#BlogTour Review: The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper

Yesterday, I kissed my husband for the last time.

Sometimes you pick up a book and the first line is absolute perfection. A line that is a hook that sinks in deep and refuses to let go. And that is exactly what happened when I settled down with Inga Vesper’s The Long, Long Afternoon published 4th February, by Bonnier Books.

It’s 1959, in the serene , immaculate suburb of Sunnylakes. Amongst the swimming pools, sprinklers and Sunday gatherings, a tragedy is brewing. Quietly and without warning Joyce Haney, model housewife and mother, vanishes without a trace. Her two frightened children are discovered by the black maid, Ruby. The girls are alone, blood is smeared across the modern, perfect kitchen and brand new baby clothes lie abandoned on the floor.

It is up to Detective Mick Blanke, an ex – NYC cop, to try and peel away the layers of perfection that surround this case and find out the truth that lurks beneath. Escaping his own gremlins , Mick sees this case as a way of atoning for past mistakes and is determined to get this case right.

But this case is anything but straightforward and it is quickly apparent that nothing and no one are what they first appear to be. And Mick is going to need whatever help he can get, however unconventional that maybe.

In Ruby, Mick recognises an intelligence and determination that belies the prejudice and horror she faces on a daily basis. Befriended and championed as she was by Joyce Haney, Ruby is desperate to find out the truth and is persuaded, at great personal risk to help the Detective put the pieces of this grisly jigsaw together.

Aided by Ruby’s unique insight into the homes of Sunnylakes Detective Mick Blanke examines the cast of characters that surround this case and probes deeper, asking questions and turning stones.

How devoted is Frank Haney to his missing wife? What exactly do the women discuss at Genevieve Crane’s Women’s Improvement Meetings? Why had Joyce befriended young Deena Klintz, so obviously from the wrong side of the tracks? Which of these perfect friends and neighbours really understand Joyce? And who is the mysterious Jimmy that has suddenly reappeared in her life?

This novel is populated by a cast of colourful and shifting characters, whose motives and emotions dance like fireflies before your eyes. There is a vibrancy to the dialogue, to the plotting and the atmosphere that makes this story impossible to leave. The telling of this tale is so authentic and evocative of the period and there is more than just the complex story of Joyce Haney evolving here.

This is web of stories; stories of the forgotten voices, of the past we try to out run, the prejudices we try to ignore, the facades we create and the lies we tell ourselves in order to move forward.

It is also the story of the people who dare to look behind the facade and to challenge the norm, to address the prejudice and to push the boundaries, even if that might bring the whole house of cards crashing down.

This books burst with life, emotion and most of all humanity. Thank you Tracy Fenton for my blog tour invite. This one was an absolute joy!

Rachel

And there is more…

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

#BlogTourReview: A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago

Today it is my turn on the blog tour for A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago published on 4th February by Bloomsbury. Huge thanks to Ros Ellis for inviting me along…and without further ado let me take to the court of James I . But keep your eyes peeled and your wits about you!

From the first pages of this novel the prose is alive with intrigue, vibrancy and glorious detail. Each page leads us further and further into a court whether appearance is everything and alliances are made and broken in the blink of an eye.

This is the tale of courtiers and power, but our chief guides are Frankie, Frances Howard – Countess of Essex and her confidante, serving woman and friend Anne Turner. Thrown together through circumstance, both women are intelligent, cunning and ready to make the most of whatever opportunity comes their way.

Frankie is trapped in a loveless, abusive marriage to Robert Devereux. Desperate, first to please and then to escape her husband she uses Anne’s knowledge of fashion, apothecary and alchemy to help her.

Anne is a doctor’s wife, but is a business women in her own right, holding a patent to a fashionable yellow starch. But despite her intelligence she remains at the mercy of the fortunes of the rich and crucially the men in her life.

When the King’s favourite Sir Robert Carr catches Frankie’s eye the two women work together to gain the ultimate prize. But to do so they must take unimaginable risks and put everything they have on the line.

From the beginning of this story there is an air of tension, of dangerous games being played with high stakes, where the factions of court are built on the shifting sands of family ties and religion. Where fortunes constantly rise and fall and favourites of the Crown attract as many enemies as they do admirers.

