blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Women Writers 1920s; The Love Child – Edith Oliver

She had saved her. But at what a cost! Her position, her name, her character – she had given them all, but Clarissa was hers. Upon the death of her mother, Agatha Bodenham finds herself alone for the first time in her life. Solitary and socially awkward by nature, she starts to dream about her imaginary childhood friend – the only friend she ever had. Much to her surprise, Clarissa starts to appear, fleetingly at first, and engage with her, and eventually becomes visible to everyone else. Agatha, a 32-year- old spinster, must explain the child’s ‘sudden’ appearance. In a moment of panic, she pretends that Clarissa is her own daughter, her love child. Olivier constructs a mother/daughter relationship which is both poignant and playful. As the years roll by and Clarissa grows into a beautiful young woman, Agatha’s love becomes increasingly obsessive as she senses Clarissa slipping away, attracted by new interests and people her own age.

Edith Olivier (1872–1948) Biography

Edith Olivier’s life encompassed the conservative and the bohemian in quite an extraordinary way: the circles she moved in later in life could not have been predicted from her upbringing. Born on the last day of 1872, Olivier was one of ten children of the Canon of Wilton and the granddaughter of a bishop. Though she had no formal schooling, or even a governess for much of her childhood, Olivier won a scholarship to St Hugh’s College (then St Hugh’s Hall) at Oxford University (see page 163). While there, she got to know Charles Dodgson – also known as Lewis Carroll. She had to leave after four terms, due to severe asthma. 

In 1916, Olivier helped form the Women’s Land Army in Wiltshire, which became a model for a national scheme (see page 177). In 1920, she was awarded an MBE for this work. Wilton and Wiltshire remained important to Olivier throughout her life, and she was mayor of Wilton in 1938–41. 

It wasn’t until Olivier was in her fifties that she turned to writing, after the death of her dearest sister, Mildred. The Love Child was her first novel in 1927, started when the idea came to her in the middle of the night: ‘Before morning I had finished two chapters,’ she relates in her autobiography (see page 141). The novel reflects Olivier’s keen belief in the supernatural, or what she called ‘things past explaining’ – for instance, she believed herself to have witnessed a pre-1800 fair at Avebury stone circles (see page 145), and to have seen the lost city of Lyonesse off the coast of Cornwall, a legendary kingdom that was supposedly submerged in the eleventh century (see page 157). 

After The Love Child, four other novels followed by 1932, after which she turned her attention to non- fiction, including biographies of Alexander Cruden (who wrote a concordance to the Bible) and Mary Magdalene. 

From childhood, she had aspired to a more creative life – the title of her autobiography, Without Knowing Mr. Walkley, is a lament on never having become an actor and thus not knowing Mr Walkley, the dramatic critic of the Times. But Olivier’s late career as a writer brought her to a new social circle, and she got to know many of the ‘Bright Young Things’ of the period. The artist and illustrator Rex Whistler was a particularly close friend, and others included Cecil Beaton, Siegfried Sassoon, William Walton and the Sitwell family. When Olivier died in 1948, Cecil Beaton noted that she was mourned by ‘young and old, those who had shared in her widely different interests’, recognised both as a bohemian creative and as a celebrator of Wiltshire. 

About this Series

A curated collection of forgotten works by early to mid-century women writers. The best middlebrow fiction from the 1910s to the 1960s, offering escapism, popular appeal and plenty of period detail to amuse, surprise and inform. Stories about women’s lives, often written, performed and directed by women, are becoming more and more popular among audiences of film and TV series. The Women Writers series taps into this growing trend.

My thoughts: this is an interesting little story about loneliness and wish fulfilment. Agatha is alone after her mother’s death and remembers her childhood imaginary friend – another girl like herself, called Clarissa. My imaginary friends were penguins and rabbits, I think I wanted to be a zookeeper! But for an only child, it makes sense to imagine a playmate.

In this case however, Agatha is now in her 30s, unmarried, possibly as a “surplus woman” following the First World War, and childless. This version of Clarissa is as much a daughter as a companion. But she slowly becomes more real, appearing to others, eating, drinking and growing up. Gradually Agatha’s hold on her becomes weakened and Agatha fears she might lose her.

