brilliant subscription service for those who wish to support her by more than just buying her books, which you can read more about HERE.. I am honoured to be one of her supporters myself.


I have had the pleasure of reading three of the LWB authors so far, who all write very different kinds of books - Diana Cambridge, Laura Laakso and Dominic Brownlow - and have shared the links to my reviews below so you can find out why I loved them all so much and hopefully be inspired to read them too.


Don't Think A Single Thought 
by Diana Cambridge




Fallible Justice: Wilde Investigations Book One
by Laura Laakso






The Naseby Horses
by Dominic Brownlow




On my to be read/listened shelf I also have the fabulous audio book of The Naseby Horses; books two and three in the Wilde Investigations series, Echo Murder and Roots of Corruption, by Laura Laakso; In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton, which is due for an autumn release; The Last Words Of Madeleine Anderson by Helen Kitson; and Louise Walter's own books, Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase, The Road To California and A Life Between Us and a few others too - so keep an eye out for the forthcoming reviews!


I hope my musings will encourage you to take a look as the LWB website, make a few purchases (her ebooks are only £2.50 each, which is the same price as on Amazon) and fall in love with the books as I have!

Watch out for more spotlights on some more of my favourite indie publishers in the next few weeks, as part of the "Let's Hear It For..." series.

LWB logo reproduced courtesy of louisewaltersbooks.co.uk

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

City Of Spies by Mara Timon.

City of Spies by Mara Timon.

Published 17th September 2020 by Zaffre.

LISBON, 1943: When her cover is blown, SOE agent Elisabeth de Mornay flees Paris. Pursued by the Gestapo, she makes her way to neutral Lisbon, where Europe's elite rub shoulders with diplomats, businessmen, smugglers, and spies.

There she receives new orders - and a new identity.

Posing as wealthy French widow Solange Verin, Elisabeth must infiltrate a German espionage ring targeting Allied ships, before more British servicemen are killed.

The closer Elisabeth comes to discovering the truth, the greater the risk grows. With a German officer watching her every step, it will take all of Elisabeth's resourcefulness and determination to complete her mission.

But in a city where no one is who they claim to be, who can she trust?

**********************************

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book - in fact, I don't think I have enjoyed a historical fiction spy story as much this for a very long time.

Why is that, I hear you ask? Well, the reasons are many actually, but mainly because this is written by a very talented writer who brilliantly takes you into the less travelled land of the life of a female SOE operative in World War II; and that this is a story that that plays out against a very unusual backdrop for a tale about this period - the historic and beautiful, Lisbon.

When we first meet Elisabeth de Mornay she is deep undercover in Paris as Nathalie Lafontaine, an Allied radio operator, or pianist as they are more colloquially termed by those in the trade. When her cover is blown, she has to flee across country, relying on her training and wits keep her out of the hands of the Gestapo, and meeting both friends and foe along the way. This is actually quite familiar territory for a tale of wartime espionage, but our author balances just the right amount of danger and suspense with Elisabeth's skills as a operative to make this build up to the main event exciting and surprisingly emotional.

Elisabeth's flight takes her to neutral Portugal, where she finds herself adopting the persona of Solange Verin, a wealthy French emigree, who is given the unenviable task of infiltrating a German spy ring, whilst maintaining her cover in a city that is known to be a hot bed of spies. It is in Lisbon that the majority of this novel is placed and this is what makes the story so very, very good.

I have not read anything about the Lisbon of this period before, so really enjoyed that Mara Timon works the historical facts into her fictional tale about the world that Elisabeth must now become familiar with. This is new and fascinating territory, for both Elisabeth and myself - a city where British and German soldiers and diplomats rub shoulders, ostensibly on neutral ground, among a population of local Portuguese swollen with the presence of refugees from across war torn Europe. Here Elisabeth must carry off her new identity as Solange to perfection in an environment where it is impossible to trust anyone and true loyalty is hidden well.

It is here, in Lisbon and it's environs, that the story really comes alive. We are treated to the very best in the espionage genre, full of as much detail about the nitty-gritty spy stuff to keep any fan of this kind of book happy, as our protagonist is skilled, resourceful, and undertaking dangerous and important work. 