Life at court is a one continual and dangerous game, where the stakes are high, and where women need to rely on what little power they have to keep ahead. For both Frankie and Anne their power lies in their sexuality, cunning and intelligence. And they will need all of this to advance their cause and ultimately stay alive.

This is a story of power, of betrayal but crucially of the friendship and compassion of women. With a cast of characters that are unforgettable, dripping with decadence and detail, and whose fortunes change in the blink of an eye.

Heartbreaking, beautiful and unforgettable.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more review and reactions to this glorious books, check out the rest of the blog tour below…

January round up … the longest month ever!

I have always hated January. There is just no getting away from the fact that it is dark, cold and ridiculously, almost supernaturally long. Add in another Covid lockdown and this month was destined to be a bit of a trial!

Books as always have been my salvation, my salvation and often my window on the world. So welcome to January’s round up; I hope you find something here to catch you eye.

I started the month with a very special book, special initially because it was given to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends. Life in Pieces by Dawn O’Porter was a reflection on the authors time in lockdown with her young family in LA. There was much we could all identify with here; the sense of panic and disbelief, the fluctuation of emotions, the inability to stop eating or to remember which day it is. But there were also personal challenges too, because Dawn entered lockdown in a state of grief having lost her dear friend Caroline Flack to suicide just weeks before. This book is raw, heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes at the same time. A delightful first read of the year.

Next up was Old Bones by Helen Kitson , published this month by Louise Walters Books this is a delightful story of regret, loss and evolving friendships. You can fine my review here.

In fact this month has been an absolute gem for new releases and I am thrilled to have been able to read and review a fair few. Whether it’s the competitive world of snowboarding, found in the thriller Shiver by Allie Reynolds, the complexities of growing up in Catholic Ireland, The Rosary Garden by Nicola White or the beautiful and deadly beaches of Barbados, How the one armed sister sweeps her house by Cherie Jones the books published this month have literally had something for everyone.

Sticking with new releases, one of the patches of light in these strange dark days has been the opportunity to attend online book launches and events. It was a joy to see both Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden and Captain Jesus by Colette Snowden off on their publishing journeys.

I am thrilled, as always, to be supporting some cracking blog tours this year. Laura Purcell’s The Shape of Darkness was another perfect gothic offering, and next week I will be sharing my blog tour reviews of Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes and Inga Vespers A Long, Long Afternoon. Both very different books, but both completely immersive and vibrant in their own unique ways.

My month has been pretty fiction heavy this month as far as new releases are concerned. But Alexa, what is there to know about love by Brian Bilston was a delightful detour into poetry. Anyone who has spoken to me in real life this month has had this book continually and wholeheartedly recommended. And I have been making quite a bit of Twitter noise about it too.

My one and only non fiction book this month has been How to be a Refugee by Simon May. An incredible story of survival at any cost, you can find my Instagram review here.

And finally to two more books I have read but not reviewed. The first of my Daunt Books subscription books was Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor and it was a cracker! This is the tale of Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Bram Stoker. With Oscar Wilder and Jack the Ripper as bit players this book was just incredible!

And in a bid for just good old fashioned comfort reading I have persuaded my book group to read the first of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles The Light Years . I have been bathing in the warm glow of the audio book but also slightly dreading what will happen if my book friends don’t love these stories as much as me!!

And there ends January! Who knows what February has in store – but remember there are always books!

Rachel x

#BlogTourReview : The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

This is my first Blog Tour of 2021 and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be reviewing the latest novel from Laura Purcell. Let me introduce you to The Shape of Darkness, a glorious historical novel with just the right touch of gothic to keep you turning the pages, with each sentence unsettling you slightly more than the last.

Welcome to Bath of the late 1800’s. The spa and naval town is not quite as glamorous as once it was and there is air of abandonment hanging heavy in the air.

