blog tour, books, reviews

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.

books, reviews

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.

books, reviews

Book Review: The Devil’s Blade – Mark Alder

The story of Julie D’Aubigny is well known. Her tumultuous childhood, her powerful lovers, her celebrated voice. Connected to most of the nobility of 17th century Paris, feted for her performance, unwilling to live by the rules of her society, she took female lovers, fought duels with noblemen and fled from city to country and back again.

But now the real truth can be told. She also made a deal with the devil. He gave her no powers or help, but he kept her alive for only one reason. To take revenge…

My thoughts:

This was such a fun read, spinning the real events of Julie D’Aubigny’s life into a fantasy featuring the Devil, the Duc D’Orleans and the Royal Court, all with sword fights, love affairs, ghosts and dripping with vengeance and blood.

books, reviews

Book Review: The Sin Eater – Megan Campisi

A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town.

Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries.

It’s a devastating sentence, but May’s new invisibility opens new doors. And when first one then two of the Queen’s courtiers suddenly grow ill, May hears their deathbed confessions – and begins to investigate a terrible rumour that is only whispered of amid palace corridors.

Publishing: July 2020 Mantle Books

My thoughts:

This was a really interesting alternative history (Queen Bethany instead of Elizabeth I) and May is a brave and resourceful character.

Forced into the role of sin eater, she turns investigator, determined to solve a series of suspicious deaths at court.

The writing is confident and assured, the narrative flows and carries the reader into the squalor of the 16th Century, alive with stench and mud.

The imagery is vivid and you feel as though you’re at May’s shoulder as she roams through the corridors of power and the narrow slum streets.

I look forward to seeing what Campisi does next after such a strong first novel.

I was kindly gifted a copy of this book with no obligation to review and all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Deaths and Afterlife of Aleister Crowley – Ian Thornton*

Deaths and Afterlife Cover .jpg

Aleister Crowley, also known as the Great Beast, is one of the most reviled men in history. Satanist, cult leader, debauched novelist and poet, his legacy has been harshly contested for decades.

Crowley supposedly died in 1947, but in Ian Thornton’s new novel, set in the present day, the Great Beast is alive and well and living in Shangri-la. Now over 130 years old, thanks to the magical air of his mystical location, he looks back on his life and decides it is time to set the record straight.

For Crowley was not the evil man he is often portrayed as. This was just a cover to hide his real mission, to save the twentieth century from destroying itself and to set humanity on the road to freedom and liberty.

The Death and Afterlife of Aleister Crowley is an epic novel that will make you see this notorious figure in a completely new light, as he encounters an impressive cast of real-life characters including Timothy Leary, The Beatles, Princess Margaret, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock.

Ian Thornton Author Picture.jpg

Ian Thornton’s debut novel, The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms (How One Man Scorched the Twentieth Century, but Didn’t Mean To) was published by Simon & Schuster Canada in September 2013. Harper Collins published worldwide on June 28th 2014 to coincide with the centenary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the pivot of the novel. It was translated across Europe and taught at the Sorbonne.

Prior to becoming a novelist, Ian worked for Broadcast magazine in London and also for Variety. He is a co-founder of the global television industry publisher, C21 Media and http://www.c21media.net. He covered the Royal wedding in London for CTV, Canada’s premier independent broadcaster, and has recently written for Wisden Cricketer, The Guardian, The Hindu and for the Soho House magazine, House. He also wrote on the football World Cup in South Africa for the Canadian sports channel, The Score, and has worked for Queen’s University in Ontario, where his project was presented at the White House as part of President Obama’s new media initiative.

Ian is the official biographer of the Compton cricket club in California and has been a judge on the largest Latin American film festival, Expresion en Corto. He is currently producing a feature documentary.

Originally from Leeds, Ian currently resides in Toronto with his wife Heather Gordon and their children, Laszlo and Clementine.

 

My thoughts;

I don’t know a huge amount about Aleister Crowley other than what I’ve gleaned over the years from various places so I can’t extract the truth from this fiction precisely.

Crowley founded his own religion and was regarded as a Satanist and The Great Beast, not exactly popular with late Victorian/early Edwardian Britain.

From the facts about his life Thornton has spun a fascinating web of mystery and intrigue; positing Crowley as a spy and servant of the British Empire, a friend of Winston Churchill and a man you should never cross.

This was a fun romp across early 20th Century Earth – taking in America, both World Wars, an expedition to Sri Lanka and eventually a retirement of sorts to Shangri-La in the Himalayas.

All sorts of famous faces pass through Crowley’s life and hijinks, making this at times a who’s who of the first half of last century.

I really enjoyed this and found it great fun, well written and very clever.

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

books, reviews

Book Preview: The Midnight Queen – Sylvia Hunter

I was kindly sent this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Midnight Queen is the first in a new trilogy set in an alternate history Britain. 

Its the 1800s, Henry the Twelth is on the throne, magick is everywhere, you can study it at Merlin College, Oxford (if you’re a man of means and family), people speak their own languages and worship an entire pantheon of gods. 

Grey Marshall is studying at Merlin College when he stumbles into a conspiracy that threatens not only his own life but the stability of the realm. In trying to unravel it he meets Sophie, who just might be the key to everything. 

There’s a lot packed into this book, the plot is definitely something you can get your teeth into. Intrigue, murder, magic, love, a hidden princess and a tragic secret or two.

I really enjoyed this, the writing is pacey, the characters strong, and the plot kept me rapt. 

If you liked Sarah J. Maas’ ACOTAR series or Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books then this is for you. 

I cannot wait to see what happens with Grey and Sophie in the next book, Lady of Magick. 

The Midnight Queen will be published on the 20th July 2017 so now’s the perfect time to place your order.