Categories
Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

About the book

Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii’s brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den…

Amara was once a beloved daughter, until her father’s death plunged her family into penury. Now she is a slave in Pompeii’s infamous brothel, owned by a man she despises. Sharp, clever and resourceful, Amara is forced to hide her talents. For as a she-wolf, her only value lies in the desire she can stir in others.

But Amara’s spirit is far from broken.

By day, she walks the streets with her fellow she-wolves, finding comfort in the laughter and dreams they share. For the streets of Pompeii are alive with opportunity. Out here, even the lowest slave can secure a reversal in fortune. Amara has learnt that everything in this city has its price. But how much is her freedom going to cost her?

Set in Pompeii’s lupanar, The Wolf Den reimagines the lives of women who have long been overlooked.

My review

The Wolf Den was probably my most anticipated read of 2021. Nuanced, impactful, and captivating, this book is now among my favourite reads full stop. Elodie Harper puts Pompeii’s brothel under a microscope and breathes life and agency into the women who were stripped of it. Amara, once a doctor’s daughter from Greece, had her homeland, family, and identity ripped from her. Now a prostitute enslaved in the Lupanar of Pompeii, she uses her wits and sheer force of will to fight for a chance at autonomy.

Elodie Harper’s voice is sharp and unique, making the ancient world relatable to modern readers while keeping us immersed in the sights and sounds of AD 74 Pompeii. I loved the affinity and unshakeable bond between the women in the Wolf Den. It was interesting to see the flip in Amara’s language between her interactions with the other women at the brothel and with her ‘upper class’ clients. The dialogue between Amara and her friends swings between poignant and humorous. It often had me laughing out loud, but some parts were so deeply sad and affecting that I had to put the book down and take a breather. The book is both subtle and unflinching; no character, including the antagonist, is without layers. At the same time, the trauma and emotional impact of the women’s circumstances are illustrated without sugar-coating or glamorisation.

The Wolf Den tears away our desensitised attitudes towards the horrors of the ancient world. There’s no longer a disconnect from reality, no longer a feeling of ‘that’s just how things were back then.’ It’s a book that opens us to the experiences and emotions of people who were seen as the dregs of society – a book that keeps us submerged in its world long after we’ve left it.

Thank you so much to Head of Zeus and Elodie Harper for having me on The Wolf Den’s blog tour!

Author Bio

Elodie Harper is a journalist and prize-winning short story writer. Her story ‘Wild Swimming’ won the 2016 Bazaar of Bad Dreams short story competition, which was judged by Stephen King. She is currently a reporter and presenter at ITV News Anglia, and before that worked as a producer for Channel 4 News.

Purchase links

Waterstones | Bookshop.org | Hive | Amazon | Wordery

Follow Elodie Harper

Twitter: @ElodieITV

Instagram: @elodielharper

Website: elodieharper.com

Follow Head of Zeus

Twitter: @HoZ_Books

Instagram: @headofzeus

Website: www.headofzeus.com

Categories
Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Would I Lie to You? By Aliya Ali-Afzal

About the book

At the school gates, Faiza fits in. It took a few years, but now the snobbish mothers who mistook her for the nanny treat her as one of their own. She’s learned to crack their subtle codes, speak their language of handbags and haircuts and discreet silver watches. You’d never guess, at the glamorous kids’ parties and the leisurely coffee mornings, that Faiza’s childhood was spent following her parents round the Tooting Cash ‘n’ Carry.

When her husband Tom loses his job in finance, he stays calm. Something will come along, and in the meantime, they can live off their savings. But Faiza starts to unravel. Raising the perfect family comes at a cost – and the money Tom put aside has gone. When Tom’s redundancy package ends, Faiza will have to tell him she’s spent it all.

Unless she doesn’t…

It only takes a second to lie to Tom. Now Faiza has six weeks to find £75,000 before her lie spirals out of control. If anyone can do it, Faiza can: she’s had to fight for what she has, and she’ll fight to keep it. But as the clock ticks down, and Faiza desperately tries to put things right, she has to ask herself: how much more should she sacrifice to protect her family?

My review

I don’t normally go in for ratings, but this was a 5-star read through and through. My adrenaline levels were so high while reading that I had to keep taking breaks to calm down despite being insanely impatient to find out what happened next.

There are few of us who can’t relate to the panic of a small, seemingly harmless lie ballooning out of proportion (although hopefully not to Faiza’s level!). Aliya Ali-Afzal demonstrates its domino effect so eloquently: the way one lie trickles down to another, the denial, the sickening anxiety.

I enjoyed how honest this book was. Money is a subject so frequently viewed as taboo – or at least uncomfortable – and it was refreshing to read a first-hand account showing the effects of how damaging lifestyle inflation, the pressure of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, and simply not being taught how to manage money can be.

Woven through the story is Faiza’s experience and perspective as a British Pakistani woman with biracial children. As a Brit with mixed Asian/white heritage, I felt familiarity with experiencing a split cultural identity and microaggressions just subtle enough to make objections appear unreasonable.

Although Faiza’s decisions often made me feel like screaming into the pages, I still found her a sympathetic character. The pressure she felt to fit in with the yummy mummy culture around her was powerfully illustrated, and the reasons behind her choices were explored with a lot of nuance.

All in all, a zinger of a book that balances heart-pounding suspense with themes that are impactful and thought-provoking.

