Blog Tour: The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell #BookReview

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As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them.

But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…

My second blog tour today is for The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell and I am delighted to have been invited to take part by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours. My thanks also to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Well, Laura Purcell, you owe me a tube of expensive eye cream to try and undo the ravages to my face inflicted by sitting up late into the night finishing your fantastic book. I inhaled the whole thing in a single day. It would have been one sitting if pesky things like having to feed my family hadn’t got in the way. Talk about compulsive reading, I couldn’t tear my eyes or mind away from this immersive story you have woven.

Life in Victorian Bath is alive on the page here, in all its grimy glory. Because this isn’t the world of the gentry, will dances and dinners and pretty dresses. This is the world of the impoverished, who are scratching around for the next pennies that will save them from the arms of the workhouse, walking a fine line that will keep them out of both there and the jail, because neither of those places are anywhere that a person wants to be in Victorian England, and Laura makes this quite clear in her writing. The prose is so evocative, it is alive with sights and sounds and scents, tastes and textures, and it is a pretty dark place she paints on the page. Not here the golden stone and gilded society of Jane Austen’s Bath. This is the perfect setting for a gothic tale that will keep you saucer-eyed into the wee small hours, as I was.

Our protagonist is Agnes, a feeble women of advancing middle-age, trying to scratch a living from her profession of cutting ‘shades’ or silhouette portraits for sitters who are becoming fewer and fewer as the silhouettes fall out of fashion, replaced by advances in technology. To make matter worse, tragedy seems to be striking her few recent clients, making her fear for her reputation and even her safety. This fear makes her seek answers from a spiritualist child, Pearl. But is Pearl’s gift real? And who is really haunting Agnes?

This is such a clever book. From beginning to end, nothing is what it seems. It is impossible to tell what is real and what isn’t, who is honest and who is a charlatan, who is the villain and who we can really trust. My thoughts and conclusions changed from page to page, I had so many wild theories but I never came near to the truth and, oh my god, the ending completely blew me away and left my mind reeling. This is one of those books where everything you think you know gets completely flipped on its head by the end and you end up wondering how the author managed to fool you so completely all the way through. One of the most satisfying books I have read for a long while.

This book has everything you could possibly want in a gothic novel. Darkness, danger, mystery and misdirection. Parts of it are quite vividly disturbing, because the author does not shy away from the real life horrors of this period of history for those who were not wealthy, as well as filling the book with supernatural thrills, but if you are a fan of this type of book, and of Laura’s previous books, you will absolutely love this.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. There aren’t that many books that I can afford to give up my beauty sleep for at my age, but this one was definitely worth it.

The Shape of Darkness is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here.

There are lots of other great reviews and contents being hosted on the other blogs taking part in the tour so make sure you pay them a visit:

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About the Author

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Laura Purcell is a former bookseller and lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs. Her first novel for Raven Books, The Silent Companions, was a Radio 2 and Zoe Ball ITV Book Club pick and was the winner of the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award, while her subsequent books – The Corset and Bone China – established Laura as the queen of the sophisticated, and spooky, page-turner.

Connect with Laura:

Website: https://www.laurapurcell.com/

Facebook: Laura Purcell

Twitter: @spookypurcell

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager; Narrated by Cady McClain & Jon Lindstrom #BookReview

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What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into a rambling Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a memoir called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon.

Now, Maggie has inherited Baneberry Hall after her father’s death. She was too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist.

But when she returns to Baneberry Hall to prepare it for sale, her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the pages of her father’s book lurk in the shadows, and locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself – a place that hints of dark deeds and unexplained happenings. 

As the days pass, Maggie begins to believe that what her father wrote was more fact than fiction. That either way, someone – or something – doesn’t want her here. And that she might be in danger all over again….

This is the first book I have chosen this year as part of the 2021 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. (If you love books, you must check it out, it is the friendliest part of the internet for bibliophiles). The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period.

The first category is ‘A book that was a Goodreads top read of 2020.’ I have again vowed to try and pick unread books from my TBR to fit the challenge categories, rather than buy new ones. So I chose this book, as I had it already as an audiobook.

I love to listen to Riley Sager novels as audiobooks. There is always so much action and tension in his books that they keep the narration rolling along, despite the fact that the narrators always read a lot slower than I could read them myself if I sat down with the paperback. This one was no exception, and it made me eager to get on with my chores so that I could listen to the next segment. The only drawback was that I could not use this audiobook to send me off to sleep at night as I sometimes do, it was too scary! I was afraid I would have nightmares, or frighten myself to death if I woke up in the night and caught sight of my reflection in the bedroom mirror.

