blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Whisperling – Hayley Hoskins

When you’re dead, you’re dead. When you’re gone, you’re gone. Unless, of course, you’re not. And that’s where I come in.

The year is 1897, and Peggy Devona can speak with ghosts.

She hides her gift from those afraid of a girl with such powers, terrified of the secrets the dead could reveal through her. But when her best friend is accused of murdering her rich mistress, Peggy knows only she – a  hisperling – can save her.

Peggy escapes to her uncle’s psychic emporium in the city, seeking out new ghosts to help her solve Sally’s case.

Yet time is running out, and each step towards uncovering the truth also brings Sally one step closer to the gallows. . .

Long listed for the Bath Children’s Novel award, Hayley Hoskins writes in the space between family and work, with much support from her writing group.

Mum to a teenage boy, she spends a disproportionate amount of time hoping that her son’s life is far less complicated than those of the characters in her books, and trying to ensure he becomes a ‘good egg’.

 Originally from the Forest of Dean, Hayley lives with her family and hairy breezeblock of a dog in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Twitter

My thoughts: inspired by the real life executions of teenage girls in the past and the Victorian fascination for séances and the afterlife, this is a clever, fun story of a young woman with an extraordinary gift and how she uses it to get justice for the living and the dead.

Peggy Devona has inherited the family gift for talking to the dead – she’s a Whisperling – and while it isn’t as bad as being a 17th century witch, there are still those who see it as evil. Like the local vicar, Tate, who has a real issue with Peggy. And a few other people.

Sent to live with her uncle at his psychic emporium (he has two clairvoyants living and working there – Oti and Cecily, who are a joy fyi) for her own safety, she is determined to save her best friend Sally from the noose after she is accused of murdering her employer.

But in order to solve the crime, she must give in to the power of the Devonas and allow the dead to speak. Assisted by her friends and family, can she stop Sally’s terrible fate and right a wrong?

Really enjoyable, lots of fun and Peggy is a great protagonist. Her gift frightens her, not unsurprisingly, and in embracing it she realises she can do good and help people. She also discovers she is surrounded by people who love her – living and dead.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Woman on the Wall – Robin Rivers

For 500 years, the once powerful Order of the Sibylline has kept the identity of its future prophetess hidden in the most famous painting in the world. Amid the chaos of post-World War II France, one woman discovers their ancient secret and its ability to transform a fragmented world.

Intricately plotted, Woman on the Wall by debut author Robin Rivers [ISBN: 978-1778135729; $18; September 2022] is a fast-paced historical fantasy set in Paris and Amboise, France in 1519 and 1945. It honors the Sibylline as so much more than ancient myth and celebrates their place in every woman’s journey to self-discovery.

The first book in the six-part series The Sibylline Chronicles, Woman on the Wall is an entrancing tale revealing the fate of two extraordinary women risking their lives to secure the future of humanity–five centuries apart. This rich alternate history binds a brilliant, devoted, and driven paleographer and a brave, bold, and potent prophetess beyond time, each fighting to restore sight to a world blinded by the power and control of men.

After 480 days as a Nazi political prisoner, Dr. Marie Guerrant returns to Paris to repatriate the Mona Lisa and find her daughter. When a British Colonel arrives claiming he needs her French Resistance connections to find the lost painting, which she helped hide seven years earlier, distrust is high. Tipped off about her daughter’s involvement and the Colonel’s obsessive belief that the Mona Lisa contains the identity of a modern-day Sibyl prophetess, Marie must risk her life to save her daughter and the masterpiece from men consumed by controlling destiny.

Five centuries prior… On the eve of rising as the Sibyl of Amboise, Aesmeh de la Rose must rely on her visions to find Leonardo da Vinci after he and the Mona Lisa disappear from his workshop at Clos Lucé. The precious painting and its creator cannot be lost or the ancient Sibylline Order faces extermination after more than 1000 years of rebuilding their powerful matriarchy.