Author Bio

Aliya Ali-Afzal has a degree in Russian and German from University College London, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is an Alum of the Curtis Brown Creative Novel Writing course.

Aliya worked as a City head-hunter, before retraining as an MBA career coach. She has always lived in London, since moving there from Pakistan as a young child, but has also spent time in Russia (both pre- and post-Perestroika), Germany, Amsterdam, and Cairo.

Her debut novel, Would I Lie to You? was longlisted for The Bath Novel Award and The Mslexia Novel award.

Her work in progress, The Funeral Book, was longlisted for The Mo Prize Hachette UK, and is about 24-year-old Zara, who is planning a wedding at the same time as her beloved 90-year-old granny is planning her funeral.

Purchase links

Waterstones | Bookshop.org | Hive | Amazon 

Follow Aliya Ali-Afzal

Twitter: @AAAiswriting

Instagram: @aliyaaliafzalauthor

Follow Head of Zeus

Twitter: @HoZ_Books

Instagram: @headofzeus

Website: www.headofzeus.com

Categories
Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Secrets and Showgirls by Catherine McCullagh

About the book:

Le Prix d’Amour, a vibrant Paris cabaret, is caught in the crossfire of the occupation. Everyone is being watched, and some of Le Prix’s colourful performers are hiding dangerous secrets. Monsieur Maurice manages Le Prix d’Amour, a successful Parisian cabaret, which boasts glitzy performers and sassy showgirls. But with the German occupation in June 1940, Maurice treads a fine line between his German patrons, the French police and the Gestapo as he hides the dark secrets of his performers. Two of his lively showgirls, Lily and Poppy, soon join Maurice in the hunt for an informer who threatens to betray them. With the Allied landings, the tension builds, and Maurice is pushed to his limits as his performers finally take the fight to the invader in their own flamboyant way. Secrets and Showgirls portrays an occupied Paris in which exotic cabarets existed uneasily under the heel of the invader. It follows the antics of Maurice, Lily and a glittering array of characters, but never loses sight of the battle to survive that characterised the life of the everyday Parisian.

My review:

Secrets and Showgirls piqued my interest instantly – the glitz and glamour of the cabaret intertwined with the tense backdrop of Paris under German occupation.  

The book skims over darker plotlines in favour of humour, camaraderie, and vivacious characters as colourful as their cabaret setting. I enjoyed the birds-eye view of the group rather than a focus on one protagonist. Watching them form a family and band together to survive occupied Paris was one of my favourite things about the book. Other highlights were the details that made Secrets and Showgirls a fantastic glimpse into the life in 1940s Paris. Despite possessing a more plentiful supply of cognac than the average Parisian, The Le Prix d’Amour family still felt the brunt of food shortages, leading to some culinary challenges with hedgehogs and badgers…

Spirited and atmospheric, Secrets and Showgirls is an entertaining escape into a dynamic wartime Paris cabaret – one I could easily imagine on the screen.

Author Bio

Catherine McCullagh completed a Bachelor of Arts (Asian Studies) at the Australian National University in Canberra and taught English, History and languages at secondary and pre-tertiary level. She then embarked on a military career spending twenty years as an officer in the Australian Army as a teacher and linguist. On leaving the Army she established herself as a freelance editor, working primarily with military history volumes published by the Australian Army History Unit. She has two published non-fiction works to her name, Willingly into the Fray, a narrative history of Australian Army nursing which she compiled and edited, and War Child, the poignant memoir of a woman who grew up in pre-war Germany, which she ghost-wrote for Annette Janic, whose mother is the subject of the story. Catherine’s first novel, Dancing with Deception, a historical fiction novel based in World War II, was published in 2017. Secrets and Showgirls is her second historical fiction novel and is also based in World War II, exploring the world of the cabaret in occupied Paris.

Purchase links

Waterstones |  Amazon 

Follow Catherine McCullagh

Instagram: @catherinemccullaghauthor

Follow Big Sky Publishing

Twitter: @BigSkyPub

Instagram: @bigskypub

Website: www.bigskypublishing.com.au/

Follow Love Books Tours

Twitter: @LoveBooksGroup

Instagram: @lovebookstours

Website: lovebooksgroup.com

Categories
Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Just One More Thing by Dom Haslam

About the book

The partner we no longer trust, the boss we fear, the family member we cannot tolerate. Stories exploring the psychological effect of modern life: a pregnant mother becomes convinced her husband is having an affair and will stop at nothing to get to the truth; a married man is drawn inexorably towards temptation, despite knowing it could cost him his family; a quiet man absorbs increasing pressure and stress, with devastating consequences. Ordinary people count the cost of ‘just one more thing’.

My review

There’s something voyeuristic about this short story collection. I felt as though I was eavesdropping on the characters’ thoughts and conversations, peering through their windows into their lives. Each story pulses with tension and raw honesty, revealing the often-ugly effects of modern life’s pressures. They leave you wanting more but never give too much, always stopping at a point that achieves the most impact. The collection isn’t comfortable to read. It deals with challenging emotions and actions. It looks at Brexit, COVID, social media, politics, and racism in everyday life. It’s a bold and unapologetic examination of life today, forcing us to confront what and who we might be under the surface.  

