All about Books, Book review

Book Review: The Maids of Biddenden Hall by GD Harper

As soon as I saw this book on social media I was intrigued. Like many people, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between twins – blame Sweet Valley High – but co-joined twins take this unique connection to a different level. My curiosity piqued when I discovered this was also based on a true story.

Scroll down to see my thoughts on this unusual book.

Book Review: The Maids of Biddenden Hall by GD Harper

Book cover for The Maids of Biddenden by GD Harper. A dark background with pale gold decorative pattern drawn on it similar to the designs you'd find in old manuscripts drawn by the Church. The typeface is a brighter gold. In the centre of the cover is a golden lyre. It has the tagline One shared body, two separate minds
The Maids of Biddenden by GD Harper

Title: The Maids of Biddenden Hall

Author: GD Harper

Publisher: Ginger Cat

Genre: Historical fiction

Release Date: 16th June 2022

Blurb

‘There is no I, there is no you. There is only us.’

Joined at the hip, Eliza and Mary Chulkhurst overcome fear and hostility to grow into gifted and much-loved women – one a talented musician and song-writer, the other a caring healer and grower of medicinal plants.

Entangled in the struggles for power and influence of the great Kent nobles of the time, they achieve much in their lifetimes and leave behind a legacy that survives to this day. This is the heart-warming inspirational story of two remarkable women leading one joint life, challenging adversity to become the best they can be.

My Thoughts

From the start, I was thrown into the life and thoughts of the time as I was introduced to the girls as young children. As a disabled person, I found the beginning chapters hard to read, as anything unusual was classed as evil and life was expendable. Throughout the novel, it highlighted the hate, suspicion and bigotry that plagued the girls but also showed love, acceptance and their ability to flourish in their community and beyond.

As someone who has little knowledge of the era, the politics and social norms outside their farm was as mind-boggling to me as them at the beginning, but they used their intelligence and determination to make their mark as something more than a curious exhibit. It was refreshing to read. They were distinct individuals with Eliza being an accomplished musician and Mary, a healer. The detailed descriptions of the daily life made it easy to slip into their world especially Mary’s physica gardens. I knew nothing about them but could see Mary’s ambition reflected in community gardening projects nowadays.

This is a well written, unforgettable and uplifting story of two formidable women whose legacy lives on.

Would I recommend?

Yes, the twin’s lives drew me into the 12th century to discover a political and social landscape I knew nothing about. This fascinating novel followed two unique women as they made a place in a world beyond anyone’s expectations against a backdrop of stigma and patriarchy. Their story is as relevant now as it was then. It’s an ideal read for fans of historical fiction and stories based on little known personalities from the past.

Author Biography

GD Harper

GD Harper became a full-time author in 2016, publishing three novels under the pen name GD Harper. I have been both a Wishing Shelf Book Award finalist and Red Ribbon winner, been shortlisted for the Lightship Prize, longlisted for the UK Novel Writing Award and longlisted for the Page Turner Writer Award. The Maids of Biddenden was a finalist in this year’s Page Turner Book Award for unpublished manuscripts, longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize and the Flash 500 Novel Award, and shortlisted for the Impress Prize.

Twitter: @harper_author

Website: www.gdharper.com

 Facebook: @gdharperauthor

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, 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, 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

All about Books, Book review, The Enchanted Emporium's Bookshelf

Book Review: The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield

Today’s review is for the gorgeous The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield, a magical novel based in the time running up to the French Revolution.

Book Review: The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield

Book Cover for The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield
The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield

Title: The Embroidered Book

Author: Kate Heartfield

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy, historical

Release Date: 17th February 2022

Blurb

‘Power is not something you are given. Power is something you take. When you are a woman, it is a little more difficult, that’s all’

 1768. Charlotte, daughter of the Habsburg Empress, arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Her sister Antoine is sent to France, and in the mirrored corridors of Versailles they rename her Marie Antoinette.

The sisters are alone, but they are not powerless.

When they were only children, they discovered a book of spells – spells that work, with dark and unpredictable consequences. In a time of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, they use the book to take control of their lives. But every spell requires a sacrifice.

 And as love between the sisters turns to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution.

My Thoughts

Harper Voyager excel at designing book covers that catch your eye and lure you in as if they are enchanted like many of the articles in this book. The cover made me need this book even before I became intrigued by the blurb. I love books with a magical twist but my European history is dire and my knowledge of Marie Antoinette is patchy so I did worry the plot would go over my head. I love historical fiction but with an attention span of a gnat, I have a tendency to get confused. There was no need for my concerns. With a list of main characters at the front and immersive plot I was thrown into the lives of Charlotte and Antoinette after they discover  an embroidered book of magic. The spectacular blend of magic, history and sense of place kept me enthralled.

It is an epic read of 656 pages where the two sisters have to journey through the complex politics of these turbulent times while balancing family and societal expectations when their central reason is to do anything is to do the best for their respective countries. It’s told with empathy and made me consider questions about power, class and influence.

The palaces and characters were brought to life and it was a highly visual experience reading it and would make a wonderful tv series under the right director.

Would I recommend?

Oh yes, The Embroidered Book is one to read, keep and treasure. It is as beautiful inside as out and though it’s a work of fiction it gave me a platform to build my knowledge of this era while I was immersed in magic. Full of imagination, magical world building overlaid by historical fact it is a must for fans of both history and fantasy.

It is a book for my forever shelf and will be popular for visitors to the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf.