Torn between duty and love, Aesmeh must tap into an ancient alchemy in a race to keep the Order safe. But, an unspeakable betrayal forces her to make an unfathomable choice to secure the future of the Sibylline. With the fate of the world resting on their courage to reclaim the ancient feminine powers of the Sibylline, Woman on the Wall is a sweeping fantastical tale of intrigue and hope for us all.

Fast-paced prose with vivid narrative, Woman on the Wall is perfect for readers who loved Kate Quinn’s recent novels, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and The Eight by Katherine Neville.

As an international award-winning former journalist, Robin Rivers now helps young writers learn the craft as the CEO of Quill Academy of Creative Writing. Combining her quick and direct journalistic writing with a thriller tone and pace, Rivers crafts a story celebrating the romance and beauty of the historical feminine. “The ancient Sibyls have been my obsession for the last decade of my life. Once their stories and the stories of other women from their time started to dominate my learning, they never let go. I went to France in 2019 to flesh out this story and had a life-changing experience that led to this novel,” Rivers says. “The fantastical world of the Sibylline interwoven with actual history is what sets it apart from others in the genre. You too could go to France and actually stand in every setting I’ve used in the novel, imagining the Sibylline as a part of it all.”

Robin Rivers is an award-winning writer who guides young authors as CEO of Quill Academy of Creative Writing. She has always been fascinated with stories of lost times and nerds out in the realm of all things historical, fantastical, female, and mythological. As a result, she spends her days in a literary universe best described as slipstream — a mix of historical, magical realism, and haunting romance. Robin lives with her husband, daughters, and their sphynx cat Hypatia on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and TsleilWaututh Nations in Vancouver, Canada. Woman On The Wall is her debut novel. Stay up to date on The Sibylline Chronicles at thesibyllinechronicles.com and follow Robin on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Excerpted from Woman On The Wall by Robin Rivers. Copyright © 2022 Robin Rivers. Reprinted with permission from Robin Rivers. Vancouver, BC, Canada. All rights reserved.

AESMEH

MAY 2, 1519

AMBOISE, FRANCE

Dear One,

How awkward this must be to have a dead woman about to declare the direction of your life. It is unclear to me, even at this crucial moment, how I should address you. Alas, as time can no longer keep us apart, let us dispense with being strangers and begin.

I am the Sibyl of Amboise.

I died here.

You have arrived in this tiny commune because of a five-hundred-year-old pact to find you and bring you home.

As I write these words, I wonder what you know of my kind. Do you know the names Hypatia and Lubna? Does history speak of Shushandukht and Shajar al-Durr? Or, are the Sibyls little more than mythological prophetesses painted upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? In truth, we are ancient, once powerful, and nearly vanished.

Born of the Great Mother’s very womb, each Sibyl’s sight gave men a glimpse of what might come. We predicted wars, warned against the rise of tyrants, shed light upon the fates of many. In the great capitals of Badari, Olmec, Xi, Khemet, the Jiroft, even the wilds of Scythia, we served humanity for more than eleven thousand years. And, then . . .

What do you know, Dear One? It pains me. What kind of world did my failures leave you? In the glimmers of your time, I saw only fire and death. Without the Sibyl, men know not the cost of their acts. Power is a seductive demon. Have I left you with the tyrants?

I must assume the world is well enough that Sister Maurine stands at your side in fulfillment of her vow. My regret is not being there beside you as well. 

You are the hope of the Sibylline. I once was that hope, the first to complete training and enter the temple in more than one thousand years. Such care was taken to protect me. However, a malicious enemy lived amongst us. By the time I knew, my throat was nearly slit. It lays upon you now to do what I never fully could—to rise and serve the world.

Yes, Dear One, your coming has been foretold for five centuries. In those fifty decades, such knowledge has hung in the halls of the men who thought us eradicated. They celebrated that sublime smile, all without the fortune of knowing whom they kept safe. You are the oracle they could never burn, lying in state until this very moment.

Listen, Dear One.

Listen without fear.

