Posted in Squad Pod Collective

Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan

I never stop counting my lucky stars that I’m a member of the Squad Pod Collective – a group of friends formed organically on Twitter who have formed a book blogging community. Not only are they lovely women who support each other daily they are very talented writers and book reviewers. Each month we have a book club pick and I’ve been lucky enough to have time at the end of the year to read this stunning fantasy duology back to back and I’m so glad I did. I loved escaping into the clouds in Sue Lynn Tann’s first instalment, Daughter of the Moon Goddess because it lured me into a richly evocative world of goddesses, monsters, warriors and Chinese mythology. I’m so in awe of this author’s imagination and I was fascinated to see the next part of Xingyin’s journey. The first book has really set the scene for this sequel in terms of the relationships and character developments that are immediately picked up where we left them last time. We meet Xingyin, now reunited with her mother and living contentedly back on the moon. However, this is only a short moment of peace because there is a power shift in the Celestial Kingdom and Xingyin is forced to flee from her home again and defend the realm.

The author’s vivid imagination can be seen on every page, with such lush description that I fully believed in this incredible world she builds, but her attention to detail doesn’t stop at the setting. Once again she takes her heroine through ordeals and personal choices that build real character growth. Her journey is an emotional one and her growing maturity is shown in the tough decisions she makes both in her quest and in her personal life. I felt that the romance angle was more successful this time, with all characters in the love triangle showing more maturity. This could be just my age and experience though and young adult readers may well identify strongly with the set up of this storyline in the first book. Here she has to face betrayal and I was caught up in this powerful dynamic that threatens to tip over into enemies, rather than potential lovers. Her sadness and conflicted feelings over Wenzhi’s betrayal work well and he’s still very much part of the story. In my opinion he brings that spark of chemistry too. He really wants to make things right with Xingyin and shows this by devotedly sticking by her side to be there whenever she needs him. There is less instant chemistry between Xingyin and Liwei, but there is strong friendship and loyalty. He shows he is willing to defy his parents for her which removes the main obstacle to their potential romance. The mental push and pull between these very polarised relationships was definitely more engaging this time and I became more and more interested to see who, if anyone, she would choose.

The pace of the novel did ebb and flow, with a quieter middle section followed by a helter -skelter rush towards the conclusion. The battle sequences are incredibly effective because they feel dynamic and there’s genuine peril – characters do die here. The decision to make this a duology was a clever one. As the novel rushed towards it’s conclusion I worried that it might feel jumbled or sudden, but everything worked and I came away feeling satisfied. In many ways The Heart of the Sun Warrior worked better for me than the first novel, taking the story to new places with higher stakes and life-changing consequences. There was more tension, a faster pace and a few twists and turns to surprise the reader. As mentioned the romance seemed better worked out here too, but everything Sue Lynn Tan did well in the first novel is maintained. We didn’t lose any of the luscious description and lyrical language that she does so well, drawing the reader into her magical world. As with the first novel though, it was the heroine’s self-growth that I enjoyed most and those life lessons extended to the other characters too, who go on their own inner journey. Of course there’s the strength and courage you would expect from warriors, but that conflict also brought lessons in loss and coping with grief. Each character had to practice forgiveness and learn what it means to give unconditional love. These deeper emotional elements really elevated this book for me and along with the strength of Chang’e and Xingyin’s mother/daughter relationship, they give a very magical world it’s human heart. Sue Lynn Tan should be incredibly proud of these debut novels and her beautiful, poetic writing style. What finishes these books off beautifully are those stunning covers, both of which would look perfect as framed book posters on my bedroom wall (if anyone’s listening).

Published 10th November 2022 by Harper Voyager

Meet The Author

Sue Lynn Tan writes stories inspired by the myths and legends she fell in love with as a child. After devouring every fable she could find in the library, she discovered fantasy books, spending much of her childhood lost in magical worlds.

​Daughter of the Moon Goddess is her debut, the first in the Celestial Kingdom duology – a fantasy of immortals, magic and love, inspired by the beloved legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e. Its sequel, Heart of the Sun Warrior, is also out now.

When not writing or reading, she enjoys exploring the hills, lakes, and temples around her home. She is also grateful to be within reach of bubble tea and spicy food, that she unfortunately cannot cook.

Find her on Instagram and Twitter @SuelynnTan, or on her website http://www.suelynntan.com

Posted in Squad Pod

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan.

I am a huge fan of Damon Albarn – I haven’t gone crazy, this is relevant – from the first 12 inch Blur single I bought in 1989, to Gorillaz and all the solo projects in-between I’ve been there. For me, the most amazing piece of work he’s composed is Monkey: The Opera which I went to see at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and then again at Lincoln Centre in NYC. I’d seen the ‘Monkey Magic’ series when I was a child, me and my brother loved the hilarious and badly dubbed chronicles of Monkey and his quest. However, in the opera house, when the music started and the curtains opened this Monkey was simply magical, like a window to another world. The music was exquisite and the set was just incredible, with floating clouds and giant bamboo, underwater realms and ancient gods and spirits lurking above while Monkey learns what his journey is about. I’d honestly never seen anything like it. So, when I picked up this beautiful book I put the music on so I had a soundtrack to my reading experience and it fitted together beautifully. Used to Greek, Roman and Celtic mythology, Albarn’s soundtrack felt like fitting music for the entirely alien, but rich and evocative mythology I was becoming immersed in.

This incredible debut novel from Sue Lynn Tan is a mix of mythology, spirituality, magic and Bildüngsroman- that wonderful and almost untranslatable word that relates to books focused on a young person growing up. Our heroine is Xingyin a young woman who has grown up on the moon, hidden from a powerful Celestial Emperor who placed her mother Chang’e in exile for the theft of his elixir of mortality. Xingyin’s life has been a lonely one and as she grows she longs for new experiences and places. Now Xinying is coming into her power and as her magic increases, she is discovered. Now she must flee the moon and leave her mother behind, knowing that she’s pitted against the most powerful immortal leaving both their lives at risk. Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity she works as a servant, but then seizes a lucky opportunity to train in the Crown Prince’s service. Xingyin starts learning to master archery, magic, and the strange attraction between her and the emperor’s son. I loved being back in a world within the clouds. The author’s beautifully lyrical language is so vibrant and she really does bring this stunning world to life. This celestial realm is woven from layers of description about the clothing, the food, the buildings and the unique magical elements, creating a setting and atmosphere that’s suitably awe inspiring.

