Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi; Narrated by Bahni Turpin #AudiobookReview

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They killed my mother.They took our magic.They tried to bury us. Now we rise.

Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled – Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden. 

Zélie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where strange creatures prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

I don’t often review young adult or fantasy novels on this blog, but sometimes a book comes along with such a buzz that it can’t be ignored. Children of Blood and Bone is one such book and, given the events that have occurred over the past few months, there has never been a better or more important time to read it.

Children of Blood and Bone is a young adult fantasy novel, the likes of which you won’t have read before. Quite a startling and ambitious novel in terms of breadth, scope, world-building and social commentary, it is a book that impresses  and informs on so many levels. Adeyemi has taken traditions from West African folklore and woven them into a fantasy world that is beautiful, detailed and all-enveloping, under-scored with a palpable anger that the author freely admits is what powered her desire to write the book.

The novel is set in the imaginary world of Orisha, which has its foundations clearly in Nigeria, where the maji people once possessed powerful magic, until that was taken from them and their leaders were brutally slaughtered by the king, the remnants of the race now living under oppression in a land where the colour of your skin determines your social standing. The story is told from the perspectives of three protagonists; Zelie, the daughter of a powerful maji leader who finds a way to tap into the remnants of her magic and the opportunity to bring it back to all he maji in the land; Amari, the daughter of the brutal king who has suffered her own form of oppression; and Inan, the son and heir of the kind who pursues Zelie in an attempt to apprehend her, whilst hiding his own dark secret. Each of these voices is clear and well-developed, and brings a different perspective to the story that helps the reader understand this world, its tensions and difficulties from all angles. It is a masterful technique.

The world that the author has built here is beautiful and evocative and detailed and fascinating, but also with recognisable parallels to our society and the fundamental inequalities that exist in it and have so recently resulted in uprising. Adeyemi explores all aspects of oppression and inequality through the story of Orisha, including addressing some of the misconceptions that arise on all sides and, interestingly, how inequalities of race, power, economic standing and gender intersect. Whilst this book is sold as a young adult fantasy novel, the book has so much to say to people of all ages and interests, I would urge anyone to read it, even if you think this genre is not usually for you. In addition to the social messaging, the book also involves a tender, enemies to lovers romance, which is developed beautifully and convincingly, in a way that enhances, rather than detracts from, the quest storyline.

The novel garnered a six-figure advance and has already been placed in production as a movie. It is the first book in a planned trilogy, with book two already in print, and which I cannot wait to read. I can completely understand why the book has merited all of this buzz, it is totally deserved. It is impressive, pacy and entertaining, but at the same time goes much deeper and rewards the reader with a complex reading experience. For anyone looking for a fiction book that explores the issues raised by the BLM movement, you can do no better than this.

The book is long, but does not lack in action at any point. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator was absolutely wonderful, she really brought each of the voices to life in an authentic way and I can highly recommend the audio version as a great value for money use of an Audible credit.

Children of Blood and Bone is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance is also available now in all formats.

About the Author

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Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. After graduating Harvard University with an honours degree in English literature, she studied West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil. When not writing novels or watching Scandal, Tomi teaches and blogs about creative writing on her website, named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest. Children of Blood and Bone is her debut novel.

Connect with Tomi:

Website: https://www.tomiadeyemi.com

Facebook: Tomi Adeyemi

Twitter: @tomi_adeyemi

Instagram: @tomiadeyemi

Blog Tour: Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver #BookReview

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It’s a small story. A small town with small lives that you would never have heard about if none of this had happened.
Hinton Hollow. Population 5,120.
Little Henry Wallace was eight years old and one hundred miles from home before anyone talked to him. His mother placed him on a train with a label around his neck, asking for him to be kept safe for a week, kept away from Hinton Hollow.
Because something was coming.
Narrated by Evil itself, Hinton Hollow Death Trip recounts five days in the history of this small rural town, when darkness paid a visit and infected its residents. A visit that made them act in unnatural ways. Prodding at their insecurities. Nudging at their secrets and desires. Coaxing out the malevolence suppressed within them. Showing their true selves.
Making them cheat.
Making them steal.
Making them kill.
Detective Sergeant Pace had returned to his childhood home. To escape the things he had done in the city. To go back to something simple. But he was not alone. Evil had a plan.

I am very excited to be taking part today in the blog tour for Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver. Huge thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for asking me to take part in the tour and to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Have you ever wondered why makes people do the terrible things they sometimes do? You must have. When you heard the last horrendous news story about someone doing something unthinkable to another person, you must wonder what makes them tick? How  did they end up in this place? Is there something wrong with them? Are they being driven by an outside force? I know I have. I’ve often wondered how people can be so….evil. Well, in this book, Evil tells you himself how a group of residents in the small, ordinary town of Hinton Hollow come to the point where they commit the series of crimes that take place here over five, intense days.