The book is told in the voices of two narrators. The first is Maggie who, in the present day, returns to the ‘haunted house’ that her family fled from when she was five years old. Her family grew rich on the back of a book detailing their experiences in the ‘House of Horrors,’ but the experience has marred Maggie’s life since and, on the death of her father, Maggie returns to the house to find out what really happened back then. The second narrator is the voice of Maggie’s father, Ewan, telling the story of their time in the house as detailed in the book. But it is fact or fiction? Honestly, the reader/listener can’t really know until right at the end of the book, both stories (the one in the book, and the book itself) are very convincing. The audiobook is voiced by two different narrators for Maggie and Ewan who are both excellent and it works really, really well as a listen.

There are lots of twists and turns in the book that keep the reader gripped and guessing, right to the end. Parts of it a really unsettling, I quite often felt the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end and, as I said, I was afraid to listen to it just before sleep. All great signs of this type of ghost story/thriller and things I have come to expect from a Riley Sager novel. If you have enjoyed his books before, you will like this one.

Yes, it’s preposterous. Yes, the ending is absolutely ludicrous. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief so far that it will feel like it is hovering over the Grand Canyon. But these are the things that make this kind of book so much fun and why this book was so popular that it ended up in the Goodreads Top Reads of 2020. It gave me everything I expected in spades and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Can’t wait for his next book.

Home Before Dark is out now as an ebook and audiobook, and will be published in paperback in July, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer. Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, became a national and international bestseller that’s been translated into more than 25 languages. His subsequent novels, THE LAST TIME I LIED, LOCK EVERY DOOR and HOME BEFORE DARK, were instant New York Times bestsellers. His newest thriller, SURVIVE THE NIGHT, will be released in June.

A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he’s not working on his next novel, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is “Rear Window.” Or maybe “Jaws.” But probably, if he’s being honest, “Mary Poppins.”

Connect with Riley:

Website: https://www.rileysagerbooks.com/

Facebook: Riley Sager Books

Twitter: @riley_sager

Instagram: @riley.sager

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Blog Tour: The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright #BookReview

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1928

The Bonaventure Circus is a refuge for many, but Pippa Ripley was rejected from its inner circle as a baby. When she receives mysterious messages from someone called the “Watchman,” she is determined to find him and the connection to her birth. As Pippa’s search leads her to a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and evidence that a serial killer has been haunting the circus train, she must decide if uncovering her roots is worth putting herself directly in the path of the killer.

Present Day

The old circus train depot will either be torn down or preserved for historical importance, and its future rests on real estate project manager Chandler Faulk’s shoulders. As she dives deep into the depot’s history, she’s also balancing a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and the pressures of single motherhood. When she discovers clues to the unsolved murders of the past, Chandler is pulled into a story far darker and more haunting than even an abandoned train depot could portend.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright. Huge thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I am an absolute sucker for any book set around a circus. They have always fascinated me, and something that encapsulates childhood magic and fantasy, a feeling we all love to revisit when jaded adulthood and life stress gets us down. I barely even read the blurb for this, I just saw the title and the cover and said ‘sign me up.’

It’s my own fault then that the book wasn’t at all what I was expected! For some reason, I had got into my head that this was some kind of middle-grade, circus-set murder mystery. How wrong I was ! It was something much darker and more complex, a deeply nuanced novel exploring love, family, stigma, and finding oneself through independence. I absolutely blooming loved it.

This is a dual timeline novel, set in the small town of Bluff River, Wisconsin. The narrators are Pippa Riley, a young woman living in the town in 1928. She is an abandoned child of the circus, taken in by the rich owners and brought up as their daughter. Pippa finds herself irresistibly drawn back to the circus and the mystery of her parentage. But the circus can be a dangerous place to be for young women these days…

The second narrator is Chandler, a single mother struggling with parenthood, holding down a job and the ravages of an autoimmune disease. A troubled relationship with her own family leads to a sense of isolation, and she is wary of the friendly approaches of locals in Bluff River, where she has been sent to formulate development plans for the old railway terminus and other buildings connected to the long-defunct circus. But mysterious discoveries and strange goings on mean she has to team up with a handsome stranger to solve a decades-old mystery.