Your life is an amalgamation of so many others. As you gain the sight, Amboise will return our memories to you. You shall reclaim them as your own. You may feel as if you have gone mad. Know that you are coming alive. This is where your service begins.

In the moments to come, others will attempt to strip your sovereignty. Such war is inevitable. You must prepare for it. Train. Fight as a warrior. Remain devoted to your purpose alone. Do not concede.

Then, call the Sibylline to your side. Step beyond the seven bridges of paradise and into hell in the forest beyond Gaillard. There, in the temple of the Sibylline, you shall rise and take my place at Amboise. That you might watch over humankind in beauty and justice as the Great Mothers before you intended.

Eternally in your service,

Aesmeh de la Rose


Robin Rivers Blog Tour Q&A

Robin Rivers is an award-winning writer who guides young authors as CEO of Quill Academy of Creative Writing. She has always been fascinated with stories of lost times and nerds out in the realm of all things historical, fantastical, female, and mythological. As a result, she spends her days in a literary universe best described as slipstream — a mix of historical, magical realism, and haunting romance. Robin lives with her husband, daughters, and their sphynx cat Hypatia on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in Vancouver, Canada. Woman On The Wall is her debut novel. Stay up to date on The Sibylline Chronicles at thesibyllinechronicles.com and follow Robin on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

  1. Tell us about Woman on the Wall. 

Robin Rivers: For 500 years, the once powerful Order of the Sibylline has kept the identity of its future prophetess hidden in the most famous painting in the world. Amid the chaos of post-World War II France, one woman discovers their ancient secret and its ability to transform a fragmented world.

It’s a rich alternate history that binds two women beyond time, each fighting to restore sight to a world blinded by the power and control of men. The fate of the world rests on their courage to reclaim the ancient feminine powers of the Sibylline. 

  1. You could have explored any matriarchal society in history. Why the Sibylline? 

RR: The ancient Sibyls drew my attention for several reasons. First, they were prophetesses whom kings and emperors relied upon throughout history to foretell events such as war, rise to power, and even love. The mythology around them ranges from these women living a thousand years, to kings being cursed for going against them. The Sibylline Books, which held the prophecies of the Sibyls for thousands of years, vanished around 418 A.D. and the stories about them and their lives don’t exist or have been lost. What if we knew their stories? What if it turned out that women, particularly Sibylline, held some of the most powerful positions in society we have long thought as staunchly patriarchal? What if they had been systematically erased from history? I wanted to explore the potential of that alternate history.

  1. How do the characters in your story relate to the modern world and the issues women face today?

RR: The desire to control women and the power that they possess is evident in almost every aspect of the modern world. We do not need to look far beyond laws related to reproductive rights, ongoing human trafficking, and missing Indigenous women in Canada to understand that. Modern women are the embodiment of the Sibylline and their ancient struggle to reclaim the values of their matriarchal society. It’s nuanced. Not every woman is onboard, and not every Sibylline wants the same thing. However, we cannot deny the work that must be done.

  1. How does a fantasy novel such as yours allow you to explore the nuances of the role of women in society vs. if it were straight historical fiction?

RR: Fantasy serves the great purpose of allowing us the opportunity to consider a range of possibilities when it comes to historical truths. Let’s face it. There are so many historical mysteries for which neither the historical record or modern scientific theory can necessarily account. That, paired with the other reality that there is plenty of evidence that entire civilizations were pillaged and reframed, even claimed by those who overthrew them, leaves the door open for rich literary exploration. When we have lost stories to time or tyranny, it is the fantastical that allows us to rediscover those spaces and reclaim them.

  1. How do you see women relating to the characters in this story?

RR: I set out to create a cast that people who identify as women my age would relate to because I rarely find myself in novels as a middle-aged woman. That was my starting point, to bring the feminine of a certain vintage and experience to the forefront of a novel where those qualities gave them what it took to succeed. From there, I wanted layers of gray in all of the characters so that we could find ourselves, imperfections and all, in their desires, strengths, and grief. My hope is that women are moved to see themselves in the Sibylline, Marie, and their collective recovery of the feminine.

