Book Review: The Porcelain Doll by Kristen Loesch

What the blurb says…

In a faraway kingdom, in a long-ago land …

… Rosie lived peacefully in Moscow and her mother told her fairy tales. One summer night, all that came abruptly to an end when her father and sister were gunned down. Now, Rosie’s only inheritance from her reclusive mother is a notebook full of eerie, handwritten tales, but there is another story lurking between the lines.

Currently studying at Oxford University, Rosie has a fiance who knows nothing of her former life. Desperate for answers to the questions that have tormented her, Rosie returns to her homeland and uncovers a devastating family history which spans the 1917 Revolution, the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s purges and beyond. At the heart of those answers stands a young noblewoman, Tonya, as pretty as a porcelain doll, whose actions reverberate across the century …

What do I say?

Historical fiction is an obsession of mine. The ability to travel into the past and peer into the windows of those who walked before us. To breathe the same air and taste their food. To hear their stories and sing their songs. The sensory details within this novel are plentiful and perfectly placed, transporting the reader to Russia in all her many guises.

The Porcelain Doll is an example of historical fiction at its very best. The stories of Rosie and Tonya guide the reader through some of the most turbulent and fascinating times in modern history. The enormity of change and it’s far reaching consequences are told through pitch perfect prose, run through with empathy and understanding.

And The Porcelain Doll embodies the concept of history in its very truest sense. The narrative of both women, the weaving of their tales and the symbolism used, all conspire to illustrate how history is both around and within us.

Each twist, each turn, each layer of the novel demonstrates how the stories of the past lie at our core. How they wait to be discovered, retold and shape identities far into the future.

This novel is a triumph, waiting to be discovered. Published by Allison & Busby on 17th February, it is a must read for 2022.

Rachel x

Book Review : The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson.

What the blurb says…

Raven-haired and fiercely independent, Joan Guildford has always remained true to herself.

As lady-in-waiting and confidante to Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII, Joan understands royal patronage is vital if she and her husband, Sir Richard, are to thrive in the volatile atmosphere of court life.

But Tudor England is in mourning following the death of the Prince of Wales, and within a year, the queen herself. With Prince Henry now heir to the throne, the court murmurs with the sound of conspiracy. Is the entire Tudor project now at stake or can young Henry secure the dynasty?

Drawn into the heart of the crisis, Joan’s own life is in turmoil, and her future fat from secure. She faces a stark choice – be true to her heart and risk everything, or play the dutiful servant and watch her dreams wither and die. From Joan, and for Henry’s kingdom, everything is at stake…

What I say…

It is no surprise when I say I love historical fiction set in the Tudor era. I have said it before and no doubt I will say it again!

The story of Joan Guildford which spans the reign of two great Tudor kings is a classic tale of intrigue and power.With skill, attention to detail Joanna Hickson weaves a saga of womanhood throughout the years.

The character of Joan Guildford leaps from the page. It is hard not to be drawn into her story, and to root for a woman of such intelligence and strength. Time and fortune are not always kind to Joan but her story is full of colour, full of heart and full of truth.

If you want a trip back in time then The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson could just be the ticket you need.

The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson is published by Harper Collins on 20th January 2022.

Rachel x

#BlogTour Review : Foolish Heroines by June Wentland

It is my pleasure to be taking my turn on the Blog Tour for this unique book Foolish Heroines by June Wentland, published by Valley Press.

What the blurb says…

Janina Reston is a language expert, translating fiendishly tricky Arabic and Asian mathematical and scientific texts. Words are her world. But she can’t find any to share with her husband Owen. Instead, she confides in a spider named Gladys (who may or may not be her deceased grandmother).

She lives in an ordinary city suburb where extraordinary things happen. Lily’s husband dies in a strange accident with a milk bottle, while Fatima writes biographies of unknown people living seemingly inconsequential lives, and Zosia – whose most daring adventure thus far has been replacing jelly and ice cream with lemon meringue pie – runs off to Delhi with an Asian Women’s Sewing Group.

But forget dull domesticity. This is a suburb where dense jungle leaves creep through the patio door when you’re putting the kettle on, where porcelain shepherdesses have evil intent, and where a seven-legged arachnid can be a wise companion for a woman at the end of her tether.

