All about Books, Book review

Book Review: Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

I’m excited today to review Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone for his blog tour. This was my first time reading about the Skelf women but I’d heard great things about the series so couldn’t wait to jump in.

Book Review: Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

Book cover for Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone
Celtic cross gravestone with a magpie perched on it. Has tagline Death is just the beginning
Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

Title: Black Hearts

Author: Doug Johnstone

Publisher: Orenda Books

Genre: Crime

Release Date:  29th September 2022

Blurb

The Skelf women live in the shadow of death every day, running the family funeral directors and private investigator business in Edinburgh. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events.

A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger.

An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly…

My Thoughts

Apart from the unusual set up where the novels and investigations are based in a funeral parlour, the thing that leapt from the page was the beauty and personality of the city, Edinburgh. I haven’t been since I was a child but has been on my wish list to return and this book intensified that longing. The descriptions brought it alive and if you do know the city, I imagine it would lead to a greater reading experience.

I loved the intriguing concept of a private investigating business entwined with a funeral parlour. Both the investigations the Skelfs take on and the multi-generational family interactions kept me turning the page. Despite reading this as a standalone with no previous knowledge of the characters, I became immersed in their lives and felt their heartache, grief and fear as the story progressed. The emotions displayed were authentic. Grief was not washed over and sanitised, nor was the post trauma experienced by Jenny after the death of her ex-husband. Reading about the aftermath of a horrific event made me want to forget all the other books on my TBR pile and read the back catalogue to catch up.

The investigations required no previous knowledge of the family affairs. The case which stood out was Udo who is convinced he is being attacked by his late wife and hearing her through the wind phone. These phones give the ability to people to talk to lost loved ones which I’d never heard of before. This thread added emotional depth and a spiritual element to the book and these phones would be useful everywhere.

Would I recommend?

Oh yes. With the authentic writing, strong women and an immersive location this is a book to read. It can be read as a standalone, but it won’t be enough. You’ll want to read the rest of the series so be prepared to increase your TBR pile.

Author Biography

Photo of Doug Johnstone. White male with blond short hair, smiling wearing a black tropical shirt.
Doug Johnstone

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, described as ‘A novel [that] underlines just how accomplished Johnstone has become’ by the Daily Mail. He has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year three times, and the Capital Crime Best Independent Voice one; The Big Chill was longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions, and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

Thank you Random Thing Tours for inviting me to this tour and providing an advanced copy for me to review and give my honest and unbiased opinion.

Love

Signature of Kate in pink

All about Books, Book review

Book Review: Little Dancer by Melanie Leschallas

I’ve always loved ballet and as many of you who’ve been following me a while know, I’ve been immersed in researching the art for my own writing project so when the book cover of Little Dancer by Melanie Leschallas popped in my email, with an intriguing tagline I couldn’t resist.

Book Review: Little Dancer by Melanie Leschallas

Book cover for Little Dancer by Melanie Leschallas.

Ballerina en pointe on a paved street wearing a military jacket with red arm band. Tagline reads: Anarchist, ballerina, revolutionary, muse
Little Dancer by Melanie Leschallas

Title: Little Dancer

Author: Melanie Leschallas

Publisher: Unbound

Genre: Historical fiction

Release Date: 21st July 2022

Blurb

Paris, 1878. Ballet dancer Marie van Goethem is chosen by the unknown artist Edgar Degas to model for his new sculpture: Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen Years.

But Marie is much more than she seems. By day she’s a ‘little rat’ of the opera, contorting her starving body to entertain the bourgeoisie. By night she’s plotting to overthrow the government and reinstate the Paris Commune, to keep a promise she made to her father, a leading communard who died in the street massacres of 1871.

As Marie watches the troubling sculpture of herself come to life in Degas’ hands, she falls further into the intoxicating world of bohemian, Impressionist Paris, a world at odds with the socialist principles she has vowed to uphold.

With the fifth Impressionist Exhibition looming, a devastating family secret is uncovered which changes everything for both Marie and Degas.

As Degas struggles to finish his sculpture and the police close in on Marie, she must decide where her loyalties lie and act to save herself, her family and the Little Dancer.

My Thoughts

This is one of these books that would have slipped under my radar if it hadn’t appeared in my inbox and I’m extremely grateful I was invited to read. I loved it. Little Dancer isn’t a light easy read and it doesn’t show the romanticised version of ballet that I believed in when I studied Degas’ ballerinas in art at school. Life at the time was hard, the career in dance seedier than I imagined and this novel doesn’t shy away from the reality of the time including executions, prostitution, alcoholism and theft.