The lives of the two women have so many parallels across the years. Pippa is living at a time of new opportunities for women, but conservative societies are resisting their emancipation, and Pippa is struggling to balance her strict upbringing against her desire to embrace this newly-minted era of female liberation. Chandler is determined that her own independence will not be undermined by her illness or her single-parenthood, and she hides her struggles from everyone in fear of having restrictions placed on her by those who care about her. The book explores the complex dynamics of family and the struggles of women to balance the expectations and judgements of society with their own needs and desires. These dilemmas have not changed much for women over the centuries, and it is something we can all relate to.

The book also explores they way society views and treats people it views as different or abnormal, and how the circus became a refuge for misfits and loners. Often ridiculed as exploitative and voyeuristic, this book explores the idea that it actually provided a place of understanding and companionship for those on the fringes of society. It is a fascinating dichotomy that the author explores with interest and sympathy.

On top of this, there is a fascinating and quite terrifying murder mystery to be solved. A serial killer known as The Watchman seems to be stalking the circus, but years later, the community is questioning whether the real culprit was identified at the time and whether the stigma his descendants have carried through the years has been placed on the correct shoulders. The idea of disparate relations of a serial killer carrying the tarnish of their ancestor’s actions through the years is sad, but used to great effect for the plot of this novel and I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns of the story. The author weaves the two timelines together with great skill, slowly uncovering the truth across the years, and I was on the edge of my seat by the end, in both the 1920s and the present day!

The prose is richly textured, evocative and an absolute joy to read. It is one of those books that you can get totally lost in, so effective is the author in constructing the time and place in which she has set the novel. I was drawn through the book effortlessly, not wanting to break off and destroy the fictional bubble in which I has been ensnared by her skill. As soon as I had finished the book, I wanted to go and pick up her other novels and see if I could get that feeling back again. This was my first book by Jaime Jo Wright, but it definitely will not be the last. Oh, the joy of discovering a great new author with a back catalogue on which you can binge, is there any greater pleasure for an avid reader?

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus is out now and you must absolutely get you copy here.

About the Author

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Jaime Jo Wright is the author of five novels, including Christy Award winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She’s also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo, her husband Cap’n Hook, and their littles, Peter Pan, and CoCo. 

Connect with Jaime:

Website: https://www.jaimewrightbooks.com/

Facebook: Jaime Jo Wright

Twitter: @jaimejowright

Instagram: @jaimejowright

Pinterest: Jaime Jo Wright

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Book Review: The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant #BookReview

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Two women, five centuries apart.

One life-changing secret about to be unearthed.

1538
New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

2019
When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

It is publication day for The Secrets of Saffron Hall by my fellow RNA member, Clare Marchant. Very happy publication day, Clare! My thanks to the publishers for my digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a dual timeline story, following the lives of two women living a quincentenary apart, but with a thread of shared experience that somehow binds them across the centuries. In the early sixteenth century, Eleanor is a young girl, reluctantly married but making a go of her new life at her husband’s grand house in Norfolk, growing saffron to increase his fortunes. It is a time of great upheaval in the country, as Henry VIII enacts the Act of Supremacy and begins to dissolve the monasteries. In current times, Amber has suffered an earth-shattering upheaval of her own, and goes off to hide at her family’s long-time home, Saffron Hall, where her future becomes inextricably linked with Eleanor’s past.

The author handles the dual timeline brilliantly, expertly weaving the two stories together, so it is easy to follow whose story we are in, and how the one is feeding in to the other. She gives both women a strong, defined character and an equally important and well-developed storyline, so the novel feels well balanced and satisfying in both timelines. I was equally invested in the fates of both women, and completely sold on the idea that Amber’s future happiness, in her head at least, depended on her resolving the puzzle of Eleanor’s past.

This novel deals with a very difficult subject matter and, as someone who has been through this experience herself, I found the author dealt with it sensitively and with great understanding and tenderness and honesty. Whilst it did bring back some difficult memories, it left me moved and comforted, rather than distraught, and I would not have wanted to be put off reading it, although I suppose some who have been through the experience more recently and for whom the issue is more raw, may want to proceed with caution.

The author brings the life of the sixteenth century vividly to life in this book, and I became completely lost in the daily existence of Eleanor’s household and her duties and cares. It is a historical period that is rich in happenings and excitement and Clare mines them expertly and cleverly to provide the tension in the book. If you know any of the history of this period, the introduction of one character to the narrative will set alarm bells ringing, and you will be waiting for the fallout to ripple through the narrative. Clare has been very clever with the way she has woven real historical figures with fiction in the text, and I was almost reading the last part of the book from behind a metaphorical cushion, waiting for the inevitable. It is hard to get someone on tenterhooks when they almost feel like they know what is coming, so I take my hat off to this author that she managed it.