I found Xingyin’s inner journey interesting too, because she develops so much from the naïve young girl at the beginning. I loved that she is following a path to be a warrior, something that seems rare for women in Western mythologies. I learned so much about Chinese culture through her obligations to family, particularly the mother/daughter relationship and the concept of honour and how it informs her ambitions. Her focus is to free her mother from exile and this brings out an incredible determination in Xingyin. She starts out unable to fend for herself and she shows both patience and grit, achieving each goal on the way to her destiny. She has to learn the history of these Immortal Realms in order to negotiate her way forward. She also has to practice her magic and the find the best way to utilise it in her quest. I loved how the author kept a steady pace in these early sections, the slower pace echoing that Xingyin is only at the beginning of her journey and she feels those same emotions we do when our goals are still so far away. The pace really speeds up when Xingyin has undergone her initial training and the army leaves to test it’s recruits in battle. I really enjoyed the extraordinary monsters from Chinese legend that the army must defeat for Xingyin to really fulfil her potential as a battle-hardened warrior. The author beautifully describes that uncertainty and fear soldiers must feel before a battle – the self-doubt that can creep in and takes hold. Yet Xingyin manages to feel this and still maintain her warrior-like demeanour. She isn’t just a killing machine. Throughout her endeavours she has kept her own deep seated sense of morality and a self-awareness that allows her to set boundaries.

Aside from Xingyin’s quest there is also an element of romance in the novel; a love triangle that does dominate in parts and takes up an enormous amount of her head space. I wasn’t sure I needed the romance for the book to work, but I guess it’s part of a young girl’s journey into womanhood. She is torn between two men and seems on a rollercoaster of trying to understand her feelings for both. One minute she’s berating her own fickleness in wanting one and then the other, then is angry that whatever they do she can’t let either one of them go. I think the author is trying to capture the immaturity of relationships at this age and I felt the romance might have been pitched at a YA audience who would understand the angst better than this middle-aged reader. I didn’t want the romance to take over the storyline and distract Xingyin from her own journey and potential. I don’t read a enormous amount of fantasy, but this was a complete escape from normal everyday life and I found myself lost in it’s imagery and those wonderful mythical creatures. The author has a boundless imagination, shown in the sheer scale of this work and how she paints her world with words so that it’s beautifully rich, evocative and ultimately, enchanting. I’m looking forward to diving into her world again for the sequel to this incredible debut novel.

Published 20th Jan 2022 by Harper Voyager

Meet the Author

Sue Lynn Tan writes stories inspired by the myths and legends she fell in love with as a child. After devouring every fable she could find in the library, she discovered fantasy books, spending much of her childhood lost in magical worlds. Daughter of the Moon Goddess is her debut, the first in the Celestial Kingdom duology – a fantasy of immortals, magic and love, inspired by the beloved legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e.

When not writing or reading, she enjoys exploring the hills, lakes, and temples around her home. She is also grateful to be within reach of bubble tea and spicy food, that she unfortunately cannot cook.

Find her on Instagram and Twitter @SuelynnTan, or on her website http://www.suelynntan.com

Posted in Paranormal Reads

Halloween Spotlight! BeWitching Novels.

Who doesn’t love a witchy novel at this time of year? In fact, the only thing better than a witch novel is a whole series of them. Here I’m recommending series and one-offs that really fit the bill on these cold autumn afternoons. They’re exactly what I want on a Sunday afternoon, snuggled on the chaise langue with the log burner lit and preferably a pack of M&S Belgian Chocolate Toffee Popcorn. Bliss. There are golden oldies and a few new books to bring a sprinkle of magic into your Halloween.

Joanne Harris’s Chocolat Series

Whenever I pick up Chocolat I immediately feel enclosed by this sumptuous and magical world that Joanne Harris has created. It is the book equivalent of sitting in a candlelit room, Christmas tree sparkling magically in the corner, a warm fire and some real hot chocolate. It’s as if Vianne Rocher is enchanting me from between the pages. From the moment the changing wind blows her into the village of Lansquenet she begins to work her magic on the villagers, much to the disgust of parish priest Father Reynaud. She establishes a chocolate shop directly opposite the church and so begins a struggle for power. Her magic is subtle, but she is an amazing chocolatier and she has the ability to discern which one of her chocolates will be someone’s favourite. With her chocolate pot always simmering and ready with a listening ear, her shop soon becomes the regular haunt of some of the villagers. However, the priest is preaching against Vianne Rocher. He doubts her morals, dislikes the sense of indulgence she’s creating, and is suspicious that she may be a witch. Maybe he’s seen Pantoufle, the imaginary friend of Vianne’s little girl Anouk. This push and pull between church and chocolate is left behind in her second novel The Lollipop Shoes where we follow Vianne to Paris where they live above her chocolate shop. Then Zozie De L’Alba sweeps into their lives, the woman with the lollipop shoes, but she isn’t all she seems. Seductive and charming on the surface, she can also be ruthless and devious. Again, Vianne finds herself with a powerful enemy. Should she do what she’s always done before and run?

Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé takes us back to Lansquenet and feels like a lighter novel, more suited as a sequel to Chocolat. It’s a letter from an old friend that brings her back to the village, but this is an unusual letter, because Vianne’s friend is dead. She finds the village changed since her last visit, with a new community blown in with the wind. Where once the river gypsies were the village has grown, there’s now a hint of spices, veiled faces and a minaret as North African migrants have settled. So Reynaud could have a new enemy. However, Vianne finds that he’s in trouble, could this possibly be the reason she’s been drawn back to the village? I loved the feel of this novel, with old characters popping up and old adversaries seeking change. It really felt like the story had come full circle so I was surprised when I heard there was another part to the series. The Strawberry Thief is every bit as atmospheric as Chocolat and all seems settled in Lansquenet. Vianne and her youngest daughter Rosette have settled in the chocolate shop. Even her relationship with Reynaud has settled into a friendship. It’s when the florist Narcisse dies that the wind changes. His will is cause for gossip and then someone opens a shop in the square, opposite Vianne, The strange pull it exerts seems familiar, but what could this mean for Vianne. This series is so warm and the settings are absolutely enchanting. The magic is sprinkled throughout, but Vianne is not just an enchantress. She’s a catalyst. A force for change. She inspires people to cast off rules and do what makes them happy. She gives women who are unhappy and even abused, the strength to leave. She frees people and that is an incredibly powerful gift to have.

A Witch in Time and The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers.