  1. Why combine the Mona Lisa, World War II, and the Sibyls?

RR: The Mona Lisa was hidden away and off the radar for most of World War II and her actual return to the Louvre coincided with my story timeline. It seemed ideal to combine that, the well-known Nazi obsession with occult artifacts (they also had their own woman who claimed to be an orcale), and the other reality that Fontevraud was a prison where many WWII political prisoners were kept. Layered on top of that, the Mona Lisa contains its own mysteries. The timelines came together in the most wonderful ways.

  1. You traveled to France to research this story. How did going to these places shape what you wrote?

RR: Traveling to France changed the entire story for me. While I could research the heck out of anything online, there was something truly magical about being in Amboise, Fontevraud, and other places. I discovered several locations including the spring outside Château Gaillard and Les Greniers de Caséar that I would never really have known about from online research. Now, they are key locations in Woman On The Wall.

  1. You also teach writing. What advice do you have for writers who may be hesitating to start writing their book?

RR: Write every day, but don’t do it alone. Work with a developmental editor or a teacher who can help you refine your skills and learn the craft. Yes, there is such a thing as natural writing ability. However, storytelling is as much a vocation—with specific tools and necessary training on how to use them—as it is an artform. Also, writing is hard work, like LOTS of hard work. Accept that and you are gold. 

  1. What’s next for you?

RR: The Sibylline Chronicles VOL. 2! The next installment in this series is already well underway. I will only say this–it picks up in 1950 as the nuclear arms race picks up pace and the Sibylline are right in the middle of it.


My thoughts: this was an interesting book, taking on historical details and blending them with a fantastical angle – that the Sibyls, a line of female prophets, hidden within an order of nuns for many centuries, ordered the creation of the Mona Lisa, La Jaconde, from Da Vinci as part of their future proofing. Instead of her being, as is now thought, the wife of a wealthy merchant, she is actually from a vision the order’s future leader saw.

In 1945 while restoring the Louvre, the search for the missing Mona Lisa, hidden away to save her from the Nazis, coincides with a hunt for the remaining members of the Sibyls order, and their potential new prophetess.

Dr. Marie Guerrant doesn’t believe in the Sibyls, but she wants to find the painting and her daughter, Serah, who was working with the Maquis, the French Resistance, risking her life while her mother was held captive as a political prisoner. The journey to reunite with both artwork and daughter will put Marie in danger as other forces are after the same goals.

We are also transported back into the 16th Century, as Da Vinci completes his masterpiece and foreign forces (this time Spanish) threaten France and the Sibyls. Can Aesmeh and her followers protect the painting and ensure its safety so in 500 years the new Sibyl can unlock its secrets and restore the order?

There’s a lot to take in and some serious historical research has clearly been done, but the plot wears it lightly and is enjoyable and action packed. In both time periods there is a lot at stake, I think I enjoyed the 1945 storyline more as Marie felt very real and we know that risks were taken to protect artworks and items of historical significance across Europe. I think Marie cones across well, she’s brave and resilient, an expert in her field and a devoted mother. It will be interesting to see where the story of the Sibyls goes next.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Carnival of Ash – Tom Beckerlegge

An extravagant, lyrical fantasy about a city of poets and librarians. A city that never was.

Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.

Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…

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Tom Beckerlegge grew up in the northwest of England in a house filled with books. Writing as Tom Becker, he won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize with his debut novel; The Carnival of Ash is his first adult book. He lives in Enfield with his wife and young son.

My thoughts: this was an interesting collection of tales set in my mysterious city of words Cadenza, rival of Venice, home of poets. Building into an over-arcing story of the destruction of the city by its inhabitants.