This is reflected in the footsteps of characters we follow. Agnes Darken, is a middle aged silhouette cutter, struggling to make ends meet. Her lover has deserted her years before but still she is quietly hoping for his return. References to past tragedy and illness add to the air of mystery and decay. Agnes’ concerns now centre around how to support her elderly mother and young orphaned nephew, Cedric . Her widowed brother in law Dr Simon Carfax, is a constant support but the memory of his wife, Agnes own sister Constance, is shrouded in secrecy and darkness.

And life suddenly takes an even darker turn when Agnes’ clients seem to be falling victim to murder, each case more gruesome and chilling than the last. Why are her clients being targeted in this way and are the people Agnes loves in danger from this unseen menace?

As Agnes becomes increasingly desperate and the boundaries between the real and the imagined become increasingly blurred, Agnes finds herself drawn to look for answers in the most unlikely of places.

Enter Myrtle and her young albino half sister Pearl. Having lost her mother at birth Pearl is left at the mercy of her own, forceful sister. Having moved to Bath for the health of her father, a victim of the notorious match factories which have left him maimed and dying, the sisters are making a living through the increasingly popular art of Spiritualism. But her increasingly powerful talent terrifies 11 year old Pearl and her world seems to be getting darker by the day.

When the world’s of Agnes and Pearl unexpectedly collide the scene is set for a gothic tale of unimaginable proportions.

Once again Laura Purcell has created a story that will keep the pages turning and your interest alive to the very last minute. Each detail, each turn of fate is woven skilfully into a plot that both chills and delights at every turn. The sense of family and bonds that bind is a recurring theme. The need for love, security and comfort is close to the hearts of both Agnes and Pearl, but their quest continues to take darker paths, each turn more desperate than the last.

When family is not the haven it should be, where will Agnes and Pearl find the protection and affection they need? And has the past finished with both of them or is the worst still to come?

In short Laura Purcell has, yet again produced a novel of true gothic beauty. If you are looking for something which will immerse you in delicious darkness this one is your winner.

And there is more…

Huge thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me along for the ride. And to read more reactions and reviews check out the rest of the tour, all dates and blogs listed below.

#BlogTourReview: WinterKill by Ragnar Jónasson

Welcome to my last blog tour review of 2020. And I couldn’t have a better choice to finish the year with!!

A few months ago I shared a post on Twitter about an Icelandic tradition called Jolabokaflod The idea behind this is simple and quite brilliant; on Christmas Eve people give gifts of book and chocolate and then retreat to their beds to enjoy them. For a book worm, especially one at the end of exhausting year this sounds like the perfect plan.

And what better book to snuggle up with than Ragnar Jónasson’s WinterKill published this month by Orenda . It’s Icelandic setting and air of intrigue make it the perfect Jolabokaflod read.

Set in Siglufjörður, a small but growing tourist town in the north of Iceland, we find Ari Thor. It is the beginning of the Easter weekend and the Police Inspector is awaiting the arrival of his estranged partner and young son. But his weekend takes a unexpected turn when in the early hours he is called to attend the body of a young teenage girl.

Found lying on the pavement in the street, the girl appears to have jumped from the balcony of an empty flat. The victim, Unnur is a local teenage; studious, quiet and close to her mother, it is impossible to see why see might have taken her life.

As the investigation develops and the weather closes in, it seems that there are many pieces of this jigsaw. But none of them seem to fit.

With Unnur’s mother adamant that her daughter wouldn’t have killed herself and only one tantalisingly out of character reference found in Unnur’s diary the leads are slight, and Ari Thor’s frustration mounts along with the encroaching storm.

But then a resident in a local care home scrawls the message ‘She was murdered’ over and over again on the walls of his rooms. How does this relate to a young girl he appears to have no links to?

Jónasson is the master of gentle, building suspense, of leading the reader down blind alleys and switching tack at the last minute. The whiteout that wraps it’s slowly around the action and climax of this novel keeps the reader guessing in more ways than one.

Yet again Ragnar Jónasson has pulled off the perfect crime novel. Authentic characters and skilled plotting are in evidence throughout. This is the perfect Christmas Eve read.

Huge thanks to Orenda Books and Anne Cater at Random Tours for the chance to take part in this blog tour.