Author bio

In between his day job, bringing up three children, being run off his feet by a crazy cocker spaniel, listening to Mozart’s D minor piano concerto, perfecting the art of homemade pizzas and studying Ordnance Survey maps of the Yorkshire Moors, Dom likes to write. Dom lives in the fantastic town of Ilkley in Yorkshire, having arrived there via Bedford, Nottingham and London. Dom has written two books, So Long, Marianne, a romantic fiction, and Just One More Thing, a book of short stories about greed, obsession and fear.

Purchase links

Amazon | Waterstones

Follow Dom Haslam

Twitter: @DomHaslam

Instagram: @domhaslambooks

Website: www.domhaslambooks.com

Follow Love Books Tours

Twitter: @LoveBooksGroup

Instagram: @kellysloveofbooks

Website: https://lovebooksgroup.com/

Categories
Book Reviews

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

This collection of short stories is both a puzzle and a totally riveting read. Each story is a keyhole glance into the life of a well-known figure before they were famous – or infamous. Their identity is never explicitly stated – it’s our job to figure it out. Some characters I twigged quickly; others took the help of Google for me to work out. I ended up going down a fair few Wikipedia rabbit holes to find out more!

Simon Van der Velde has a chameleon-like ability to inhabit a range of very distinct voices. Each snapshot of the characters’ lives gives an insight into their inner workings and crackles with a unique energy. Sometimes funny, sometimes chilling, always captivating, this original, interactive collection makes a lasting impression.

Thank you to Simon Van der Velde for the review copy! 30% of profits from the sale of Backstories will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth. Scroll down for purchase links if you want to grab a copy and start working out who’s who…

Follow Simon Van der Velde

Twitter: @SimonVdVwriter

Instagram: @simonvdvwriter

Website: www.simonvandervelde.com

Purchase links

Amazon | Waterstones

Categories
Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Into the Fire by Rachael Blok

About the book

Eleven guests. Three nights. One murderer.

In a crumbling old mansion in the English countryside, eleven people gather, each one famous in their field. They have been invited for a three-day house party, to celebrate the launch of a groundbreaking virtual reality game that promises to unite the worlds of technology, politics and the environment.

DCI Maarten Jansen has been summoned to join the house party. His instructions are to offer police protection in case of an outside attack. Instead, he finds simmering tensions, long-buried secrets – and a murderer in their midst…

My review

This book was straight up addictive. Packed across three tense days, it jumps between height of the crisis and the build-up. The chapters are short and suspenseful, divided into the perspectives of Maarten, Filip, Lois, and Iqbal. There is a sense of watching each scene through a smudged magnifying glass. I felt simultaneously imbued with the heightening tension between the characters and kept at arm’s length from the truth simmering beneath them – right up until the last moment.

The secluded countryside mansion setting adds a layer of claustrophobia to the taut atmosphere. The threads binding the guests together wind tighter with each conversation. Each page vibrates with energy. Rachael Blok’s writing has an urgency that keeps the reader almost stumbling in excitement to read the next sentence.

Into the Fire hits that spot between a totally unputdownable mystery and a fascinating delve into human emotion and relationships. It totally engrossed me and gave me a much-needed shake from my lockdown lethargy.

Thank you to Midas PR and Head of Zeus for having me on the blog tour!

Follow Rachael Blok

Twitter: @MsRachaelBlok

Instagram: @r__blok

Website: www.rachaelblok.com

Follow Head of Zeus

Twitter: @HoZ_Books

Instagram: @headofzeus

Website: www.headofzeus.com

Follow Midas PR

Instagram @midaspublicrelations

Twitter: @midaspr

Website: www.midaspr.co.uk

Purchase links:

Waterstones | Hive | Blackwell’s | Amazon | Kobo

Categories
Blog Tours Book Reviews

The Lip by Charlie Carroll

About the book

Away from the hotels and holiday lets, there is an unseen side of Cornwall, where the shifting uncertainties of the future breed resentment and mistrust.

Melody Janie is hidden. She lives alone in a caravan in Bones Break: a small cliff-top on Cornwall’s north coast. She spends her time roaming her territory, spying on passing tourists and ramblers, and remembering. She sees everything and yet remains unseen.

However, when a stranger enters her life, she is forced to confront not only him but the terrible tragedies of her past.

My review

This story stayed with me long after I finished it. Uncovering the Cornwall behind the picturesque photos and holiday advertisements, The Lip is a raw and powerful read. There’s a distinctive honesty to Charlie Carroll’s writing and the way he paints both his characters and their surroundings with a poignant, unflinching beauty. Melody Janie’s story and her blend of resilience and vulnerability really moved me. There were times where I had to take breaks from reading because of how absorbed I became in both her life and character.

Dealing with themes of grief, mental health, and isolation, the story dips between Melody Janie’s past and present, reaching the roots of her pain. There’s a twist that comes as a shock, but emphasises the heartbreaking, unforgiving reality of mental illness. The book also shines a light on the issue of treating Cornwall as a holiday destination alone, ignoring and compromising the lives of the people who live there.

Atmospheric, harrowing, and unique, The Lip is an important read – and one I recommend.

Thank you to John Murrays and Two Roads Books for having me on this blog tour!

About the author

Charlie Carroll is the author of three non-fiction books: The Friendship Highway (2014), No Fixed Abode (2013) and On the Edge (2010). He has twice won the K Blundell Trust Award for ‘writers under 40 who aim to raise social awareness with their writing’, wrote the voice-over for the TV series Transamazonica (2017), and is one of the Kindness of Strangers storytellers. His debut novel, The Lip, is out in March 2021.