There’s a terrible sadness at the heart of this story, it reminded me of The Little Prince a bit – this magical creature from the stars, who leaves behind a sadness at their parting. The afterword compares its genesis (as per the author’s own recollection) to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a story born from a dream. Much like Agatha’s imagining into being of Clarissa.

The author herself seems to be have been an incredible and fascinating woman, studying at Oxford where she knew Lewis Carroll, then helping found the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War. The extracts from her autobiography included in this edition were almost more compelling a read than the story.

It’s why the British Library’s work in bringing these women writers and their books back into print is so important. When I studied Literature at university, even in a module called Women Writers, the focus was on ones we all know – Brontes, Austen, Eliot, Woolf, etc. Not these equally fascinating, but somehow forgotten writers. I have enjoyed everyone I’ve read so far and am pleased more are to come.

*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 New Mother – Julia Crouch

Who would you trust with your precious family?

Wanted: full-time, live-in help for expectant mother. Must be organised, friendly and willing to do anything.

Rachel is determined to be the perfect mother. She has a birth plan, with a playlist and a bag ready by the door. She’s chosen a lovely light cream paint for the nursery, and in wide-eyed, innocent Abbie she’s found the perfect person to help her with her baby.

After all, every mother needs a bit of help, don’t they?

But Rachel needs a little more than most.

She still makes sure her bedroom door is locked before she goes to sleep. She still checks the cameras that are dotted throughout the house.

Rachel trusts Abbie. Even if Abbie’s smiles don’t always reach her eyes, and the stories she tells about her past don’t always add up, it doesn’t matter.

Because Rachel knows better than to trust herself…

From the bestselling author of Her Husband’s Lover, this is a truly gripping story about how far people will go to find a family. Filled with tension and twists to keep you glued to every page, it is perfect for fans of Ruth Ware, Shari LaPena and The Girl on the Train.

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Julia started off as a theatre director and playwright. While her children were growing up, she swerved into graphic design. After writing and illustrating two children’s books for an MA, she discovered that her great love was writing prose. The picture books were deemed too dark for publication, so, to save the children, she turned instead to writing for adults. Her first book, Cuckoo, was published in 2011, and she has been writing what she calls her Domestic Noir novels ever since. She also writes for TV and teaches on the Crime Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. She has three grown up children and lives in Brighton with her husband and two cats, Keith and Sandra.

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My thoughts: at first I felt sorry for Abbie, her life seemed lonely and Rachel’s behaviour was exploitative and a little cruel, making her change her body to fit an unrealistic ideal just for social media. But then the balance shifted and Rachel became a lot more sympathetic.

Both women have had hard and traumatic childhoods, with loss and violence, but they’ve reacted in different ways, Rachel has, over a long time, chosen to make the most of herself and move on, while Abbie has internalised her pain and blames everyone else. In this case, Rachel.

I really liked Fran, she might get frustrated with Rachel, and worry endlessly about her, but she has her back through everything. And she’s prepared to do whatever she has to to protect her friend.

A really interesting, twisted thriller about friendship, dealing with our pasts and learning about who to trust.

*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 Hiding Place – Amanda Mason*

Some secrets can never be concealed . . .

Nell Galilee, her husband and twelve year old step-daughter Maude rent a holiday cottage by the sea, needing time and space away from home. Nell grew up in this small, wind-blown town and has mixed feelings about returning, and it isn’t long before she is recognised by a neighbour, seemingly desperate to befriend her. The cottage has been empty for some time, and from the start Nell feels uncomfortable there. Something isn’t quite right about this place . . .

Maude, furious about being brought here against her will, soon finds herself beguiled by the house’s strange atmosphere. There are peculiar marks in the roof beams above her bedroom, and in another room, a hiding place, concealing a strange, unnerving object.

As the house gradually reveals its secrets, Nell becomes increasingly uneasy – and Maude spellbound. But these women – and the women that surround them – are harbouring their own secrets too, and soon events will come to a terrible head . . .