From poet turned gravedigger’s apprentice Carlo, to the Duelling Counts, a murder in the monastery, dungeons beneath the ruler’s palace, Cadenza’s secrets and hidden terrors are revealed as the city slowly heads towards its end.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Book Review: Regency Romance trilogy – Katy Moran

This trio of books is set in an alternate version of history where Wellington lost the battle of Waterloo and Britain became part of Napoleon’s empire.

1817 Cornwall and London

Heir to an aristocratic family scorched by scandal and scarred by war, the Earl of Lamorna (known to friends as Crow) is as dangerous as he is self-destructive. As a spy, he treads a fine line between loyalty and treachery, with a haunting secret in his past that threatens to destroy not only Crow himself, but those he loves. It’s only going to take a single spark to set his world aflame. So when Crow’s wild and impetuous young brother catches him in flagrante with their widowed stepmother, a lethal chain of events is set in motion.

Heiress Hester Harewood has problems of her own, on the run from the men who shot her father. The last thing she needs is to get involved with a complicated aristocrat, even if he does offer her his unconditional protection. But who is more dangerous? Those she is running from? Or Crow himself: charismatic, unpredictable, and yet with the capacity for such tenderness that Hester’s heart is in just as much danger as her life.

Game of Hearts was previously published as False Lights by K.J. Whittaker and on Kindle as Hester and Crow by Katy Moran

In high society England, gossip and scandal are traded over afternoon tea and the country is awash with rumour.

In Lady Hester’s opinion, it’s just typical that the wickedest gossip of all focuses on her beautiful, impossible husband Crow. Damaged aristocrat, soldier, spy, Crow loves Hester fiercely, but he has a wild past and rumours of a child with his black hair and grey eyes wound Hester more deeply than she is willing to admit. And yet London blazes with a far more lethal whispering campaign that threatens the safety of their own little daughter, Morwenna. Crow’s enemies want him tried for treason and soon Morwenna herself is in mortal danger. Hester may love Crow as much as he loves her, but now their baby’s life is at risk. There’s nothing she won’t do to protect their child. So when clever, worldly-wise Countess Lieven drops her guard and says, ‘Run… take your baby, Hester, and run,’ Hester does exactly that.

Accused of high treason, Crow will do anything to save Hester and Morwenna, even if that means accepting a final mission that might just end in losing them both for good.

1825
FONTAINEBLEAU, FRANCE

Clemency Arwenack never dreamed she would be appointed lady-in-waiting to the notorious Princess Royal. A soldier’s daughter, Clemency has aristocratic connections that she could quite frankly do without, and catering to the whims of an impetuous heir to the throne is the last thing she wants. Even so, Clemency’s ambitious godmother forces her to accept the position. Always a keeper of other people’s confidences, Clemency has a secret of her own, and Georgiana, Lady Boscobel, is only too ready to use it against her.

Worse still, the Honourable Lieutenant Colonel Kit Helford is now captain of the royal guard – and so Clemency can’t avoid the one childhood friend who might just see through her dangerous web of deceit. Kit Helford is just as wild and handsome as he’s always been. And Clemency knows only too well that he’s just as much trouble.

My thoughts: I loved this trilogy, I want more Hester and Crow and Kit and Clemency. I have questions – where on earth did Arkwright disappear to? Does Kitto retire his commission and rear horses instead? Is Clemency still running a book bindery? What happened to Nadezdha – did she become queen? There’s too many loose threads, book 4 please!

Alternate history novels are a lot of fun – all the what ifs, completely flipping things on their head. With Wellington a prisoner in the first book (Game of Hearts), all looks lost, but Crow, dashing, handsome, dangerous Crow is tasked with rescuing him and increasing his own infamy in the process. Hester provides some balance but those wild Cornish Lamorna men are tricky to tame.

I have a great love for Cornwall, my grandmother came from the West Country, and I’ve been to several of the places mentioned – I even own Lamorna pottery with its distinctive blue colouring. So I enjoyed going “been there!” as various locations enter the story. I’ve also been to France and Russia, I could easily picture St Petersburg (Wicked by Design) and the Neva River, frozen over and glittering. I think this added an extra dimension for me, but even if you haven’t a clue what any of these places might look like, Katy Moran brings the courts of Europe in all their gossiping, back stabbing delight to full life.