Author Biography

Photo of Kate Heartfield
Kate Heartfield

Kate Heartfield is the author of The Embroidered Book, a historical fantasy novel out in February 2022. Her debut novel won Canada’s Aurora Award, and her novellas, stories and games have been shortlisted for the Nebula, Locus, Crawford, Sunburst and Aurora awards. A former journalist, Kate lives near Ottawa, Canada.

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, Book review

Book Review: The Hidden Village by Imogen Matthews

Today I’m pleased to share my book review for a historical fiction novel The Hidden Village by Imogen Matthews.

Book Review: The Hidden Village by Imogen Matthews

Book cover for the The Hidden Village by Imogen Matthews
The Hidden Village by Imogen Matthews

Title: The Hidden Village

Author: Imogen Matthews

Publisher: Bookouture

Genre: Historical fiction

Release Date: 17th Jan 2022

Purchase: https://geni.us/B09LVLB82Fsocial

Blurb

A Nazi soldier slams his rifle into her father’s head. From her hiding place, Sofie stifles a scream as tears roll down her face. Suddenly she can’t take it any more. ‘Stop, stop!’ she sobs, rushing out and pushing the soldier away. And then freezes, as he snarls and whips the gun round to point at her…

Holland, 1943: the Nazis are in occupation. German soldiers patrol the streets, and each week more families disappear without trace, never to be seen again. So when armed soldiers storm Sofie’s house and threaten her father at gunpoint, she knows their time – and luck – has run out.

Fleeing in the middle of the night to hide in a neighbour’s secret attic, the constant threat of a German raid means they can’t stay long. So Sofie’s parents make the heart-rending decision to send their daughter away. Concealed in the woods is a secret village, built by the town as a haven for Jewish families like Sofie’s. Remote, cold and bleak, yet filled with the hopeful laughter of children playing, it is the one place Sofie has the chance to live.

But rumours of the hidden village have been swirling, and the Nazis are determined to find it. As soldiers patrol the woods in ever-greater numbers, snow cuts the villagers off from the outside world and starvation sets in. Sofie knows what she must do, even though it means putting herself in danger. And when the worst happens, Sofie is faced with a terrible decision – save the village, or save herself…

An absolutely heart-breaking and gripping WWII historical novel based on the true story of an entire town who put themselves in danger to keep strangers safe. What happens will restore your faith in humanity. Fans of Fiona Valpy, The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Choice will never forget this incredibly moving tale and the real-life heroes who inspired it.

My Thoughts

It is not often I read historical fiction unless it is in a dual timeline, but this book begged to be read. A friend has Norwegian roots and listening to her family stories made me interested in reading more about this time. The Hidden Village threw me straight into the action with children playing innocently and Germans approaching the village. I continued reading with a sense of trepidation because we all know the atrocities they bring with them.

Told in third person, this story focuses on three main characters; young Jan who is still in his childhood but longs to be seen as older, Sofie a teenager whose future is looking bright until she is forced to hide and Sara Jan’s mother, whose husband helps set up the hidden village. The three viewpoints give a good overview of life because of their different stages of their lives and place in the community. Through Sofie’s eyes we see live in the forest, Sara experiences the goings on in the town battling to keep the Jews safe and Jan is a go between connecting the two.

Community is a key theme in this novel and despite the never ending threat of discovery, it was uplifting to read how powerful this sense of community was, which enabled the village to stay safe and fed during this time. Though the novel was harrowing in places, it was never graphic in it’s portrayal of the Nazi brutality and relied on the reader’s imagination and description of the sounds of hobnailed boots on floorboards to rank up the tension.  

The villagers’ loss of liberty and possessions and having to rebuild a community made me reflect on the important things in my life and be more grateful for what I have.

Would I recommend?

Yes, The Hidden Village gives a fascinating insight into life in Holland during the second World War and shows the horror of the time and the courage displayed by those who stood up against the evil of the Nazi regime. It is uplifting and shows love, and everyday things and emotions still occurred despite the dangerous threat of discovery. Perfect for those who love historical fiction and WW2 memoirs.

Author Biography

Imogen Matthews

Imogen Matthews writes novels based on true stories about the Netherlands during the German occupation in World War 2. Some stories she discovered by chance, others are based on her Dutch mother’s own experiences of hardship and survival during the Hunger Winter of 1944-45.

Her first novel, The Hidden Village, is set in the Veluwe woods, a beautiful part of Holland that Imogen has visited frequently over the past 30 years. It was in these woods that she discovered the story of the real hidden village which provided shelter in underground huts for Jews during WW2. Imogen retells the story of the hidden village with characters drawn from real life and from her imagination.

Within weeks of publication in 2017, The Hidden Village became an international bestseller, ranking at the top of a number Amazon’s most-read book lists.

Following on from The Hidden Village comes Hidden in the Shadows, which has the pace of a thriller yet is also a love story. It tells the story about two young people who are brutally torn apart and must find a way to be together against all odds.

Imogen’s third WW2 novel, The Girl Across the Wire Fence, is set in Amersfoort, Netherlands, and is based on the unforgettable tale of two young lovers who risked everything to keep hope alive in the very depths of hell – the little known Dutch concentration camp called Kamp Amersfoort.

Imogen’s WW2 novels are published by Bookouture, a digital imprint of Hachette.

Learn more about Imogen’s story in this video: https://youtu.be/2YO0IWJSjj0

Author social media

www.imogenmatthewsbooks.com

Facebook: @theHiddenVillagenovel

Twitter: @ImogenMatthews3

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

Love

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