A brilliant, unsettling and chilling novel of mothers and daughters, truth and deception and the lengths people will go to, to obtain power over their own lives, The Hiding Place is the second chilling novel from the acclaimed author of The Wayward Girls.

My thoughts: I do like a creepy house, possibly because neither my parents’ almost 200 year old house or any of the ancient cottages of my childhood holidays were suitably spooky. No ghosts roamed the tumbling down Devon farm hands’ home turned holiday lets we stayed in, and the creepiest thing about my parents’ was the yellow nicotine stained ceilings when we first moved in.

Thankfully books deliver a nice line in sinister houses, filled with witch marks and strange artifacts hidden away in the walls and under the floor. Like this cottage in Whitby. Nell and her family are supposed to be enjoying a holiday and attending a party. But instead she and step-daughter Maude are being haunted and become obsessed with a tiny shoe (not explaining that, read the book).

Things go bump in the night, Nell’s oblivious husband has to leave, they meet the slightly strange neighbours and the previously good relationship between Maude and Nell deteriorates further. Gradually the house gives up its secrets, thanks to two intrepid teenage girls who go digging in the local museum, and the weird hold it exerts meets a match.

This was really good, well written and solidly sinister. The half answers and not quite unravelled history of the house and the land it stands on was cleverly done, while Nell feels safer at the end, the house still isn’t quite right. Probably best to head home.

*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 in the Woods – Lisa Hall

She’s out there. Waiting for you.

A haunting read about witchcraft and superstition from Lisa Hall…

When Allie moves to a quaint old cottage with her husband, it’s their dream home. Nestled in the village of Pluckley, it seems a perfect haven in which to raise their two children. But Pluckley has a reputation. It’s known as England’s most haunted village. And not long after the birth of their new son, Allie begins to notice strange things…

What’s the flash of white she sees moving quickly through the woods to the back of their house? And what’s the strange scratching noise coming from the chimney?

As Allie discovers more about the history of their new home, she uncovers a story of witchcraft and superstition, which casts a long shadow into the present day. And not everything is as it seems. Her family might well be in danger, but it’s a danger none of them could have foreseen…

Bestseller Lisa Hall’s The Woman in the Woods is full of creeping unease and nerve-wracking tension, and will have readers on the edge of their seats…

My thoughts: this was really intriguing, it reminded me a tiny bit of Little Darlings, probably because both feature new mums dealing with something creepy and supernatural.

Allie’s new home seems full of ghosts, and she finds some creepy things stashed about it, things associated with witchcraft and curses. Just the thing a sleep deprived mother of two small children needs. And then there’s her husband, Rav, who’s gone for long periods of time at work and leaves her alone with the kids even though he knows she’s exhausted and struggling. Her friend Naomi seems to be ever present and I didn’t warm to her much.

Allie needs proper support, she’s leaning on her aloof mother and while her mother-in-law seems nice, she also doesn’t offer much comfort. Allie’s seeing conspiracy everywhere and is losing her grip somewhat. I think moving to a small village, doing two of the most stressful things you can do – move house and have a baby, at the same time, pushes her too far and then she hears stories of murdered children and witches living in her house in previous centuries. It’s enough to stress anyone out.

I know that postpartum depression and psychosis are terrible conditions, I’ve seen friends really struggle with their mental wellbeing after having a baby. I live with depression and anxiety so I recognise some of the symptoms in others. One of my close friends was very ill after her first baby, she struggled a lot. Thankfully she got better with the right help and her children are quite grown up now.

I think it’s important for writers to discuss things like PPD and help destigmatise them. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, no one will think less of you. The stories Allie hears about her new home would be easy to shrug off ordinarily but as she’s not well, and isolated, it feeds her fears and adds to her poor mental health. The ending is so ambiguous, is there something there or did Allie conjure it all up while she was sick?

*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 Mother’s Fault – Nicole Trope

She’ll do anything to save her son. But what if telling the truth means losing him for ever?

On a crisp winter’s evening, Beverly is cooking for her son. Eight-year-old Riley is climbing a tree in the garden, and Beverly smiles as she watches him. Nothing makes her happier than her precious child having fun – she never thought they’d be happy again.

