The Gifts by Liz Hyder

Coming February 24th 2022 – Zaffre Books/Manilla Press

‘In an age defined by men, it will take something extraordinary to show four women who they truly are…

October 1840. A young woman staggers alone through a forest in Shropshire as a huge pair of impossible wings rip themselves from her shoulders’.

That’s all I’m going to mention about the story itself, because this book pretty much ripped the emotions straight out of my heart and landed them with an almighty boom in between the pages.

The Gifts was an astonishing book to start the year off with. Honestly, I am absolutely blown away by Liz Hyder’s magical, immersive and compelling novel.

It picked me up and swept me off with a whoosh, every time I picked it up. It’s one of those books (which are few and far between) where I have so many notes and post-it’s that I really don’t know where to start to review it!

I’m writing this early in the morning whilst my brain is fresh as I’m suffering a book hangover of gargantuan proportions and don’t want my review to be all “I LOVED IT! I LOVED IT! JUST BUY IT EVERYONE!”

Liz Hyder has made historical magical realism the most magically realistic reading experience. It is relatable, brutally true to present life and beautifully presented with a language that sings. The characters are right there, you can feel them walking around in your mind. The setting and imagery vivid, you can almost taste it, smell it.

I one hundred per cent ‘got’ the story that Liz set out to tell. It’s historical fiction, yes, with magical elements, but it’s also SO MUCH MORE.

I have a lot to say about this book but I also want to keep it all to myself. I read an advance copy that the publisher kindly sent me and if it’s affected me in it’s unfinished state, the finished copy (complete with illustrations!! Eeek!!) is guaranteed to be a marvel. I cannot wait to see it!

When I first started reading, I made notes on the individual characters because there’s quite a few of them, each one playing an essential part to the story. I’m glad I did this, as occasionally, in the first, maybe 100 pages, I did need to refresh my memory about who they were and what they were ‘up to’. And my goodness, they were ALL up to all sorts, I can tell you.

Their individuality soon settled in my mind and I was able to distinguish and switch between them with no problem. That, for me, is a sign of a well written book. I often struggle if there’s many characters, but not here. I was in deep, completely invested in everything going on in the pages.

There’s a chemistry between two of the characters that was done so perfectly. I’m not one for ‘love’ in stories, but I was absolutely buzzing for these two, and their banter was hilarious at times. I was crying with laughter during numerous scenes.

The chapters were short and snappy, which is something I love. I feel like I’m not quite ready to move onto another book yet because The Gifts is still under my skin, like the bursting wings of those ‘chosen’ women.

I’m left with this thought that gets me right here *pounds fist into heart area* – is it really STILL so scandalous that a woman can have the “audacity” to grow a pair of powerful wings and set herself free?

WOW. Just WOW.

Thank you so much Liz for your story. And to the publisher, Zaffre Books for sending me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Now I’m going to go off and hug the book some more. Etta, Mary, Natalya and Annie, you’re going on my forever shelf eventually, but not just yet, I can’t quite let you go…

Daughters of Darkness II

Daughters of Darkness II

Daughters of Darkness II is an anthology of dark and creepy horror stories featuring authors Beverley Lee, Lynn Love, Catherine McCarthy and T C Parker.

Created by Stephanie Ellis and Alyson Faye of Black Angel Press, this second instalment (the first of which came out in February this year) of gentle chills and out and out terror impressed the pants off my horror-loving self, quite frankly!

Now, I find it quite difficult to review story collections because I easily harp on for ages about each and every story, character, style, plot etc, rambling away and ending up loosing myself, let alone you, the reader of my review.

So without further ado, I shall break it down into four sections about each author, keeping it straight to the point and succinct. I wouldn’t want to keep you from heading off to buy it now, would I? 😉

Beverley Lee

A Whiteness of Swans – 5 stars

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Tender is the Heart – 5 stars

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The Boy Who Wore My Name – 5 stars

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The Secret of Westport Fell – 10 stars

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“As Flora made her way to the door, her fingers and toes numb from the cold, she glanced behind to the small country churchyard slumbering under its ghostly blanket. For all of its quaintness its forlorn song shivered through the heavy veil of grey”.

Gorgeous eh?! Expect the unexpected with Beverley’s writing though. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Lynn Love

A Light in the Darkness Pt 1 – Thou Little Tiny Child – 5 stars

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Pt 2 – O Sisters Too, How May We Do, For To Preserve This Day – 5 stars

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Pt 3 – All Young Children To Slay – 5 stars

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“Lucia muttered something in Italian. There was something voluptuous about the language, something dark and fleshy that made her pulse race a little. Patricia imagined the words filling her mouth like bonbons, sugary and wicked”.

How’s that for gorgeous descriptive writing?! I love accents, I could hear this moment with such clarity, and almost taste those bonbons. Fabulous Lynn, truly it is.

Catherine McCarthy

The Spider and the Stag – 10 stars

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“…glass jars filled with chunks of unpolished gemstones and sorted according to the spectrum of a rainbow. Spools of threads and whirls of wire, perspex boxes glinting with silver and gold clasps and catches. A non-caloric candy store”.