Beautifully written, this emotional and powerful story is immersive and drew me into Marie’s world to the extent that I could smell  and visualise the streets of Paris, Degas’ studio and Amelie’s boudoir. Marie has a strength of character, I couldn’t help to admire despite her young age and I had to keep reading to see how she’d cope with the unfolding dangers around her.

The cast of characters all have depth and stories of their own adding to the novel’s sense of realism. I could easily imagine it as a tv series or film.

Would I recommend?

Oh yes, Little Dancer will be a treasured addition to my forever bookshelf and Marie and Edgar have lodged themselves in my thoughts. Beautifully written, this novel is an immersive, emotional and powerful look at a turbulent time in France that I knew little about. It’s a story of women, family and survival but also the ability to change the world bit by bit. With the overlap with the suffragette movement it is more relevant to our lives than you think.

Photo for the sculpture Little Dancer aged fourteen by Edgar Degas reflected in a mirror
Little Dancer by Edgar Degas

Author Biography

Melanie Leschallas holds MAs in Creative Writing from Sussex and in Drama and Movement Therapy from Central School in London as well as a BA(Hons) in Modern and contemporary fiction French and Italian from Bristol University.

She was trained as a dancer and worked at the Moulin Rouge in Paris during her twenties. Mel is also a jazz singer and loves to sing Jacques Brel songs at the Savoy Hotel in London. She runs http://www.lunarlemonproductions.com with her husband, Craig, teaches yoga in Brighton and leads wellness and writing retreats at her home in the Malaga mountains.

Small image of the book cover as described above.

Thank you Random Thing Tours for inviting me to this tour and providing an advanced copy for me to review and give my honest and unbiased opinion.

Love

All about Books, The Enchanted Emporium's Bookshelf

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Elderflower Grove by Jaimie Admans

After a sweltering few days, I hope you are all well. I’m excited to share my review for The Beekeeper of Elderflower Grove by Jaimie Admans. My attraction to this book was two-fold, firstly I adore bees and if I had the space I’d love to learn beekeeping and secondly, I loved Jaimie Admans The Post box at the North Pole. If this book was half as enjoyable as that one, I knew I’d be in for a treat.

Scroll down to see if this bee filled romance met my high expectations.

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Elderflower Grove by Jaimie Admans

Book cover for  The Beekeeper of Elderflower Grove by Jaimie Admans. Title in yellow. 
Green meadow with bees in the foreground and a mansion in the background.  A woman in a red dress is walking towards two beehives.
The Beekeeper of Elderflower Grove by Jaimie Admans

Title: The Beekeeper of Elderflower Grove

Author: Jaimie Admans

Publisher: HQ Digital

Genre: Romance, Women’s fiction

Release Date: 15th July 2022

Purchase Links

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09Z757JFW

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B09Z757JFW

Blurb

Her new start is about to bee-gin!

Having moved into her mum’s spare room after a disastrous break-up, Kayleigh Harwood is desperate for a fresh start. When she sees an opening for a new beekeeper at the old manor house at Elderflower Grove she jumps at the chance – despite not knowing a thing about bees…

 The abandoned house holds a mystery of its own – the previous owner vanished years ago – and locals have been inventing stories about the manor ever since. Unable to resist the urge to look around, Kayleigh is shocked to find drop-dead-gorgeous gardener Carey living inside!

 Carey explains that the house and surrounding land is at risk of being demolished, endangering the bees, and he has been staying there to protect it.

 Convinced the secret of the house holds the key to saving Elderflower Grove’s bees, Kayleigh is prepared to do everything she can to help. But is she ready to find her own happy-ever-after too…?

My Thoughts

The Beekeeper in Elderflower Grove has the most original chuckle inducing openings I have read. The job interview conducted by a bee via zoom is one to remember and sets the tone of the book. It’s light-hearted, full of bee puns and offers the reader an escape from reality.

Kayleigh is down on her luck and needs a job at any cost even if she needs a dummy guide on beekeeping to do it. The location of Elderflower Grove is wonderful and has a fairy tale atmosphere about it which cast a spell on me just as much as the characters. Beautifully described, I could smell the flowers, taste the honey and hear the sound of nature, and I didn’t want to leave. The house has a huge personality of its own which made me long for it to be saved from developers.

Carey was someone I’d love to meet with his retro t-shirts which sent me down memory lane, and his humour and warmth despite a broken heart. Reading the developing friendship and chemistry between him and Kayleigh was like witnessing your best friends fall in love. It was a joy to watch.