Follow Charlie Carroll

Instagram: @charliecarrollauthor

Twitter: @CharlieCarroll1

Website: www.charliecarroll.co.uk

Follow John Murray Press

Instagram: @johnmurrays

Twitter: @johnmurrays

Website: www.johnmurraypress.co.uk

Follow Two Roads Books

Instagram: @tworoadsbooks

Twitter: @TwoRoadsBooks

Website: www.tworoadsbooks.com

Categories
Blog Tours

Nemesis by Anthony Riches: Extract

Today I’m part of the blog tour for Nemesis by Anthony Riches, and I’m excited to be sharing an extract below! If you like the sound of it, scroll down for links to where you can grab a copy.

First off, a little about the the book…

They killed his sister. Now he’ll kill them all.

Mickey Bale is an elite close protection officer. That’s why the Met police has given him the toughest job of all: guarding the Minister of Defence at a moment when Chinese-British relations have hit a deadly boiling point.
And when Mickey’s life isn’t on the line for his work, he’s taking his chances waging war on a powerful London gang family. Their dealer supplied a lethal ecstasy pill to his sister, and Mickey is determined to take them down, one at a time. But will he get away with it – or will his colleagues in the force realise that the man on an underworld killing spree is one of their own?

The extract

The black Loake boots, Mickey decided. A perfect match for black Wrangler Arizonas, and freshly resoled in rubber. A midnight-blue shirt, and that was him ready. Externally, at least. Looked in the mirror and got a quizzical stare back. Michael James Bale. Age forty-three, no distinguishing marks. A nondescript face, nothing to make him stand out. Not the tallest of men at six foot one, but solid. One hundred and eighty-five pounds of gym-toned muscle honed at his local boxing club. Good genes too. Strong, and in good shape. In his prime, pretty much.

Roz met him at the bottom of the stairs. The usual examination, before letting him out for the night. Looking up at him with that expression. The all-knowing, all-commanding, straight-to-the-point woman who’d charmed him over a decade before. And who still had him in the palm of her hand after all that time. With her dark hair that she wished was blonde. The all-seeing brown eyes that she wished were green, like Mickey’s. And a body that she kept very, very well toned. ‘Giving you no excuses, Mickey Bale,’ as she frequently told him. Not that Mickey wanted any excuses. A childhood spent watching his friends struggling through the debris of their parents’ failed relationships had taught him the value of holding on to what worked. And not letting go for anything.

‘Shaved? Sure there’s no-one waiting for you?’

He grinned in the way that always disarmed her.

‘Oh they’ll be waiting all right. Empty glasses and “where you been all this fucking time?” looks.’

She laughed with him. Knowing his friends well enough.

‘You will keep drinking with that lot. What do you expect?’

He let his face assume what she called his chump look. Lips pursed, eyes rolled up. Waited a moment, timing being the secret of comedy. Then face-palmed and shook his head.

‘Now you tell me?’

‘Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing.’

‘Wait… what? You’ve seen through my plan?’

A swift prod in the breadbasket to reinforce her point.

‘You come it the poor me, but really you love it. Talking shop with the boys, playing up to the image. Flash Mickey. With the guns and the cars and all that.’

He shrugged. ‘Beats the alternative, doesn’t it? Beats actually working. You know how that would have gone.’

‘Yeah.’ She turned him round and pushed him to the door. Slapped his backside for emphasis. ‘Go on. Back by eleven though; you’ve got an early start.’

He grinned at her again, accepting the heavy-lipped kiss. The door closed behind him as he stepped out into the early spring night. Down the Crescent and out onto the High Road. Warm enough in his black Belstaff jacket that had cost a fortune the previous month. Strolling under the streetlamps, he zipped it up to his neck. Clicked the placket pop-studs shut. Checked that the wrist and pocket studs were closed too. Knowing they would clatter if left unfastened. Then fastened the neck strap, not wanting the buckle to flap around.

He paused on the corner with Jervis Road. Looked up at the CCTV camera above his head. Frozen, lifeless on its gimbal mount. Still out of action. Just the way Warren liked it. Mickey quietly slipped into a doorway and squatted down. Affecting to fiddle with a bootlace. Peeped round the corner, looking down the pavement. The club opposite Warren Margetson’s pitch would still be nine-tenths empty. Its drinks too expensive while the pubs were open. But Warren was already on duty. As any good dealer would be. A professional, of a sort, Warren. And there was more than one sort of client in his line of business. Some of them dabbling. Some of them hardened recreational users. Some of them functioning addicts. And some just victims. Like Katie.

About the author
Anthony Riches, coming from a family with three generations of army service, has always been fascinated by military history, psychology and weaponry – which led him to write the Empire series set in ancient Rome. The idea for his first contemporary thriller, Nemesis, came to him under the influence of jetlag at two in the morning in a Brisbane hotel room. He lives in rural Suffolk with his wife, two dogs the size of ponies and a bad tempered cat.

Follow Anthony:
Twitter: @AnthonyRiches
Facebook: @AnthonyRichesAuthor

Follow Aries:
Twitter: @AriesFiction
Facebook: @AriesFictionBooks
Website: www.headofzeus.com

Purchase links:
Waterstones | Amazon | Kobo | Google Play | iBooks

Categories
Book Reviews

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Ariadne was on my list of Top 10 Books I Can’t Wait For in 2021, so I was absolutely ecstatic to be approved for an ARC on NetGalley. Lyrical, bittersweet, and thematically rich, it did not disappoint.

