blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: I Hold Your Heart – Karen Gregory*

‘You make me feel like there’s something good in the world I can hold on to,’ Aaron says. He kisses me again, draws me so close it’s almost hard to breathe. ‘I love you, Gem. And I promise I’ll hold your heart forever.’

When Gemma meets Aaron, she feels truly seen for the first time. Their love story is the intense kind. The written-in-the-stars, excluding-all-others kind. The kind you write songs about.

But little by little their relationship takes over Gemma’s life. What happens when being seen becomes being watched, and care becomes control?

Told in both Gemma’s and Aaron’s words, this is a raw, moving exploration of gaslighting in teenage relationships that skewers our ideas of what love looks like.

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Karen Gregory has been a confirmed bookworm since early childhood. She wrote her first story about Bantra the mouse aged twelve, then put away the word processor until her first child was born, when she was overtaken by the urge to write. Her first novel, Countless, published in 2017, was shortlisted for the Leeds Book Award and longlisted for the Branford Boase. Her second novel, Skylarks, was published in 2018. Karen lives in Wiltshire with her family.

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My thoughts:

With coercive control becoming more widely recognised as a function of domestic abusers, this is a timely and thoughtful account of how such manipulation works told through the relationship of teenagers Gemma and Aaron.

At times shocking and painful to read, the well written novel illustrates how easy it is to fall for an abuser and how hard it can be to see the reality of that abuse.

Gregory writes with passion and care, sympathetic to her readers, some of whom may recognise themselves in her characters, and perhaps be encouraged to seek help. This is a difficult subject handled with immense care and not given over to easy caricatures as a less skilled writer might. I hope many teenagers pick up a copy.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in order to take part in the blog tour.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Stranger’s Guide to Talliston – John Tarrow*

Abandoned and alone, thirteen-year-old Joe’s world is shattered when he enters a deserted council house and becomes trapped within a labyrinth protecting the last magical places on earth. There, Joe discovers a book charting this immense no-man’sland, without time or place, its thirteen doors each leading to a different realm.

Hunted by sinister foes, the boy is forced ever deeper into both the maze and the mystery of his missing parents. What will he find at the labyrinth’s centre, and can it reunite him with the family he so desperately needs?

Crossing through diverse landscapes from Victorian Britain to fifties New Orleans, The Stranger’s Guide to Talliston is inspired by the internationally famous house and gardens dubbed ‘Britain’s Most Extraordinary Home’ by the Sunday Times. It is a classic YA tale of adventure that introduces readers to another world hiding in plain sight, cloaked in magic and steeped in imagined history. Yet beyond its fearsome huntsmen and battling magicians dwells the secret that lies within all of us – the power to live extraordinary lives.

John Tarrow is a novelist, poet, storyteller and award-winning writer. His fascination with folk and faerie tales has taken him around the world, gathering threads of story and legend to weave into his own mythologies: his extensive studies in Lakota Sioux and Druidic traditions offer readers stories resonant with magic, folklore and the wonders of the natural world. He spent twenty-five years transforming a three-bedroom, semi-detached, ex council house in Essex into the world-famous Talliston House and Gardens.

My thoughts:

Ok, so this book is inspired by a real place, that you can actually visit, in Great Dunmow, Essex. So I’ve added that to my list of places to go to asap.

A really accessible, clever, funny fantasy novel, full of little references to other fantasy books (and at one point Disney’s Pocahontas – at least to me!)

Joe is the relatable, every kid hero, who encounters magical birds, strange and powerful mystics, travelling through time and space via a mysterious house and its labyrinth.

I really enjoyed reading this, it’s a romp and so well written that it pulls you into the story swiftly, with its use of different myths and legends, locations, time periods and cast of unique characters.


*I was kindly gifted this book in return for taking part in the blog tour.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Tulip Taylor – Anna Mainwaring*

Challenged to go on a `survival’ reality TV show, fifteen-year-old make-up vlogger Tulip only accepts to escape her mother’s money-making schemes and protect her younger brother and sister. Set up to fail, can she prove to the TV show, to Harvey – the cute but annoying boy who got her on there – and most importantly to herself, that she’s more than just a pretty face? As Tulip puts down her phone and heads for the hills, she finds she has both the courage and insight to take on each new challenge. But as ‘reality’ gets ever more crazy, will either teen escape their families and their time in the spotlight unscathed?

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Anna Mainwaring read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ at the age of seven and hasn’t stop reading since. After studying English at university, she took the bizarre decision to follow a career in corporate banking. This made her sad so she left, went travelling and trained to be a teacher. When not teaching, writing or hiding from her children in the study, Anna can be found in bookshops, cafes or walking slowly up big hills.

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My thoughts:

This was a funny, wry contemporary YA novel through the lens of one teen’s determination to be more than just what she posts on social media.

Tulip is every 16 year old girl I’ve ever met; they are so much more than the stereotype (I used to work with children and young people). She’s funny, loyal, smart and brave. Her family are all over the place and she’s often driven to parenting her parents.