I’m relatively new to the work of Constance Sayers, but I’ve certainly made up for the oversight since. A Witch in Time is high on my TBR for the end of this year, but it sounds just up my street. We go to four different time zones, into the lives of four different women, but between them there’s just one star-crossed love. In 1895, sixteen-year-old girl called Juliet begins a passionate, doomed romance with a married artist. Next we’re in 1932, with aspiring actress Nora as she escapes New York for the bright lights of Hollywood and a new chance at love. Then it’s 1970 and we meet Sandra who lives in California, it’s perfect for her music career but she’s threatening to tear her band apart with a secret love affair. Finally, we reach the 21st Century and a confused Helen who has strange memories of lives that she hasn’t lived. These are tragic lives, cursed with doomed love, because Helen was bound to her lover in 1895, and trapped by his side ever since. She’s lived multiple lifetimes, under different names, never escaping her tragic endings. Only this time, she might finally have the power to break the cycle.

I was determined to have an early copy of The Ladies of the Secret Circus as soon as I saw a trailer for it on Twitter.

The surest way to get a ticket to Le Cirque Secret is to wish for it . . .

As a huge fan of The Night Circus I knew this was for me and thankfully I managed to get a copy on NetGalley. This time Sayer’s takes us back to Paris in 1925 where to enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder. See women weave illusions, let carousels take you back in time, and see trapeze artists float across the sky. Bound to her family’s circus, it’s the only world Cecile Cabot knows until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate affair that could cost her everything. In the 21st Century, Lara Barnes is getting married and feels on top of the world, but when her fiancé disappears on their wedding day every plan she has for the future comes crashing down. Desperate, Lara’s search for answers unexpectedly lead to her great-grandmother’s journals and is swept into a story of a dark circus and ill-fated love. There are secrets about the women in Lara’s family history, which need to come to light. They reveal a curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations. A curse that might be tied to her fiancé’s mysterious fate. Both of these tales are full of spells, magic and ancient curses, but they’re also colourful, romantic and full of wonder.

The Practical Magic Series by Alice Hoffman.

I write about these four books every Halloween and I should perhaps look for some new material, but I can’t stop because I love this author and these four books are a brilliant witch series. Although Practical Magic was the first book in the series, followed a very successful film with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, it’s actually the third instalment of this story following the Owens family try to juggle life with their witchy heritage. Hoffman went on to write two prequels and a sequel to Practical Magic where we meet a different generation of the Owens family, both as teenagers and then as elderly ladies, hoping to change change the curse that’s been controlling their lives ever since the witch trials. We start in Magic Lessons when baby Maria is left abandoned in a snowy field near the home of Hannah Owens. Hannah is a healer who lives in isolation, but the women of the town manage to make their way to her door for the remedies they sorely need usually due to the pains and consequences of love. When men feel threatened they do terrible things and when Hannah is set upon by the men of the village, Maria escapes and makes her way down to the Caribbean as a servant. However, when the man she loves betrays her, Maria follows him back to Massachusetts and begins a war against the Puritan settlers. Will her quest for revenge blind her to real love and curse her family for a generation? Then we jump to the 20th Century and the Owens sisters Franny and Jet, with their brother Vincent. Their mother knew they were special because they each have their own talent: Franny with the blood red hair can talk to birds, Jet is so beautiful and incredibly shy but in the quiet she can read what people are thinking. As the teenagers start to interact more with the outside world, it seems that Vincent’s charisma may get him into trouble. Yet it’s Jet’s world that may be turned upside down by the curse of the Owen family.

Practical Magic is actually the third in the series and we’re one generation on, in the same house in Massachusetts. Gillian and Sally live with their aunts Franny and Jet, they keep themselves to themselves mostly, but the girls know that if the porch light is left on at night, women who wouldn’t give them a glance by day seem to find their way at night. Gillian is the wilder one of the sisters, roaming from state to state and attracting all the wrong men. When she returns to Massachusetts, homebody Sally knows that she’s brought trouble home with her. Even their magic might not cover her tracks as a handsome investigator arrives in town asking questions. Since her husband died Sally has lived quietly, avoiding her magical skills and men. Now her sister’s return might jeopardise the stability she’s created for her girls. They may need help from the aunties for this. Hoffman’s fourth in the series, published last year, is The Book of Magic. The three generations of Owens women who all live in the same small town in Massachusetts, have found a way to accommodate their family curse and their magic skills. Until Sally’s youngest daughter Kylie falls in love with her best friend. As the curse does it’s worst the family must find a book of magic, the only one with the knowledge that might break the family curse and allow the younger generation to love without limits or fear of tragedy, Sally will have to embrace the skills she’s avoided for so long and as the family fight to save their youngest member, one of the oldest gets wind of a change coming. A fitting end to a brilliant series,

The Waverley Sisters Series by Sarah Addison Allen.

This is a lovely and light two part series set in Bascom, North Carolina. They’re warm books that focus on family first and spells second, plus it’s full of food and charm so it wins me over straight away. It seems everyone in Bascom has a story to tell about the Waverley women. They live in a house that’s been in the family for generations, have a walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, and then those rumours of dangerous love and tragic passion that surround them. Every Waverley woman is somehow touched by magic, but Claire has always clung to the Waverleys’ roots. She stays grounded by tending the enchanted soil in the family garden and makes her sought-after delicacies – famed and feared in town for their curious effects. She has everything she thinks she needs – until one day she wakes to find a stranger has moved in next door and a vine of ivy has crept into her garden . . . Is Claire’s carefully tended life is about to run gloriously out of control.

In the second book we see more of Claire’s sister Sydney and her daughter Bay. It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are also made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree…and the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store. Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. She makes handcrafted confections with specific intentions, like rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds. Her remedies are effective, but the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and maybe even her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, seems to be losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby — a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has. Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost. This is a real happy ever after story, filled with magic and warmth.

Next Up!

I must admit there are witchy books that are still on my TBR. I’m so surprised, but I’ve never read A Discovery of Witches and would love to read them after seeing a couple of episodes of the TV series. I love the mix of historical fiction and the gothic, and the addition of other magical beings such as demons and vampires. It also has incredible settings from Cambridge UK, to Venice and Elizabethan England. I must make time for them. Also on my pile is Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart, a YA fantasy that’s based in a Jamaican tradition. I love reading about witches and magic from such different parts of the world and this is nearly at the top of my stack. I love that this is marketed as a more thrilling, fiery and powerful tale. Iraya Adair and Jazmyne Cariot are sworn enemies, but come together to carry out their revenge on a woman who threatens them both. This is an uneasy alliance and nothing is certain, except the lengths these women will go to for vengeance.

