The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

isbn9781473638976What I thought:

Once in a while a book comes along that etches into your heart. This is one of those books. I’m not sure there is anything that I can say that will do justice to this piece of gorgeousness but I’ll give it a damn good go.

Firstly, that cover! *imagine a million heart-eye emojis* Whoever says not to judge a book by its cover is wrong. I frequently pick books up because I love the cover (and often overlook those I don’t like). I love the colours and how it perfectly captures the two different worlds inhabited by the characters of The Sealwoman’s Gift.

This book was a joy from beginning to end. I found it to be a really moving tale of love, heartbreak, loss and endurance.

Iceland in 1627 and the inhabitants of a small island just off the main coast live a simple but harsh life, but a life that is nonetheless filled with family and friendships and the telling of folktales. One day, their little island is raided by Barbary pirates and hundreds of men, women and children are ripped from their homes and forced aboard a ship to be taken to a strange and hot land where they are kept as slaves. Farfetched, you may be forgiven for thinking, but this is actually based on a true story. The island Pastor, Olafur Egilsson, and his wife and children actually existed and much of the story is based on a diary that was found to have been written during the time of these events.

I love books based on true stories, especially little known historical ones. Sally Magnusson has clearly done a huge amount of research for this book and her passion for the stories of the people involved and in bringing them back to life was clear to see on every page. What I particularly love is that, despite the diaries that were found being written by the Pastor, it is Asta, his wife who is given a voice in this book. Litte is known of what happened to most of those who were taken once they reached North Africa, however some stories have survived, as remarkably a small number made it back to Iceland many years later. Women have largely been ignored or forgotten about through the passage of time, but Asta is brought back to life by Magnusson who has created a fully-fleshed character who is both feisty and humorous.

The descriptions of the land, the people, the folk tales were all so well crafted, whether it was a bleak and windswept Iceland or a vibrant and chaotic Algiers. It was quite often a surprise when I looked up from the book and realsied I was still in my own front room.

Verdict:

Beautiful, tender, shocking. This book really is all the feels. I absolutely loved it.

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large_ITV_Book_Club_imageTen seconds of fame:

I was contacted by the production team to review The Sealwoman’s Gift for Zoe Ball’s Book Club so of course, I jumped at the chance to gush about my favourite book of the year so far.

Just in case you missed it, here it is again 🙂

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Blog Tour – An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

That title! That cover! As a lover of crime and psychological thrillers, could anything possibly scream “READ ME!” any louder? So when I was invited to take part in the blog tour for this book, I jumped at the chance.

91Qq+Y4xssLWhat I thought:

An exclusive hotel in a picturesque and secluded part of the Catskills in the middle of winter in the snow. A small group of guests, who have never met each other before, arrive for a weekend of luxury, forgoing mobile networks and WiFi in order to relax and recharge their batteries. What could be more perfect they think. Until an ice storm hits and the electricity goes down, that is, and the body of one of the guests is found at the bottom of the grand staircase…

I love a good locked-room mystery, and the blurb for this book sounded very Christie-esque which gave huge appeal  (indeed there is even a nod to the author herself, as one guest finds a Christie novel on her bedside table). The remote and cut off location, the group of strangers, many of whom seem to have something to hide, the undercurrent of mistrust and the body count mounting up… what could be more perfect?

If I was to have a slight gripe, it would be that there wasn’t quite enough tension for me. Guests are dropping like flies and there is no way out, yet I never really got a sense of pure fear (which I expect I would have felt had I been there in the hotel). Well written though it was, the middle part of the book didn’t entirely live up to the promise of the first part, I felt. The ending though… now that I enjoyed. I love it when I’m blindsided by a reveal and this one did just that. It actually left me with a big smile of satisfaction on my face.

Verdict:

Gripping, page-turning, moreish. This is a pacy thrilled, despite the desolate setting and small cast. A read-in-one-sitting type of book. Enjoy!

 

Why not head over to the other blogs in this tour and see what they have to say about it too.

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Blog Tour -An Italian Summer by Fanny Blake

Cover Crush Alert!

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Fanny Blake’s new book, An Italian Summer. Firstly, that cover! Who in their right mind could resist it? This is the perfect book and perfect cover for relaxing in the garden with during this gorgeous (and rare) heatwave we’re having in the UK. I could stare at it dreamily for hours.

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The Blurb

AN ITALIAN SUMMER is a novel about friendship, family secrets and second chances, set against the backdrop of southern Italy.

Sandy is in her fifties, and at a crossroads in her life: she’s a teacher and respected by her pupils, but she feels she is being sidelined in favour of younger colleagues. So when her mother dies, leaving her a sealed envelope addressed to an unknown woman living in Naples, Sandy decides to head to Italy to resolve the mystery by delivering the letter herself. She books herself on to a small sightseeing trip from Rome to Naples and the Amalfi Coast, hoping to meet some like-minded people along the way. Who is the mysterious woman she is searching for? And will Sandy find friendship, or even love, along the way…?