This is a vivid, moving, evocative story with a hint of the supernatural, and I absolutely loved it. It is a must-read for fans of the time period, and for a great, dual timeline story. Excellent work.

The Secrets of Saffron Hall is out today in paperback, audio and ebook formats, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

 

 

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

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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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Blog Tour: I Am Dust by Louise Beech #BookReview

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When iconic musical Dust is revived twenty years after the leading actress was murdered in her dressing room, a series of eerie events haunts the new cast…

The Dean Wilson Theatre is believed to be haunted by a long-dead actress, singing her last song, waiting for her final cue, looking for her killer…

Now Dust, the iconic musical, is returning after twenty years. But who will be brave enough to take on the role of ghostly goddess Esme Black, last played by Morgan Miller, who was murdered in her dressing room?

Theatre usher Chloe Dee is caught up in the spectacle. As the new actors arrive, including an unexpected face from her past, everything changes. Are the eerie sounds and sightings backstage real or just her imagination? Is someone playing games?

Not all the drama takes place onstage. Sometimes murder, magic, obsession and the biggest of betrayals are real life. When you’re in the theatre shadows, you see everything.

And Chloe has been watching…

A new book by Louise Beech is always something to get excited about so I feel very privileged to be taking part in the blog tour for her latest novel, I Am Dust today. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for including me on the tour and to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

“a moment when darkness falls, and the stage is lit; a moment when they might wonder if they even exist any more; when they forget everything for two hours.”

This is a quote from early on in I Am Dust, the new book by Louise Beech, when we first meet the protagonist, Chloe, in the modern day setting of the Dean Wilson Theatre where she is an usher. Chloe is talking about the moment just before the curtain rises on a show, where the audience hang in anticipation of being swept away to a new world, taken out of their mundane lives and transported and immersed in someone else’s for a while. Everyone who loves the theatre, and I certainly count myself amongst that number, recognises this feeling.

I have picked this quote out and included it here because this is also exactly how opening the first page of a new book by this author makes me feel. Breathless with anticipation and ready to be transported to somewhere completely different and, I have to say, that I Am Dust delivered on this sense of promise on every level. I read this book pretty much in a single sitting over the course of one day, ignoring everything around me because I was so captivated and consumed by the story that Louise placed between these pages that I could not bear to break the spell before it was over. A bit like when you emerge from a virtuoso performance, slightly disoriented and blinking in the alien light of the real world, I came out of this reading experience, preoccupied and slightly bereft, but with the horde of emotions the tale had stirred up in me still buzzing through my veins.

One of the things that makes Louise’s writing so unique is that it defies genre pigeon-holeing. Everyone is different and unique, and you never know quite what to expect, except that you know it is never going to be straight-forward and that it will touch you in a million different ways. Here we have a mystery, a ghost story, a tale of love and rivalry and an exploration of teenage angst, ambition, and sacrifice. It has so many levels of complexity that it takes a while to sort out how you feel about the book once you have finished it, and it made me immediately want to go back to the beginning and start again so I could savour the tiny details I missed on my first impatient read-through where I both couldn’t wait to get to the end and could not bear to be finished either. These dichotomies will be familiar to anyone who has read Louise’s work before, and feed through to many aspects of her stories, a case in point here being the theme that it is possible to both love and hate someone at the same time.

This is a dual timeline story, set in the present day Dean Wilson Theatre where a revival of the controversial musical, Dust, is imminent; a musical which has profound meaning for our main character, Chloe, and its return stirs up painful feelings and memories from the past for her. We also then have flashbacks to one intense summer during Chloe’s teenage years, the events of which are now bleeding through in to the present. The narrative construct works really well to reveal pertinent facts to the reader at the same time as they are recalled by Chloe and impact the present day events, and it delivers a level of tension and urgency that it one of the main reasons I was unable to set this book aside during the first reading.

This page-turning quality is only one small part of what makes this book so compelling, though. The character development and exploration is also exquisite. Chloe is so well drawn, so sympathetic and recognisable a person to carry this book that the reader cannot help but be taken along on her journey and feel all that she feels along the way. The pain of her teenage years, of intense, unrequited love and those instant, fierce, emotional swings are so vivid and familiar, the story feels absolutely real, even when exploring the supernatural elements. There have been many books and movies that have  used the link between unchecked teenage emotion and psychic happenings, but here Louise draws Chloe’s angst so honestly and believably that the occurrences seem almost inevitable, as does her reaction to them, and to the pain of just being as a teenager. The book explores some difficult topics, but always sensitively, and my heart was just beating along with Chloe’s, feeling deeply what she is feeling throughout the story.