Ariadne is the centrepiece of this retelling, but swirled into it are stories of many other women from Greek mythology who have suffered the consequences of men’s misdeeds. The narrative is split between Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, probing into how their traumatic childhood shapes the women they become. I loved the contrast between their very individual voices, and became especially drawn to Phaedra and her stubborn, determined character.

One of my favourite things about this book was the nuanced exploration of both the mortal and divine experience. Mortals may be at the mercy of the deities, but there’s just as much room for human manipulation when people (not naming any names!) evade responsibility for their actions by blaming the gods. I really enjoyed Jennifer Saint’s interpretation of Dionysus and Ariadne’s relationship and how she illustrated the pain that comes with the melding of human and divine.

Ariadne is a retelling you won’t want to miss. Intertwining both ancient and current issues, Jennifer Saint has created a story that reaches the hearts of modern as well as mythological women.

Categories
Book Reviews

KID: A History of the Future by Sebastian de Souza

About the book

London, 2060: Following a series of deadly pandemics, devastating environmental disasters and a violent surge in cyber terrorism, the UN has made it compulsory for every tax paying citizen to login to the Perspecta Universe: a totally safe, pollution free, environmentally friendly virtual reality world. Eighteen years later, ‘The Upload’ is complete, and billions of people all around the world exist in massive dormitory complexes surrounding the major cities, all totally unconscious of the crumbling world around them. Apart from the renegades, the ‘Offliners’ who live in London’s silent wasteland, making the disused Piccadilly Circus Tube station their home: a fully self-sufficient, subterranean community. When Josh ‘Kid’ Jones, a young Offliner, discovers that an antiquated piece of technology called an ‘iPhone left to him by his father seems able to communicate with the past through social media. He strikes up a friendship with Isabel Parry, a 16-year-old living in 2021, and the two begin communicating through time and space via Instagram. But what Kid and Izzy don’t realise is that by doing so they are not only changing their own fate, but also the fate of the rest of the world…

My review

For a dystopian novel involving time travel and a virtual reality universe, there’s a realism to KID that hits incredibly close to home. The Offliners’ world is a haunting glimpse into what our future could hold should we fail to take action. 2078 London is desolate and deserted, but Josh ‘Kid’ Jones and the other Offliners reject the offer of the ‘Perspecta’ virtual reality universe and refuse to abandon reality.

KID is immersive from its opening pages, filled with vivacious characters, punchy dialogue, and a finely drawn world. Jumping between both Kid and Izzy’s perspectives in 2078 and 2021, the novel is varied and rich with emotion. The pages of DMs between the two main characters add an urgency that makes the book impossible to put down. Cultural references are scattered through the pages, tapping into both the readers’ and characters’ nostalgia. The book has an incredible sense of place, reaching right into London’s heart and drawing out the vibrant details that form its character. Following Kid and his friends through the city’s vestiges is a harrowing reminder of the fragility of our world.

Sebastian de Souza binds the present and future together with poignance, humour, and skill. It’s a book that will carry emotional weight for every age group, but particularly strikes a chord with the issues younger generations are facing today. An original and brilliant debut.

Thank you to much much to Midas PR and Offliner Press for having me on this blog tour!

About the author

Sebastian de Souza is an actor, producer, screenwriter and musician. Sebastian can currently be seen on Channel 4, playing the leading role of Leo in the Hulu Original series The Great, opposite Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, written by Oscar-nominated and BAFTA award-winning writer Tony MacNamara (The Favourite). Previous roles include Gareth in the BBC/Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel Normal People directed by Oscar-nominated Lenny Abrahamson (Room); in Netflix’s Medici, playing the iconic painter Sandro Botticelli; Alfonso d’Aragona in Showtime’s Emmy award-winning The Borgias, opposite Jeremy Irons and Holliday Grainger; and in the multiple BAFTA award- winning Skins, as lead Matty Levan. Sebastian has also played the lead role of Rafa in Paramount Pictures’ Brit-Crime thriller Plastic, opposite Will Poulter and Alfie Allen, and can currently be seen on Netflix playing Edmund in Ophelia opposite Naomi Watts, DaisyRidley and Clive Owen. As a writer, at the age of 20 Sebastian wrote the feature film Kids In Love, which he also starred in opposite Will Poulter and Cara Delevingne. The film was produced by Ealing Studios, the oldest and most prestigious studio in the UK. He wrote and directed the short ‘Evelyne’s World’, starring Evelyne Brochu at Korda Studios in Budapest. His debut YA novel KID: A History of the Future is published by Offliner Press in Spring 2021.

Purchase links

Waterstones | Hive | Amazon

Indie bookseller West End Lane Books is running a special pre-order promotion, where readers can get a SIGNED & DEDICATED copy of Kid if purchased through their website

Follow Sebastian de Souza

Instagram: @sebastiandesouza | Twitter: @sebdesouza

Follow Offliner Press

Instagram @offlineruniverse | Website: https://offlineruniverse.com/

Follow Midas PR

Instagram @midaspublicrelations | Twitter: @midaspr

Categories
Book Reviews

Bound by Vanda Symon: Blog Tour Review and Giveaway

About the book

The passionate, young police officer Sam Shephard returns in a taut, atmospheric and compelling police procedural, which sees her take matters into her own hands when the official investigation into the murder of a local businessman fails to add up… The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters. The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation. And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.