The water on the stove is boiling, and Beverly slides in a handful of spaghetti. When she glances out of the window again, Riley is not there.

She races outside, her heart thumping. Riley is nowhere to be found.

Instinctively, Beverly knows that her son has not just run away. She knows this because of her secret – the one she has kept for eight years. The one that means she has no choice but to keep neighbours at a distance, that stops her sleeping at night.

She thought she’d made the right decision, that she was protecting her son. But now he’s gone. Could this be all her fault?

She’ll do anything to save him. Yet if she tells the truth, she could lose him for ever…

A totally gripping psychological thriller that will get your pulse racing like crazy as it hits you with twist after twist after twist! If you loved The Wife Between Us or The Girl on the Train you’ll be utterly glued to this page-turner.

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Nicole Trope went to university to study Law but realised the error of her ways when she did very badly on her first law essay because, as her professor pointed out, ‘It’s not meant to be a story.’

She studied teaching instead and used her holidays to work on her writing career and complete a Masters’ degree. In between raising three children, working for her husband and renovating houses, she has published six novels. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

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My thoughts: this was very clever and I didn’t see the twists coming at all. I got the identity of Riley’s abductor completely wrong, all signs pointed to different people, very nice work. The slow build up to Beverley’s nightmare, having her son taken, then the unravelling of all her secrets was very enjoyable. That second epilogue! I need a sequel.

*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

Cheltenham Literature Festival Blog Tour & Book Review

Something a little different today, to celebrate this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival. Read on for info on the Festival and a review of one of the books being celebrated there.

Cheltenham Literature Festival is the world’s first literature festival, leading the way in celebrating the written and spoken word, presenting the best new voices in fiction and poetry alongside literary greats and high-profile speakers, while inspiring over 9,000 school children with a love of books through its Literature for Schools programme. 

Cheltenham Literature Festival is part of Cheltenham Festivals – a charity delivering a pioneering year-round educational programme culminating in four internationally-acclaimed Jazz, Science, Music and Literature Festivals. Cheltenham Festivals creates experiences that bring joy, spark curiosity, connect communities and inspire change.

The Festival has an accompanying year-round programme of education and talent development outreach including its flagship Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils project which has rolled out nationally, enabling teachers and their pupils to rediscover the joy of reading. The other programmes include: the award-winning Beyond Words, a creative writing project working with vulnerable young people unable to access mainstream education in Gloucestershire, Words That Burn, a national human rights poetry project created in partnership with Amnesty International and Write Now, a unique mentoring, workshop and networking project that nurtures young people’s creative writing abilities.

One of the writers featured at the festival is crime writer Mick Herron, who will be at an event celebrating the life and career of John Le Carrè. Herron is sometimes seen as Le Carrè’s literary heir and his most recent title is Slough House, which I was kindly sent to review below.

Slough House – the crumbling office building to which failed spies, the ‘slow horses’, are banished – has been wiped from secret service records.

Reeling from recent losses in their ranks, the slow horses are worried they’ve been pushed further into the cold, and fatal accidents keep happening.

With a new populist movement taking a grip on London’s streets, the aftermath of a blunder by the Russian secret service that left a British citizen dead, and the old order ensuring that everything’s for sale to the highest bidder, the world’s an uncomfortable place for those deemed surplus to requirements. The wise move would be to find a safe place and wait for the troubles to pass.

But the slow horses aren’t famed for making wise decisions.

My thoughts: this was very enjoyable, with lots of intrigue and conspiracies to keep the characters occupied in chasing around London and out into the countryside after a pair of Russian assassins, who are chasing after Jackson Lamb’s team and he’s not happy about it.

Diana Taverner might be First Desk at M15 but she’s not as in control as she thinks, stupidly getting entangled with dangerous men who play the political long game and far better than she can. She’s in it up to her neck and only Lamb and his band of misfits can sort things out, whatever their reputation as slow horses suggests.