The trials and twists to save the house and the bees made me keep turning the page so I read this in a day and night. Who needs sleep when a happy ever after is promised?

Would I recommend?

With more than a sprinkling of bee facts, this heart-warming novel is perfect for a summer’s read or when you need to escape from the world. This romance  is one for my forever shelf for a reread when I need some warmth and chuckles and with more than a few mentions of ghosts, it’ll be enjoyed by those visiting the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf too.

Author Biography

Photo of author Jaimie Admans, woman with dark long hair, glasses, smiling wearing a black top. The background is pink with white spots
Jaimie Admans

Jaimie is a 36-year-old English-sounding Welsh girl with an awkward-to-spell name. She lives in South Wales and enjoys writing, gardening, watching horror movies, and drinking tea, although she’s seriously considering marrying her coffee machine. She loves autumn and winter, and singing songs from musicals despite the fact she’s got the voice of a dying hyena. She hates spiders, hot weather, and cheese & onion crisps. She spends far too much time on Twitter and owns too many pairs of boots. She will never have time to read all the books she wants to read.

She is the author of several romantic comedies for HarperCollins – The Chateau of Happily Ever Afters, The Little Wedding Island, It’s a Wonderful Night, The Little Vintage Carousel by the Sea, Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm, The Little Bookshop of Love Stories, The Wishing Tree Beside the Shore, The Little Christmas Shop on Nutcracker Lane, The Post Box at the North Pole, and The Beekeeper at Elderflower Grove.

Social Media Links –

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/be_the_spark

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jaimieadmansbooks

Thank you Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to this tour and providing an advanced copy for me to review and give my honest and unbiased opinion.

Love

List of other blogs on the tour
15th July
Book Escapes with BabsW67
@wendyreadsbooks on Instagram
Being Anne

16th July
Peacock's Book Review
Portobello Book blog
Karenandherbooks

17th July
Splashes into Books
Tealeavesandbookleaves
The Comfy Chair

18th July
Jaffareadstoo
Karen's Reads
ramblingreads.com

19th July
BetweenTheLines
Broadbean's Books
Kirsty_Reviews_Books

20th July
Hearding Cats
Kate Kenzie Writes
Romance by The Book

21st July

htdk2002.reads
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Bookish Dreams

22nd July
Tizi's Book Review
Tea Party Princess
Stacey Hammond

23rd July
Little Miss Book Lover 87
Ceri's Little Blog
Captured on Film

24th July
Rae Reads
Bookish Jottings
This Hannah Reads
Other Blogs on this tour

Characters, NanoWriMo, The Enchanted Emporium's Bookshelf, work in progress, Writing journey, Writing process

Hello July and Camp NaNoFinMo

Long time since we’ve had a catch up and it’s July already. I swear time is speeding up or is this normal once you get over 40? It feels like it should be in the depths of February not in the summer past Solstice.

So what’s been happening? Personally, a lot but writing wise not so much. I’m plodding on with my Silver Swan novel and looking for a home for my witches of Whitby novel, A Blend of Magic.

With the witches of Whitby in mind, they have their own book review blog and Instagram account. Amber and Willow became fed up of my procrastination at telling their stories so they’ve gone rogue. The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf will showcase their favourite books with a fantasy or paranormal leaning, give small insights into their lives and hopefully, share interviews from visiting authors, bloggers or anyone else they fancy talking to who stumble into Black Cat Alley.

Rosa, the only non-supernatural member of staff doesn’t want to be left out and as a fan of romance novels, she will periodically choose a book from her Rosa’s box of Romances to chat about.

All this can be found here –

Blog The Enchanted Emporium’s Bookshelf

Instagram – witch_of_Whitby

To give myself a final kick over the finish line of my second draft of the Silver Swans, I’ve joined Camp NanoWriMo or as the aim is to finish a novel NaNoFinMo. This is much needed as I have agents and publisher waiting for the finished product – maybe this is why procrastination is rife, once it’s out there the fear of rejection is unleashed. The high of wow someone in the industry want to read it crashes into full blown imposter syndrome.

I’ve just read Stop Worrying, Start Writing by Sarah Painter which has helped with facing my writing demons and self-doubt but it still creeps in when faced with an unformed chapter.

NaNoFinMo National Novel Finishing month image. A shark swimming in water
National Novel Finishing Month

Time to stop procrastinating and let the fun commence.

Happy writing

Love

All about Books, Book review, Uncategorized

Book Review: Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

Today I’m excited to share my review for Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi. This is a different type of book I usually choose to read but I’m trying to expand my reading style. Scroll down to see if my hopes for this novel were achieved.