But that is not all: Solange is a wealthy woman and the trappings that come with this new role are not to be sniffed at. It is wonderful to revel in these long forgotten luxuries alongside Elisabeth - the elegant villa, the food, the gowns and jewellery -  and it adds beautifully to the glamour and period feel of the piece.

This is an espionage tale of a different class: a novel that is more the nature of an iron fist that is wrapped seductively in a velvet glove. Elisabeth is a very competent spy, but she is also a woman, and it is the combination of these things that give depth and feeling to the story - love makes a welcome appearance too, but it is love of country that holds sway.

I have spent a fair bit of time in Portugal over the years, and it is a country that I love. It is clear from Mara Timon's descriptions that she has fallen for the charms of Portugal too. I particularly enjoyed the fact that our author has even included an appendix about 'Touring the City of Spies', and cannot wait to visit beautiful Lisbon once again with Mara Timon's guide in hand to soak up the wonderful locations she uses in this book.

This is an accomplished debut from an author who is most definitely one to watch, and I am hoping from the hints at the end of the book that a sequel will be on the the way before long - I will definitely be along for the ride!

City of Spies is available to but from your favourite book retailer from 17th September 2020, in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Mara Timon and Zaffre Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and tpo Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Mara Timon is a native New Yorker and self-proclaimed citizen of the world, who began a love affair with London about 20 years ago. She started writing short-stories as a teenager, and when a programme on the BBC caught her interest, she followed the "what-ifs" until a novel began to appear.

Mara lives in London and is working on her next book. She loves reading, writing, running, Pilates, red wine and spending time with friends and family - not necessarily in that order.




Thursday, September 10, 2020

Exit Management by Naomi Booth

Exit Management by Naomi Booth.

Published 10th September 2020 by Dead Ink Books.

From the cover of the book: 

“At minus five degrees, even the densest blood materials start to turn: the beginnings of a human heart will still into black ice.”

There is a house, a beautiful house, that sits in a sought-after London location and is filled with priceless works of art. Joszef the elderly owner is ill; all he wants is some company until the end, and someone to trust his home to once he’s gone. Someone to help him over that final line, perhaps.

When Callum, a lost young man longing for direction, comes into his life, the pair form a friendship that transcends their ages. Lauren, Callum’s new girlfriend, has other plans, though. Calculating and ambitious, Lauren has already reinvented herself once and to reach the top she will do it again.

Pushed onwards by the poison of ambition and haunted by losses from the past, these characters are drawn together in a catastrophe of endings. Naomi Booth’s second novel is an unnerving dissection of class, xenophobia and compassion. Showing us the lengths that we will all go to in order to secure our futures, Exit Management will seize you in its cold hands and show you the dark heart within us all.

*************************************************

Exit Management is quite a novel - seductively dark and with more than a little dose of chill at it's heart, and yet strangely insightful and compassionate at the same time. Naomi manages to draw you completely into her tragic tale of two lovers so completely unsuited to each other that you know heartbreak can be their only destination. I don't think I have ever read anything quite like it before - in a good way... a very good way.

Lauren is cold and fiercely ambitious, She has reinvented herself to get as far away as possible from her traumatic background - the roots that have seriously screwed her up inside. Callum is ripe for the picking, but his close friendship with the elderly Joszef proves to be both an opportunity and fly-in-the-ointment for Lauren's plans, and although in some ways she gets exactly what she wants, the fateful meeting of these three characters proves to be her undoing, while at the same time oddly being the making of Callum.

You would think that this makes Lauren the villain here, for how can you like someone so cold and calculating? But as the story unfolds, you learn exactly why Lauren has become the broken person she is - determined to stand on her own two feet and driven to do anything to get what she wants - and why she actually thinks she is protecting her nearest and dearest in the process. She is both hateful and desperately vulnerable at the same time; a contrary and controversial mix of conflicting desires, intentions and emotions.

Callum begins the piece as a drifter without direction. He is desperate for connection with a fellow human being, for love, and this makes him easy prey for Lauren - even if their meeting and plans are based on misconceptions at the start. But this also makes him open to forming a close and rather beautiful bond with Joszef. Callum's innate compassion is what ultimately brings him to breaking point as his deeply felt emotions eventually spill over, it is also the quality that saves him too.