What do I say…

Foolish Heroines is a book of surprises. A book where the ordinary and the unexpected come together in a way that challenges, comforts and ultimately extends.

The lives of these women are bizarre and vivid and yet they also feel completely tangible and surprisingly within everyday reach.

This is a story of empowerment, of finding a purpose in places in you never thought to look and finding friends you didn’t know you might need. The humour that runs through the book is quirky and vibrant; not many pages go by without words raising a smirk, a smile or making you laugh out loud.

Valley Press have found a book which champions the cause of women, of creativity and of friends.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions check out the rest of the blog tour below…

And even more…

A quick message from Valley Press ! They are having a January sale which would apply to ‘Foolish Heroines’ – 22% off!!

Readers just need to enter code JAN22 when shopping on https://www.valleypressuk.com at the basket stage and the discount will be applied.

Book reviews – Catching up or three for the price of one!

Since contracting Covid last month I have been struggling to keep up with life. Reading, working, parenting, blogging, writing – just generally living(!) seem to have taken up more time than usual!

However, I have been reading and some of the words have encountered have been nothing short of amazing!!

So in a bid to catch up on this blogging life I am hoping you will forgive me this 3 for 1 post. And indulge me in this celebration of three cracking titles that have kept me company on these dark Autumn days.

First up is one of my favourite all time poets who I have been reading in a very different form. Huge thanks to Clara Diaz from Fleet for sending this bang up to date adaption of Antigone by Hollie McNish my way.

Anyone who has encounters Hollie’s poetry will know that she isn’t a woman to mince her words and that her finger is firmly on the pulse of women’s rights. And Antigone continues in the same inspired vein. This reimagined Greek tale is littered with references and parallels to modern society and politics. It is witty, accessible and sometimes downright shocking. Having been performed at Storyhouse Chester in late October, I can only hope there will be another chance to catch this one soon.

Amazing read number two is the latest collection of flash fiction by Laura Besley. Published by Irish Indie publisher Beir Bua Press (Un) Natural Elements is ready and waiting to blow your literary socks off!

Each of these stories has it’s origins in the daily Twitter writing prompt #vss365 – Very Short Stories 365. Having followed and interacted with Laura on Twitter for a while now I can tell you she is the absolute master of these tiny tales!

In this latest collection Laura brings together her work and divides them into their written themes. Each is unique and each has the Besley sting in it’s tale. Humour, grief and wry aside wait around every corner; these stories might be short but man! Can they pack a punch!

And last but by no means least is the wonderful collection of short stories Safely Gathered In by Sarah Schofield. Published by Comma Press this is a collection of stories that will haunt you in all the right ways.

Each tale probes at the heart of what it is to be human and examines the things that make it’s protagonist tick. Sometimes heart breaking and sometimes surreal, each is a story that will stop you in your tracks and make you think.

As an added bonus I was lucky enough to chat to Sarah about her work as part of The Northern Connection Podcast’s Northember series. This episode is coming soon and is one not to be missed!

So thank you fellow bookworms for allowing me this catch up and for forgiving a girl when life gets in the way!!!

Until the next time …

Rachel x

#BookReview – Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Ever read a book that stops you in your tracks? A book that takes a situation that millions of people all over the world are experiencing and looks at it through an entirely different lens. If fact through a lens so magical that it takes your breath away?

That’s exactly what happened when I read Chouette, beautifully crafted by Claire Oshetsky and released this week by Virago . A huge thank you goes to GraceVincent

for my gifted copy.

Chouette is the story of Tiny and her child Chouette. Chouette is not a typical child. According to her mother Chouette is an Owl Baby; a child beautiful, individual and complex, a child with her own very specific needs.

Tiny is tune with her daughter. She understands her needs, is prepared to shape family live to fit in with her child and feels no need to change her. Chouette’s father on the other hand longs for a normal child, refusing to accept her into the wider family until she has been ‘fixed’.

But fixing Chouette is a thankless and cruel task. The world into which she is born isn’t made for Owl Babies and the interventions and treatments her Father insists upon grow more extreme and cruel as time goes by.