The other quality that makes this book extra special is the one I pointed out at the beginning, how the author has managed to encapsulate absolutely perfectly the dream-like feeling of a theatre production and bring it to life in the pages of this novel. That sense of being held in a bubble, separate from the real world, disconnected from time for a while and completely captive to the story. This ethereal, surreal quality to the reading experience is something I am not sure I have experienced before and I am not sure how she has managed to do it, I could not pinpoint what it is about the text that makes this so, but it is so magical that it left me almost breathless. It is a quality that makes this ghost story believable, because the whole story seems illusory, both past and present, as if there is a gauzy curtain between what is happening here and reality. It is very hard to describe, I think you need to read the book yourself to experience it, but it is quite startling in its originality and something very special.

My love for this book is unbounded. It is deeply moving in parts, it almost brought me to tears at the end, because the emotions bleed off the page. I could wax lyrical about what makes this book special all day and still fail to really convey what makes it outstanding, but you are probably already bored. So I’ll just finish by saying, you will never have had a reading experience quite like this and Louise’s chameleon-like abilities as a writer continue to amaze me with every new book. I was blown away by I Am Dust and it has flown into my top ten books of the year, please, please read it for yourself.

I Am Dust is out now as am ebook and will be published in paperback on 16 April, and you can get a copy here.

To follow the rest of the I Am Dust blog tour, check out the details on the poster below:

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About the Author

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Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her second book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

Connect with Louise:

Website: https://louisebeech.co.uk

Facebook: Louise Beech

Twitter: @LouiseWriter

Instagram: @louisebeech13

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The Devil’s Bride by Emma S. Jackson #BookReview #BlogTour (@ESJackson1) @darkstrokedark @crookedcatbooks @RNATweets #PNR #paranormalromance #romance #TheDevilsBride

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England, 1670

No one goes near Edburton Manor – not since the night in 1668, when demons rose from the ground to drag Lord Bookham’s new bride to a fiery death. Or so the locals say.

That’s what makes it the perfect hideout for the gang of highwaymen Jamie Lorde runs with.

Ghost stories have never frightened her. The living are a far more dangerous prospect, particularly to a woman in disguise as a man. A woman who can see spirits in a time when witches are hanged and who is working hard to gain the trust of the most ruthless, vicious man she has ever known because she intends to ruin and kill him.

But when the gang discovers Matthew, Lord Bookham’s illegitimate brother, who has been trapped by a curse at the Manor ever since the doomed wedding, all Jamie’s carefully laid plans are sent spiralling out of control.

I am over the moon today to be celebrating the publication of my fellow RNA New Writers’ Scheme member, Emma Jackson’s new paranormal romance, The Devil’s Bride. My thanks to Emma for inviting me to take part in the tour, and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Look, I’m going to admit that this book is in a genre I wouldn’t normally read. I’m not someone you will find wandering the aisles of the paranormal romance section of my local bookstore, eagerly sniffing out my next read. But when someone you know writes a book and is kind enough to mention you in the acknowledgements (thank you, Emma, that was a lovely surprise!), the least you can do is check it out.

I made the mistake of starting this very late at night, straight after I had finished another book, and I was way too tired at that point to give the opening chapters the attention they deserved , so it took my a little while to get into the story. This is entirely down to the fact that this book steps outside my normal genre choices and is so rich in detail and atmosphere that it required some concentration from me to get into the groove of the writing style. This is absolutely no reflection on the author at all, because when I came back to it fresh the next morning and started again, I was absolutely hooked and devoured it in a single sitting. I was so completely absorbed in the book that my OH was complaining that I wasn’t listening to him while he was trying to talk to me (he was right, I wasn’t, the book was way more interesting!)

Despite the fact I am not a connoisseur of Gothic romance, I can appreciate good writing in any genre when I come across it, and this book is just fabulous. From the opening chapters, we are whisked to a sumptuously drawn, all-enveloping world which you can feel, hear, touch, taste and smell from the very first page. Honestly, I felt like I was putting on a period costume and wearing it for the duration of the book; it was so vivid, I was living it. Imagine  yourself in a dense, dark forest surrounding a crumbling and sinister house, haunted by heaven knows what or who. Imagine you are approaching this house in the company of some bloodthirsty and merciless highwaymen, and at the same time, you are pretending to be something you are not and are desperate not to be found out. Can you feel the suspense and the tension? Well, you don’t have to imagine it if you pick this book up because the author will take you right there and plonk you in the middle of the action, then keep you there, straining every nerve from first page to last.