Except, things are never that simple with a Will Carver novel, as you will know if you’ve ever read one before. And, if you haven’t, pick up this extraordinary book and prepare to have your mind bent. Actually, bent isn’t the right word, corkscrewed round and round on itself until you don’t know which way is up and which is down, and you meet yourself coming back is a more accurate description. This author is fiendish in the way he twists and turns the plot and the ideas, feeding in little clues and prompts to flip on its head the thing you thought he was trying to say and forcing you to look at it from another angle. Reading the book almost made me dizzy, and left me reeling with questions and conclusions. Spending a few hours inside his head is quite a trip in itself.

I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the idea that good and evil are somehow separate entities that infect human beings and make us act in a certain way. It seems a bit of a cop out to me, an excuse for people not to take responsibility for their own choices, because the actions we take are always a choice. Not always an easy choice, or a pleasant choice or a good choice, but a choice nonetheless and, despite Will Carver actually giving us Evil as a separate character in this book who claims to be nudging people in a certain direction, I get the feeling that this is a clever way of saying he agrees with me. Because, sometimes, the people here don’t take any nudging at all, and Evil is just playing to their innate desires, making their natural instincts a little easier to act on, removing some of their inhibitions, revealing their true souls. That is what is really scary. This is who we really are, he is showing us what we are capable of and, by his twisted logic, telling us that the fact society is embracing these baser instincts more and more freely, becoming selfish and uncaring and lascivious and greedy, we are bringing out the evil in the world, to shock us, show us where we are going wrong. Without us, he isn’t needed. If we choose to be good, he has less to do. Perversely, Evil is not the wicked one, we are.

Does this sound twisted enough for you? I told you this book was a brain pretzel of a novel. Honestly, you will strain a neurone trying to figure all this stuff out, the man is an evil genius. All of these complex ideas are packed into a book that is filled with fascinating and quirky characters and a plot with a shock around every corner. Just when you think you have it all figured out, he pulls the rug out from under you and delivers another scene you never saw coming. How the guy managed to pull this together without losing the plot (literally and metaphorically) is the most baffling thing of all to me. I know I could not do it, I am in awe of the skill it has taken to pull this thing together, and the originality of his ideas, the audacity with which he has delivered them blows my mind. This is a quite unbelievable achievement of a novel.

I know it won’t be for everyone. There are very graphic scenes in this book, both violent and sexual. Some of the acts that take place are of a very disturbing nature, but that is the fundamental point of the novel. This is not an easy read, both from the point of the imagery and because it is a book that takes brainwork to digest. You can’t coast through this read if you want to wring the meaning from it but, boy is it worth the effort. A book that will stay with you long after you’ve read it, will haunt your dreams, will sit up and make you really think, if you choose to. When was the last time that a 400-page novel gave you this much bang for your buck?

Hinton Hollow Death Trip is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you visit some of the other fabulous blogs taking part of the tour for a variety of reviews:

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About the Author

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Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series. He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK at age eleven, when his sporting career took off. He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company.

He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, and lives in Reading with his two children.

Good Samaritans was book of the year in Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Express, and hit number one on the ebook charts.

Connect with Will:

Facebook: Will Carver Author

Twitter: @will_carver

Instagram: @will_carver

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Book Review: Cock and Bull by Laura Barnard #PublicationDay

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Who knew that owning a pub would come with so many extras?

When Phoebe and Ella Bellerose left England behind to run the Irish pub they’d inherited, it sounded like a great adventure… until they saw for themselves what a wreck they’d been left.

With no experience, a severe lack of money, and a rival pub owner threatening to ruin them, the two girls aren’t convinced they can actually make this work.

Not until they meet Clooney Breen, who just so happens to be packed with charm, charisma, and barman skills that could help them all survive. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the son of Cock & Bull’s biggest rival, and he’s desperate to help Ella and Phoebe teach his father a lesson.

But can mysterious Clooney, with his obvious secrets and desire to be their saviour, really be trusted? Or are they being played by this handsome lothario who seems too good to be true? Their problems only seem to grow and grow, until Phoebe discovers a ‘gift’ of her own that changes everything for all of them…

Today is publication day for Cock and Bull by Laura Barnard, a small town, enemies to lovers romance, set in rural Ireland, and I am delighted to be sharing my review with you as part of Laura’s publication day celebrations. She’s also having a release party, with a host of author giveaways, in her facebook group – Laura’s Barn-Hards, so make sure you head over there for that. My thanks to Laura for inviting me to take part in today’s launch and for providing me with an advance digital copy of the book for review.

This book is a really great, fun romp of a read with a lot of surprising twists, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It contained a lot of my favourite elements in a romance read – women overcoming adversity, a small town setting, full of quirky characters, sizzling sexual chemistry and, my favourite element of all, a very hot, Irish hero!

Two sisters being left a rundown pub in Ireland is not a storyline I’ve come across before and I was eager to see how Laura would deal with this, knowing how much the Irish love their pubs! The set up allowed for a lot of mishaps and laughs, which Laura mined to the full, so the idea worked really well. It also allowed for the introduction of Clooney, the son of a rival pub owner, and set up the sizzle between him and Phoebe, which was the heart of the book. The relationship between Phoebe and Clooney works absolutely brilliantly, there is real passion between the two on the page, as they swing between acrimony and attraction throughout the book. Readers who love a friends to lovers romance will adore this relationship.