The Ex-Hex is a brand new rom-com that has apparently been a huge hit on TikTok. Vivienne was broken-hearted when she and Rhys broke up nine years ago. She tried bubble baths, then vodka and in the end she cursed him. Now Rhys is back to adjust the town’s ley lines, but everything he touches goes wrong and the village of Graves Glen seems out of balance. What if Vivienne’s hex wasn’t as harmless as she’d thought? Finally there’s The Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Mangu Sandanna, a book recommended to me buy one of my fellow bloggers in the Squad Pod. As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon has lived her life by three rules: hide your magic, keep your head down, and stay away from other witches. An orphan raised by strangers from a young age, Mika is good at being alone, and she doesn’t mind it . . . mostly. But then an unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches, and Mika jumps at the chance for a different life. However, as this new life might be threatened, Mika must decide whether to risk everything to protect her found family. You’ll be the first to hear how I get on.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Sunday Spotlight! Autumn Fiction: Fantasy, Magic and all Things Spooky.

I have to say this sounds like an incredible debut. It’s more of a monstrous fantasy than a spooky, Halloween type book. The story goes that, many years ago, the remote North Atlantic archipelago of St Hia was home to a monster. Her name was Thordis, and she had been adored. But when she was unable to provide her husband with a child, he sought one elsewhere – and Thordis was driven to a terrible act, before disappearing from her home. Today, lashed by storms and far from the mainland, the islands are dangerous. Many have been lost to a wild stretch of water known as the Hollow Sea.

But to one visitor, it feels like a haven. After several years trying to become a mother, Scottie has made the heart-breaking decision to leave her home and her husband in search of a fresh start. Upon her arrival on St Hia, the islanders warn her against asking questions about Thordis – but Scottie can’t resist the mystery of what happened to the woman whose story became legend.

After years of secrecy, can Scottie unravel Thordis’s story? And how will doing so change her own . . . ? I love this mix of motherhood, infertility and the monstrous. In fact monstrous births hark back to one of the most famous gothic novels; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It sounds like such an ambitious debut and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Billed as a horror/ thriller this is one of my favourite themes in fiction – books about books. Rare book dealer Lily Albrecht has just been given a tip-off about The Book of the Most Precious Substance, a 17th century manual rumoured to be the most powerful occult book ever written, if it really exists at all. With some of the wealthiest people in the world willing to pay Lily a fortune to track it down, she embarks on a journey from New York to New Orleans to Munich to Paris. If she finds it, Lily stands to gain more than just money. This could erase the greatest tragedy of her life. But will Lily’s quest help her find some answers, or will she lose everything in search of a ghost?

A book with all of life’s answers, if only you can find it...

I absolutely loved A.M. Shine’s last novel The Watchers and it had such a killer ending! I chose it as one of my books of the year so my hopes are high for The Creeper.

Superstitions only survive if people believe in them. Renowned academic Dr Sparling seeks help with his project on a remote Irish village. Historical researchers Ben and Chloe are thrilled to be chosen – until they arrive. The village is isolated and forgotten. There is no record of its history, its stories. There is no friendliness from the locals, only wary looks and whispers. The villagers lock down their homes at sundown. It seems a nameless fear stalks the streets, but nobody will talk – nobody except one little girl. Her words strike dread into the hearts of the newcomers. Three times you see him. Each night he comes closer. That night, Ben and Chloe see a sinister figure watching them. He is the Creeper. He is the nameless fear in the night. Stories keep him alive. And nothing will keep him away…

Last Minute Mentions

I’ve just been granted access to these spooky titles so thought I’d give you a quick preview.

I loved C.J.Cooke’s The Lighthouse Witches, an interesting mix of isolated Scottish location, a history of witches, ghostly apparitions, disappearances and time travel. The Ghost Woods sounds downright spooky.

In the midst of the woods stands a house called Lichen Hall. Even the name starts to conjure up an atmosphere of decay. This place is shrouded in folklore – old stories of ghosts, of witches, of a child who is not quite a child. Now the woods are creeping closer, and something has been unleashed. Pearl Gorham arrives in 1965, one of a string of young women sent to Lichen Hall to give birth. And she soon suspects the proprietors are hiding something. Then she meets the mysterious mother and young boy who live in the grounds – and together they begin to unpick the secrets of this place. As the truth comes to the surface and the darkness moves in, Pearl must rethink everything she knew – and risk what she holds most dear. This sounds like a great mix of the supernatural and women’s history.

ELSPETH NEEDS A MONSTER. THE MONSTER MIGHT BE HER.

One Dark Window is billed as a gothic fantasy romance. An ancient, mercurial spirit is trapped inside Elspeth Spindle’s head – she calls him the Nightmare. He protects her. He keeps her secrets. But nothing comes for free, especially magic. When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, she is thrust into a world of shadow and deception. Together, they embark on a dangerous quest to cure the town of Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. As the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly, darkly, taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.

I’m so excited to be on the blog tour for this gothic mystery novel, with such a lush cover I want to frame it.

1930. Nell Fagan is a journalist on the trail of a intriguing and bizarre mystery: in 1606, a man vanished from a locked gatehouse in a remote Yorkshire village, and 300 years later, it happened again. Nell confides in the best sleuth she knows, judge’s daughter Rachel Savernake. Thank goodness she did, because barely a week later Nell disappears, and Rachel is left to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Looking for answers, Rachel travels to lonely Blackstone Fell in Yorkshire, with its eerie moor and sinister tower. With help from her friend Jacob Flint – who’s determined to expose a fraudulent clairvoyant – Rachel will risk her life to bring an end to the disappearances and bring the truth to light. A dazzling mystery peopled by clerics and medics; journalists and judges, Blackstone Fell explores the shadowy borderlands between spiritual and scientific; between sanity and madness; and between virtue and deadly sin. Full of my favourite themes and brimming with all things gothic, this is surely an autumn must—read.

How good do all these picks sound? Look out next Sunday for my look at Historical Fiction and Romance.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Sunday Spotlight! The Daughter of Doctor Moreau.