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions, check out the rest of the #WinterKill blog tour …

#BlogTourReview: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

It is more than a pleasure to be taking my turn on the blog tour for The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. I first encountered this wonderful author when I read Larry’s Party many years ago. Carol Shield was a writer of impeccable timing and insight; some one who could get to the heart of the human condition and bring the magic of life to a wide audience. She was particularly skilled in her portrayal of women. She saw the joy in the everyday and brought those stories to life.

The Stone Diaries, first published in 1993, and now reissued by World Editions is widely regarded as Shield’s masterpiece. It’s reissued coincides with the launch of the first Carol Shields Prize, created to honour women in literature.

The Stone Diaries is the story of one women’s life through out the Twentieth Century. Spanning major historical events and travelling between Canada and America, with a little bit of the Orkneys thrown in, the novel concentrates on the life and evolution of Daisy Goodwill Fleet. From her unexpected and eventful birth, through to her death we follow Daisy, through each era, incarnation and event.

The sense of perspective within the novel is unusual and ever changing. Shields seems to both acknowledge, play with and disparage the notion that a life is seen and judged through many windows, often not those best informed. Any perception or judgement of an individual is tainted by our own views or preconceived ideas; and as such how close do we get to knowing the truth of some and their life.

Daisy’s story appears symbolic of many women of the past twenty years. At times she seems in control of her own destiny, at others very much trapped and defined by the role she finds herself in. As a daughter, mother, wife, it seems that society has a place for Daisy. But who is the real Daisy Goodwin Fleet?

With her usually eye for detail, Shields builds up layer upon layer of information and insight. Some seems domestic, easily dismissed as trivial, but it is this pinpoint accuracy that gives the novels it’s depth of perception and marks Shields out as a compassionate and empathetic mouth piece for Daisy and hundreds of women like her.

Beginning with Daisy’s stone mason father, who is devoted to the memory of his wife, devastated by her loss, the motif of lasting memorials runs throughout the book. How do we choose to spend our lives with someone? How do we evaluate and express their worth? And what testaments do we raise to them after they have gone? Shields poses all these questions and more, pushing at the edges of the readers responses for answers, showing us how one person, one life lived can be so different in each different interaction and at different times of their lives. Shields quietly and insightfully questions the markers we use to evaluate a life and questions whether we can ever truly know someone entirely.

This is a novel that begins in both birth and death, and comes full circle. It is a novel that challenges us to look for the extraordinary in ordinary and reevaluate what we might find there. It deserves every accolade and truly is a modern classic.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and responses to this book, please check out the rest of the blog tour, listed below…

#BlogTour Review : How to Belong by Sarah Franklin

Today it is my turn on the blog tour for Sarah Franklin’s latest release, How to Belong published by Zaffre on 12th November. And I am thrilled to be able to add my own small voice to the avalanche of warmth and praise that is, quite rightly, wrapping it’s self around this book.

This is the story of two women, both at turning points in their lives, both trying to establish a sense of belonging. It is a feeling that life has slipped through their fingers and they are desperately trying to reconnect.

Jo Butler, was born and bred in the Forest of Dean. Her parents, stalwarts of the local community, have run the family butchers for years. Her hometown is a constant in Jo’s life, a place to return to, away from her legal career in London. Jo is the local girl made good.

But when the family business is due to be sold, Jo feels like her safety net is slipping and all her insecurities about her own unsatisfyingly career bubble up to the surface. She persuades her parents to give her a trial period running the shop and she moves back home.

But the question that quickly rears its ugly head is , is this actually home? Does Jo still belong in this community and does the connection she craves with her long term friend Liam, the Forest and the shop still exist?

Tessa is the local farrier and Jo’s landlady. She operates on the edge of the community and her sense of belonging seems permanently adrift. Tessa is struggling in every sense of the word and living a closed, half life in an attempt to protect herself and her secrets.

The two women are brought together by circumstance and although their situations seem miles apart, they have more in common than they think. Their stories of attempting to move forward and find their way become interwoven, in a narrative that is filled with authenticity and empathy.