I loved the premise of this book, and inhabited fully the character of Jamie throughout. I was with her through every tense moment, every risky decision, every moment of strain between her and the other characters. Jamie is a brilliant protagonist to carry this book, a strong, independent woman of the day, fighting against the circumstances she finds herself in and determined to carry through with her plans. She is headstrong and passionate and, to a degree, ruthless, but with a seam of compassion that allows her to be  likeable. In short, she is my kind of woman and I absolutely adored her.

Matthew was also a great character, and Fielding, and Emma has built a beautiful, detailed and complete world here. In fact, it gave me a whiff of one of my favourite books of all time, Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, with a strong woman falling in amongst rogues and having to hold her own, and I can’t really think of a better compliment to pay than that. We’ve got pistols and punches and curses and ghosts and romance and the supernatural, all described in exquisite detail. What could there possibly be not to love about this book?

I was left at the end exhilarated, breathless and totally shocked by the turn the plot had taken, and with a million questions that need answering. The author has very cleverly written a satisfying book on its own, but with the door left open for a sequel and a desperate compulsion in the reader to know WHAT COMES NEXT, which will mean the success of a sequel is already guaranteed. Where is the next book, I need it! I am in awe, Emma, truly, you have done the most magnificent job on this book, I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it.

The Devil’s Bride is out now in paperback and ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour for more reviews:

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About the Author

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Emma Jackson is the best-selling author of A MISTLETOE MIRACLE, published by Orion Dash. A devoted bookworm and secret-story-scribbler since she was 6 years old, she joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association on their New Writers’ Scheme at the beginning of 2019, determined to focus on her writing. Her debut novel was published in November 2019.

When she’s not running around after her two daughters and trying to complete her current work-in-progress, Emma loves to read, bake, catch up on binge-watching TV programmes with her partner and plan lots of craft projects that will inevitably end up unfinished. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE is her second novel, published by DarkStroke as Emma S Jackson. She hopes to continue working across sub-genres of romance, as she believes variety is the spice of life. 

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

 

The Ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue by Samantha Henthorn #Spotlight #BlogTour (@SamanthaHfinds) @annecater #RandomThingsTours #CurmudgeonAvenue

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The house on Curmudgeon Avenue should be happy now, the nincompoop residents have all met their sorry ends. But they haven’t quite left… now that a new family move in can the house find peace? Or are the ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue going to interfere with the goings-on, romance and dramas that new residents bring?

Gordon and Zandra Bennett – along with their lovelorn daughter Krystina move all the way from London to Curmudgeon Avenue. Zandra has her heart set on renovating the four-storey Victorian terrace and hires Harry to rip out the old and bring in the new. Wonder how that will go down with the grumpy, yet proud house? Not to mention Harold, Edna and Edith who are trapped in their previous home with no choice but to haunt Krystina, moan about the new layout and get up to mischief.

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for The Ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue by Samantha Henthorn. Many thanks to Anne Cater for my place on the tour.

I’m shining the spotlight today on a fun and witty book which is the fourth in a series set in the same house, this time with added ghosts!

The Curmudgeon Avenue books are a series in which the house in which they are set is the narrator of the books, a unique twist on the narrative style which allows us to see all the goings on from an omniscient viewpoint. And what goings on they are! In this book, the former residents of the house have all been killed off in a series of freak accidents, but have returned to haunt the house and cause havoc for the new residents.

Reviewers have described this series, and the new book in particular, as amusing and highly entertaining, and the writer’s style as quirky, frenetic and endearing. If this sounds like something that is up your street (please excuse the pun!), then why not grab a copy of this book or, better yet start at the beginning of the series.

The Ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue is out now and you can buy a copy here, along with the preceding books in the Curmudgeon Avenue series.

Make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for reviews and other content:

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About the Author

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Samantha Henthorn was born in 1970-something in Bury, England. She has had short stories and poetry published in magazines. Her books include the Curmudgeon Avenue series (The Terraced House Diaries and The Harold and Edith adventures). ‘1962’, ‘Quirky Tales to Make Your Day’ and ‘Piccalilly’

She has two cats, one dog, one gorgeous grown up daughter and one husband. When not reading or writing, she is listening to heavy metal and would be thrilled to bits if someone read her books.