I have been a fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing since I did the blog tour for her novel Mexican Gothic. It was a heady mix of fear, desire, and strange happenings, with a feisty heroine with fabulous dress sense. Of course it also had a gothic mansion, decorated with wallpaper printed with wandering mushrooms. Since then I’ve become less keen on wallpaper and mushrooms! I also went back to her previous novels- one of the greatest pleasures a bookworm like me can have is to find a new author then find they have a long back catalogue of books to get your teeth into. I went back to the incredible Gods of Jade and Shadow and The Beautiful Ones, then was lucky enough to be sent Velvet Was the Night. I love the vivid colours and unusual design of her book covers too and have each one sitting on my shelf in hardback. I’m trying to resist buying the signed edition of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau with the bright pink spredges It’s perhaps no surprise that I love the art of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo because this cover is very reminiscent of her work. Mainly I love (and envy) Morena-Garcia’s incredible imagination and the way she changes genre with each book.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a feminist retelling of H.G. Wells’s original sci-fi novel. Our main character is not Dr. Moreau, instead it is his 14 year old Carlota Moreau, brought up on an island off Mexico by her scientist father. I love the technique of ‘writing back’, especially with the theme of disability in my case, but there have been a lot of books reframing Greek myths such as Elektra and Ariadne. They bring women into the frame and show events from their perspective, which is often very different from the male ‘heroes’. Carlota has a childhood illness which her father is treating with a drug regime of his own invention. Dr Moreau keeps his daughter close by and she is very naïve about the outside world, but also about her father’s work. With the help of his estate overseer, Montgomery Laughton, Dr. Moreau has created ‘the hybrids’, half human and half animal creatures who blindly obey their creator. Seven years later Eduardo Lizaldi arrives, the son of Dr. Moreau’s patron has come to see his work, but sets in motion the events of the novel. I can’t go into much more without ruining the story, but there is a touch of romance woven into the tale as well.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia talks about the setting and themes of her novel in the afterword, including the ethics of scientific work and the effects of colonialism. As part of her backdrop she addresses the treatment of the Mayan population, as well as the Caste War which raged for years against incomers. There is also a look at the rigidly controlled lives of the 19th Century women. All in all a truly ambitious undertaking, but then I wouldn’t expect any less from this gifted writer.

Meet The Author

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the novels The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Velvet Was the Night, Mexican Gothic, and many other books. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters).

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

The Box of Delights by John Masefield.

“Christmas ought to be brought up to date, Maria said. It ought to have gangsters, and aeroplanes and a lot of automatic pistols.”
John Masefield, The Box Of Delights

My Christmas fascination with this particular book may owe more to the BBC adaptation, broadcast in the run up to Christmas in the Sunday teatime slot, than it does to the book. Although I do still have a copy, one I bought with a gift token I’d won at school for trying hard, sometime in the mid 1980s. I read the book after the series aired and was captivated by this strange tale of wolves, clergymen, gangsters and Herne the Hunter. I think it captured my imagination because this was Christmas, but not the Christian version of events. This tale owes more to pagan winter festivals, fairy folk and ancient magic. I have always felt there’s something magical and transformative about Christmas Eve. I’ve never celebrated Halloween, we belonged to a restrictive church that frowned upon any sort of occult meddling, so we had to go to ‘Light Night’ instead. Instead of the magical witching hour, I felt that anything could happen on Christmas Eve. Before our swap to a ‘happy clappy church’ I’d been brought up Catholic. For me there was nothing like the excitement of being woken up late at night, bundled into the car and travelling to Midnight Mass in the frosty cold when others were in bed. I felt like a nocturnal creature, up and about just as rabbits and badgers were popping up from their burrows and sniffing the night air. My brother and I would press our faces up against our windows, looking up into the sky as far up as we could, just in case we saw Father Christmas. Miraculously, he would always have been when we arrived home again. We loved seeing everyone’s Christmas lights on and landscapes turned a glittery white with frost. I had a sense that the veil between this world and others was very thin at this time of year. That there was still magic afoot in the world and I might see something mystical and strange, much like Kay does in this novel as he travels home by train for the holidays.

The magic box

In fact Kay’s adventure starts as soon as he sets out on his homeward journey by steam train. Kay thinks he hears wolves, but that’s impossible. He does meet an old Punch and Judy man though, who inevitably draws him into an adventure.

“And now, Master Harker, of Seekings,’ the old man said, ‘now that the Wolves are Running, as you will have seen, perhaps you would do something to stop their Bite?”

The BBC adaptation

The wolves he speaks of are not the howling ones outside. The wolves are Abner Brown and his dastardly crew of henchmen. They’re after a magic box that the old man uses to go small (shrink) or go swift (travel), and which he now gives to Kay so he can keep it safe. This box sets Kay off on marvellous adventures and although I don’t remember it all, there are parts that have stuck with me. I remembered a mouse who enters Kay’s room via tiny archway in the skirting board. As Kay shrinks to avoid Brown’s henchmen, he finds himself having to navigate the ‘rapids’ in a paper boat and then disappears for a while after finding a fairy door. He’s welcomed into a fairy gathering, attended by the King and Queen of the fairies. He’s not completely alone in his adventures either and new friend Maria is a plucky little character who wants the exciting Christmas quoted above. She’s incredibly posh, cut from the same cloth as the ‘boy’s own’ heroes and has an excellent line in slang.

‘They know better than to try that game on me. I’ve been expelled from three and the headmistresses still swoon when they hear my name breathed. I’m Maria Jones, I am: somewhat talked of in school circles, if you take the trouble to enquire.’

Such intrepid characters are needed to foil the plans of Abner Brown and his men, who seemed truly evil when I first saw them. What I loved though was that sense of ancient magic – ‘I do date from pagan times’ – mixed with the public school language and sensibility. There’s a sense of Kay’s quest turning him into a man or at least trying it on for size. It’s hilarious when he adopts an important tone and asks the family servant if she knows how to make him a posset. There’s also the wonderful vocabulary that sounds like it’s come from a Roald Dahl novel, with words like splendiferous, scrobbled and purple pim. This truly is a little magic box of a novel, with richly painted scenes of nature and fairies as well as unnerving moments like the boy trapped behind a waterfall. The best thing is that every time I think about this book a huge wave of Christmassy nostalgia washes over me.

Kay meeting Herne the Hunter
Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! November 2021

This has been a difficult reading month and I haven’t read as much as usual, but these were my favourite reads. Two members of the family have had surgery this month so a lot of the usual routine has been a bit upside down. The last week, while winter has started to bite a little, I’ve had a lot more pain and stiffness, as well as being plagued by MS symptoms of vertigo and fatigue. Some days I’ve felt like I only open my eyes when someone wakes me to have a meal. The countdown to Christmas also started in earnest, so I’ve been ordering early to avoid disappointment. I do the majority of my shopping online these days so it’s really a pleasure rather than feeling sweaty and unwell in a shop packed with other people. I did venture out with my stepdaughter last weekend to buy new decorations for our Christmas tree. It’s a tradition I set up to get to know them better and now it’s annual mission. Since it’s our first Christmas in the new house and our living room colour scheme has changed we decided to go pink and blue. We did well and how have an eccentric collection of tigers, monkeys, tiny pink Minis and VW Beetles with Christmas trees on the roof, slices of cake and topless unicorns wearing just a tutu! Mainly though, with my lowered immune system I’m trying to avoid large groups of people. Thankfully my booster is now booked, but it’s not until the end of December so I’m keeping to my strict bubble again until we know more about the new variant. So, that’s me. Out of the books I’ve read there have been some brilliant reads and don’t forget to check last Sunday’s Spotlight post which featured the books I’m buying as gifts this year.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