On top of this, Laura gives Phoebe another quirk which adds an extra comedy dimension to the proceedings. I don’t want to say too much more and give away the plot, but it comes out of left field and really adds some hilarious moments to the story. I can guarantee that you will absolutely not see it coming!

On thing I will say about the book is that it does not pull any punches on the intimacy front, so anyone who likes closed door romances might want to give it a miss. It also contains a lot of swearing so, again, anyone who is squeamish about this won’t appreciate it. It does, however, accurately reflect the way real people talk and behave, so if swearing doesn’t bother you, and you like your romance with a lot of fire, this is a book for you.

A real quirky, fun, hot and honest romance with a big dose of comedy and a very original plot. It clips along at a handsome place, so you definitely won’t leave you with any bored moments. Very entertaining.

If you like the sound of Cock and Bull, it is out today as an ebook and paperback, and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to head over to Laura’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and enter the competition to win a signed copy of the paperback and a £10/$10 Amazon Gift Card.

About the Author

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Amazon Best Seller Laura Barnard lives in Hertfordshire, UK and writes quirky British romantic comedy. In her spare time she enjoys drinking her body weight in tea, indulging in cupcakes the size of her face and drooling over hunks on Pinterest.

She enjoys wearing yoga pants and reading fitness magazines while sitting on the sofa eating chocolate. She’s a real fan of the power nap, loves setting her friends up together and of course READING!

She writes not to get rich or famous, but because she LOVES writing. Even if one person tells her they enjoyed her book it makes the midnight typing worth it!

Connect with Laura:

Website: https://www.laurabarnardbooks.co.uk

Facebook: Laura Barnard Books

Instagram: @laurabarnardauthor

Tempted By…Traveling Sisters Book Reviews: Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith

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The small town of Red Bluff, Mississippi, has seen better days, but now seems stuck in a black-and-white photograph from days gone by. Unknowing, the town and its people are about to come alive again, awakening to nightmares, as ghostly whispers have begun to fill the night from the kudzu-covered valley that sits on the edge of town.

When a vagabond family appears on the outskirts, when twin boys and a woman go missing, disappearing beneath the vines, a man with his own twisted past struggles to untangle the secrets in the midst of the town trauma.

This is a landscape of fear and ghosts, of regret and violence. It is a landscape transformed by the kudzu vines that have enveloped the hills around it, swallowing homes, cars, rivers, and hiding terrible secrets deeper still. Blackwood is the evil in the woods, the wickedness that lurks in all of us.

Today’s Tempted By… is for a book that I bought following this review by Brenda of the Traveling Sisters Book Reviews blog, run by a trio of Canadian sisters. I often find that, being on a different continent, they review books that I might not come across on many UK book blogs, so their recommendations are a good way to inject some variety in to my reading. This book had already been raved about by the author, Sarah Knight, so once Brenda confirmed that she loved it too, I knew I simply had to get it. Plus, I just LOVE that cover.

The book I am talking about is Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith.

It is very hard to tell from the review, and from reading the book’s blurb, what genre of book this is. Is it a horror story? Supernatural? Romance? Crime? Thriller? A combination of all of them? This uncertainty is one of the things that drew me in, I have to say. I love the idea of going in to a book without really knowing what I am going to get.  And that mixture of emotions that Brenda describes – “a quiet feeling of bleakness, darkness and hope” – I am intrigued to know how this combination manifests itself in the story. It is a great skill to write a review that is so tempting without giving anything at all away!

You may have visited the Traveling Sisters Book Reviews blog without realising it, when it was known as Two Sisters Lost in a Coulee. If not, and you do take a look, you will find a friendly blog with a great mix of reviews in lots of different genres, author interviews and Q&AS, and plenty of other bookish stuff designed to keep bibliophiles delighted. You can find the blog here.

And, if you find yourself intrigued by the book after reading Brenda’s mysterious but glowing review, you can buy Blackwood in all formats, here.

Friday Night Drinks with…. Katherine Mezzacappa

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I am delighted to be celebrating the start of another weekend (although, between school holidays and coronavirus, the weeks and weekends tend blend into one at the moment!) by welcoming to the blog for Friday Night Drinks, author……Katherine Mezzacappa.

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Katherine, thank you so much for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

A glass of celebratory prosecco!

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

To a place called Bar Leonardi. It’s on Piazza Alberica, the biggest square in the town I live in. We’d sit outside and people watch.

My favourite pastime! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

One would be Thomas Hardy, a writer I devoured in my teens and have been inspired by ever since, though I think he wouldn’t be much of a drinker. I’d be wanting to ask him what drove him to be a writer, growing up in his parents’ cottage in Dorset.

The lady would be Lucrezia Marinella. I don’t think she’s perhaps that famous outside of Italy, but she was a Renaissance feminist writer, from Venice. However she couldn’t have become a writer unless her father had decided to bring her up and educate her just as if she was a boy.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go? 

I’m working on the revisions to the sequel to The Gypsy Bride, published in May under the pen-name Katie Hutton. The Gypsy’s Daughter is set post-war and tells the story of the daughter of the couple from the first book, when she goes to study in Nottingham, the first of her family to go to university, and of her relationship with the two men who love her. When those revisions are with my editor, I’ll think about my next Kate Zarrelli novella for eXtasy. It’ll be set in Italy, involve stolen art treasures and have a carabiniere as the hero.

