All about Books, Book review

Book Review: Retreat to the Spanish Sun by Jo Thomas

Happy July! Summer is here in Yorkshire but like many summers the weather can be hit and miss so I’m excited to share my review for Retreat to the Spanish Sun by Jo Thomas. It promised to be the perfect escape novel. Scroll down to see if it met my high expectations.

Book Review: Retreat to the Spanish Sun by Jo Thomas

Cover for Retreat to the Spanish Sun by Jo Thomas. Orange cover with blue title. At the bottom is a Spanish villa and trees with a lady having a picnic with wine
Retreat to the Spanish Sun by Jo Thomas

Title: Retreat to the Spanish Sun

Author: Jo Thomas

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: Romance

Release Date: 23rd June 2022

Blurb

Will a summer escape be the answer she’s looking for?

Eliza has a full house! When her three children grew up and moved out, she downsized to a smaller property… but now they’re all back. Every room in the house is taken and Eliza finds herself sharing her bed with her eldest daughter and her daughter’s pug. Combined with the online course she’s trying to finish, plus her job to fit in, there just isn’t the peace and quiet that Eliza needs.

So when an ad pops up on her laptop saying ‘house-sitters wanted’, Eliza can’t resist the chance to escape. She ends up moving to a rural finca in southern Spain, looking after the owner’s Iberico pigs, learning about secret gastronomic societies… and finding a new zest for life and love along the way. From the bestselling author of Escape to the French Farmhouse comes a deliciously feel-good new story…

My Thoughts

Eliza’s life was very relatable and the chaos in her flat and the demands from her grown children leapt from the page. I needed a break with her. The retreat was a delight and immersive. The Spanish Conversation group were a fun and warm addition and made me feel connected to the place and story.

I’ve never considered pigs as something adorable once they have grown past the cute piglet stage but Banderas changed this. His personality shone and I fell in love with him as much as Eliza did. With the descriptions of food my taste buds tingled and I longed to drink wine and eat the tapas mentioned. This is always a good sign of a good book but usually only happens in Christmas novels so it was a pleasant surprise to fancy salad.

The plot requires you to suspend reality in places but like all good romcoms, it makes you feel that while you’re in their world, anything goes and everything makes sense.

It could easily be adapted to a summer feel good movie and hits all the points for a good, uplifting summer read.

Would I recommend?

Yes, it achieved everything I wanted. Whether you are lying on the beach abroad or in your garden at the weekend, this is an ideal escape to Spain with laughter, adventure and gastronomic delights.

It’s a while since I’ve read a Jo Thomas book but now need to backtrack and add her back catalogue to my TBR pile.

Author Biography

Author Jo Thomas. Woman smiling with dark hair in a orange shirt
Jo Thomas

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. Jo’s debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller and won both the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the Festival of Romance Best eBook Award. Her recent book Escape to the French Farmhouse was a #1 bestselling eBook and in every one of her novels Jo loves to explore new countries and discover the food produced there, both of which she thoroughly enjoys researching. Jo lives in Pembrokeshire with her husband and three children, where cooking and gathering around the kitchen table are a hugely important and fun part of their family life

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, The Enchanted Emporium's Bookshelf

Book Review: The Runes – Grounding in Northern Magic by James Flowerdew

My first introduction to runes was at the Jorvick centre in York as a child and they invoked a sense of mystery and magic, yet the pouch of runes I have had for the last 20 years have sat in my drawer unused. Unlike tarot cards which felt instinctive, I’ve never really connected with them and the booklet they came with was dry and hard to grasp. When I saw this book, I hoped it would allow me to learn about my runes in a constructive way. Scroll down to see if this was achieved.

Book Review: The Runes, Grounding in Northern Magic by James Flowerdew

Title: The Runes A Grounding in Northern Magic

Author: James Flowerdew

Publisher: The Magic Road

Genre: SPIRITUAL / MAGIC / MYTHOS

Release Date: 23rd September 2021

Purchase: Amazon

ISBN: 9780993227226 (PAPERBACK)
ISBN: 9781914090455 (EBOOK)

Blurb

The runes are more than an ancient alphabet. They are a key to the wisdom of the ancient peoples that used them in both language and magic.

THE RUNES, A Grounding in Northern Magic by James Flowerdew aims to help you on your first steps to divining with The Runes and using the magic of these ancient peoples. Actual practical success and failure is also shared candidly in the hope that the reader can learn in a safe and steady manner. All combined into a neat guide to Runic practices and the inner workings of this ancient alphabet.

Full of direct references to ancient texts, as well as ripping yarns and poignant anecdotes, this book demonstrates Rune magic and the underlying principles and culture that inform it, as well as some general magical practices.

This guide helps make sure that the reader’s first steps into Runic mysticism are on solid ground and allows everyone who wishes to work with The Runes to make intelligent choices of their own.

My Thoughts

First off, this book is beautiful with many illustrations which are a delight to look at and along with stories help make the information enclosed more accessible. The book goes beyond what each rune means, for very good reasons. Runes are complex items and not something to use lightly, as James Flowerdew discusses. He gives a balanced overview of the runes history, including their dark uses in the second world war and the far right, as well as where runes fit in magical systems and whether runes are right for you. There are then clear instructions on the runes’ uses and magic.