My review

Chopped into short, staccato chapters, Bound reels the reader in with an unnerving opening and a tough, spirited heroine. Set in Dunedin, New Zealand, the story’s backdrop is vivid and atmospheric – just like its characters. Sam Shepard is a brilliant protagonist to follow on this twisting, layered case. The tight plot is made even more fun to unwrap by the splashes of her wry, humorous observations. Despite Sam’s sharp instincts, she doesn’t have an easy run. Both her personal and professional life close in on her as she struggles with a complex case, a toxic work environment, and family and relationship troubles. Almost fuelled by the obstructions surrounding her, she retains the grit and resolve to see the case to its – very unexpected – end.

Bound is evocative and unpredictable, heartbreaking and humorous. If you want the chance to pick it up ASAP, enter my giveaway on Instagram @milasbookshelf.

Thanks so much to Orenda Books and Random Things Tours for having me on the blog tour!

About the author

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.

Purchase links

Hive | Waterstones | Amazon

Follow Vanda Symon

Website: www.vandasymon.com

Twitter: @vandasymon

Instagram: @vandasymon

Follow the tour

Twitter: @RandomTTours

Categories
Book Reviews

Watery Through the Gaps by Emma Blas

About the book

My review

In Emma Blas’ ‘Watery Through the Gaps,’ raw emotions intertwine with the crashes and lulls of the natural world, bringing the human experience back in tune with the earth. Sensual and atmospheric, the poems are vivid, intricate miniatures of emotion and nature melding. They skip across the page with the unpredictability of the ocean but are crafted with intent and skill. I read this collection three times, uncovering fresh depths with each read and enjoying Blas’ honest exploration of our world within and without.

Thank you so much to Emma Blas and Random Things Tours for having me on the blog tour!

My three favourite poems from the collection

Author bio:

‘emma blas lives near gijón in spain. her poetry explores transitions, shifts of phase and form in the natural world. you will find her at the beach, walking through the dramatic landscape of asturias, or with her hands in the soil, trying to learn from the earth. it is these crossing points between the physical, psychological and imagined states of life that are painted in her poetry.’

Purchase links:

Waterstones

Amazon:

Follow Emma Blas

Website: www.emmablaspoetry.com

Instagram: @emmablaspoetry

Follow Random Things Tours:

Twitter: @RandomTTours

Categories
Book Reviews

Set My Heart To Five by Simon Stephenson

About the book

Review

Following Jared as he learns to navigate the world as a bot with emotions was 10/10, a delightful experience. Imbued with humour and pathos, the book made me both frequently laugh out loud and tear up. The split structure of novel and screenplay adds another layer to Jared’s understanding of the world around him, and made for an original and enjoyable read. 


Jared’s joy in the most mundane of experiences is infectious; I found myself becoming aware of those small, ever so human moments in life that usually brush by unnoticed. The book is also a love letter to old movies, which are important companions to Jared’s emotional awakening. I loved the emphasis on the incredible role art – in any form – plays in developing empathy. The way it enables us to fall into thousands of different lives and feelings. Sometimes they’re completely removed from our own experiences, but we’re always left with a new perspective, a new understanding of someone’s journey through life. And this book was a powerful reminder of that. 


Set My Heart To Five gifts the reader with a fresh appreciation for the unique adventure of being human. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, and the storyline is addictive. A breathtaking book I absolutely recommend. 

Thank you so much to Midas PR and 4th Estate Books for having me on the blog tour for Set My Heart To Five!

Purchase links

Bookshop.org

Hive

Waterstones

Amazon

Follow Simon Stephenson

Twitter: @TheSimonBot

Website: www.simonstephenson.com/

Follow 4th Estate Books

Twitter: @4thEstateBooks

Instagram: @4thestatebooks

Facebook: 4th Estate Books

Website: www.4thestate.co.uk/

Follow Midas PR

Twitter: @MidasPR

Instagram: @midaspublicrelations

Website: www.midaspr.co.uk

Categories
Book Reviews

You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes

This was a read-in-one-sitting book: urgent, unpredictable, riveting. Joe Goldberg is back, and he’s ready for a new home, a new family – a new love. He might be trying to be a better man, but he’s still Joe. Once again, we’re plugged into his chilling, twisted mind, and Caroline Kepnes makes us enjoy every second of it.

This book kept me guessing the whole way. I was initially worried that another Joe obsession might be too stale or repetitive, but the plot was fresh and surprising. There were plenty of new challenges for Joe to overcome. I found it more tightly constructed than Hidden Bodies, and there were some character additions I really enjoyed. I was completely unable to predict the ending.

As far as I can tell from the available info, the next season of YOU is going to pan out pretty differently to You Love Me. The book has set a high bar, but I’m very curious to see what path the TV series takes Joe (and Love) down.

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC! You Love Me was another book on my list of highly anticipated 2021 reads, so I was ecstatic to get my hands on it! 

Categories
Book Reviews

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Other Black Girl for months. It’s been all over social media and it was on my own can’t-wait-to-read-in-2021 list, so I nearly died of excitement when I got approved for it on NetGalley. It lived up to the hype. It was very topical: a searing, honest look into the issues within the publishing industry. It was also an incredibly unique thriller with a sinister spin on its social commentary.  