This is a novel rich in a sense of place. Both the physical place of the Forest of Dean, which provides a tangible and beautiful backdrop to the story within these pages. But also the sense of place that comes from knowing when you are home, and how dislocating and disturbing it is when the things you have taken for granted, the bed rock on which your very being is build, suddenly seem to shift away from under your feet.

Sarah Franklin frames difficult and all too familiar questions within this story. For example, how far is our own identify tied up with our sense of place and past? Can you ever truly return to a time and space to find answers to the present ? And what happens when life changes before you are ready to move on?

The story of Jo and Tessa, both individually and together, will linger long after you close the final chapter. This is tale of looking in, before you can look out.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For other reviews and reactions to this beautiful book, check out the rest of the blog tour, detailed below…

#BlogTour Review : The Thief On The Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas

If you are looking to inject some magic into your life this winter, then look no further than the enchanting and evocative read that is The Thief On The Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas published on 12th November by Head of Zeus.

It’s always a promising sign when I finish a book in day, pushing aside all other chores and commitments to lose myself entirely in it’s pages. It’s an even better sign when the plot, character and general magic of the book in question are still dancing around my head several days later. It was hard to pull myself from the world created by this book, but for all the right reasons.

Welcome to Kendrick’s Workshop; a firm specialising in the creation of enchanted dolls since 1820. The firm was established by four unique women; the Peyton sisters, whose own births were shrouded in an air of magic and mystery. The four sisters; Lucy Kendrick, Rebecca Jackson, Sally Botham and Jemima Ramsay all married, but Jemima died young and left no heirs.

Fast forward 200 years and Kendrick’s is still trading, it’s dolls, each bearing it’s own particular enchantment or ‘hex’ are collected across the world. The business is tucked away on the Eyot, a small river island in Oxford. Only descendants of the four founding sisters are employed here and the community that has grown up around the company is insular, cloaked in traditions, festival and an unchallenged hierarchy which hands all the power to men.

For despite the creation of the company being down to four gifted and powerful women, since their death only men are allowed to work as sorcerers with the workshop. Women are employed in various capacities such as dolls house creation, working in sales but they are forbidden from obtaining the prized position of making and enchanting the dolls the world covets.

Every male descendant of the Kendrick’s sister is bestowed one hex on his thirteenth birthday, and it is his to lay upon a doll of his creation. In a continuation of the patriarchal hierarchy that runs through this community each daughter’s hex is given to her father and only shared at a time of his choosing.

When we step onto the Eyot in 2020, there is a feeling of change in the wind. Conrad Kendrick, descendant of Lucy Kendrick is head of the firm. At war with his alcoholic brother Briar, Conrad is the undisputed ruler of the Eyot. His housekeeper Hedwig, is young and ambitious and is making herself indispensable by attending to Conrad’s every need. She is intelligent and wily and looks for opportunity to work within the system for her own empowerment and gain.

Persephone Kendrick, Briar’s daughter is frustrated. Deprived of her hex by her father she works in the company shop, but is desperate to fulfil her ambition of working as a Sorcerer. She, like many on the Eyot, is discontented with her lot on the island and is straining at the boundaries of what is accepted.

When a young, charismatic and talented doll maker by the name of Larkin arrives in their midst the community and it’s order is shaken to it’s core. Larkin seems to possess proof that he is descended from the younger and childless sister, Jemima. Conrad takes Larkin into the firm, employing him as doll maker. He is, however forbidden the knowledge of enchantment.

Larkin and Persephone, drawn together by a common goal, strike up and alliance. And when the rare and priceless doll ‘The Paid Mourner’ is stolen from under their noses the order of Kendrick’s is threatened. Conrad is of the belief that the doll has been taken by the fae folk, a long held belief in the community. Tales of the mysterious Thief on a winged horse have provided the basis of the customs and way of life on the Eyot for hundreds of years. It is the disappearance of the doll that provide the catalyst for the events that follow.

The Thief on the Winged Horse is a skilled tale of female empowerment, of women reclaiming their birthright in a world of tangled belief and tradition that seek to deny them. The story and it’s telling weave together a curious and beguiling mix of fantasy and ordinary. The tale might be set in the modern day but it is rich and alive with feelings of other worlds and a time gone by.