Catherine keeps on doing this. Hits me right here *punches own heart* with everything she writes. Her stories are kept on my “I can’t describe how brilliant this author is without waving my arms around frantically and probably spitting a little bit in excitement” shelf.

T C Parker

The Body Tree (Hummingbird 1) – 5 stars

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Undeserving (Hummingbird 2) – 5 stars

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“The face of one was obscured entirely by a black hood fixed around its neck with hangman’s rope; the head of another was entirely absent, its body not only decapitated but dismembered and its absent arms and legs piled in an untidy heap on the floor below”.

How utterly grotesque! TC’s story made the gruesome so fascinating!! She seems to know where to draw the line, not quite turning my stomach, but getting pretty close! That quote is one of the milder ones I’ll have you know!

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With vivid imagery, delicious darkness that went from gently chilling to the darn right macabre throughout, this is the first ever anthology that’s got a spot on my ‘best of the year’ Goodreads shelf.

Thank you ladies, from the bottom of my dark heart for your writing and your wonderfully twisted imaginations. You aided my escapism from this mad, bad, real world, I absolutely loved every minute of being freaked out in your fictional ones. And huge thanks to Stephanie for sending me a copy, it was a pleasure to read.

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Daughters of Darkness II eBook : Lee, Beverley, Love, Lynn, McCarthy, Catherine, Parker, T.C., Ellis, Stephanie, Faye, Alyson: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

One of my favourite historical fiction books ever is The Witchfinders Sister, Beth Underdown’s STUNNING debut. When she announced on Twitter that proofs were being printed for her new novel, I was dizzy with excitement, I kid you not.

I’ve been lurking on Beths socials for a number of years, liking, commenting and generally making my presence known. So thank you Beth for putting up with my harping on about how keyed up I was (see what I did there 😉) to read your second novel, The Key in the Lock.

To my utter astonishment, (and maybe to shut me up!!) Beth kindly sent me a beautiful dedicated proof, so I instantly cast aside my TBR plan for the month, and dived straight in.

‘I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unfurling out of an upper window and a hectic orange light cascading across the terrace’.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

For Ivy is sure there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the great house, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.

I’d imagine it’s very nerve-racking for authors when sending their second book out into the ‘bloggers wild’, as it were. Particularly when a debut has had such excellent reviews and feedback. A hard act to follow, perhaps? Take it from me Beth, you’ve nothing to be worried about, The Key in the Lock is brilliant.

What struck me the most about this story was how much effort had gone into the research. It is meticulously written down to the very last minute detail. So much thought is put into Beths novels, this is something I noticed when reading The Witchfinders Sister, this one has that very same precision.

From the creative descriptions to the most authentic characters, from the intricacies of plot detail, to the slow burning reveals, The Key in the Lock is top quality historical fiction.

I absolutely adored the secretive, atmospheric story-line. I often find if plots are gentle in motion, if the writing style isn’t quite ‘up to it’, I become a little bored when revelations take their time to unfold. But not here, I found it so immersive, the gothic feels, dark tension, cleverly haunting reveals, and characters so vivid in my mind, it made for some breathtaking reading.

I can count on one hand authors whose books are an auto-buy for me. Beth has been one of those authors since reading her debut in 2017. She sits comfortably alongside Sarah Waters where I don’t even have to read the synopsis, I already know I’m going to love it, it’s a given.

Thank you so much Beth for sending me a signed copy, it’s a treasure on my forever historical fiction shelf.

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.

The Key in the Lock is released in January 2022 from Viking books

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) by Alison Weir

 

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Anne BoleynA King’s Obsession by bestselling author and historian Alison Weir, is the second novel in the Six Tudor Queens series. An unforgettable portrait of the ambitious woman whose fate we know all too well, but whose true motivations may surprise you. 

Alison Weirs’ Six Tudor Queens #5 (Katheryn Howard, the Scandalous Queen) was due to be released back in May, but finally came out in August due to some horrible virus thing! Her final Tudor Queens instalment (Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife) is expected in May 2021, so I thought I’d share with you my review of book #2, which is about Anne Boleyn.

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, particularly when it’s about the Tudor period. I requested this from NetGalley back in 2017, half expecting to be turned down as Weir is such an established author. But, lo and behold, I got approved, and I was utterly delighted!

Anne Boleyn was Henry’s second wife out of the six. Their relationship was an uphill struggle from the outset as Henry was still married to Katherine of Aragon for the best part of their courting, which caused controversy among the masses. This painted poor Anne as a harlot and whore. She was neither. In fact, she was a sassy, educated, well travelled woman who certainly knew what she wanted out of life. But back in the 1500’s, women generally weren’t to be seen as having an opinion to voice. They were there to help secure families’ futures, the most important thing of course was to have a son, and in royalty, that all important heir.