Jackson Lamb is probably the unhealthiest spy around, overweight, chain smoking, perpetually drunk and living on a diet of terrible takeaways, he’s hardly the suave, sophisticated ideal, but he’s survived a long time in this world and under the dishevelled appearance is a top notch brain. Same goes in many ways for the rest of his team – they might not be the ones pipped for bright futures but they’ve got skills and are innocuous enough that they don’t look like much of a threat.

I’ve only read one other book in this series, a while ago, but the writing is very clever and the plot gripping, just the right amount of convoluted. I might just have to check the rest of the series out, see what else Lamb and his slow horses have been up to.

This ends with question marks over the future for the team and indeed the life of one member. Will they be allowed to stay at Slough House, quietly doing boring busy work for MI5 or will there be changes coming?

*parts of this blog post were created using a press release but the opinions expressed in the book review are my own.*

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: A Clockwork River – J.S. Emery

A sister searches for her missing brother as a new power rises amid the splendour
and the squalor of a once great city in this thrilling hydropunk debut from J.S. Emery.
Lower Rhumbsford is a city far removed from its glory days. On the banks of the great river Rhumb, its founding fathers channelled the river’s mighty flow into a subterranean labyrinth of pipes, valves and sluices, a feat of hydraulic prowess that would come to power an empire. But a thousand years have passed since then, and something is wrong. The pipes are leaking, the valves stuck, the sluices silted. The erstwhile mighty Rhumb is sluggish and about to freeze over for the first time in memory.
In a once fashionable quarter of the once great city, in the once grand ancestral home of a family once wealthy and well-known, live the last descendants of the city’s most distinguished engineer, siblings Samuel and Briony Locke.
Having abandoned his programme in hydraulic engineering, Samuel Locke tends to his vast lock collection, while his sister Briony distracts herself from the prospect of marriage to a rich old man with her alchemical experiments. One night Sam leaves the house carrying five of his most precious locks and doesn’t come back…
As she searches for her brother, Briony will be drawn into a web of ancestral secrets and imperial intrigues as a ruthless new power arises. If brother and sister are to be reunited, they will need the help of a tight-lipped house spirit, a convict gang, a club of antiques enthusiasts, a tribe of troglodytes, the Ladies Whist Club, the deep state, a travelling theatrical troupe and a lovesick mouse.
Epic, rollicking and in love with language, Jacob and Sara Emery’s sprawling debut novel of humble kitchen magics and awe-inspiring civil engineering is a rare and delicious commodity – the world’s first hydropunk novel. Amazon


J. S. Emery is a brother-sister writing team, born in North Idaho into a homeschooling family of seven children, each of whom received an air rifle and a copy of The Odyssey by way of a fifth birthday present. This background prepared them wonderfully for writing fantasy novels
but very poorly for formal education. After dropping out of secondary school, they worked jobs including ballet dancer, emergency room janitor, and map librarian in various parts of Europe and North America. They now live in the United States, where they are godparents
(and, increasingly, dungeon masters) to one another’s children.

My thoughts: this is a big book, a nice chunky doorstop but I whizzed through it, like the river rumbling its way through the pipes beneath the city. The plot crackles and carries you through the streets of Lower Rhumbsford and out into the countryside beyond with Sam and the drawing rooms of the finest houses with Briony. They uncover ancient plumbing on its knees, plots to wipe the city away, murderers and theatrical types, Sam is forcibly enrolled in the army, Briony almost marries a despot and the two siblings have so many adventures on their way back to each other.

This was so much fun, even if it was a bit heavy to hold, it might have been good in two smaller tomes, each with a lovely cover – the bronze river flowing down the the dust cover. Also one of the heroes of the book, possibly the most heroic, is a small spotted mouse.