This story is a unique parable about the joys and challenges of raising a child that does not conform to the norms of society. It is about the power of a mother’s love; love that will bend in every way to accommodate a child’s needs. But it is also about isolation; about the fear that builds when things go wrong repeatedly and the rest of the world turns away.

This is a lyrical and beautifully woven story charting the experiences of thousands of families raising children with complex needs. It is about the incredible highs and lows, the unbreakable bonds they forge, but also the fracturing of relationships that occurs everyday.

This novel shines a ghostly light on things we sometimes refuse to see. In parts tender, in parts brutal, it is a fable for all those unique and special families who we too often leave behind.

Rachel x

#Bookreview: Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

I am aware that I sound like a broken record but once again I apologise for taking longer than I would have like to review this captivating book. Huge thanks to Kate Burton for my early copy of Burntcoat by Sarah Hall.

Given what we have all been through these past two years there is going to be an inevitable rise in ‘Pandemic Stories’. It is inescapable and unrealistic to expect that artists of all kinds won’t want to record and respond to these world changing events. We are after all, living through history.

But as you would expected from established and talented Cumbrian author Sarah Hall her approach to this telling is unique, heartbreaking and painfully beautiful.

Hers is the story of Edith, talented sculptor and her lover Halit. Immediately but newly connected when the first lockdown begins, the pair hide from the world in her huge studio, Burntcoat. Their world is one of fear but also of love, of discovering each other and building a new and strengthening relationship.

This part of the novel captures beautifully the intensity and unreality of those initial lockdown days. The writing is sensual, vital and pulls at the edges of a collective experience.

Edith’s story is largely told in retrospect. When we meet her she is preparing for her death. Her work, waiting in the studio below is her testament, but it is her love for Halit and the short time of their togetherness that she returns to again and again.

Sarah Hall is unique in her story telling. Her boundaries are wide but her edges are sharp. This story cuts through experience and turns the collective experience of the pandemic on it’s head.

This one is going down in history.

Rachel x

Book Review : Dead Relatives by Lucie McKnight Hardy

Dead Relatives. Well where do I start?!? Maybe firstly with a thank you and an apology.

The Thank You going to Jordan at Dead Ink Books for sending me an copy of this stunner before publication day.

And the apology again to Jordan and author for Lucie McKnight Hardy for the delay in getting the review written. I know it’s so last year but blame Covid!

Dead Relatives is a collection of short stories with a deeply delicious and unsettling tone. From the title story, whose last paragraph made me throw the book in surprise (only to grab it straight back hungry for more) to the last tale, there is glorious sense of horror and unease.

Comparisons to Shirley Jackson are wholly justified, but there is no doubt that Lucie McKnight Hardy has a style completely of her own. These stories are all the more powerful for being rooted firmly in the every day. These tales hang themselves on the domestic, on family dynamics and deep seated emotion; elements that combine to develop an unstopped and unbearable tension that spills over in the macabre and delights in it’s power to both shock and delight.

It is also impossible to ignore and wonderful to celebrate the strong female characters within these stories. There is a sense of long held wrongs being righted, often in the most unexpected and darkest ways.

If I had to choose a favourite tale, if you really, really pushed me, I would plump for Dead Relatives but the gloriously dark Resting Bitch Face and The Pickling Jar are screaming at me from the sidelines!

If you want an October read to push the boundaries of darkness, malevolence and everything in between than Dead Relatives is just the book for you!

Rachel. X

#BlogTour Review: The Hiding Place by Amanda Mason

It’s October; the month where everything spooky, creepy and the wrong side of the light come out to play! So what better time of the year to be releasing a novel with an intriguing supernatural twist?

Welcome to my blog tour review of The Hiding Place by Amanda Mason, published today – 14th October – by Zaffre. It is an absolute pleasure to be sharing my review on publication day.

Nell Galilee is a jewellery designer, married to Chris, trying to co-parent her troubled stepdaughter Maude. A family party has brought the trio back to Nell’s home town of Whitby, and they are staying in the ancient Elder House, tucked against the cliff, at the end of one of town’s historic yards.

The family arrive looking to escape domestic problems, but Nell’s unease only seems to grow as they are consumed by the strange old house and its inexplicable presence. Maude on the other hand, furious with the adults in her life, seems strangely drawn to the old house; fascinated by it’s strange markings, hidden places and untold history.