Alison Weirs historical knowledge shines from page one. She portrays the era with pinpoint perfection, every minute detail brought to living colour with ease. What I found most satisfying was that the basis of the story was factual. The author achieved an in-depth history lesson that was fascinating because the characters actually existed. She gave them their own part to play, and added their personalities, reactions and mannerisms based on her fantastic knowledge as a historian. The vision she had as a fictional author brought together an accurate depiction of events with drama and passion to make for a truly memorable read.

I’ll be honest in saying that it wasn’t the easiest read for me at times. At around half way through I had to stop for a while, in fact, for well over a week, because it was getting heavy. Not to hold, as it was on my kindle, (the physical book is a satisfying 544 pages) but heavy on the politics and religion. That was by no means a bad thing, because during the Tudor period, England was going through some very tough times, and Henry Tudor was responsible for a huge amount of uproar and change, so it was necessary and relevant to the story. But in order for me to get full enjoyment from it, I really did need that break. I’m not the best at taking in political plots and religious intricacies, and on various occasions I found I wasn’t connected to what I was reading. That, however, did not have any adverse effect on the story flow, it didn’t make me enjoy it any less, if anything, it made me more determined to finish it.

On finishing, I discovered at the end a ‘Timeline’ and a ‘Dramatis Personae’ which really helped to fill in a few gaps where I didn’t quite connect or understand certain areas of the book.

All in all, this is a fantastic read which I recommend to any fan of British History, it’s not the easiest, but it’s well worth persevering with because Alison Weir is an incredible author.

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It’s Tuesday! I’m talkin’ BIG BOOKS. It’s #Tomesday!

Good morning/afternoon/evening!

Today I’m chatting about books of size. Once in a while, I fancy something big and thick to hold (stop it! 😆) and I dig around my shelves for some inspiration of epic proportions.

I’ve a tendency to be drawn to mahoosive tomes, particularly when I’m in my favourite place ever, the book department in my local charity shop. (For which I have a self- imposed ban on until 2020, but that’s a whole different story).

What do you consider to be a Tome-sized book? 500+ pages? 700+ pages?

Well, Did You Know?

Tome comes from Latin tomus, which comes from Greek tomos, meaning “section” or “roll of papyrus.” Tomos comes from the Greek verb temnein, which means “to cut.” In ancient times, some of the longest scrolls of papyrus occasionally were divided into sections. When it was first used in English in the 16th century, tome was a book that was a part of a multi-volume work. Now a tome is most often simply a large and often ponderous book.

PONDEROUS. I just love that word! Here’s the gorgeous Jodie Comer from Killing Eve pondering how to kill her next victim. (Any excuse to add her to my post, I JUST LOVE HER!)

Okay, books, BIG, FAT, JUICY BOOKS THAT WEIGH AS MUCH AS A BREEZE BLOCK.

Let’s get some pictures, that’s a lovely stack wouldn’t you say?

Okay, I’ll quit messing with you, let’s get on with it. Here’s four Tomes of mine that are all 700+ pages.

Let’s start with the wonderful Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett, the first of my tomes for Tomesday. I do believe there’s a third in this series which I have yet to purchase. Just take a moment to feast your eyes on these beauts.

Pillars of the Earth is 1076 pages long, but World Without End is a whopping 1237 pages!

The Independent quotes on the cover for WWE;

‘You won’t be able to put it down’.

To be fair, I couldn’t pick it up for long either as holding it for more than half an hour gave me tennis elbow! (I’m an in-the-bath reader). Anyway, I’ve read them both, and they are ‘up there’ with my all time favourite in the Historical Fiction genre, both receiving five star ratings from me on Goodreads.

Next, I have two tomes that I’ve not read, but were bought in a charity shop for such a ridiculously low price, how could one resist?!

The Theatre of the World by C B Butler.

‘England 1586. Elizabeth I’s privateers are called into service to save England from its greatest peril’.

Another big chunk of history, the main character having been born in Southampton, my home town. I’ve got to get cracking on this one ASAP. I’ve just reminded myself how excited I was when I found it! Purchased at the British Heart Foundation for a quid! At 771 pages, it’s not as big as the two Folletts, but heavy enough to knock someone out cold.

And finally, my last tome for Tomesday is By Gaslight by Steven Price.

‘A dark tale of love, betrayal and murder from the slums of Victorian London, to the diamond mines of South Africa…’

And it is still on my TBR, I forgot all about it until today! Oh my life, honestly, I was DESPERATE to read this when I bought it. But off I popped it onto the shelves of oblivion, only to be found again today. *sighs*.

Note to self: leave it in full sight, a place where I stub my toe on it’s 731 page bulk.

So there we have it, four giant-size books, two I’ve read, two TBR.

What massive books do you own? Do you enjoy a book that you know you have to invest a lot of time into? Let me know in the comments. Or you could even do your own #Tomesday post. Don’t forget to tag me so I can pop over and have a read!

Right, I’m off, it’s sad, but I must dash. (Any excuse to use another Jodie GIF 😉😆)

Thanks for dropping by, and until next time, cheerio!

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