 

A Little Teaser…

The prologue and first chapter

Sandy is sitting with her Mother in the final stages of her life when she finds an unsent letter  adressed to a woman called Anna in Naples. There is no record of Anna in any address book, so curiousity gets the better of Sandy and she questions her mother minutes before she passes away and is told “find her”.

Six months later, school teacher Sandy sets off to Italy on a two week Taste of Italy holiday on her own. She is nervous and begins to wonder what she’s let herself in for, although the promise of sightseeing and cookery classes in Rome and along the Amalfi coast keeps her from changing her mind. On the first day of the tour, when the small group of travellers all meet for the first time, Sandy finds herself face to face with someone she’d rather not see..

I will be posting my full review of An Italian Summer next week so make sure you pop back then.

 

Also, make sure you pop by these other blogs who are also on the tour.

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A Lazy Bloggers Mini Reviews – Part 2

Snap by Belinda Bauer

coverSummary:

SNAP DECISIONS CAN BE DANGEROUS . . .

On a stifling summer’s day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she’d said. I won’t be long.

But she doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed forever.

Three years later, Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house, and – quite suddenly – of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother. . .

My Verdict:

A tense and gripping crime thriller that is a blessed relief from a lot of the “samey” thrillers out there at the moment. Characters you care about, humour, fabulously grumpy Detective with a mystery to be solved all of which cumulate into a real page-turner.

Highly recommended!

 

Bitter by Francesca Jakobi

51yKn8TwtkL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Summary:

It’s 1969, and while the summer of love lingers in London, Gilda is consumed by the mistakes of her past. She walked out on her beloved son Reuben when he was just a boy and fears he’ll never forgive her.

When Reuben marries a petite blonde gentile, Gilda takes it as the ultimate rejection. Her cold, distant son seems transformed by love – a love she’s craved his entire adult life. What does his new wife have that she doesn’t? And how far will she go to find out? It’s an obsession that will bring shocking truths about the past to light . . .

Bitter is a beautiful and devastating novel about the decisions that define our lives, the fragility of love and the bond between mother and son.

My Verdict:

I absolutely loved this book! A protagonist who, despite her many flaws and stalkerish tendencies, you can’t help but root for,

Funny, heartbreaking and moving, Bitter is a story of obsession, love and lies. A breath of fresh air in this genre. Highly recommended!

 

Her Name Was Rose by Claire Allan

36589624 (1)Summary:

When Emily lets a stranger step out in front of her, she never imagines that split second will change her life. But after Emily watches a car plough into the young mother – killing her instantly – she finds herself unable to move on.

And then she makes a decision she can never take back.

Because Rose had everything Emily had ever dreamed of. A beautiful, loving family, a great job and a stunning home. And now Rose’s husband misses his wife, and their son needs a mother. Why couldn’t Emily fill that space?

But as Emily is about to discover, no one’s life is perfect … and not everything is as it seems.

My Verdict:

While I enjoyed reading this book, I really wasn’t bowled over by it. I didn’t feel enough for Emily to care much about what happened to her, and her stalker tendencies bordered on contrived for me – something to fit the plot rather than plausible as she made one stupid decision after another. I never really got the character of Cian (the grieving widow) either: he was so psychopathic is was almost pantomime.

An easy read, and fairly enjoyable but not one I would heartily recommend I’m afraid.

Blog Tour – The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the blog tour for author Riley Sager’s new book The Last Time I Lied as I had read Final Girls a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it!

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As with Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied is also partly set in a summer camp, which was one of the things that I loved about the first book. Confession: I didn’t realise it was my turn on the tour today so I haven’t written up my review yet so that will follow shortly. However, in the meantime, Riley has kindly answered some questions about favourite summer camp movies for this blog tour.

 

My 5 Favourite Summer Camp Movies by Riley Sager 

Hollywood loves a good summer camp movie. All those dense woods and mist-covered lakes make great backdrops for stories both sweet and scary.

 

The Parent Trap (1961)

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This Walt Disney classic stars Hayley Mills and … Hayley Mills as long-lost twin sisters who meet at summer camp. First, they fight. Then they bond. Then they hatch a plan to switch identities and reunite their parents. It’s all insane, which might be why I love it so much. A 1998 remake starred Lindsay Lohan and … Lindsay Lohan, which is why I prefer the original.

 

Friday the 13th (1980)

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Erm, no thanks!

Let’s be honest—as soon as you hear the words summer camp, you think Camp Crystal Lake, home of that hockey-masked monster Jason Voorhees. With good reason. The original Friday the 13th changed the way the world things of summer camps. After that, it was no longer safe to venture into the woods alone.

 

Addams Family Values (1993)

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While the adult members of the Addams clan are dealing with psychotic bride Debbie Jellinksy (a deliciously bonkers Joan Cusack), Wednesday and Pugsley are sent to Camp Chippewa. While there, a group of mean girls target Wednesday. Big mistake, mean girls. Big mistake.