Connect with Samantha:

Website: https://samanthahenthornfindstherightwords.blog

Facebook: Samantha Henthorn Author

Twitter: @SamanthaHfinds

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Oranges and Lemons by Paula F. Andrews #GuestPost (@PaulaAAuthor) @matadorbooks #OrangesAndLemons

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Gregarious teenager, Jessifer Jordan, has always been loyal and open, and her love of acting has made her an expert in pretence. So, when six-year old Victorian ghost, Adeline, appears in her life and Jess’s best friend won’t believe her, deceit becomes Jess’s natural ally. Previously fun-loving and sociable, she becomes serious and isolated in her quest to discover what Adeline really wants. Always curious, she finds herself whisked back in time to 1863 and into the clutches of a volatile doctor with an obsession for morphine.

As she journeys back and forth into the past, she realises that Adeline reminds her of her dead sister and her submerged grief resurfaces. Will her great aunt Ruby’s counsel help her? Can she outwit the deranged medic? And whose is that smoky cat which keeps turning up out of the blue?

I am delighted to be featuring Oranges and Lemons by Paula F. Andrews on the blog today with a fabulous guest post from the author. My thanks to Sophie Morgan at Troubador for inviting me to do the feature.

Author interview with Paula F. Andrews

What is your book about?

Oranges and Lemons is a light ghost story, set in York, and involving time-slip episodes between the modern day and 1863. The main character is a fourteen-year-old contemporary teenage girl called Jessifer. She answers the call of a six-year-old ghost called Adeline. Her quest leads to conflict with her best friends and wonderful, beloved Aunt Ruby but underlines her deep empathy, love and loyalty. 

When did you know you wanted to write a book, and why this one? What was your inspiration?

I had an idea for a children’s picture book about ten years ago which led me to begin a course in writing for children. I then created a teenage girl character and felt I could write a story that would bring her together with a little ghostly character from local legend. I’d been interested in the little ghost since my teenage years and felt her fun, vibrant personality would be perfect for a book for young teenagers. The picture book is still at the idea stage!

How did you research the story? What was the most fascinating thing you learned?

I spent a long time looking into the development of morphine analgesia and the development of the hypodermic syringe. I did most of my research online but I also spent time in the Library and Archives in York, examining texts about the city, its streets and buildings, disease and medical care in the 1860s. I discovered that The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley was published in the year my story is set and also that the American Civil War was happening at the same time as the little ghost’s father was doing his own research into using the hypodermic syringe.

How long do you write each day?

I try to spend part of each day writing, whether it’s a blog, letters, social media posts, novel, short story or poetry writing. Now that my book has been published and I am working on the marketing and sales side of things as well, I’ve set aside three days for mainly writing and editing with the remainder of the working week allocated to  planning and doing events, signings and launches. Inevitably, I spend part of my weekend doing admin and also some writing.

Where do you like to write?

Until recently, I wrote in my lounge, which meant tidying all my papers, storyboards, etc, away, at the end of the day. So, now, I have converted our spare room into a writing-cum-guest-cum-sitting room where I can have all my things spread out! (Until someone comes to stay!)

I also love to write in cafes! And people watch at the same time!

What was the most valuable piece of advice you’ve had about being a writer that you’d like to share with others?

To write every day, even if it’s only a short letter or a social media post. Using the ‘writing muscles’ is important for maintaining skill but to achieve real growth, daily writing is vital.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? What was the best? 

The hardest: agonising over cutting out characters and chunks I really liked.

The best: seeing each of my unique characters take shape and giving them different voices.

What has been your favourite part of the publishing process?

Getting the final cover design!

Do you have plans for another book?

I have a completed fantasy novel for middle grade readers which requires editing. I also have ideas about another story involving some of the characters from Oranges and Lemons but with a different setting. And I have begun planning a second novel for middle grade readers.

Paula, thank you for answering my questions, it has been fascinating to hear about your writing process.

Oranges and Lemons is out now and you can get a copy here.