We open in Kerrigan Falls with Lara on the eve of her wedding as she starts to enchant her wedding dress to make it perfect. However, in the morning the groom has disappeared, mysteriously leaving his car behind at the scene where another young man disappeared thirty years before. Both men have links to Lara and her family. In her search for answers, Lara finds her great- grandmother’s diaries and reads the tale of a circus so secret it can’t be seen. The circus is the perfect antidote to the sweetness of Kerrigan Falls. I won’t ruin your discovery of this world, but it is truly fascinating, macabre, beautiful, magical and horrifying all at the same time. I was hooked by the scene the author was describing and fascinated by Lara’s family history. The small details, such as the circus only appearing to those with a personal invitation which bled if it was torn, were quite disturbing. The magic practiced there had parallels with Lara’s skills – simple tabby cats turned into ferocious big cats. There were surprises I hadn’t expected and Cecile’s final diaries are the vital first hand account of the circus’s history, as well as her own love story. I was immersed in this magical tale and didn’t really want it to end.

Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney

Oh my goodness, my heart did break for the intelligent, spirited and strangely beautiful Mary Rattigan. She is a character who will stay with me, especially the childhood Mary and her battles with Mammy – a woman who I hated so strongly it was as if she was a real person! The Rattigan’s life on her parent’s farm is at odds with her romantic and wild nature. She wants to fly. She will not be satisfied until she flies out of her dirty and dangerous surroundings, leaving ‘The Troubles’ behind her. She doesn’t care where she goes, as long as she’s free and lives happily ever after. However, life has a way of grounding us and Mary is no exception. In a life punctuated by marriage, five children, bombings, a long peace process and endless cups of tea Mary learns that a ten minute decision can change a whole life. These lessons are hard won and she’s missed a hundred chances to make a change. Can she ever find the courage to ask for the love she deserves, but has never had? I am probably a similar age to Delaney so I felt an affinity with Mary and understood her. Mary’s need to be loved is so raw she can’t even articulate it. How can she understand or recognise love when she’s never felt it? She has been told she’s nothing, so nothing is what she deserves. Delaney writes about love and the realities of marriage with such wisdom and tenderness that I was rooting for Mary Rattigan till the very last page.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Diana and her boyfriend Finn live in New York City, he is a doctor and she works at an auction house for fine art, on the verge of promotion to become an Art Specialist at Sotheby’s. She’s trying to acquire a Toulouse Lautrec painting that hangs in the bedroom of a Japanese artist -loosely based on Yoko Ono. Then, everything changes. Finn and Diana have a very set life plan and part of that was an upcoming visit to the Galápagos Islands. However there are rumours flying around in the medical community of a strange new virus in Wuhan, China. It seems like SARS in that it affects breathing, because it causes pneumonia and requires huge amounts of resources to keep patients alive. Diana’s boyfriend feels torn, as a doctor he’s worried and thinks they should be preparing but the president is on TV telling everyone it’s no worse than flu. What’s the truth? When Finn’s hospital announces all leave is cancelled they know the virus is coming. Diana asks what they should do with the Galapagos holiday and he tells her to go without him. So she arrives on the last boat just as everything shuts down and she has to take the kind offer of an apartment from a cleaner at the hotel called Abuela. This is just the start of an amazing and uplifting adventure for Diana, in a paradise separate from the COVID-19 nightmare happening in New York. The joy of this book is that it takes the reader in several different directions, some of them very surprising indeed. This is my first full on pandemic novel and it was tough but surprisingly uplifting too. A real return to form from Picoult who I absolutely love.

On the Edge by Jane Jesmond

I was thoroughly gripped by this tense thriller set in Cornwall and concerning Jenifry Shaw – an experienced free climber who is in rehabilitation at the start of the novel. She hasn’t finished her voluntary fortnight stay when she’s itching for an excuse to get away and she finds one when her brother Kit calls and asks her to go home. Sure that she has the addiction under control, she drives her Aston down to her home village and since she isn’t expected, chooses to stay at the hotel rather than go straight to her family home. Feeling restless, she decides to try one of her distraction activities and go for a bracing walk along the cliffs. Much later she wakes to darkness. She’s being lashed by wind and rain, seemingly hanging from somewhere on the cliff by a very fragile rope. Every gust of wind buffets her against the surface causing cuts and grazes. She gets her bearings and realises she’s hanging from the viewing platform of the lighthouse. Normally she could climb herself out of this, most natural surfaces have small imperfections and places to grab onto, but this man made structure is completely smooth. Her only chance is to use the rapidly fraying rope to climb back to the platform and pull herself over. She’s only got one go at this though, one jerk and her weight will probably snap the rope – the only thing keeping her from a certain death dashed on the rocks below. She has no choice. She has to try. I was already breathless and this was just the opening! What follows is a thrilling debut that is so incredibly addictive you’ll want to read it in one go.

The Watchers by A.M. Shine

This is a disturbing and beautifully written horror novel about Mina, a young woman living alone in urban Ireland. She is largely a loner, except for her friend Peter who is a collectibles dealer and often pays Mina cash to travel and deliver his client’s purchases. On this occasion she’s to take a golden parrot to a remote part of Galway, but the day trip becomes something she lives to regret. Having broken down on the edge of a forest, Mina realises that the likelihood of anyone passing by and helping are probably minimal. So, with the parrot in tow, she sets off walking in the hope of finding a remote farmhouse. She feels unnerved, although she can’t say why, then she hears a scream that isn’t human, but isn’t like any animal she’s ever heard either. As the shadows gather she is beginning to panic, but sees a woman with a lamp standing by a concrete bunker and although that seems odd they hurry inside. As the door slams behind them, the screams grow in intensity and volume, almost as if they were right on her heels. As her eyes adjust to the light she finds herself in a room with a bright overhead light. One wall is made entirely of glass, but Mina can’t see beyond it and into the forest because it is now pitch dark. Yet she has the creeping sensation of being watched through the glass, almost like she is the parrot in a glass cage. A younger man and woman are huddled together in one space, so there are now four people in this room, captive and watched by many eyes. Their keepers are the Watchers, dreadful creatures that live in burrows by day, but come out at night to hunt and to watch these captive humans. If caught out after dark, the door will be locked, and you will be the Watcher’s unlucky prey. Who are these creatures and why do they keep watching? This really is terrifying and you won’t be able to stop reading until the very unnerving end.