This is a complex and multi-layered novel, that beautifully explores the weight of the past, class, ambition, relationships and connection with out fellow human beings, and the way Naomi Booth dissects and then displays the many facets of the meaning behind her cleverest of titles, Exit Management, is superb. This is a sad book, and our author leaves us in no doubt that we are not heading for a happy ending from the off, but it gets inside your head, and I so desperately want to know what happens for Lauren and Callum next - always the sign of a great storyteller. Outstanding!

Exit Management is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, though I recommend supporting independent publishing by buying direct from Dead Ink HERE.

Thank you to Jordan Taylor-Jones for sending me a copy of this incredible book, in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Naomi Booth is a writer and academic. Her fiction tends to explore unsettling landscapes, strange compulsions, dangerous bodies and contamination. Her academic research currently focuses on the literary history of swooning. Her first novel, Sealed, was published by Dead Ink Books in 2017.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Devil Upstairs by Anthony O'Neill

The Devil Upstairs by Anthony O'Neill.

Published 5th September 2019 by Black and White Publishing.
Read September 2019.

From the cover of the book: 

In a quiet corner of Edinburgh, Cat Thomas is going through hell.
She’s tried everything. He respects nothing.
If your neighbour was making your life hell ...
Would you call upon the devil?

Cat Thomas, a brilliant fraud investigator, has just relocated from Florida to a dreamy flat in historic Edinburgh. Everything seems perfect. Everything seems serene. Except for the unbelievably noisy wannabe rockstar upstairs.

Soon Cat’s blissful new life is in ruins. Desperate, she's willing to try anything. When all else fails, she makes an appeal ... to Satan.

And suddenly everything is eerily quiet. But her nightmare has only just begun ...

****************************************


This book was so much fun. with just the right mix of horror, mystery and pitch black humour to make it a hugely entertaining read.

Cat Thomas, fraud investigator from Miami, goes back to her Scottish roots by relocating to Edinburgh for what she hopes will be a quiet life, but her dreams are quite literally smashed to pieces by the presence of the noisy neighbour from hell in the flat upstairs. Night after night with very little sleep leads Cat to think some extremely dark thoughts about the fate of Mr Noisy Neighbour, and pushed to the very edge she embarks on a course of action that will take her on an unexpected, dangerous and violent journey... but no spoilers in this review.

Cat makes for a very likeable protagonist, and her work-mate, self-confessed witch, Agnes is an absolute hoot. There are also some gritty bad guys, not the least of which is Mr Noisy upstairs, as Cat finds herself on the trail of some crafty criminals as well as trying to resolve her own personal issues.

The story runs at full tilt, as the pages fly by, and all the threads work themselves out in a most enjoyable way - with the kind of ending that I did not see coming, but found most delicious. There is an undeniable feel of Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, weirdly entwined with a vein of Neil Gaimanesque macabre humour that I found eerily diverting, and somehow that dark and tormented story feels right at home in Edinburgh.

As a connoisseur of excellent book titles, I also have to say that this a corker - very clever Mr O'Neill!

There is scope here for a sequel that could be most intriguing, and I would dearly love it if Anthony O'Neill decided to take up his pen and write more for Cat, and the adorably foul-mouthed Agnes, as they could have a rollicking time together setting the world to rights!

The Devil Upstairs is available to buy now from Amazon UK , or your favourite book retailer in hardback and ebook formats.

Thank you to Black and White Publishing for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Anthony O'Neill is the son of an Irish policeman and an Australian stenographer.
He was born in Melbourne and now lives in Edinburgh. 
He is the author of seven novels including The Dark Side and Dr Jekyll & Mr Seek, recommended by Ian Rankin as 'clever, gripping and reverent'.



Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Reading Agency Quick Reads May 2021 Cover Reveal

The Reading Agency Quick Reads Cover Reveal
for May 2021



Today, on International Literacy Day, I have the honour to be able to share with you the jackets for the next installment of Quick Reads from The Reading Agency.

Coming of 27th May 2021, there will be six amazing new bite-size novels, written by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Louise Candlish, Katie Fforde, Peter James, marking the 15th anniversary of the life-changing programme tackling the UK’s adult literacy crisis by inspiring less confident readers. 