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Setting for The Gypsy Bride

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

There’ve been different ones. A really proud moment was when my first fiction was published. It was a short story called ‘Connemara Marble’ in a magazine called Ireland’s Own. I think Maeve Binchy got an early fiction break through them. But I could also say when I got my lovely agent, and only weeks afterwards got my 2-book deal with Zaffre. That’s when I really felt I could describe myself as a writer. Another stand-out moment was being awarded a Cill Rialaig residency by the Irish Writers Centre last year. 

The biggest challenge is probably getting back to writing properly after my MA. I moved house and country, the agent who had signed me left his agency and dropped me because of the financial crash, saying nobody was taking on new authors, and I rather lost heart. Then another writer from the MA gave me a real talking to about putting off writing, and after that I got started again properly and just couldn’t, or didn’t dare stop.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I’d like to be able to live by writing. That’s a tall order these days, with a few exceptions. What that would look like would be not just doing my own writing but also working as a writing consultant, critique-writer and proof-reader. That sort of portfolio takes some time to build.

What a great ambition, though, I hope you get there. What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

I also have a project (as Katie Hutton) to write a novel set in Barrow-in-Furness post-war, in which the hero is a German PoW. It was put on hold for a while until travel became safe and permissible.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

My favourite city is probably Venice. It broke my heart to see the Webcams during lockdown when it was completely deserted. I love it in winter. On my bucket-list are places I want to go for research: Cottbus and Bautzen in Germany, cities associated with the Sorbs, and in Romania (this is for yet another book, set in Saxon Transylvania in the 19th century), Mediaş, Sibiu and Cluj.

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Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

I once cadged a lift home in a police car. The officers were very nice and let us try on their hats.

I love that fact! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Jo Baker’s Longbourn. I love a book told from the point of view of the servants, people who seldom have a voice in history.

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It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Alternate alcohol with non-alcohol, and always have something to eat. Failing that, Andrews Salts.

Andrews Salts? *Shudder* After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I’ve a tiny house in a village in the foothills of the Apuan Alps. It’s one step above glamping. Reading, writing, sunbathing on the terrace, eating and drinking under the pergola.

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Katherine, thank you for coming on the blog tonight, it has been wonderful.

Katherine’s latest book as Katie Hutton, The Gypsy Bride, is out now and you can buy it here.

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Oxfordshire, 1917

Ellen is growing up in the Oxfordshire countryside. The granddaughter of a Methodist preacher and intending to marry Charlie, a boy from the local village, Ellen’s life is mapped out for her.

When Charlie is killed on the battlefields of the First World War, Ellen is left heart-broken and lost. But then she meets Sam Loveridge. Mysterious and unruly, Sam is from a local Gypsy community, and unlike anyone Ellen has ever met before. Before she knows what’s hit her, Ellen is swept off her feet and shown a world of passion, excitement – and true love.

But the conservative world that Ellen is from can’t possibly understand or approve of their relationship, and Ellen and Sam are torn apart. Is their love strong enough overcome their cultural distances, or will the hostility and prejudice they face destroy their chance at happiness?

Writing as Kate Zarelli, she has just released The Casanova Papers, which you can get here.

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Ellie Murphy takes a contract teaching English at a school in Venice, Italy. There she meets the sexy enigmatic Professor Piero Contarini, from an ancient Venetian family, and agrees to help him in his work curating a new edition of the memoirs of the famous seducer, Giacomo Casanova. Taking their task seriously, they start to enact his adventures with each other, ecstatically revealing their own kinks as they do so. But who is watching them from the shadowy alleyways of Venice?

Katherine Mezzacappa is an Irish writer of mainly historical fiction, currently living in Tuscany, with her Italian husband, two sons and an old tabby cat. She also writes as Katie Hutton, and as Kate Zarrelli. Core themes in her fiction are love and culture clash, and these come to the fore in her début historical novel, The Gypsy Bride. She is currently revising the sequel, The Gypsy’s Daughter, for publication next year. In her spare time, she volunteers with a secondhand book charity of which she is a founder member.

Connect with Katherine further on Twitter/Twitter and Facebook/Facebook.

Next Friday I will be having drinks with author, Christina Garbutt, so please join us then.

Change is Afoot! Jump on the Bandwagon!

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Good morning, lovely people! I am very excited this morning, because I’m announcing some changes to the blog, and new opportunities for authors and bloggers to take part. There’s nothing I enjoy more that a bit of collaboration, it really freshens up the site and prevents my readers getting exceedingly bored of just listening to me droning on, so I’m really looking forward to it. A change is as good as a rest, as my granny always used to tell me.

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So, the first (and unexciting, let’s get the boring stuff out of the way and build up the suspense for the new developments) announcement, is that the 2021 diary is now open and just begging to be filled. So if there is anyone out there who has a book coming out early next year and would like to book in a guest post, or appear on my Friday Night Drinks feature, or is organising a blog tour for the beginning of the year and would like me to be involved, now is the time to book that place in the diary. I also have a few Friday Night Drinks slots available for December, these are open to anyone in publishing – authors, publishers, bloggers, blog tour organisers, editors, cover designers, proof readers, booksellers…. All welcome.