But it isn’t only Nell and Maude who have strong feelings about the Elder House. In the days that follow their arrival female faces from the past emerge, each one tied to the house in some way. Each one hiding their own secrets and looking for their own answers…

From beginning to end The Hiding Place had me hooked! The female perspectives from which this story is both seen and developed are strong, troubled and believable. There is just the right amount of shadow and light, of doubt and truth to maintain the flame of intrigue and make this a truly great supernatural tale.

It is particularly pleasing to find a cast of female characters that are placed across the range of age and experience. Each one is compellingly and skilfully drawn, each one adding their own dimension and depth to the story. A wonderful lesson in careful characterisation.

This is a novel with truth and the search for truth at it’s heart. It has a strong sense of place, both within the unsettling atmosphere of the Elder House but also within the wider setting of Whitby. There is a tangible feeling throughout of the past reaching through into the present and the lessons that there still are left to be learned.

If you are looking for a perfect October read, then I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending The Hiding Place. It has been a joy to both read and review; thank you Amanda, you have done it again!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to The Hiding Place check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#Blog Tour Review: How To Bring Him Back by Claire HM

Fly On The Wall Press are one of my favourite discoveries of the past couple of years. From their literary stable has bolted some of the best poetry and flash fiction. And their latest release How To Bring Him Back: A story by Claire HM is no exception.

A novella in flash set across two time frames, roughly 20 years apart, this is story of Cait. Present day Cait is on her yearly writing retreat, trying to conjure up a long overdue apology which only now is she ready to write.

The Cait of the mid 1990’s seems lost and wandering. She is living post-university and has recent stepped away from her Masters degree. Working in a bar, living hand to mouth in a bed sit, Cait’s life is held up by the strings of alcohol and drugs, compounded by a unstopped sexual attraction to Rik.

Stadd is her friend. He looks out for her, steadies her and quietly worships her, but despite all this it is Rik, the archetypal bad boy that Cait is drawn too.

In her haze of self destruction Cait bounces between the two men and in the process sets about breaking Stadd’s trust and his heart. The story is a simple one; one often told and often repeated but with a sharpness of language and a sting in the tail, Claire HM brings this inflammatory situation to a new life.

Weaving the magic that keeps great flash fiction alive Claire creates and then develops three believable and compelling characters. Each has their own motivations, each with their own exploitable flaws, which burst from the page. Their interactions are by turn tender, disturbing, painful and delightfully complex.

It is the dual timeline that really makes this a novella such a triumph. Cait’s later reflections are heartfelt and lyrical. They provide the perfect balance to the earlier lost and lonely Cait. This is a character who grows, who develops and who takes heed of her past.

Thank you Fly On The Wall for inviting me to be part of this tour. It has been a pleasure to read and review such a punchy little book.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to How To Bring Him Back check out the rest of the blog tour below…

Book review: In The Shadow of Queens by Alison Weir

Historical fiction is my thing. No point in dressing it up. I love escaping to the past, safe in the knowledge I can turn the page and escape right back again anytime I like. Put a gun to my head and demand my favourite era and it is likely to the Tudor times I return to.

Alison Weir is one of the best when it comes to compelling historical fiction. Her Six Queens Series which tells the stories of each of Henry VIII wives in turn is second to none. Her ability to bring each woman to life, to see beyond the story everyone thinks they know to the person beneath shines through novel .

Her latest book In The Shadow of Queens goes one step further. This is a collection of stories, both real and imagined of the women who surrounded those Queens. Each section is filled with colour and engrossing Tudor detail which brings life and context to the court and is a testament to the level of research Alison Weir has completed in creating her portraits of Henry’s six wives.

Each tale, from the romantic to the macabre, is rich in imagery and detail. Each looks beyond the immediate inner circle of the court and shows a society steeped in constraints, traditions and so often fraught with danger. It is the lesser know stories that seem to add a new perspective just when you think there was nothing left to tell.

Huge thanks go to Caitlin Raynor at Headline for my review copy. Published today this is a book to get lost in, to discover new stories, new angles and long forgotten women.

Take a trip back in time and see what you discover !