There is a lot of information to take in, but the tone and language takes a topic that from my experience can be dry and complicated into something understandable, interesting and highly readable. It has left me wanting to learn more.  

This book maybe titled The Runes, but it offers so much more, including discussions on the Pagan ideas surrounding the runes and the different gods. This book has left me feeling more positive and less daunted about using my runes, especially now I know instead of them being an elitist tool, runes were for the everyday person.

Would I recommend?

Yes, if you are a beginner interested in runes and Northern magic or more experienced, this is a book to read. It went beyond my expectations and gave a balanced insight into not only the meanings of the runes but their history, connections to the gods, and their uses. With stunning illustrations, it was a joy to read and a book I know I’ll return to again and again.

With its connections to magic, the North and divination, this will be a hit with the visitors to The Enchanted Emporium’s bookshelf.

Author Biography

James Flowerdew

Discovering the runes in his early teens, James is an avid folklorist and historian with a particular focus on ancient pagan cultures.
He is a practising neo-pagan with an emphasis on the Northern Tradition, but likes to see that as part of a larger global discourse that spans back to Neolithic times and hopefully distantly into the future.
Trained as an artist and illustrator, James Flowerdew currently writes and paints in Edinburgh.

Other blogs on this tour

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, Writing journey, Writing process

Book Review: Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Welcome to my first book review on the topic of writing this year – Write It All Down How to put your life on the page by Cathy Rentzenbrink. I’ve never considered writing a memoir but the blurb of this book caught my eye and I wanted to know more.

Book Review: Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Book cover for Write it all down How to put your life on the page by Cathy Rentzenbrink
Write it all down How to put your life on the page by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Title: Write it all down How to put your life on the page

Author: Cathy Rentzenbrink

Publisher: bluebird books for life

Genre: Non-fiction, memoir writing

Release Date: 6th Jan 2022

Blurb

Why do we want to write and what stops us? How does the urge to express ourselves fight with the worry that no-one will care or that we will get in trouble? How do we identify and overcome everything that gets in our way so we can start making work?

Sunday Times bestselling author Cathy Rentzenbrink shows you how to tackle all this and more in Write It All Down, a guide to putting your life on the page. This is a kind, encouraging and stimulating book that explores the nature of memoir writing and offers helpful guidance on how to write your life on paper. Rentzenbrink will help you to discover the pleasure and solace to be found in writing; the profound satisfaction of wrestling a story onto a page and seeing the events of your life transformed through the experience of writing the self.

Perfect for both seasoned writers as well as writing amateurs and everyone in between, this helpful handbook will steer you through the philosophical and practical challenges of writing the self. Intertwined with reflections, anecdotes and exercises from successful writers such as Dolly Alderton, Matt Haig, Kit de Waal, Sathnam Sanghera and Maggie O’Farrell, Write It All Down is at once an intimate and enjoyable narrative and an invitation to share your story.

Talking points and feature ideas:

 • ‘How writing changed my life’ – Cathy’s personal story

 • Top 5 tips on how to write your own story

 • How to use this book for your own wellbeing

 • Writing in a digital world: the importance of storytelling

 • New Year’s Resolutions – why you shouldn’t diet, but learn something new instead

 • Therapy – both Cathy’s personal experiences, and how to use writing as therapy

My Thoughts

The introduction begins with the words – Dear Writer, I am so pleased to meet you. Welcome. – and that is how I felt the instant I began reading. I felt as if Cathy had welcomed me into her writing world and she was giving me a personal lesson in writing. Write It All Down is a highly accessible read and can be read from the beginning to the end like I did or dipped into.

I’ve read a several how to write books now and attended tutorials and conferences on the subject but this book contained fresh hints and viewpoints on the subject. The idea of writing about my life is slightly horrifying but this book isn’t just about writing to be published it’s about exploring yourself and tapping into your life and being creative.

It covers many aspects that are relevant to all types of writing including tackling first drafts, mindset, edits in all their forms and what happens when the words don’t flow. I came away from reading this uplifted, inspired and less daunted on writing my current project. I also have pages of thoughts on my own life that I know I can explore in the future.

Would I recommend?

Yes. I’d recommend this not just for those who are considering writing a memoir but for all writers at the beginning of their journey or stuck in a rut. The friendly tone, simple exercises, and explanations provide a safe space to explore ideas, and inspire creativity. It gives a nudge towards facing the fear that can block writing.

Write It All Down is a welcome addition to my forever reference shelf and will reread parts in the future when I need a positive reminder that I can write and the reasons behind my motivation to do so.

Author Biography

Author Cathy Rentzenbrink
Author Cathy Rentzenbrink

Cathy Rentzenbrink is the author of the Sunday Times best-seller The Last Act of Love and of A Manual for Heartache, Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books and Everyone is Still Alive. It took her twenty years to wrestle her own life story on the page and she loves to use what she has learnt about the profound nature of writing the self in the service of others. Cathy has taught for Arvon, Curtis Brown Creative, at Falmouth University and at festivals and in prisons, and welcomes anyone, no matter what their experience, education, background or story. She believes that everyone’s life would be improved by picking up a pen and is at her happiest when encouraging her students to have the courage to delve into themselves and see the magic that will start to happen on the page.

Websitehttps://cathyreadsbooks.com/

 Instagram – @writeitalldown_

Twitter – @catrentzenbrink

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

Happy writing!

Love