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Now for the two new features I am introducing.

Firstly, I am introducing a new regular interview feature for RNA members, where I will be asking you to tell me why you write romance, which romance writers and books you love and inspire you, and what you love most about the RNA. The feature will take place every other Tuesday, to tie in with #TuesNews, and will kick off in September with the winner of my #underwatervampireerotica competition (see more below if you are baffled, and why wouldn’t you be?), but slots are open thereafter for any published authors who are members of the RNA. (If this is successful, I may expand to other genres at a later date. To start with, this is my way of giving something back to the RNA, an organisation which is supporting me through my own writing journey.) I’m calling this feature Romancing The Romance Authors, so let me know if you are interested.

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The second new feature has been inspired by the fun I have been having this year choosing and re-reading the twelve books I would want to have with me if I knew I were going to be stranded forever on a desert island. You can find out which I have chosen by following my monthly Desert Island Books posts and, I’ve enjoyed this so much that I’m going to carry on next year with my twelve Desert Island Children’s Books. But now I’d like to know what your Desert Island Books would be, just because I’m nosy. So, again this feature is going to run every other week on a Wednesday (at least to begin with, I’ll expand it if it is really popular), starting on Wednesday, 9th September. I’m going to be mean to you and only let you pick FIVE books to take, and you’ll have to tell me why you’ve chosen these particular ones. This feature is open to anyone who wants to take part.

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Finally, I wanted to announce the winner of the #underwatervampireerotica competition I ran during my seminar at the RNA Conference. The person who got closest to guessing how many blog tour/NetGalley books I had bought after reviewing them was Claire Huston, who guessed 142. The actual number was 118 (I feel like I have let down all the people who thought it was all, or almost all, of them but I’d be bankrupt if I bought them all!). Clare, I know I have already bought and reviewed your book, so you have credit in the bank with me for the next one, and you get to be my first guest on Romancing The Romance Authors on 1st September, and I’ll be in touch about that shortly. Thanks to all who entered.

So, if anyone would like to be featured on the blog in any way, including Friday Night Drinks, Romancing The Romance Authors or Desert Island Books, please get in touch by emailing julie@alittlebookproblem.co.uk, filling in the contact form on the blog or sending me a DM via social media and we will put something in the diary. Requests are dealt with on a strictly first come, first served basis. Look forward to featuring as many of you as I can fit in!

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Blog Tour: Spirited by Julie Cohen #BookReview

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Three women carry unspeakable truths in their heart. At what cost will they find their freedom?

In Victorian England, Viola is an amateur photographer struggling with the grief of her father’s death and the sterile atmosphere of her marriage to her childhood friend, Jonah. When she discovers a talent for capturing ghostly images on camera, Viola comes to the attention of a spirit medium, and a powerful attraction between the two women is sparked…

As each woman puts herself at risk, secrets are brought to light that will change their lives forever.

I am so thrilled to be closing the blog tour today for Spirited by Julie Cohen. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is one of those book reviews that you dread starting to write, because I just know I am not going to be able to do this wonderful book justice, or truly convey its magic and just why I loved it so much.

A really ambitious book, the story tackles so many different issues that my head is still reeling from trying to sort through all the ideas and feelings and images with which the novel has peppered my mind. In addition, the book is rich with period detail, visually evocative, and explores fascinating subjects including Victorian photography techniques, life below stairs in a grand house, Spiritualism and British Rule in India, so huge amounts to absorb and enjoy. I know this is one of those books I will return to again and again and still find new details to appreciate.

The story revolves around Viola, who has recently lost her father, the mainstay of her life, and she is floating, lost and disoriented. The only thing anchoring her is her childhood friend and recent husband, Jonah, and she clings to him like a lifebelt. But Jonah is recently returned from India, where he has experienced something which has fundamentally changed him, and he and Viola have lost their connection, their marriage getting off to a rocky start. They move to the Dorset coast, where they meet spirit medium, Henriette Blackthorne, who touches both their lives profoundly in different ways. But she may not be all she seems.

This is a story about loss and grief and faith and love, and the different ways they can manifest themselves, what happens when they are tested, and how they endure if they are true. It explores the way that women were limited and trapped in Victorian society, by limits on opportunity, lack of personal property and societal expectation. But equally how men can be trapped too, by similar expectation, by public standing and by honour and duty. It looks at what it costs people to break these bounds and be true to themselves, and where flying in the face of convention can lead.

This book is an impressive feat of writing. Whilst slow-burning, it aroused in me such fascination and passion for the topics the author is exploring that I simply could not put it down. I was completely immersed in this world she has built, and did not want to leave it and break the spell that the narrative wove around my mind and my heart. At the same time, the analytical and logical part of me took a step back and admired the sheer amount of work that it took to craft this book. The detail in the research that was needed to imbue the story with all the texture, colour and intricate imagery that it contains is just staggering. This book was clearly a labour of love, and that shows in every sentence. It would be a fairly hard-hearted soul that failed to be touched by the devotion that oozes from this novel.