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

This is a sneak preview of a release for next year and one I couldn’t resist reading on NetGalley as soon as I was approved. This book hooked me straight away, which isn’t surprising considering this author’s talent in creating nerve-tingling domestic noir. Emma has survived childhood trauma to make a success of her life and is now a well-respected solicitor with a lovely family and beautiful home. The only thing is she can’t sleep. As her fortieth approaches her insomnia gets worse and she is terrified, what if this is just the start of the breakdown her mother suffered at the same age? She always said that Emma had the ‘bad blood’ and as her symptoms increase Emma is coming apart. I read this in two sittings, engrossed by Emma’s story and trying to work out whether she is being set up and if so, who by? Look out for this one at the end of March 2022.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow.

January is a young girl with a great imagination. She lives with her guardian Mr Locke and her nurse/governess Mrs Wilde, while her father travels the world. Her father is an adventurer, travelling far and wide to find treasures for Mr. Locke’s collection. She misses him and sits in her room wrapped in the pink and gold bedspread he sent her from India. January is just becoming a teenager and starts to learn that her freedom and imagination are a threat. One day she writes about a door to another world and soon after she discovers the very door she has written. Stepping through, she sees a different land with a white shimmering city in the distance. She now sees she can have her own adventures without ever leaving the hall and the protection of Mr Locke. But her creativity is not seemly for young ladies and Mr Locke determines she is overstimulated and needs the rest cure. This involves lying in a plain room with nothing to occupy her mind. At first she runs wild and tears the curtains and bedspread in defiance, but then realises this simply plays into Mr Locke’s hands. Instead she chooses to comply on the surface and become the nice young lady he wants. Yet, all the time a sense of adventures grows within and we realise January is not going to be a nice young lady for long.


Harrow intersperses January’s story with a different narrative from a book that comes from her father. The story tells of a young girl named Adelaide or Ade to her family and the age old tale of a haunted house that all the local children stay away from because of the ‘boo hags’. Ade is more curious than she is scared, but in the cornfield outside meets a type of boy she has never seen before, called Yule Ian.We don’t know where these people fit into January’s story but their story hints at worlds as yet unseen and legends from every country in the world. It’s as if January’s restrictions of Victorian womanhood is the smallest Russian doll in a set, she is enclosed by bigger worlds than her own. Her existence is restricted by our modern standards, but what if our own existence is similarly restricted? I started to think of other worlds beyond this one where the rules of existence are totally different or without limit.


I truly loved this wonderful book. It took a few chapters for everything to click into place, but I was intrigued enough to keep going till the story made sense. January is a great central character and her need to break free from the constraints placed upon her by Mr Locke would be understood by every teenage girl. I think this is partly the novels success – Harrow has taken a familiar feeling from any teenage girl, but placed it within a magical world where there are no limits to existence. When January realises she can write doors into other worlds and follow them, more freedom than she ever imagined is hers for the taking. However, this freedom depends entirely on pleasing Mr. Locke and we learn later in the book that his guardianship of January is even more far reaching than even she thought. He has schooled and packaged January in a way that is acceptable to Victorian society. He has polished and locked her away like one of the many treasures in his collection.


The novel is full of characters who move beyond their bounds in one world, while finding themselves completely at home in another. Jane is sent as a companion for January, paid for by her traveller father who comes and goes plundering worlds for Mr Locke’s collections. Jane finds that in one world her fearlessness and hunting skills are integral to her culture and survival, but in January’s world she is expected to keep her eyes down and not challenge people who are her betters. In this world Jane is problematic because she is a woman with no breeding or class and because she is black. January’s friend Samuel has slightly more freedom than Jane because he is a man even though his class and skin colour are the same. Just as Locke categorises and catalogues his collections, it seems there is an unspoken taxonomy of people. January has side-stepped disapproval, despite being poor and mixed race, thanks to Locke’s fortune which keeps her in dresses, pearls and first- class travel. January is kept in a gilded cage, but it is still a cage.
I couldn’t see at first where Ade and Yule Ian fit into the narrative, but soon I realised how crucial they both are to January and the world she sees as she discovers her writing power. It takes huge courage to use that power, but increasingly January finds it is the only way she can protect herself and the freedoms she believes in. She wants to find her father or at least the last place connected to him and she will keep wrenching doors open until she finds the right one. A shadowy organisation is not far behind her though, run by The Founder. They want this world to stay on one course; a rigid world following a set pattern of Empire, industrial revolution and exploitation of other country’s resources. The magical worlds January visits are too unpredictable, because they signify endless change. What will The Founder do to keep the doors closed and how can January throw them wide open again in order to see her family?


For me this novel is so successful because even when we are in the most alien of worlds the author never forgets this is a human story. The family bonds and the aching loss of bereavement feel real and honest. These may be extraordinary characters but their emotions are very human and relatable. I found myself aching for January to be reconciled with her father and for his heartbreak to heal. The novel also has something important to say about love: it’s many forms from familial to friendship and romantic love; the compromises of successful relationships and the need to give the one we love freedom and space to grow. I was so sad to finish this story and almost resented the next book I picked up. It is inventive, extraordinary and touching in equal measure. It is my book of the year so far and I’m now ordering my hardback copy to keep.

Meet The Author

Alix E. Harrow has been a student and a teacher, a farm-worker and a cashier, an ice-cream-scooper and a 9-to-5 office-dweller. She’s lived in tents and cars, cramped city apartments and lonely cabins, and spent a summer in a really sweet ’79 VW Vanagon. She has library cards in at least five states.

Now she’s a full-time writer living in with her husband and two semi-feral kids in Kentucky. Her short fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, Apex, and other venues, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January is her debut novel. Find her wasting time and having opinions at @AlixEHarrow on Twitter.

Posted in Netgalley

For The Wolf by Hannah Whitten.

The first daughter is for the throne. The second is for the Wolf.

Every so often I venture into reading fantasy and have been enchanted by some of the books I’ve stumbled upon, often because of their stunning covers in the first instance. When I think of my favourite books – The Night Circus, Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series and Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell – all come up very high on the list. Yet I certainly don’t think of myself as solely a fantasy blogger, I don’t have enough knowledge of the genre. I love that sense of total escape and I often read with a smile on my face because I’m so charmed by the audacity of these writers and how they bend the rules of our world with some magic realism or create a beautiful wild new world for the reader to explore. I was drawn to this book by a very beautiful cover and the thought that someone would be playing with the boundaries of a well known fairy tale.