A big thank you to Head of Zeus for sending me these lovely books.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: A Remedy in Time – Jennifer Macaire*

To save the future, she must turn to the past . . .

San Francisco, Year 3377. A deadly virus has taken the world by storm. Scientists are desperately working to develop a vaccine. And Robin Johnson – genius, high-functioning, and perhaps a little bit single-minded – is delighted. Because, to cure the disease, she’s given the chance to travel back in time.

But when Robin arrives at the last Ice Age hoping to stop the virus at its source, she finds more there than she bargained for. And just as her own chilly exterior is beginning to thaw, she realises it’s not only sabre-toothed tigers that are in danger of extinction . . .

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Jennifer Macaire lives in France with her husband, three children, & various dogs & horses. She loves chocolate, biking, & reading.

She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St. Peter and Paul high school in St. Thomas and moved to NYC where she modeled for five years for Elite.

She went to France and met her husband at the polo club.
All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories.

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My thoughts:

This was a fun read, a time travelling, antibody searching, conspiracy revealing romp of a book. Robin is a scientist and is chosen to go back in time to search for a potential cure for a deadly typhus outbreak that’s killing people and has no current cure.

Which in 2021 feels a little familiar, shame we can’t nip back in time, extract some sabre tooth tiger blood and whizz up a cure, but that’s the plan Robin thinks her trip has. Unfortunately some unscrupulous types have other ideas.

Robin is a resourceful, smart woman and when things go pear shaped she doesn’t freak out, she makes plans and even finds a few new friends along the way.

I really enjoyed reading this, it was fun, funny, charming and clever.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: Poleaxed – Peter Tyrer*

It is 1967. A mysterious disease appears in an English town. People fall down suddenly, poleaxed, and many die. Is it caused by a bacterium, a virus, a poison? Nobody knows, and top doctors squabble over its cause. But then two junior doctors and a young anthropology student, who has recovered from the disease, join together.

The three investigators continue their work to find out the cause of the disease, a virus whose worst effects are only shown in those who are very anxious. They think they have found the cause and the solution. But will they be in time?

This is a gripping dystopian tale, very much relevant to events unfolding today and written by Emeritus Professor of Community Psychiatry at Imperial College, London, Peter Tyrer whose long-standing interest in the connections between mental and physical health informed the novel.

My thoughts:

I seem to have read a lot of books recently about pandemics and diseases, real and imaginary, which considering this year’s stellar performance of These Are The End Times, seems to make some sense.

This book, written in 2018/19, is very interesting in that the infection is highly localised and the town takes the decision to close its borders and see if they can wait out the virus, while also continuing to look for both the origin and a treatment. This isn’t a new idea, famously a village in Derbyshire, Eyam, chose to completely cut itself off during an outbreak of plague in 1665, rather than risk spreading the Black Death beyond its borders.

What’s most interesting, and for me somewhat unnerving, is the idea that this virus, Poleaxe, affects people with underlying anxiety disorders far more seriously than anyone else. I have anxiety disorder and panic disorder, as well as depression, so were Poleaxe a real disease I’d be struck down very quickly and struggle to recover.

Luckily the protagonist of this novel, the very clever anthropology student Barbara, does recover and indeed identifies the origin of the virus and the link between anxiety and the more serious symptoms. This allows the health authorities to lift the quarantine and treat the afflicted.

Written by an expert psychiatrist lends a certain air of knowledge and expertise to the novel – if this was a real disease I know who I’d want working alongside the other doctors, someone who has a great understanding of the link between mental and physical health, a fact that has been thrown into sharp focus by the current pandemic and lockdown, but is often overlooked when treating medical conditions.