This book is, at its heart, a very tender love story. Between the childhood friends who have to navigate their way to a new relationship once they realise their incompatibility as husband and wife. Between Viola and her father, her faith and what her relationship with Henriette brings out in her, partly against her will. Between Jonah and India and the things he discovers about himself there. Between the author and her characters. Between me and this novel. I just adored it.

What more can I say. Brava, Julie Cohen.

Spirited is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats, and you can buy a copy here.

Do please check out the other blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

Julie Cohen Author pic

Julie Cohen grew up in the western mountains of Maine. Her house was just up the hill from the library and she spent many hours walking back and forth, her nose in a book. She studied English Literature at Brown University and Cambridge University and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, including classes for the Guardian and Literature Wales.

Her books have been translated into fifteen languages and have sold over a million copies; DEAR THING and TOGETHER were Richard and Judy Book Club picks. Her most recent novel is the critically acclaimed LOUIS & LOUISE.

Julie lives in Berkshire with her husband, son and a terrier of dubious origin.

Connect with Julie:

Website: http://www.julie-cohen.com

Facebook: Julie Cohen Books

Twitter: @julie_cohen

Instagram: @juliecohenauthor

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Book Review: The Owl Service by Alan Garner #ThrowbackReview

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It all begins with the scratching in the ceiling. From the moment Alison discovers the dinner service in the attic, with its curious pattern of floral owls, a chain of events is set in progress that is to effect everybody’s lives.

Relentlessly, Alison, her step-brother Roger and Welsh boy Gwyn are drawn into the replay of a tragic Welsh legend – a modern drama played out against a background of ancient jealousies. As the tension mounts, it becomes apparent that only by accepting and facing the situation can it be resolved.

I read an article that a friend of mine had posted on Facebook recently about why people are turning to old, familiar, favourite books and TV series during lockdown, because they are comforting and known in a time of the new, strange and frightening. I, myself, have found this to be true, watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls and Midsomer Murders, and picking up copies of firm favourites from my bookshelf.

This may be initially why I was drawn to grab my copy of The Owl Service from my bookcase, but once I had read it again, I realised that this book no longer felt familiar to me at all and that coming back to this as an adult was a totally different reading experience, and not a comforting one at all. Somewhere between my last reading of this book, which must have been in my mid-teens, either I or the book had changed and become strangers who had to learn to relate to each other in a different way.

The book I remembered from my childhood was a slightly spooky story about a dinner service whose pattern came to life if you made the owls and odd things happened to the children who found it. When I read it now, I wondered why the book hadn’t terrified me as a child, and realised I had not really understood the story at all, because it is really about a trio of children being drawn against their will into an ancient magic that repeats itself by manifesting through a set of people down through the centuries.

This is marketed as a children’s book, but it isn’t really a book that can be properly understood by children. So much of what is going on in the story is inferred, rather than outwardly expressed, and would be much too complex and subtle for a child to understand. Alan Garner’s writing is very sparse, lacking description and embellishments, but this makes it all the more powerful in some ways, because there is so much room for the imagination to do its work, and we all know from childhood nightmares what our imaginations can conjure when given free rein. And, I think, that having lived and experienced so much, sometimes adult imaginations can produce some truly terrifying thoughts, especially in a time of heightened alarm such as we have at the moment.

This is a really powerful and evocative story, written in a bare writing style, which is a feat of magic in itself. But I don’t think I have had such a profoundly different reading experience from the one I expected as when I picked up this book after a gap of 34 years. Going back and rereading the same book does not always mean you get the same story.

The Owl Service is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Alan Garner was born in Congleton, Cheshire, in 1934. His began writing his first novel at the age of 22 and is renowned as one of Britain’s outstanding writers. He has won many prizes for his writing, and, in 2001 he was awarded the OBE for services to literature. He holds two honorary doctorates and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In 2004 he co-founded The Blackden Trust http://www.theblackdentrust.org.uk

Friday Night Drinks with… Camilla Downs

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Another Friday, they seem to be coming around faster and faster! Which means it is time for another Friday Night Drinks and this week I am joined by author, blogger, self-publisher and mentor…. Camilla Downs.

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Camilla, thank you for joining me on the blog for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thanks so much for inviting me for drinks, Julie!! Books and drinks, can’t go wrong! I’m having a spicy, virgin Bloody Mary, with pickled okra and garlic stuffed green olives. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

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Bloody Marys are the one cocktail I cannot stomach, I’m afraid, I’ll have to stick to the gin. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

We would make our way from Reno up Geiger Grade Highway to Virginia City, stopping to take in the view along the way. Once there, we’ll stroll along the wooden boardwalk, which serves as a time machine to take us into days gone by. We’ll enjoy being immersed in the Old West of gold rush days, touring the mini-museums, the ancient cemetery, learning more about Mark Twain and the time he spent in Virginia City. We’ll end our visit at The Bucket of Blood Saloon, while the Comstock Cowboys perform. I’m including a photo I took of the view as you drive from Reno to Virginia City. 