Redarys has always known her fate. As the kingdom’s second daughter, she is doomed to become a sacrifice to the wolf who keeps Wilderwood’s gods captive in the forest. Red seems to have acquiesced to this fate and her mother’s cool and distant attitude tells Red that she too has prepared herself for this moment, by never becoming close with her daughter. Red’s sister Neve wants to rage against the kingdom and tempts Red to run away that night, as far as she can. She has even spoken to the man who loves Red and sets up a secret moment where he can declare his plans to help her run away. He is promised to Neve, but vows to help Red escape her fate. But does she want to? Red has a hidden power deep within that scares her, and she never wants to hurt someone she loves again. She feels the woods luring her and her power is exactly what they need. The stories she’s been told from childhood are not the full truth. The spirits have weakened. The wolf is just a man, as pushed into his fate as she is. Can Red use her power for good and set them all free?

From the very first pages I was drawn into this other world by the author’s use of detailed imagery. She builds an incredible new world, from words: the sumptuous clothing and the meaning behind their colours, the rooms of the castle and even the dark woods beyond are all rendered beautifully. As guests gather for a celebration on the eve of the sacrifice, Red has chosen a blood red dress contrasting strongly with her mother and sister’s choices and making it very clear who she is. There’s a certain pride in her, of who she is and the role she’s decided to accept. I enjoyed the sisterly love between Red and Neve. We do have sections narrated by Neve to give some contrast from Red’s point of view. Although they’re quite different Neve and Red are incredibly close, they have each other’s backs and in a difficult situation I have no doubt each would fight for the other. I liked both characters, but Red is definitely the more dominant sister despite their opposing fates. Her bravery in accepting her fate and her sense of duty to the kingdom were very admirable. She has some attitude too and I loved that feistiness in her. She’s also a voracious reader and the magnificent library was like something out of my dreams.

There is romance too, a slow burning attraction between Red and her unusual beau. I liked that it wasn’t overdone or flowery, and that Red didn’t lose any of her feistiness in the relationship. She wants to be loved for the person she is, not to change. I won’t reveal her love interest, but it’s their feeling of being trapped into a life they didn’t choose that brings them together. They are bound by blood and sacrifice. He’s a proper Gothic hero too, just as strong and fierce as Red but with an edge. He’s definitely the boyfriend you wouldn’t take home to Mum. It’s a complete awakening once Red enters the wood and she learns that the myths she’s been told about the world are far from the truth. I really enjoyed my foray into the world of fantasy. We all need a brooding love interest, with dark woods and crumbling castles. This isn’t all romance though, it’s more reminiscent of the original blood thirsty fairy tales where women are willing to saw off their own toes to fit a glass slipper or where an enchantment forces them to dance every night till their feet are bleeding. There is blood, so if you’re thinking of sweet, fluffy, fairy tales it might be better to imagine Disney meets Game of Thrones. This is a well written Gothic fairy tale, with a heroine who can not only save herself, but the world as well.

Meet The Author

Hannah Whitten has been writing to amuse herself since she could hold a pen, and sometime in high school, she figured out that what amused her might also amuse others. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, making music, or attempting to bake. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and children in a house ruled by a temperamental cat.

Posted in Personal Purchase, Uncategorized

A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington

#GirlMadeOfAir #NydiaMadeOfAir #bookreview #Bookbloggers

Sometimes all you can say when you finish a book is ‘Wow’. When that happens I close the book and have a moment of reverence. I need a few moments, in silence, to take in what I’ve read. I often need overnight before I can start a new book. I suppose you could describe it as being haunted – the thought of a scene or a letter in a book that invades your thoughts when you least expect it. It stays there, sometimes forever, to become a part of you. In the same way a particular aria or love song might forever float through your head. Some books lie on the surface, they pass the time, they amuse, and I do enjoy them but they don’t stay. Others get into your brain, like a complex puzzle you have to keep fiddling with, this way and that, until you find a solution. Some books enter your soul, they make you feel real physical emotions, they make you wonder in the same way you did as a child when a book took you away on a marvellous adventure. They touch you soul deep. This is one of those books.

Nydia Hetherington is a sorceress. She has conjured up this box of terrors and delights from the depths of her imagination and it is incredible. We follow Mouse as she crawls, peeps, stumbles and walks around the incredible show that is a circus. Billed as a tale about the Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived I was expecting glitz and glamour, the front of house show. However, the author cleverly goes deeper than that, far behind the curtain. Incredible descriptive passages draw us in to Mouse’s world from the smell near the big cats enclosure, the feel of a llama’s fur against your skin, the cramped but colourful quarters of the circus folk and the volatile relationship between her mother Marina and father Manu. So focussed on each other, her parents seem barely aware of her existence as she watches the drab and grubby circus folk become stars of the ring with their make-up, sequins and feathers. Her freedom gives us access to every part of this wondrous world, but freedom has its dark side and for Mouse this is really a tale of parental neglect. She is brought up by the circus, by the mother of the company Big Gen and her husband Fausto and eventually by Serendipity Wilson, the flame haired high wire artists who takes Mouse under her wing. Under her tuition Mouse becomes an incredible tightrope walker, able to take her place under the spotlight like her parents.

Serendipity with her flaming hair that glows like amber is from the Isle of Man and brings with her all the mythology of the islands. She weaves incredible stories for Mouse, who now sleeps in her wigwam, in much the same way as mystical fog weaves around her according to her mood. She thinks that Manu and Marina barely notice she’s gone, but Manu enlists her help to get Marina performing again. They coax her into the tank to perform as a mermaid for the crowd. Even so, there is no discernible warmth between Mouse and her mother, Marina’s focus is always inward to her own problems. It is after her mother’s death that Mouse is handed a letter from her mother, in which she admits to never feeling love for her child and explains why. For me this was the most powerful part of the book, and brought me to tears. The author has cleverly placed this moment of stark reality within the magic and it gives the letter huge emotional impact. It hits home the idea that all freedom has a price. Mouse has never had a mother, except the warmth and care she’s had from Serendipity and never questions whether that will change.

Bookending these stories is an elderly Mouse, recounting her life to a journalist. Living in New York, she recalls her arrival in the city and her expectations of Coney Island. She is older and recounts her past from a distance, but what comes across is terrible regret and sorrow around the disappearance of a child from the circus family. She is haunted by a flame haired Serendipity Wilson who, like all mothers, lives on as a voice in Mouse’s head; her inner critic commenting on all she does, only silent when Mouse truly lives in the moment. It’s in these sections that we see what the book is truly about. I expected a book about the spectacle of the circus, the showmanship and all that glitters. Instead this is a meditation on what it is to be human. The journalist asks the questions that go beneath Mouse’s surface and see the gritty truth; we are all flawed and we all make mistakes. This is a beguiling mix of myth, magic and human frailty. Truly brilliant.

You may also enjoy:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.