*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 Room in the Attic – Louise Douglas

A child who does not know her name…
In 1903 fishermen find a wrecked boat containing a woman, who has been badly beaten, and a young girl. An ambulance is sent for, and the two survivors are taken to All Hallows, the imposing asylum, hidden deep on Dartmoor. The woman remains in a coma, but the little girl, Harriet, awakens and is taken to an attic room, far away from the noise of the asylum, and is put in the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen.
Two motherless boys banished to boarding school…
In 1993, All Hallows is now a boarding school. Following his mother’s death and his father’s hasty remarriage, Lewis Tyler is banished to Dartmoor, stripped of his fashionable clothes, shorn of his long hair, and left feeling more alone than ever. There he meets Isak, another lost soul, and whilst refurbishment of the dormitories is taking place, the boys are marooned up in the attic, in an old wing of the school.
Cries and calls from the past that can no longer be ignored…
All Hallows is a building full of memories, whispers, cries from the past. As Lewis and Isak learn more about the fate of Harriet, and Nurse Emma’s desperate fight to keep the little girl safe, it soon
becomes clear there are ghosts who are still restless.
Are they ghosts the boys hear at night in the room above, are they the unquiet souls from the asylum still caught between the walls? And can Lewis and Isak bring peace to All Hallows before the past breaks them first…

Praise for Louise Douglas
‘A brilliantly written, gripping, clever, compelling story, that I struggled to put down. The vivid descriptions, the evocative plot and the intrigue that Louise created, which had me constantly asking
questions, made it a highly enjoyable, absolute treasure of a read.’ Kim Nash on The Scarlet Dress
‘A tender, heart-breaking, page-turning read’ Rachel Hore on The House by the Sea
‘The perfect combination of page-turning thriller and deeply emotional family story. Superb.’ Nicola Cornick on The House by the Sea
‘Kept me guessing until the last few pages and the explosive ending took my breath away.’ C.L. Taylor, author of The Accident on Your Beautiful Lies
‘Beautifully written, chillingly atmospheric and utterly compelling, The Secret by the Lake is Louise Douglas at her brilliant best’ Tammy Cohen, author of The Broken
‘A master of her craft, Louise Douglas ratchets up the tension in this haunting and exquisitely written tale of buried secrets and past tragedy.’ Amanda Jennings, author of Sworn Secret
‘A clammy, atmospheric and suspenseful novel, it builds in tension all the way through to the startling final pages.’ Sunday Express, S Magazine

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Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author of 6 novels including The Love of my Life and Missing You – a RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book
Club pick. She lives in the West Country. Louise’s first book for Boldwood, The House by the Sea was published in March 2020.

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My thoughts: this was really enjoyable and clever, moving between timelines, 1903 and 1993. The terrible events the boys uncover the story of in the school library, shouldn’t have happened and they wonder if they can change them.

In 1903, nurse Emma Everdene is charged with caring with little Harriet, who’s suffered a terrible trauma, and slowly Emma coaxes the story out of the child, but it doesn’t add up with the mysterious Mrs March’s account.

In 1993, two lonely boys, Isak and Lewis become friends in the asylum turned school. They become scared and fascinated by the noises coming from the attic above their room. Finding out about Emma and Harriet, they try to find a way to save them from their terrible fates.

Slowly the two storylines converge and something magical and mysterious happens, something that changes the course of all of their lives. I was completely hooked by the plot, and really felt for Lewis and Isak – their families aren’t very warm or loving, their school is cold and still uses corporal punishment (something I’m pretty sure was illegal in 1993, I was at school then), but they’re so clever and caring boys who want to help change Emma’s terrible fate. Emma is also a hugely caring person, and far more intelligent than the men in charge think she is. She solves the case of Mrs March and Harriet a long time before anyone else. A hugely enjoyable and redemptive story.

*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 Queen’s Keeper – J.L. Vampa

thequeenskeeper-copy

“Prey, you should have been ready.”

Welcome to the highly anticipated tour for dark fairytale, The Queen’s Keeper by J.L. Vampa!

Read on for details, an exclusive excerpt, and a chance to enter an incredible giveaway!

TQK Omnibus Cover

The Queen’s Keeper

Expected Publication Date: October 12th, 2021

Genre: Dark Fairy Tale/ Fantasy

What if I told you that everything you knew about your life was a lie and that you’re being hunted?
What if I told you that you were prey?
This is the reality for Luvenia Rousseau. Amidst the struggle to survive in a famished, war-torn country and the fight against the phantoms of her past, her family is brutally ripped apart by a tyrant queen’s venomous army. Just when all hope seems lost, she stumbles upon an enchanted realm while the queen hunts for the one who got away.