Geiger Way Lookout

(Geiger Way Lookout)

That sounds perfect. USA road trips are one of my favourite types of trip. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Billy Idol and Cyndi Lauper …. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, don’t they? 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m taking this year to press the reset button. Rest, relax, doing whatever is in front of me, or whatever I feel like doing. You see, for the past 15 years, I’ve been on an exhausting journey of healing. Which began with leaving a 10 year marriage in 2006, becoming a single parent to a 5 year old special needs child and her 1 year old sibling, and losing everything. If that doesn’t kick your butt into gear to take a good, long, look at yourself, I’m not sure what will! During that time I published four books, two of which are with each of my kids. 

All this to say that I’m taking this year off! No meditating and no writing, unless there’s something that just needs to be written. This excludes my blog as I write whenever I’m moved about life experiences or current events. As this year comes to a close, I’ll begin thinking about what’s next, preparing myself to be guided by the heart. For sure, another book, a return to meditating, and who knows what else! 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

The proudest moment was having my first book, D iz for Different – One Woman’s Journey to Acceptance, reach #1 in on Amazon in Special Needs Parenting and #2 in Self-help, along with the feedback and reviews that were received. There’s nothing like the feeling of others reflecting back to you, the areas where you shine. We are mostly blind to this, not able to see ourselves as others do. It’s a true blessing when this happens. 

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The biggest challenge has been having faith in myself and my projects, during creation, and once released into the world. It was a true blessing learning about imposter syndrome, recognizing when it is discouraging me to move forward with a project. I was incredibly relieved when I discovered about imposter syndrome, that it is something many authors, artists, entrepreneurs, and people simply living life experience. 

That is something i can relate to, I am a lifelong sufferer. What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I would love for Elizabeth Gilbert to endorse one of my past or future books, sharing it with all of her instagram followers, and telling them why she loves it. 

That would be amazing, wouldn’t it? What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

I’m really excited about taking this year off. Hahaha! I have to keep reminding myself that this is the case. I keep thinking I should be doing something, with thoughts of guilt and shame for not hustling and working on creating something. 

I’m also pretty excited that I’ve finally gotten my daughter’s book, Where Would You Fly and Other Magical Stories, converted to and released as an ebook and am working on getting my son’s book, Biggest Little Photographer, converted and released as an ebook as well. These have been on my to do list for a while!

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I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

Last summer I visited The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The feeling in the air, the calm, peace, and beauty are overwhelming, in a good way! You’ll definitely need a full day, if not two days to be able to experience all of it. 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

For the past 7 years, I’ve used organic olive oil as my facial cleanser and moisturizer, and nothing else. I so much like what it’s done for my complexion that I quit wearing make-up about 4 years ago.

Oh, that’s interesting! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

The Sound of the Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

When Elisabeth Tova Bailey contracted a virus overseas that bewildered the doctors back in the States, she began a roller coaster ride of getting better and getting worse. She spent an entire year bedridden at one point.

A friend who stopped by picked up a snail that was in the yard, a pot and a few wild violets. She set it next to her bed and Elisabeth asked, “What am I supposed to do with a snail?” Her friend responded that she didn’t know, but it felt like the right thing to do to bring it inside to her. This is the story of what she did with it ….

I know it sounds odd. But, I adored this book. I’ve read it twice, and now thinking about it, I’m ready to read it again.

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While an illness keeps her bedridden, Elisabeth Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence in a terrarium alongside her bed. She enters the rhythm of life of this mysterious creature, and comes to a greater understanding of her own confined place in the world.

In a work that beautifully demonstrates the rewards of closely observing nature, she shares the inspiring and intimate story of her close encounter with Neohelix albolabris a common woodland snail. Intrigued by the snail’s world from its strange anatomy to its mysterious courtship activities she becomes a fascinated and amused observer of the snail’s curious life.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is an affirmation of the healing power of nature, revealing how much of the world we miss in our busy daily lives, and how truly magical it is. A remarkable journey of survival and resilience, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating shows how a small part of the natural world can illuminate our own human existence and deepen our appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

That sounds intriguing and very different to anything else that I’ve read. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

When I used to imbibe, I would drink a glass of water in between glasses of wine or other alcoholic beverage. I think I’ve only had a hangover a couple of times. Perhaps that helped? These days if I were to get a hangover, I’d turn to Google, searching for a natural cure with something from the kitchen, or perhaps essential oils. 

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

A drive around Lake Tahoe. Stopping for hikes and stopping to spend time at the beautiful beaches. Lake Tahoe is an absolute gem. If you’ve not visited, you may want to add this to your bucket list, too. There’s not only Lake Tahoe, but when driving the area, there are many smaller lakes hidden throughout the area. I’d go for a walk or two, taking nature photos along the way. Then, I’d go for a dip in Lake Tahoe’s ice cold, refreshing waters. I’d also make sure to have a few good books with me, spending time relaxing and reading. Let me know if you make it over one day, as I’d love to meet you in person Julie! 