Book Review: Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

Book Cover: Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi
Dark Blue cover with the outline of an Afgantistan city  landscape
Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

Title: Sparks Like Stars

Author: Nadia Hashimi

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: Fiction, Historial fiction

Release Date: 2nd March 2022

Blurb

“Suspenseful…emotionally compelling. I found myself eagerly following in a way I hadn’t remembered for a long time, impatient for the next twist and turn of the story.”—NPR

An Afghan American woman returns to Kabul to learn the truth about her family and the tragedy that destroyed their lives in this brilliant and compelling novel from the bestselling author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, The House Without Windows, and When the Moon Is Low.

Kabul, 1978: The daughter of a prominent family, Sitara Zamani lives a privileged life in Afghanistan’s thriving cosmopolitan capital. The 1970s are a time of remarkable promise under the leadership of people like Sardar Daoud, Afghanistan’s progressive president, and Sitara’s beloved father, his right-hand man. But the ten-year-old Sitara’s world is shattered when communists stage a coup, assassinating the president and Sitara’s entire family. Only she survives. 

Smuggled out of the palace by a guard named Shair, Sitara finds her way to the home of a female American diplomat, who adopts her and raises her in America. In her new country, Sitara takes on a new name—Aryana Shepherd—and throws herself into her studies, eventually becoming a renowned surgeon. A survivor, Aryana has refused to look back, choosing instead to bury the trauma and devastating loss she endured. 

New York, 2008: Thirty years after that fatal night in Kabul, Aryana’s world is rocked again when an elderly patient appears in her examination room—a man she never expected to see again. It is Shair, the soldier who saved her, yet may have murdered her entire family. Seeing him awakens Aryana’s fury and desire for answers—and, perhaps, revenge. Realizing that she cannot go on without finding the truth, Aryana embarks on a quest that takes her back to Kabul—a battleground between the corrupt government and the fundamentalist Taliban—and through shadowy memories of the world she loved and lost. 

Bold, illuminating, heartbreaking, yet hopeful, Sparks Like Stars is a story of home—of America and Afghanistan, tragedy and survival, reinvention and remembrance, told in Nadia Hashimi’s singular voice.

My Thoughts

I signed up for this blog tour weeks ago when the world seemed a more stable place so I was concerned that my current emotions would have a negative impact on how I viewed this novel because I expected I’d struggle to read about more troubling times and horror. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This novel is special. I instantly made a connection with mischievous young Sitara as she gazed at stars and studied the constellations and was sucked into her world. Seen through a child’s eyes, the horrific events of 1978 are heart stopping but the book is littered with the wisdom of her father and others throughout. These little gems not only helped Sitara get through but provided me with moments of calm and hope. Current world events made this book more meaningful and drew me in further. I couldn’t put this book down; full of tension, emotion and love I needed to know what happened next as it explored important topics of grief, guilt and trauma.

To my shame, my knowledge of Afghanistan was limited to the news, but Nadia Hashimi’s words gave me a much-needed history lesson and insight into the region’s complex politics that’s still relevant today. She brought the beauty of the palaces, gardens, settings and culture to life making it more shocking to read the devastating events of a coup and beyond. All the characters have depth and vibrancy. I won’t be forgetting Tilly, Boba or Sitara in a hurry.

The most recent timeline in the story is 2008 with the depicted Afghanistan showing hope and a more positive future so I couldn’t help but wonder what the places discussed are like now and what impact last year’s events would have on Arayana.

Would I recommend?

Oh yes. I know many people are seeking an escape in uplifting, cosy reads at the moment, as I was before I read this, but I’m so glad I didn’t shy away from reading when the world made a horrifying turn with the Ukraine war. It is an eye opening, emotional and beautifully written novel that gave me an insight into a different Afghanistan than the one represented on the news and its beauty and characters have captured my heart.

This is a book for my forever shelf and I’ll hold the wise words of Sitara’s father close as they have given me something hopeful to cling to in these troubling times.

Author Biography

Photo of Nadia Hashimi
Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. In 2002, Nadia made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents. She is a pediatrician and lives with her family in the Washington, DC, surburbs. She is the author of three books for adults, as well as the middle grade novels One Half from the East and The Sky at Our Feet.

Website: www.nadiahashimi.com

Thank you Random Thing Tours for inviting me to this tour and providing an advanced copy for me to review and give my honest and unbiased opinion.

Happy reading and stay safe!

Love