Zakiya Dalila Harris’ candidly illustrated Nella’s experience of being a Black woman in the very white publishing industry. Both the overarching issues and the details were perfectly executed. The book demonstrated just how difficult it can be for Black employees to voice issues with racism in the workplace for fear of how it might affect their careers. How can a company claim to promote diversity if their Black and marginalised employees face backlash for speaking out? It’s easy to see how someone starting their career might feel they have to stay silent.

The Other Black Girl explored some very relevant themes while pulling the reader through its dark plot at the speed of light. There were so many twists and turns; I stayed up reading late into the night. Without giving too much away, the ending was a shock. This book is going to provoke even more much-needed discussion after its release, and I can’t wait for it!

Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC!

Categories
Art Book Reviews

The Bloomsbury Look by Wendy Hitchmough

This book is a wonderful and engaging exploration of how the Bloomsbury Group visually expressed their identity and aesthetic. I was immediately drawn to its arresting cover, which shows the bottom section of Vanessa Bell’s painting Mrs St John Hutchinson. Its texture mimics the roughness of a real painting, yet is still pleasing to the touch. The illustrations inside are also stunning; the book is as much a visual treat as it is a literary one.

The first chapter explores the roots of Virginia and her sister Vanessa’s awareness of their own image. Both women grew up learning to curate their image and identity through photographs – something we are now all too familiar with in the age of social media! Chapter two looks at how the Bloomsbury Group used dress and undress to express their identity. I found Hitchmough’s analysis of the role of nudity in their self-expression particularly interesting. The third chapter covers the Omega Workshops, which exhibited the Group’s aesthetics and values, taking inspiration from Post-Impressionist art.

My favourite part of the book was in the final chapter. There’s an entertaining account of Vanessa Bell going to Maynard Keynes’ house while he was on his honeymoon, unscrewing one of his pictures from the bathroom wall, and taking it. This task was the sole purpose of her trip from Sussex to London; she was apparent terrified of Keynes’ reaction when he found out. It really emphasised the contrast between the Bloomsbury Group’s collective identity and the individual power dynamics within it. As glamorous and iconic as the Group seem, I kept thinking how suffocating being part of it must have been. Hitchmough describes how the ‘back-biting and bitchiness’ within the circle is ‘both entertaining and appalling.’ I feel like Bell’s picture theft illustrates this brilliantly!

My knowledge of the Bloomsbury Group was limited before reading this book, but I found it both riveting and accessible and would totally recommend it. Plus, its visual presence really brightens up my bookshelf!

Categories
Book Reviews

Well-Behaved Indian Women by Saumya Dave

This was one of my TBRs that I was especially excited for – with good reason!

Simran Mehta, an Indian-American woman, is studying Psychology at grad school. She’s had a book published and she’s engaged to her high school sweetheart Kunal, a future doctor. Her life is in order – until she meets Neil, a successful newspaper columnist.

The book also follows Simran’s mother Nandini and her grandmother Mimi. Although the primary story is Simran’s, I loved that this book was an intergenerational tale. Nandini and Mimi’s voices and journeys really fleshed out the novel and helped paint a cohesive picture of the pressures and issues many Indian women face today.

Saumya Dave explores some great themes: family, love, courage, race, identity.  I liked the emphasis on mother-daughter relationships, particularly within Indian culture. Both familial and romantic relationships form the centre of the book, but at its core the focus is on the characters’ personal journeys.

Simran’s family have high expectations and place a lot of pressure on her. It was interesting how multi-layered this was: Nandini’s expectations of Simran damage her, just as Nandini has been damaged by the expectations of her own family and peers. Watching them both fight to realise then follow their own desires and paths really emphasised just how difficult it can be.

As a half-Indian British woman, I found some of the themes surrounding Indian culture familiar. I liked reading about Simran’s experience in the U.S. It made me think about how the experiences of first or second-gen immigrants from the same country might differ, depending on the location they ended up in.

I really enjoyed this wonderful debut by Saumya Dave, and I can’t wait to read more of her work in the future!

Categories
Art

Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Painting by Jesse M. Locker

I’ve mentioned Artemisia Gentileschi enough on my Bookstagram and blog, so it’s about time this book got a review! To begin with, it’s a gorgeous book: it has some stunning illustrations and the pages are thick and glossy. The cover exhibits a beautiful painting of Artemisia by Simon Vouet. 

Artemisia Gentileschi has exploded into fame over the past few years. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, she’s been the subject of plays, TV, and a whole host of other media. The Artemisia exhibition at the National Gallery has contributed to this significantly, bringing together a collection of her best-known work. She’s become an art history celebrity.

However, the focus tends to be on the traumatic events in her personal life: her father’s friend, Agostino Tassi, raping her, and the trial that followed, where she was subjected to torture. While these events would undoubtedly have had a significant influence on her art, they do not define it. This tunnel vision is something Jesse M. Locker warns against, citing the issues with interpreting her work only through the lens of her trauma. He points out that early sources do not mention the rape: it wasn’t the focus when her works were initially received.

The book focuses on Artemisia’s life and art from the 1620s onwards. Artemisia was only semi-literate, but Locker unearths numerous sources referencing poetry by Neapolitan poets who knew Artemisia. The poems were full of praise for her and marked her out as a figure sitting in the heart of political and cultural power in Naples. Locker examines Artemisia’s reception in Venice, Rome, Naples, and Florence through both visual and literary evidence. It seems that she had close relationships with multiple leading cultural figures during her career. While her level of literacy wasn’t advanced, she was still well-educated through other avenues. The time she spent at the academies was most essential to her artistic development. Also much emphasised is the significance of the oral tradition in Baroque culture, which translated to Artemisia’s paintings.