About the Author

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Paula F. Andrews has been a nurse, midwife and craftsperson. She grew up in North Yorkshire and now lives in Glasgow with her husband and grown-up children. Writing seriously since 2012, she has won numerous prizes including Strathkelvin Writers’ Group overall prize for 2019 and the Scottish Association of Writers prize for YA fiction in 2017. She has also been published in Aquila and Scottish Memories magazine.
Connect with Paula:

Website: http://paulaandrews.co.uk

Twitter: @PaulaAAuthor

Facebook: Paula Andrews

Instagram: @paulaandrewsauthor

The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman #BookReview (@rowancoleman) @eburypublishing @penguinrandom @ecrisp1 @BleuViola #PublicationDay #TheGirlAtTheWindow

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Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…

Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.

While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…

Today is publication day for The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book and am delighted to share my review today. My thanks to Penguin Random House and the author for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially and a happy publication day to Rowan!

What can I say, this book has absolutely everything an avid reader could wish for when they pick up a new tome. I knew this book was going to be something special because the author has set it in a place that means a great deal to her and she has obviously poured her heart and soul into it. The passion and emotion bursts off the page and straight into the heart of the reader and carries them along on an immersive emotional journey through the story. I was completely drawn in to the world of the characters and the setting of the book and held in such an iron grip by the narrative that I could barely bear (Kate Baker – take note!) to put it down and interact with my family. I raced through it in record time and felt bereft when it was done.

The story is set in the wilds of Yorkshire, in the house that is rumoured to have inspired parts of Wuthering Heights and it is uncanny how the author has managed to evoke the atmosphere of that great novel with her story. Rowan really does the beauty and atmosphere of my home county great justice in the setting and the reader is immediately transported to the isolated Yorkshire Moors that so inspired Emily Bronte and gave Wuthering Heights the dark and wild atmosphere that characterises it.

Anyone who follows Rowan on Twitter and knows anything about her will not be able to read the book and fail to feel that the main character of Trudy has, to a degree, been inspired by Rowan’s own famed obsession with the Brontes. Returning to her childhood home at Ponden Hall after a great personal tragedy, Trudy becomes embroiled in a treasure hunt involving lost Bronte artefacts and a story that she believes intrigued her heroine, Emily, centuries before. I absolutely loved the character of Trudy and was completely engrossed in her life and emotions from the very first page. Her relationships with her young son, husband and estranged mother were beautifully portrayed in the story and felt completely authentic. The emotional journey experienced by the characters was extremely affecting and I felt myself experiencing a vast range of emotions myself as I read – sorrow, terror, intrigue being just a few of them – it was very skilfully done. These are characters and stories of the best kind, the kind that make you feel like you have made new friends, that you care about them and feel sad when you have to let them go. The great thing about novels, of course, is that they will still be there when you want to return to them, and this is definitely a book that the reader will want to treasure and return to and experience again.

The plot of the novel covers so much. Personal tragedy, family relationships, mystery, history, literature and a thrilling ghost story, all at the same time. There is so much packed in to the book, I was hugely impressed that it all flows so naturally and blended seamlessly. As someone who is making attempts to write herself, I could not help being awed by the skill that this complex book has taken to produce and, aside from being a marvellous read, it is something I will be studying to see how Rowan managed to pull it off. In fact, I would love to hear from the horse’s mouth what process Rowan used to put this book together. There was so much fascinating information and detail about the Brontes woven in to the story, but it never felt that it was included in anything other than a natural way that enhanced the narrative. The ghostly aspects were suitably creepy and disturbing. The book actually managed to produce in me the same deeply troubling sensations I felt when I first read the opening chapters of Wuthering Heights where the narrator is being haunted by Cathy’s ghost. It gives me the shivers thinking about it to this day. Ghost stories are very hard to do well, but Rowan achieves this, and goes beyond.

This book is complex, emotional, fascinating, gripping, troubling, affecting, beautiful and moving, all at the same time. It is a masterpiece, and a masterclass in writing. I absolutely loved every word, every page and know I will return to it again and again. One of my favourite books of the eighty I have read so far this year. I have bought a copy to cherish, you should too.

The Girl at the Window is out today and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Rowan Coleman’s first novel Growing Up Twice was a WHS Fresh Talent Winner. Since then, Rowan has written fifteen novels, including The Memory Book which was a Sunday Times bestseller. It was selected for the Richard and Judy Bookclub and awarded Love Reading Novel of the Year, as voted for by readers.

Her latest novel, The Summer of Impossible Things, is a Zoe Ball TV Book Club selection.

Rowan lives with her husband and their five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire, juggling writing novels with raising her family. She really wishes someone would invent time travel.

Connect with Rowan:

Facebook: Rowan Coleman

Twitter: @rowancoleman

Instagram: @rowanmcoleman