Here is a skilled and tangible feeling of reality and fantasy intertwined, a feeling that this all this magic, enchantment and unsettling beauty could be found amongst us, if only we had the skill to find it.

As well as being a tale of magic, it is a tale of duplicity and deviousness operating both within the close circle of the Eyot and the world beyond. It is a narrative driven forward by many varied and carefully constructed agendas and intrigues. It is a fable that teaches us about the imparting of knowledge and the power it brings. It has things to say about equality, what true equality means, and how the pursuit of equality is bound tightly to the welcoming of truth and self discovery.

The Thief on the Winged Horse is truly unique. It is a beauty of a book and it has been my absolute pleasure to support it’s journey into the world by taking part in these blog tour. I recommend that you inject a little magic into your lives this Christmas by getting this one on your wish list.

And there is more…

For other reactions and review to The Thief on the Winged Horse check out the rest of the blog tour listed below…

#BlogTour Review: When I Come Home Again by Caroline Scott

Last year I read a beautiful, thought provoking book called The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott. Set in the period of and immediately after the First World War it was one of those books that stayed with me. It took me to places I hadn’t been and gave me knowledge and perspective I didn’t expect. So when Anne Cater invited me on to the blog tour for Caroline’s latest book When I Come Home Again I jumped at the chance.

In her second novel Caroline returns to the First World War. We begin in the final week of the war, when a soldier is arrested in Durham Cathedral. Scared, confused and totally alone, ‘Adam’ as he is named, has no memory of who he is or where he has been.

He is released to the care of James Haworth and his superior Dr Alan Shepherd, both specialists in treating men traumatised by war. Adam is taken to Fellside House in the heart of the Lake District where his therapy begins. Over the course of years there seems to be little progress. Adam shows an innate empathy for nature and skill for tending the overgrown gardens, as well as a talent for drawing but he is unable or unwilling to open the locked box of his past.

When, two years after the war, an article about Adam runs in the national press, three women come forward to claim him as their own. Celia is a mother, stuck in time, still believing that Robert her son will come home. Anna has been running the farm single handedly since her husband Mark left abruptly for war. Lucy is struggling under the weight of raising her brother’s children after he failed to return from the front.

Each women has a credible case, each women is convinced that Adam belongs in their lives. But Adam is unable to wholly connect with anyone. The only tangible clue to his past is the face of a women he draws over and over again, a woman he claims has revisited him in the woods that surround Fellside House.

The effects of war are beautifully and painfully presented here not only in the character of Adam and the other men who are treated at Fellside. Beyond just these collection of men Scott has created a cast of characters that are all touched, even years on, by the four years of fighting and absence. Each of the women who come forward to claim Adam have a story to tell; a story of loss, of struggle and of learning to cope in a world that will never be the same again.

Effects of the war radiate through and permeate each character and each strand of this beautifully woven story. James might be striving to fix the men in his care but he too has been left broken by the horrors of war. Haunted by his experiences in France and visions of the death of his brother- in- law, Nathaniel, James is slowly unravelling. His night terrors and daytime drinking are pushing his wife Caitlin further and further away. He is trapped in his memories as much as Adam is trapped by his inability to remember.

This novel is a sensitively and beautifully crafted tribute to those who survived. It examines in detail, through individual stories, the aftermath of war, the changes that it wrought on society, both on a national and individual level and acknowledges that loss, grief and death did not end on the final day of the war. This is a story of afterwards. Told without sentimentality but with swathes of empathy and realism, these characters tell their own tales of trying to move forward in a time when every has changes beyond recognition.

When I come home again is a portrait of memory. Of how each of us remember in different ways, how each of us construct and hold those memories close to help us cope with events and the world around us. This novel also asks the question of what happens when memories fail us. Not just by refusing to unlock their secrets, but also by distorting and dominating our present. Each character in this book is held in time by the past, one way or another.

This November, over 100 years since the end of The Great War, I heartily recommend you take some time to read this novel and consider the legacy of the war. I guarantee that this story will hold you still and will linger long. And that is just as it should be.