The penultimate chapter observes the line between Artemisia’s true self and her self-portraits, where she dons multiple disguises as various figures and personas. The book ends with a chapter on Artemisia’s 18th century biographers, mainly discussing the artist Averardo de Medici’s biography on her, which seemed to be unaware of her rape and personal background.

This book was a detailed, nuanced, and fascinating exploration and analysis of Artemisia’s life and work. I learnt so much reading it and recommend it 1000%. The book is now out in paperback for those who want to nab it! I’d also highly recommend Jesse M. Locker’s article on ‘Artemisia’s Fame, Present, and Past.’

Categories
Book Reviews

Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness by Ronnie Spector

I adore The Ronettes’ music, but didn’t know anything about Ronnie Spector’s life before reading this book. I couldn’t be more glad I did read it (in one sitting – couldn’t put it down) because my god, this book was a rollercoaster. It was gripping, funny, heartbreaking, and atmospheric. It was also full of gossip! A splash of the tea: Ronnie Spector has slept with David Bowie and kissed John Lennon. This shouldn’t have surprised me considering they moved in similar circles, but as I’m such a Ronettes, Bowie, and Beatles fan, it kind of made my head explode. I read this book while listening to The Ronettes, skipping to each song as she described the stories behind them.

The book had an incredible sense of atmosphere. Ronnie Spector painted a striking picture of every city she described, but especially Spanish Harlem, where she grew up. Every detail was so rich, I felt like I was right there with her. Reading about her experience growing up as a mixed-race girl in 1950s NYC was both fascinating and poignant. Although the time and circumstances are worlds apart, there were aspects I found incredibly relatable as a fellow mixed girl.

One thing I really loved was Ronnie’s unashamed, vibrant sexuality. It sweat from the pages (or in this case the Amazon Kindle screen). The description of her losing her virginity to Phil Spector to the sound of her song ‘Do I Love You?’ was sensual yet chilling, considering how he turned out.

On a darker note, it was heartbreaking to read about the abuse Phil Spector subjected Ronnie to. Her words strikingly illustrate just how twisted and abusive he was. He isn’t the focus of this book or review, so I won’t add much more – but it was a huge relief to read of her escape with her mother from the Beverly Hills mansion he’d imprisoned her in. She was barefoot, because he’d taken her shoes so that she couldn’t leave.

I loved this powerful, vivid, and down-to-earth account of Ronnie’s incredible life. It really demonstrated that your life isn’t necessarily easy just because you’re famous. Ronnie Spector went through the mill, but she came out on the other side with admirable resilience, humour, and determination.

Categories
Q&A

A Mini Book Q&A

I was tagged to take part in this on Instagram, but my answers ended up exceeding the allowed character count – so I’m putting the full Q&A on here!

A book that changed my life

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I read this at 15 and it totally blew my mind. It was such an intense read; I felt like my mind was breaking down alongside Raskolnikov’s. It was so deeply atmospheric and immersed me so strongly that it left an incredible impression on me. It’s one of my favourite books to this day. I’m also consequently obsessed with the idea of visiting St Petersburg, which I haven’t managed to do yet – but one day!

A book I’m looking forward to reading

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper. It’s set in Pompeii’s lupanar, focusing on the lives of the women who worked there. It’s such a fascinating topic and I really can’t express just how excited I am for it!

My favourite read of 2020

It’s a tie between The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I’d been waiting for The Mirror and the Light for 8 years before finally getting to read it, and it was a strong end to a brilliant series. Girl, Woman, Other was so original and powerful. Even if 2020 was one hell of a year, at least I read some great books!

A book I obsess over

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (My favourite novel of his. I’ve reread it more times than I can count). Turkish Delight by Jan Wolkers and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’m excited to expand on these in individual reviews! Also Wolf Hall again (sorry to be repetitive!).

My favourite classic

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and (as mentioned) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Goodbye to Berlin and Crime and Punishment both fall into the ‘atmospheric’ categories, with the locations of the books being characters in their own right. This always appeals to me because it makes the whole reading experience more immersive and I’m always left with a feeling of nostalgia for places I haven’t even visited. Which is some pretty powerful writing! Lolita was so masterfully crafted, I couldn’t put it down. The hideous subject is wrapped in the beauty of Nabokov’s writing, leading to a simultaneously repulsive and riveting window into Humbert Humbert’s twisted mind.


A book I didn’t really like

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. This isn’t because I have a problem with romance or erotica, because I don’t at all! But I did find this book problematic. Its representation of kink and BDSM was worrying and potentially harmful as it inspired many readers to dip their toes into BDSM, but misinformed them. There was a total lack of consent, communication, and boundaries. Which isn’t presented as a good thing – but it is BDSM that is vilified, rather than Christian Grey’s violation of boundaries. Eventually, Christian abandons the dom/sub style relationship, and he and Ana transfer to vanilla. I think this portrayal of BDSM as something messed up or inherently harmful totally ignores how essential trust and communication is in order for this type of relationship to be healthy and successful – which it absolutely can be. It’s good that people raised this issue and it became a discussion, but considering how much the book exploded in popularity, I do worry about its message.