Nevada Beach

(Nevada Beach, Lake Tahoe)

Kings Beach

(Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe)

Lake Tahoe

(Lake Tahoe)

Lake Tahoe is definitely on my bucket list? Camilla, thank you so much for joining me on the blog tonight, it has been a delight.

Make sure you check out Camilla’s book of poetry, Words of Alchemy, which you can purchase here.

Words of Alchemy Book Mock up Fina October 2019

In Words of Alchemy, Camilla Downs invites you to walk with her to share her love of Nature and Life through a heartfelt free-verse poetry memoir.

During her daily strolls she is mindfully present as she delves into life in the raw and experiences her heart’s observations.

Camilla embraces what happens when she opens her heart and invites the written words to flow. The Alchemy of Love and Healing is what happens.

Camilla Downs is a bestselling author, indie publisher, mentor, and mom. Nature and life experiences are a constant source of inspiration for her writing. She enjoys living a minimalist lifestyle, practicing meditation and mindfulness, reading, going for walks, and capturing nature’s essence with photographs. Camilla is the founder of MeetingtheAuthors.com and lives in Northern Nevada, USA with her two kids.

You can connect further with Camilla via her website, family website, FacebookTwitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Please join me again next week when I will be having Friday Night Drinks with author, Katherine Mezzacappa.

Blog Tour: Photographing Kate (A Moonshire Bay Small Town Romance Book 3) by Elle Sweet #BookReview

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After Kate’s husband of over twenty years is sentenced for embezzling and fraud, she loses everything and needs to start over. She decides to visit Moonshire Bay to regroup at the urging of her friend, Claire, who owns the diner there.

Knowing she needs a way to support herself, she rekindles her passion for photography and starts to think maybe staying in Moonshire Bay is her best chance at happiness.

Zach is the town attorney and a confirmed bachelor. After a scarring experience with love and almost marriage in his younger days, he vowed never to get any closer to a woman than a casual relationship. 

When Zach meets Kate, the wounded look that lingers behind her smile grabs him and he wants to know her better, but Kate was burned by her lawyer ex-husband. Even if she wanted a relationship it wouldn’t be with a member of that profession.

Zach tricks Kate in order to get to know her better. When she finds out, will she understand and forgive him or will it push her father away?

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Photographing Kate by Elle Sweet. This is the third book in the Moonshire Bay Small Town Romance Series. My thanks to Emma Welton at damp pebbles blog tours for my place on the tour and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I don’t know about you but, during lockdown, I have found myself turning towards a lot of feel-good, comforting entertainment to keep my spirits up. I don’t think I’m alone, I have seen a lot of my friends reading gentle romance novels and watching heart-warming  Netflix shows such as Gilmore Girls and Virgin River. Well, if you find you are craving that kind of thing at the moment, this book is just right for you.

The main protagonist is Kate, a 50-year-old woman with grown up children whose husband has just got himself imprisoned for fraud and embezzlement. Finding herself impecunious and estranged from her life in New York as a result of his behaviour, Kate decides to visit her friend, Claire, in the small town of Moonshire Bay, with a view to taking some time to regroup and plan how to pick up the pieces of her life. Of course, her progress is thrown askew by an unanticipated romantic attraction.

This is only a short novel, and perhaps unsurprising in its subject matter, but it is really well written, with a delightful setting and pleasant characters. It is a really cosy way of whiling away a couple of hours when you are just looking for something sweet to divert you from the real world. I really enjoyed the fact that Kate is a little older as a main character. Being a woman of that age myself, it is nice to see us being portrayed as still capable of life, love and attraction, instead of over the hill and on the sidelines!

Moonshire Bay is the kind of place we all wished we lived, in a small, friendly community, where everyone knows everyone and there is always help when faced with trauma. A beachside setting as always a plus, even if it is on a lake rather than the sea. This is the third book in the Moonshire Bay series so, if you find you can’t get enough of it, there are plenty of other books for sate your appetite. It is the kind of cheery novel than can become a bit addictive.

Photographing Kate is out now as an ebook and you can get your copy here.

Do please check out the rest of the blogs taking part of the tour for other reviews and great content:

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About the Author

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Elle Sweet is the pen name of mystery author Laina Turner.

I started writing ten years ago, and it was always my intent and desire to write romance. However, in my first book, someone died. It just happened and turned the romance into a mystery.

Twenty-some books later, and I decided enough was enough. I was going to do what I’d initially set out to do at the start of my writing journey. Write a book where no one died (It’s not as easy as you think).

I can’t tell you how much fun I had writing Finding Rachel and the three others set in the small town of Moonshire Bay. Finding Rachel is out now and Ari’s Adventure will release in spring of 2020 with the third book set to follow in the early summer of 2020.

How did I come up with my pen name? Elle for the “L” in Laina and Sweet was my grandfather’s last name. I wanted something that had a story. I originally wanted to call myself LuluBell after a pet cow I once had, but the family shot that one down.

Born and raised in the midwest, I live in Indiana with my husband, three amazing children, and our dogs Duke and Macy.

Connect with Laina:

Website: https://www.lainaturner.com/books/?cat=romance

Facebook: Elle Sweet Author

Twitter: @laina_turner

Instagram: @lainaturner

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