A page-turning debut novel among the likes of Hunger Games, Snow White, and Throne of Glass, this dark fairy tale adaptation will have you on the edge of your seat.

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Excerpt

The Queen of Aureland strode into her castle’s training hall like an ancient warrior comprised of bone crushing strength and the breathless wonder of snow-capped mountain air. Rarely did she wear riding pants and a tunic—for she believed one’s attire should reflect one’s character and she was a leader of others into excellence and virtue—but today her leading required a different sort of approach and a gown would not do. Granted, her tunic glistened with fine jewels—there was no need to look like a peasant. Her protégé thought she’d seen fierce opponents in her training, but she hadn’t seen Nuria. The queen’s most guarded secret may be of an entirely different nature, but her hundred years of honed battle skills came in at a close second.

“Hello, Luvenia,” she said to get the girl’s attention, her voice silken. “No need to look so shocked, darling. I will be conducting your training this fine morning. Darius needed to sleep. Though achieving his agreement on that fact was a battle in and of itself.” She rolled her eyes and smoothed her bejeweled tunic, then clapped both hands together. “Right, then, let us get to it. You are weakest in hand-to-hand combat, yes?” Veni nodded mutely, feeling as though she were about to discover the queen’s beauty and gentle spirit had merely been the adorned scabbard sheathing a powerful blade. “Very well.” The queen eyed the girl. “I will not hold back. Your training will not be complete until you are capable of disarming and defeating me. That will not happen today. There is no need for unrealistic expectations. Though you, my dear, will beat me one day. Recognize your potential without masking it in obscured reality.”

Veni’s mind spun. She’s going to run me into the ground, physically and mentally. “Use your words, dear. Are you prepared or not?” Veni smirked and sighed a breathy laugh. “Ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.” Nuria’s beauty turned lethal as she lunged for the wide-eyed girl. Before Veni could even get her hands up to defend herself, the queen nicked her chin with her bare knuckles, enough to stun her. In an instant, she had Veni’s own arm twisted behind her and forced her to her knees. The queen released her captive and Veni stood as her vision swam a bit from the blow to her chin. Nuria wiped the blood from her split knuckle on her pants. “My Hordemen go easy on you and spar with you.” She shook her head. “You have had enough of that. Sparring is unrealistic and you have grown used to how it works.” The queen put a finger to her temple. “Your mind is quick, dear heart, but wits alone will not win a battle. A sparring session, perhaps, but not a battle. Darius has taught you well how to predict your opponent’s next move, this is wise. However, most of the people you come across in a fight will not be calculated. They will be ruthless. There is a fine line between noble ferocity and ruthless ferocity. The truth of it is you will need to dance on the edge of that line in order to get your sister back. We will help you stay on the noble side, but you must embrace the ferocity. You can spar and train all day long, learning all the perfect maneuvers and defenses, but until you can take a true blow and get back up, you are not learning what you will need to succeed in bringing Ester home. Do you understand?

” Veni’s jaw stung, and her heart pounded, but she knew Nuria was right. It was time to cease pretending that she was learning to fight and to truly take hold of it. “Yes,” she told the queen. “Again. Let’s go.” Fast as lightning, Nuria came at her with no mercy over and over. The girl’s blood was splattered on the queen’s sparkling tunic and Nuria’s knuckles continued to bleed. Veni forgot everything she’d learned in routine sparring sessions and had little success discerning Nuria’s next move. That is, for the first half of their session. Once she’d taken several hits and tasted self-preservation as well as a sense of wildness, her training came back to her in a new way. She ended up on her back or rear or face countless times, but it would only take one hit. Luvenia had to hit that beautiful queen one time and she would be satisfied for the day.

“Are you certain you would like to continue? Your eye is beginning to swell.” Nuria watched her protégé struggle to stand, yet again. “I’m sure,” she said through gritted teeth. “Again.” Her eye was indeed swelling shut and her mouth was thick with blood and saliva, but she was going to hit that perfect face. Just once.

