blog awards, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Imperfect Alchemist – Naomi Miller*

In Tudor England, two women dare to be different …

Two women. One bond that will unite them across years and social divides.

England, 1575. Mary Sidney, who will go on to claim a spot at the heart of Elizabethan court life and culture, is a fourteen-year-old navigating grief and her first awareness of love and desire. Her sharp mind is less interested in the dynastic alliances and marriages that concern her father, but will she be able to forge a place for herself and her writing in the years to come?

Rose Commin, a young country girl with a surprising talent for drawing, is desperate to shrug off the slurs of witchcraft which have tarnished life at home. The opportunity to work at Wilton House, the Earl of Pembroke’s Wiltshire residence, is her chance.

Defying the conventions of their time, these two women, mistress and maid, will find themselves facing the triumphs, revelations and dangers that lie ahead together.

Naomi Miller is professor of English at Smith College, Massachusetts. She is author or editor of nine books in early modern studies and Imperfect Alchemist is her first novel.

My thoughts:

This was very good, I enjoyed it a lot. One of my favourite types of historical fiction is bringing back to public consciousness amazing women about whom we know very little, as they weren’t the ones writing the records or histories.

Duchess Mary Sidney Herbert was a pioneering writer and alchemist, a woman way ahead of her time. She knew many of the notable figures of her time, including Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare. As well as her interest in alchemy, she wrote a play about Cleopatra and gathered a Circle of engaging minds around her, both men and women to discuss art, literature, science and other topics.

Naomi Miller adds flesh to the bones of Mary’s life, illuminating this fascinating woman and bringing her brilliantly to life. By adding in the fictional Rose, her maid and companion, she adds heart and friendship to what may well have been a quiet household under the Duke, who is uncomfortable with his younger wife’s friendships with men like Walter Raleigh.

Rose is another interesting figure, despite being fictional, she bridges the gap between the herbal remedies of many a midwife or wise woman and the “alchemy” of the upper classes, where science met wishful thinking (the Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixir of Life).

Rose is all too aware that for a woman of her class to dabble in healing can bring a charge of witchcraft, while women like Mary were encouraged to keep a still room and make home remedies.

Looking at class through these two women is interesting too, Rose’s father was a cloth merchant, albeit not a very successful one, but she’s not of the mercantile class, and can’t read and write to begin with.

I found this intriguing, that while Mary dreams of being a literary sensation and taken seriously by the male dominated world she lives in, all Rose wants is a cottage of her own and to maybe make and sell her herbal cures. Rose is more of a realist, enforcing the sense of Mary as a woman far ahead of her time.

Overall this is an incredibly engaging and intelligent book, it brought the late Elizabethan age vividly to life, with its Enlightenment ideals, but deeply ingrained misogyny, despite the gender of the monarch. I would love to learn more about Mary and the other women she encouraged to write and think for themselves. These women have too long been footnotes in history and deserve books of their own.

*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 awards, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Blackwatertown – Paul Waters*

When maverick police sergeant Jolly Macken is banished to a sleepy 1950s Irish border village, he vows to find the killer of his brother – even if the murderer is in the police. But a lot can happen in a week. Over seven days Macken falls in love, uncovers dark family secrets, accidentally starts a war, and is hailed a hero and branded a traitor. When Blackwatertown explodes into violence, who can he trust? And is betrayal the only way to survive?

Paul Waters is an award-winning BBC producer and co-presenter of the We’d Like A Word books and authors podcast, shortlisted for 2020 Books Podcast of the Year. Paul grew up in Belfast during ‘the Troubles’ and went on to report and produce for BBC TV and radio.

His claim to fame is making Pelé his dinner. Paul has covered US politics, created a G8 Summit in a South African township, gone undercover in Zimbabwe, conducted football crowds, reported from Swiss drug shooting-up rooms, smuggled a satellite dish into Cuba and produced the World Service’s first live coverage of the 9/11 attacks on America.

He also taught in Poland, drove a cab in England, busked in Wales, was a night club cook in New York, designed computer systems in Dublin, presented podcasts for Germans and organised music festivals for beer drinkers. He lives in Buckinghamshire and has two children.

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My thoughts:

This is a blackly comic tale of an unfortunate Catholic cop in hotly contested Protestant country close to the Northern Irish border. Macken is sent to Blackwatertown as punishment, and to replace another police officer who has died in a tragic accident; he also happens to have been Macken’s brother.

Unfortunately for Macken, his investigation into Danny’s death is derailed by a flare up of Republican violence, dragging the small barracks into chaos.

He’s also distracted by romantic entanglements and local politics.

Macken is a sympathetic figure, a man just trying to do his best in a world gone mad.

The twists towards the end are absolutely shocking and totally unexpected, spinning the story off in another direction entirely.

A lot of research has clearly gone into the 1950s setting and it makes it feel more real – these conflicts were real and affected many people.

A really interesting addition to the genre of historical crime fiction.

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

blog awards, blogging

Liebster Award

The lovely Marcella nominated me for a blog award – the Liebster Award. It was a little while ago, so I apologise about only getting round to writing this post now.

I have to answer some questions she asked on her blog and nominate some bloggers of my own. So here we go!

Nadia’s Questions:

1. Why did you start blogging? I had another blog a long time ago and I realised I missed it, so here I am!

2. Phobias? Spiders, ewww, they make me feel sick.

3. Costa or Starbucks? Neither really, I don’t drink coffee or tea so these places are wasted on me.

4. Superstitions? I say hello to cats, and magpies, don’t open umbrellas indoors or walk under ladders and I have been known to pick up pennies in the street.

5. Favourite song? errmm, not sure, there’s so many I like. But ‘Ampersand’ by Amanda Palmer is definitely up there.

6. Party or stay home? Stay home and party in my pjs 🙂

7. Single? Nope, live with my long suffering boyfriend, Cal.

8. Favourite lush product? Celestial is my go-to moisturiser, although I love a lot of their products.

9. Junk food junkie? Nope, clean eating and looking after myself at the moment means no junk food.

10. Heels or flats? Flats, I can’t walk in heels, ever seem a video of a newborn giraffe, staggering about? That’s me.

11. Pet peeves? I live in London, we get a lot of tourists, they walk incredibly slowly and clog up the pavement, I wish they wouldn’t, I have places to be!

Ok, so I need to pick someone to answer my questions.

I nominate: DorkchopsEverything Nadia and Beauty and the Mechanic

Here’s your questions girls.

1. Favourite food?

2. TV show of the moment?

3. Desert island beauty essentials

4. If you were putting together a beauty box – what 3 items would you most want to be in it?

5. Favourite book?

6. Heels or trainers?

7. What’s the one place on your bucket list you’re determined to visit?

8. Short nails or long talons?

9. Pets?

10. What are your new season colours?

11. Where’s Wally?

Ok, so there you go. Pass it on. 🙂