She’s also much more resourceful than she’s given credit for. And yes, she makes mistakes but so do we all. Anyone who says they have it all together at 16 is lying.

I am going to recommend this book to some of the teens I know (and their parents) to remind them how it’s ok to love Instagram and also learning, how it’s ok to make mistakes and not know everything. Tulip has a big heart and is a fantastic protagonist.

*I was gifted this book to review but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Everlasting Rose – Dhionelle Clayton

This is the sequel to The Belles (I recommend reading it before my review as there may be some mild spoilers of that book)

Following the events of The Belles, Camellia, her sister Edel and bodyguard Remy are on the run in the queendom of Orlèans from the dangerous Princess Sophia while searching for Princess Charlotte.

Camellia has learnt the terrible secrets that lurk beneath the beautiful surface and must stay alive long enough to right these wrongs and save not only herself but the whole of Orlèans.

I found The Belles to be full of clever ideas and fun details like the teacup animals and this book builds on the ideas and expands the world building.

Dhionelle is an excellent writer, and carries you along with her words. The plot is a lot more interesting than the first book, I think because there is less world building and scene setting needed.

I enjoyed this, although I had to read it as an e-book after the Royal Mail lost the copy I was kindly being sent by the publisher (which is less than ideal for me for several reasons).

I definitely think you need to read the first book though, this is very much a sequel as opposed to something that could stand alone.

books, fun stuff, Illumicrate, lifestyle boxes, reviews

Illumicrate #13 Clever Ruse

This month’s Illumicrate has arrived! Yay and it’s a really cool one too.

There are 2 exclusive editions inside along with a host of bookish goodies.

Empress of All Seasons – Emiko Jean. This gorgeous hardback edition has an exclusive cover, sprayed edges and a signed bookplate.

Wild Magic – Tamora Pierce. An exclusive edition of one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors.

Circus Top Banner designed by @Illumicrate – inspired by The Night Circus and Caravel. I’m going to transfer all my book related pins to this.

Stag Amulet Necklace designed by @fableandblack – this was the first item I picked out of the box – I don’t think it’s something I’d wear but it will look excellent hung up in my book lair.

Diner Drink Cosy art work by @gicatam – this made me squeak out loud. I love To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, both the book and film so this is super cute.

Warcross Woodmark artwork by @chattynora – I read Warcross with my book club earlier this year and found it interesting. I collect bookmarks and this is going to hang out with its new pals.

Mulan inspired scarf artwork by Feifei Ruan @ruan0v0 – this is beautiful. Silky and soft, I can’t wait to gently tuck this in around my neck.

Bonus items: The Poppy War, This Mortal Coil.

I loved this box, a beautiful mix of books and lovely items all lovingly designed and curated. The Illumicrate team are doing a fantastic job putting these boxes together for all of us book loving souls.

books, reviews

Book Review; The Relic Guild Trilogy – Edward Cox

The first Relic Guild book (called The Relic Guild) introduces us to the remaining members of the Guild, 40 years after they last worked together.

Their old enemy Fabian Moor has reappeared in Labrys Town and chaos follows in his wake. The Guild must come together again and find a way to defeat their enemies one last time.

Flipping between the present day and the events of forty years before, this three book fantasy romp heads into the labyrinth surrounding the town and worlds beyond it.

Each volume rachets up the adventure and peril as our heroes race against time to stop an army of demons from destroying everyone in the town and beyond.

To begin with I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this series as I felt the first book was a bit slow getting going (I am an inpatient reader) and it took me a while to get into the plot. However once it did I raced through it and was eager to get into book two (The Cathedral of Dead Things).

books, reviews

Book Review: Empress of all Seasons – Emiko Jean

Set in an alternative feudal era Japan-like country, this story follows Mari, born a yokai or demon, and her attempt to become Empress.

The Emperor has had built 4 rooms, one for each season, that prospective empresses must conquer to win the hand of the reluctant Prince Taro.

Mari has been trained for this her whole life by her mother, an Animal Wife – who seduce wealthy men, marry them and steal their fortunes before retreating to their secretive village in the mountains.

Meanwhile in the capital city yokai are forced to wear iron collars that cause them pain and serve the humans. However a revolution is brewing and Mari’s friend Akira is drawn in.

This is a really interesting book, Japanese mythology is rich with unusual creatures, ghosts and monsters. Emiko Jean has woven just a few into this tale of survival – ancient beings against the humans who would wipe them out or enslave them.

The plot is gripping, with shades of the Hunger Games, drawing on the rich mythology and geography of Japan’s islands. The characters are well rounded and likeable.

The way it ends suggests there could be a sequel but it can also be read as a standalone novel.

It’s refreshing to have a different traditional backdrop in YA, rather than the Western mythos that has been common over the last few years (minus a few books like the excellent Jade City). I’m interested to see where the author goes next.