Rachel x

And there is more…

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

#BlogTour Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Last year I read and fell in love with Ten Thousand Doors of January , Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel. So when I was given the chance to join the blog tour for The Once and Future Witches I jumped at the chance. Grateful thanks as always to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for my invite.

This book is astounding. Let me just get that out there right at the start!! Set in 1893, in New Salem, it is the story of three sisters. Born in poverty, with an unpredictable and abusive father the Eastwood sisters are used to living on their wits. Bitter necessity and circumstance have divided them but now they are unexpectedly reunited and there is change in the air.

As the novel begins James Juniper Eastwood, the youngest and most fiery sister, has arrived in New Salem. She is a fugitive, wanted for murder and witchcraft in her home town. A chance and strange meeting brings all three sisters together.

The sisters, James Juniper, Beatrice Belladonna and Agnes Amaranth are currently divided by circumstance and fear. Beatrice is working as librarian, Agnes is a mill worker. Unlike their rebel sister they are trying to bite back the witchcraft and power of their ancestry and keep a low profile in a city which has a history of persecution of witches. For New Salem is build on the site of Old Salem, and in this novel Old Salem was burnt to the ground at the end of the infamous witch trails hundreds of years previous.

New Salem is currently is in the midst of political change. Fighting a mayoral election is the unsettling and shadowy figure of Gideon Hill whose proclamations against witchcraft create fear and suspicion. And at the same time there is a powerful call to arms by the women of the city, as the suffragette movement grows and women all over the world begin to call for the vote.

When Juniper joins the fight despite her sisters’ initial reluctance and fear, despite the differences between them, their sisterhood and their shared inheritance come together. Women across the city from all backgrounds, classes and racial divides start to rediscover their lineage.

Women’s very names reflect the legacy of their parents. Each women has two names; their first name is given by their father, but their second and more powerful name is given by their mother. Juniper from the beginning shuns her patriarchal name, taking the maternal line and embracing it. Beatrice, on the other hand moves between the two, changing as the novel and her experience progress.

The power of women past is found in the words passed down from mother to child. Fairy stories are redefined by their very nature as Witch stories and the women of New Salem begin to reclaim their power. The words muttered by grandmothers and mothers are reestablished as spells and retellings. They pepper the narrative, giving it a rich sense of history and being, grounding it in folk lore and all our shared histories. And they give the women power to rise up.

Here they find the power of women, encapsulated in their shared oral history. There is true and grounded sense of women reclaiming a power lost to them.

Women’s rights run throughout this novel like its life blood and in every form. This unique narrative encompasses all manner of women’s issues . It faces head on issues of gender, sexuality, abortion, equal pay, sexual harassment and domestic violence. In a seamless and powerful story, fantasy and history are woven together. For example just like in the historical record of women’s struggle for suffrage there is disagreement and discord about the way to proceed.

Alligences are uncomfortable and there is mistrust even between the three sisters and others; take, for example, the mysterious black lover of Beatrice, Cleopatra Quinn. The reader is forced to continually question who such characters really are, what is their motivations and where do their loyalties lie. Equally the chaos these women create in their wake has more than echoes of the disruption caused by the ‘real life’ suffragettes. The witches network of safe houses, and constant movement between sympathetic patrons reflects Mrs Pankhursts days of evading arrest by flitting from house to house.

It is worth noting and indeed important to do so, that this novel doesn’t offer up a clear divide on the basis of sex. Throughout the novel witchcraft is not portrayed as solely the device of women. Men can practise witchcraft too. But the important take away from this novel, the message that we have seen time and time again throughout our history is that when it is practised by men, that is, when men have the power, it is some how sanctioned. The power and the possible corruption that comes with witchcraft is allowed for men. This story encapsulates that long held and still present double standard; that power in the hands of men is expected and strong, in the hands of women it is somehow tainted and unnatural.

This novel is a handbook of female power and rebellion. In modern times when the outgoing President of the US says openly there will not be a socialist female president this novel feels like a mystical call to arms. I am tempted to send Kamala Harris a copy.

And there is more…

For further reaction and reviews of The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow check out the rest of the Blog Tour below…