“We are extremely proud to share the fabulous jackets for Quick Reads 2021. We could not be more grateful to the authors and publishers for their support of this invaluable programme. As we look forward to this next exceptional instalment of Quick Reads titles, it is easy to forget that without the generous gift of three years financial support from Jojo Moyes, Quick Reads would not have been relaunched, next year’s titles would not exist, and thousands of readers would not have picked up a copy of these life-changing books. It’s crucial that we find a way of ensuring that Quick Reads are here to stay. They provide entertaining, compelling, first-class storytelling that changes lives
through reading.”
Fanny Blake, Quick Reads Commissioning Editor

Since launching in 2006, over 5 million Quick Reads books have been distributed. One in six adults in the UK find reading difficult and one in three do not regularly read for pleasure - Quick Reads works to change these statistics by producing high quality books supported by outreach work in libraries, further education, prisons and trade unions, to help thousands of new readers every year find the pleasure and benefits that come from reading. With publisher support and The Reading Agency's outreach work, over 83,987 Quick Reads have been distributed in 2020 so far.

“We’re thrilled to be unveiling the jackets for 2021’s upcoming Quick Reads. The authors taking part in the 15th anniversary of the programme are some of our brightest writing stars. We’re delighted to receive their help in tackling the adult literacy crisis in the UK. We hope the wide range of stories showcased in this collection will once again help people across the country discover the joy and proven power of reading. There really is something for everyone”
Debbie Hicks, Creative Director, The Reading Agency

From dark domestic noir and compelling crime to family drama and feminist manifesto, the transformative titles publishing on 27 May 2021 are great reads showcasing the very best in contemporary writing, and are available for just £1 at bookshops and free to borrow from libraries, colleges, prisons, trade unions, hospitals and adult learning organisations across the UK.

Read on to find out more about the May 2021 titles.

Oyinkan Braithwaite, The Baby is Mine (Atlantic)

When his girlfriend throws him out during the pandemic, Bambi has to go to his Uncle’s house in lock-down Lagos. He arrives during a blackout, and is surprised to find his Aunty Bidemi sitting in a candlelit room with another woman. They are fighting because both claim to be the mother of the baby boy, fast asleep in his crib. At night Bambi is kept awake by the baby’s cries, and during the days he is disturbed by a cockerel that stalks the garden. There is sand in the rice. A blood stain appears on the wall. Someone scores tribal markings into the baby’s cheeks. Who is lying and who is telling the truth?

Oyinkan Braithwaite gained a degree in Creative Writing and Law at Kingston University. Her first book, My Sister, the Serial Killer, was a number one bestseller. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize and was on the long list for the 2019 Booker Prize.
“When I am writing, I don’t know what my readers will look like or what challenges they may be facing. So it was an interesting experience creating work with the understanding that the reader might need a story that was easy to digest, and who might not have more than a few hours in a week to commit to reading. It was daunting – simpler does not necessarily mean easier – I may have pulled out a couple of my hairs; but I would do it again in a heartbeat. Quick Reads tapped into my desire to create fiction that would be an avenue for relief and escape for all who came across it.”
Oyinkan Braithwaite, author of The Baby is Mine

Louise Candlish, The Skylight (Simon & Schuster)

They can’t see her, but she can see them… Simone has a secret. She likes to stand at her bathroom window and spy on the couple downstairs through their kitchen skylight. She knows what they eat for breakfast and who they’ve got over for dinner. She knows what mood they’re in before they even step out the door. There’s nothing wrong with looking, is there? Until one day Simone sees something through the skylight she is not expecting. Something that upsets her so much she begins to plot a terrible crime…

Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Other Passenger and thirteen other novels. Our House won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards and is now in development for a major TV series. 

Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter.
"It's an honour to be involved in this year's Quick Reads. Reading set me on the right path when I was young and adrift and it means such a lot to me to be a part of literacy campaign that really does change lives.”
Louise Candlish, author of The Skylight 

Katie Fforde, Saving the Day (Arrow, Penguin Random House)

Allie is bored with her job and starting to wonder whether she even likes her boyfriend, Ryan. The high point in her day is passing a café on her walk home from work. It is the sort of place where she’d really like to work. Then one day she sees as advert on the door: assistant wanted. But before she can land her dream job, Allie knows she must achieve two things:
1. Learn to cook
2. End her relationship with Ryan, especially as through the window of the café, she spies a waiter who looks much more like her type of man.
And when she learns that the café is in danger of closing, Allie knows she must do her very best to save the day …

Katie Fforde lives in the beautiful Cotswold countryside with her family, and is a true country girl at heart. Each of her books explores a different job and her research has helped her bring these to life. 
“As a dyslexic person who even now can remember the struggle to read, I was delighted to be asked to take part in the scheme. Anything that might help someone who doesn’t find reading easy is such a worthwhile thing to do.” 
Katie Fforde, author of Saving the Day 

Peter James, Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan)

Roy Grace and his family have left Sussex behind for a week’s holiday in France. The website promised a grand house, but when they arrive the place is very different from the pictures. And it soon becomes clear that their holiday nightmare is only just beginning. An old enemy of Roy, a lowlife criminal he had put behind bars, is now out of jail – and out for revenge. He knows where Roy and his family have gone on holiday. Of course he does. He’s been hacking their emails – and they are in the perfect spot for him to pay Roy back...

Peter James is a UK number one bestselling author, best known for his crime and thriller novels. He is the creator of the much-loved detective Roy Grace. His books have been translated into thirty-seven languages. He has won over forty awards for his work, including the WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award. Many of his books have been adapted for film, TV and stage.

 “The most treasured moments of my career have been when someone tells me they hadn't read anything for years, often since their school days, but are back into reading via my books. What more could an author hope for? Reading helps us tackle big challenges, transports us into new worlds, takes us on adventures, allows us to experience many different lives and open us up to aspects of our world we never knew existed. So I'm delighted to be supporting Quick Reads again - I hope it will help more people get started on their reading journeys and be the beginning of a life-long love of books.”
Peter James, author of Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan)

Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman (abridged) (Ebury)

It's a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven't been burnt as witches since 1727. But a few nagging questions remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you're going to have a baby? Part memoir, part protest, Caitlin answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.

Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. She is the author of many award-winning books and her bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries, and won the British Book Awards' Book of the Year 2011. Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, is now a major feature film. 
"I wrote How To Be A Woman because I felt that feminism is such a beautiful, brilliant, urgent and necessary invention that it should not be hidden away in academic debates, or in books which most women and men found dull, and unreadable. Having a Quick Reads edition of it, therefore, makes me happier than I can begin to describe - everyone deserves to have the concept of female equality in a book they can turn to as a chatty friend, on hand to help them through the often bewildering ass-hattery of Being A Woman. There's no such thing as a book being too quick, too easy, or too fun. A book is a treat - a delicious pudding for your brain. I'm so happy Quick Reads have allowed me to pour extra cream and cherries on How To Be A Woman."
 Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman (abridged)

Khurrum Rahman, The Motive (HQ)

Business has been slow for Hounslow’s small time dope-dealer, Jay Qasim. A student house party means quick easy cash, but it also means breaking his own rules. But desperate times lead him there – and Jay finds himself in the middle of a crime scene. Idris Zaidi, a police constable and Jay’s best friend, is having a quiet night when he gets a call out following a noise complaint at a house party. Fed up with the lack of excitement in his job, he visits the scene and quickly realises that people are in danger after a stabbing. Someone will stop at nothing to get revenge…

Born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1975, Khurrum moved to England when he was one. He is a west London boy and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two sons. Khurrum is currently working as a Senior IT Officer but his real love is writing. His first two books in the Jay Qasim series, East of Hounslow and Homegrown Hero, have been shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger.
 “I started reading late in life, as the idea of reading a book always seemed overwhelming. I hesitantly began a book a friend had recommended and quickly became totally immersed in the story. I found joy and comfort and most importantly, an escape. It’s for this very reason that I am so proud to be involved with Quick Reads. This initiative is so important for people, like I once was, to engage in stories that may mirror their own lives or to read experiences far beyond their imagination. Just like a friend once did for me, I hope I am able to play a small part in encouraging somebody to pick up a book.”
Khurrum Rahman, author of The Motive



About The Reading Agency and Quick Reads

The Reading Agency is a national charity that tackles life's big challenges through the proven power of reading. We work closely with partners to develop and deliver programmes for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Reading Agency is funded by Arts Council England.  