This book is both timely and also, thankfully, very much science fiction as opposed to fact, I hope.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow*

In the late 1800s, three sisters use witchcraft to change the course of history in a Hugo award-winning author’s powerful novel of magic amid the suffragette movement.
In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters — James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna — join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote — and perhaps not even to live — the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

My thoughts:

I loved The Ten Thousand Doors of January and had high hopes for this beautiful looking book and oh I’m so pleased by it. It’s just marvellous stuff.

An alternative history plot, with women having been the dominant sex for years, the gender swapped writers and famous figures were a particular delight.

Magic has been repressed and denied – women have died for possessing it but it’s still there, hidden, waiting.

The three Eastwood sisters reunite in New Salem and their bond wakes something, not just in them but in many of the women and even some of the men in the city.

The story weaves around you, with folkloric elements and slightly altered fairytales between the chapters. There is something incredibly enchanting and seductive about the narrative, I was completely drawn in and couldn’t put it down.

Absolutely delightful and wonderfully done.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Book Review – The Left-Handed Booksellers of London – Garth Nix

I was very kindly sent a copy of this book by the publisher with no requirement to review.


Eighteen-year-old art student Susan Arkshaw arrives in London in search of her father. But before she can question crime boss Frank Thringley he’s turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin. Merlin is one of the youngest members of a secret society of booksellers with magical powers who police the mythic Old World wherever it impinges on the New World – in addition to running several bookshops, of course! Merlin also has a quest of his own: to find the Old World entity who arranged the murder of his mother. Their investigations attract attention from enemies of the Old and New Worlds. Soon they become involved in an even more urgent task to recover the grail that is the source of the left-handed booksellers’ power, before it is used to destroy the booksellers and rouse the hordes of the mythic past. As the search for the grail becomes strangely intertwined with both their quests, they start to wonder… Is Susan’s long-lost father a bookseller, or something altogether more mysterious?

My thoughts:

As a left-handed book reader of London, I was very excited about the title of this book. One of my favourite sub-genres of books is books about books/libraries/bookshops and when things are set in London, I enjoy going “I know there!” like a small child. Part of the action even takes place just up the road from me in Totteridge (although I don’t know it very well).

Finally left-handers (10% of the population fyi) are getting some recognition – we have certain skills like using things designed for right-handers that are a struggle the other way round! (Lefties of the UK, and possibly elsewhere, google Anything Left-Handed and buy some scissors etc to make life easier for yourself, and also stab any righty who tries to borrow them, it wrecks the bolt that holds the blades together!)

Back to the book – this is tremendous fun, set in an alternate 1983, Susan comes to London for art school, and also to try and locate her long lost dad, her mum hasn’t been exactly forthcoming with the details.

She ends up getting mixed up with criminal elements, both human and otherworldly, and being rescued by a young Merlin, the aforementioned Left-Handed Bookseller of London. One of many it turns out.

He’s part of a secret organisation that keeps things from the Old World from popping up in the modern one. And when they do break through, the booksellers send them back. They also run two bookshops.

I really enjoyed this book, with all its literary references and the vital importance of books in helping the booksellers maintain order, even if fantasy writers are a complete nuisance!

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Sterling Directive – Tim Standish*

Captain Charles Maddox returns secretly to London from an exile in disgrace only to be arrested, imprisoned and threatened with the death penalty. He is rescued by a shadowy government agency called the Map Room who give him a choice: return to prison or become an agent, codenamed Sterling, and help them uncover a government conspiracy connected to the Ripper murders.

Led by the coolly calculating Milady and her associate Collier, and aided by fellow agent Church and mechanical computer expert Patience, the freshly appointed Agent Sterling must rapidly learn his new trade if he is to survive the murky and violent fringes of Victorian life and uncover a secret that threatens the Empire itself.

Set in 1896 in an alternative Victorian timeline where mechanical computers are a part of everyday life, The Sterling Directive blends fact and fiction to create a gripping thriller for fans of espionage and historical adventure alike.