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About the Author

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J.L. was born and raised in the great state of Texas. After attending college in Oklahoma, J.L. became a bookkeeper and office manager. She swiftly discovered she was to be a Keeper of Books and a Manager of Fantastical Worlds, instead. Thus began the unfolding of her literary journey,

J.L. now lives with her husband and two children, penning her next masterpiece for you to enjoy, while running her own bookish shop, Wicked Whimsy Boutique.

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Giveaway: A paperback edition of the prequel to The Queen’s Keeper, Gypsy Secrets, AND a $50 gift card (US) to spend at Wicked Whimsy! (US/ Canada only)

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Blog Tour: Absolution – Rachelle Storm

Perfect for fans of I am Number Four and Gone, Rachelle Storm’s debut, Absolution weaves together an unforgettable plot of forbidden desire and sworn duty as three immortal brothers struggle to protect themselves—and all of humanity—from a corrupt world.

Chris Harris’s destiny was bestowed on him before birth, just as it was on his two brothers, John and Randy. Not human but the physical embodiment of elemental water, earth, and fire, they’ve been burdened with protecting Earth and freeing the world from the Ultimate Evil.

However, unlike their elemental forms, their human selves have desires of their own. After being hidden away in the remote town of Anderson, North Dakota, Chris and his two brothers hoped that their problems would end, but they’ve only just begun. Now their individual destinies are intertwined with the unpredictable McNamara sisters—Joanie, Victoria, and Stacie—and the Ultimate Evil is drawing ever nearer. Forced to choose love or duty, regardless of their decisions, nothing will ever be the same for the Harris brothers.

The first in a four-book series, Absolution blends together the forbidden romance of Twilight, the hidden magic and secret guardians of City of Glass, and the non-stop action of The Fifth Wave. Absolution is a whirlwind of adventure for Chris and his brothers as they explore a world more vast, and more dangerous, than any of which they’d dreamed. But now, the nightmare comes.

Author Rachelle Storm, a self-proclaimed fandom geek, has built a new world readers won’t want to leave. With a fast-paced story that hooks you immediately, this stunning debut will keep you turning the pages with straightforward writing that doesn’t overshadow the complex characters, plot, and action.

“A contemporary, modern fantasy-romance, the story is traditionally romantic and yet feminist, mainstream and diverse, with multiracial characters looking to break through the glass ceiling to shatter the expectations of what love interests and heroes in the genre can embody,” Storm says. “The book is a love letter to the YA fandoms of the past who embraced and welcomed me as a young adult.”

Wanting to write multiracial, diverse main characters she wished would have been available when she was a young reader, Storm’s story shares her message that what we are taught to believe and told we are in the world are not the only things that define us as people.

Rachelle Storm has been a fandom geek since its earliest beginnings and never stopped. A Black scholar holding a doctoral degree in Writing Studies, she researches rhetoric, music, and popular culture. In truth, Rachelle never isn’t writing or sharing her knowledge with her fans. However, on the off-chance she isn’t working or experimenting with paper and ink, you can find her at music festivals and independent bookstores. Absolution is her debut novel. The second book in the series, Absolution: Revelations, will be published July 2022. Find her online at rachellestorm.com or connect with her on social media (Instagram; TikTok; Twitter; and Facebook). Join the Absolution fandom on Facebook or Goodreads.

My thoughts: this was an interesting premise, and although the brothers start out sounding a bit like robots, as they get to know the McNamara sisters and interact with humans, they become less wooden and stilted in their speech. The idea of raising these heroes in isolation might have made sense to the mysterious Guardians, but it means they don’t really understand who and what they’re protecting.

The three sisters, on the other hand, are warm and affectionate, openly teasing each other and finding joy in life. The opposite in many ways. They offer a balance in terms of the way the Harris’ think and act. And when one of them is threatened, they band together in defence.

The epilogue sets up the narrative for the next book, offering up villains, people who want to find the brothers and manipulate them for their own means. As naive as they are of people, it will be interesting to see how they defeat this threat, while still learning about their own humanity.

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