Quick Reads, part of The Reading Agency, aims to bring the pleasures and benefits of reading to everyone, including the one in three adults in the UK who do not regularly read for pleasure, and the one in six adults in the UK who find reading difficult. The scheme changes lives and plays a vital role in addressing the national crisis around adult literacy in the UK. Each year, Quick Reads commissioning editor Fanny Blake works with UK publishers to commission high profile authors to write bitesize, engaging books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. Since 2006, over 5 million books have been distributed through the initiative, 5 million library loans (PLR) have been registered and through outreach work hundreds of thousands of new readers each year have been 
introduced to the joys and benefits of reading. From 2020 – 2022, the initiative is supported by a philanthropic gift from bestselling author Jojo Moyes.

To find out more, please visit The Reading Agency website HERE.


Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Secret Life Of The Savoy: and the D'Oyly Carte Family by Olivia Williams

The Secret Life Of The Savoy: and the D'Oyly Carte Family by Olivia Williams.

Published 3rd September 2020 by Headline.

From the cover of the book:

THE STORY OF THE SAVOY HOTEL'S FOUNDERS, THROUGH A CENTURY OF LUXURY

"For The Gondoliers-themed birthday dinner, the hotel obligingly flooded the courtyard to conjure the Grand Canal of Venice. Dinner was served on a silk-lined floating gondola, real swans were swimming in the water, and as a final flourish, a baby elephant borrowed from London Zoo pulled a five-foot high birthday cake."

In three generations, the D'Oyly Carte family pioneered the luxury hotel and the modern theatre, propelled Gilbert and Sullivan to lasting stardom, made Oscar Wilde a transatlantic celebrity, inspired a P. G. Wodehouse series, and popularised early jazz, electric lights and Art Deco.

Following the history of the iconic Savoy Hotel through three generations of the D'Oyly Carte family, The Secret Life of the Savoy revives an extraordinary cultural legacy.

**************************************************

The Secret Life Of The Savoy is a fine example of the kind of non-fiction book I like best, as it manages to be completely fascinating, incredibly informative and full of the most salacious tales all at the same time!

This magnificent book takes us through the life and times of the three D'Oyly Cartes who pioneered both the luxury hotel and the modern theatre - from the unstoppable theatre impressario and founder of the feast, Richard; to his son Rupert, who developed and made his own mark on the empire left to him by his father; and finally, to Richard's daughter Bridget, the last of the line of an amazingly talented and tenacious family, who held the fort until her own untimely death in 1985. This was a family blessed with ambition on a scale rarely seen, with both the foresight and vision the bring about a hospitality and entertainment empire not found before on these shores - but their personal lives were also touched with terrible tragedy, and the fast pace of their lives did seem to wear them out rather quickly.

The wealth of historic detail, the number of amazing facts and the liberal sprinkling of famous names in these pages is astonishing, and all credit must go to the author Olivia Williams for the considerable amount of research she must have done to bring us this book in all its glittering glory. It's the kind of book that draws you in and leaves you open mouthed as you consume the text, and would certainly have been a very quick read for me - if it were not for the fact that I found myself stopping on almost every page to say out loud to anyone nearby "Did you know that....?"!

For instance, did you know that: Richard D'Oyly Carte launched the careers of Gilbert and Sullivan with his D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in the 1870s and it ran continuously in his family's care for over a century; or that, on the opening of the Savoy Theatre, D'Oyly Carte brought the world the first public building to be wholly lit by electricity, and from his own power station no less? The revelations simply roll of the page as you progress through the book, some of which may tickle the back of your mind as something that you may have heard somewhere or other, but cannot quite remember the details of - although for the most part that they are simply jaw-droppingly staggering.

The Savoy was Britain's first luxury hotel, uniting country house interiors, American comforts and French fine dining, which attracted famous actors, writers, aristocrats, politicians and royalty - and all the shady goings on that follow in their wake. The hotel had its fair share of controversy as a result, including connections with Oscar Wilde's famous gross indecency trial, the death of a young starlet by a cocaine overdose in 1918, and the murder of an Egptian prince by his wife in 1923.

But the magic of the Savoy lived on, and if anything the scandals increased the cachet and mystique of the hotel. The music carried on playing, the 24 hour room service was unstoppable, and the traditions remained in place whatever was going on in the outside world - including through two world wars.