Tim Standish grew up in England, Scotland and Egypt. Following a degree in Psychology, his career has included teaching English in Spain, working as a researcher on an early computer games project, and working with groups and individuals on business planning, teamworking and personal development. He has travelled extensively throughout his life and when not working or writing, he enjoys long walks under big skies and is never one to pass up a jaunt across a field in search of an obscure historic site. He has recently discovered the more-exciting-than-you-would-think world of overly-complicated boardgames.

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My thoughts:

This was a fun read, set in a Steampunk dystopian Victorian London, where rival secretive organisations carry out strange investigations and hire thugs and killers to do their dirty work.

Into this world comes Charles Maddox, disgraced aristocrat and acclaimed military Captain, having spent eight years in the Canadian wilderness.

He’s assigned an alias and a mission – solve the Ripper killings.

Via a mix of clever insights and solid investigation, the Map Room soon uncovers a dark conspiracy, with links all the way to the Crown.

A rip roaring adventure across London and the English countryside ensues as Sterling and Church pursue the man behind the plot.

Tremendous fun to read, and with an intriguing theory, this is an excellent addition to the growing genre of Steampunk Victoriana.


*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Rodham – Curtis Sittenfeld*

‘Awfully opinionated for a girl’ is what they call Hillary as she grows up in her Chicago suburb. Smart, diligent, and a bit plain, that’s the general consensus. Then Hillary goes to college, and her star rises. At Yale Law School, she continues to be a leader— and catches the eye of driven, handsome and charismatic Bill. But when he asks her to marry him, Hillary gives him a firm ‘No’. The rest, as they say, isn’t history. How might things have turned out for them, for America, for the world itself, if Hillary Rodham had really turned down Bill Clinton? With her sharp but always compassionate eye, Sittenfeld explores the loneliness, moral ambivalence and iron determination that characterise the quest for high office, as well as the painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world ruled by men. Uncannily astute and witty in the telling, RODHAM is a brilliant reimagining – an unmissable literary landmark and truly a novel of our times.

In addition to Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller American Wife, in which she painted a picture of an ordinary American girl – a thinly-disguised Laura Bush – who found herself married to a President. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize, as was her debut novel Prep. Her other books are Man of My Dreams, Sisterland (a Richard & Judy Book Club pick), Eligible, and the acclaimed short story collection You Think It, I’ll Say It. Her books are translated into 30 languages. She lives with her family in the American Mid-West.

My thoughts:

I was really intrigued by the premise of this book – what if Hillary didn’t marry Bill, didn’t become First Lady and instead did her own thing?

Having read American Wife, a more straightforward fictionalised life of Laura Bush, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Sittenfeld, whose first book was the criminally underrated Prep (which I really like).

Having said that, I really struggled with the narrative voice of Hillary. I don’t know if it’s based on her own written voice (I haven’t read any of her own books) but I found it oddly detached and emotionless while relaying her life’s events.

It made it extremely hard to relate to or connect with the character, she was so dry and distant. Maybe that’s how the author felt she was as a politician and speaker. Who knows?

Hillary herself has said it took 3 proposals before she said yes to being Mrs Clinton and moving to Arkansas.

Is their marriage the American love story? I don’t have a clue. She stood by him when he cheated and publically humiliated her. She seems like a very strong person. The fictionalised version certainly has that steel in her core, but it puts her at a distance to the reader and I don’t think it ever shortens.

The fact that much of the novel continues to revolve around Bill Clinton is frustrating and the decision to never marry or have children but focus on her career, which feels very hollow, is equally frustrating. Is it Bill or nothing? Why not invent another law professor she can actually build something with? Why make her personal life so lonely?

As a thought experiment it’s a clever and interesting idea, as a novel it struggles with the fact that Hillary Rodham is as closed a book as the real Hillary Clinton. That’s not to say it’s badly written, it isn’t, Sittenfeld is a great writer, but I think the subject matter is just so big and it just struggles with the what ifs of a real life.

I enjoyed aspects of it more than others and I really want to know if Hillary C reads it and what she thinks.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.