I find it incredibly sad that the dominion of the D'Oyly Carte family ended with Bridget, as the Savoy and her sister hotels and theatres were ostensibly the kind of empire that thrived under the guardianship of a family at the helm. It is clear from everything I have read in this book that everyone connected with the businesses, except possibly for one or two most outrageous examples, thought of themselves as part of a family firm. It was the end of an era when Bridget passed away.

In these modern times, it is interesting to speculate on what will happen to the grande dames of the luxury hotel sector. Perhaps you see no place for venues on this ilk and would like to see them consigned to the pages of the history book. However, I think this would be a mistake. The contribution of the D'Oyly Carte family to our British cultural heritage was considerable and their legacy is definitely worth preserving. I also have a soft spot for the old girl and her deliciously seductive reputation for sticking two fingers up to whatever was going on around her in the real world - we all need a little respite from the hard times after all.

The Secret Life Of The Savoy is available to buy now in hardback, audio, and ebook formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Caitlin Raynor at Headline for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Olivia Williams graduated with a scholarship in Modern Hostory from St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where she reamined for her master's degree. In her final year, she won the Rupert Murdoch Scholarship for student journalism. She worked s a trainee journalist at the Daily Mail before writing her first book Gin Glorious Gin. Olivia lives in London, where she is a freelance writer.
Find out more about Olivia on Twitter: @tweetingolivia

The Year Of The Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year Of The Witching by Alexis Henderson.

Published 23rd July 2020 by Bantam Press.
Read August 2020.

From the cover of the book:

Born on the fringes of Bethel, Immanuelle does her best to obey the Church and follow Holy Protocol. For it was in Bethel that the first Prophet pursued and killed four powerful witches, and so cleansed the land.

And then a chance encounter lures her into the Darkwood that surrounds Bethel. It is a forbidden place, haunted by the spirits of the witches who bestow an extraordinary gift on Immanuelle. The diary of her dead mother . . .

Fascinated by and fearful of the secrets the diary reveals, Immanuelle begins to understand why her mother once consorted with witches. And as the truth about the Prophets, the Church and their history is revealed, so Immanuelle understands what must be done. For the real threat to Bethel is its own darkness.

Bethel must change. And that change will begin with her . . .

******************************************************

It has been a long while since I read a fantasy novel that caught me as much as The Year Of The Witching.

Immanuelle is a girl born into the rigid strictures of a deeply religious community, and bound by the Holy Protocol that guides their lives, but the history of her parents brands her as an outsider from birth - she is neither a full member of the Bethel devout, nor part of the Outskirter people whose blood runs in her veins courtesy of her father. 

Her path is seemingly marked by a dark star, and as she learns about herself and her home she begins to understand that she has been born to bring change to her homeland, be it good or bad - for there is something rotten at the heart of Bethel and everything it stands for, and it is time for the truth of the Prophets to be challenged.

The Year Of The Witching is both a rip-roaring fantasy tale, full of darkness, horror and witchcraft and the fight for good against evil, but is it also a rather cleverly crafted story of love, family, oppression, the subjugation of women, and feminist rebellion.

This is a wonderfully complex tale, which incorporates a myriad of shades and layers that mean it is not so easy to draw a clear line between good and evil, and this makes for a compelling tale that draws you in completely, all the way to the breathless and exciting climax. 

This is a book being vaunted at a meeting between The Handmaid's Tale and The Village and this is a good way to think about it, as there is a fine mix of horror. politics and morality tale making up the glorious whole. It is also interesting to note that Alexis Henderson garnered much of her inspiration for this book from her own experiences in a fundamentalist and deeply religious community, and her idea that witchcraft is best used as a form of political resistance is rather intriguing.

As a debut novel, The Year Of The Witching is very impressive and I cannot wait to see what comes next from Alexis Henderson. There is scope for more stories from the world of Bethel and perhaps there is even a little clue in the last line of the book? We shall see.....

The Year Of The Witching is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Alexis Henderson and Bantam Press for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Alexis Henderson is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories.

When she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, you can find her painting or watching horror movies with her feline familiar. 

Currently, Alexis resides in the sun-soaked marshland of Charleston, South Carolina.