 

Camp (2003)

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What’s better than nature? Nature and show tunes, of course. Plus a bunch of drama kids bringing all their issues and confusion to the great outdoors. An added bonus: Seeing a young Anna Kendrick belting out Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

 

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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Have you ever loved a movie so much you want to live there? That’s how I feel about this Wes Anderson charmer about the adolescent romance between a scout camp runaway and the bookish girl who strikes his fancy. Come for the production design, stay for the surprisingly sweet story.

 

Thank you so much to Riley for taking the time to write this post. I’ve even added a few of those films to my own watch list now. And thank you to Ebury Publishing for my copy of the book and to Anne Cater for arranging the tour.

A Lazy Bloggers Mini Reviews – Part 1

I’ve been a little lazy of late when it comes to reviewing books *hangs head in shame*. The real shame is that some of them have been absolute corkers!

To make up for it (but more importantly so I don’t have to spend the next 3 weeks writing up full-length reviews around my actual job) I have decided to do a blast of lots of mini-reviews. Bite-sized reviews; amuse-bouches, if you will.

I will provide a synopsis by way of the publishers’ blurb and then a verdict on what I thought 🙂

So, in no particular order:

downloadIf I Die Before I Wake by Emily by Emily Koch

Summary:

“Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.

But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger.

As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.”

Verdict:

A great device for a book – the narrator is trapped in a body that is paralysed but with a mind that is still very much awake, only he can’t tell anyone this. We, the reader, watch Alex try to piece together the days and hours before his accident and we also watch it dawn on him that perhaps it was more than an unfortunate accident that put him in hospital. Chilling and at times edge-of-your-seat, this is a great thriller. If you like your books dramatic and fast-paced, this may not be for you, however, as it is quite a slow burner. An author to watch out for.

 

35376281Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Summary:

“The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They’re both wrong.

One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.

Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…”

Verdict:

If you like your books twisty and turny then Clare Mackintosh will be right up your street. There were a few “gotcha’s”, one of which I guessed and the others which I didn’t. I bloody love it when I get it wrong as so many of these types of books are easy to predict these days. Fabulous book!

 

download (1)Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Summary:

SOMEONE IS LIVING A LIE… BUT WHO?

Is it Lisa?
Haunted by a tragic past, all Lisa wants is a quiet life with her daughter, Ava. And when she meets a new man, things seem to be falling into place. But Lisa is hiding a secret so momentous it could shatter her entire world…

Is it Ava?
When sixteen-year-old Ava saves a young boy’s life, she becomes a local hero. But never in a million years could she have anticipated the fallout of her actions…

Is it Marilyn?
Marilyn has the perfect life. Her husband, her job, her house—she seems to have it all. But she could never admit to her best friend Lisa the lies she tells herself to get through the day…

One moment will change these three women’s lives forever. And the secrets they’ve been keeping could destroy them all.”

Verdict:

I was a huge fan of Behind Her Eyes, out last year, so it is no exaggeration to say that I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on this book. I was not disappointed, in fact, I loved it! Sarah Pinborough really knows how to keep you guessing, and how to take you to the place you won’t suspect. Highly recommended for fans of the psychological thriller.

More soon… 🙂 

Blog Tour & Review: The Lido by Libby Page

34709995What I Thought:

What a joy of a book this is. A book with many themes and all so impactful that after only a few chapters I was already googling outdoor swimming in my area, so keen was I to feel that first icy bite.

Kate is 26 and living a life of loneliness in Brixton, having moved there for work and knowing nobody. She exists on ready meals and spends her evenings alone in her bedroom. Also in Brixton, is 86 year old Rosemary who has lived there all her life. Rosemary has lead a wonderful life, married to the love of her life, George, for over 60 years until his recent passing. Her time is spent swimming in the Lido and occasional tea and cake with friends. That is until the Lido is threatened with closure and Kate and Rosemary find their paths crossing, leading to a friendship that neither of them saw coming.

Kate and Rosemary are both fantastically well-fleshed out characters. Loneliness is a big theme in The Lido as both women are lonely in their own ways and this feeling was palpable through the pages. There was a lot about this book that resonated with me: It is certainly true that you can feel lonely in a crowd. I, like Kate, have moved to new areas, only in my case many times. Starting fresh in a new town or city for work is both exciting and daunting and despite making friends easily at work, I found myself on occasion lonely for company and it can be incredibly debilitating. Libby Page manages to create very relatable characters who are easy to empathise with and easy to invest in emotionally.

Verdict:

The Lido is an uplifting, gem of a novel. With an abundance of character who fizz off the pages and a plight and a goal to root for, I enjoyed every second of this book. Be prepared to laugh and to cry (i.e. big, fat, noisy tears) but to come away feeling uplifted.

My Rosemary:

I was asked to talk about my own Rosemary for this book tour and while there were a few contenders, I chose my late Grandmother, Lily,  whose story and courage I have always admired. Born in 1908, my Grandma left home at 17, to become a Nurse, all against the wishes of her parents who owned shops and later a farm and wanted her to continue in the family business. She wanted to become a Nurse so badly that she lied about her age, telling the college she was 18. Over the years, she rose through the ranks, becoming both a midwife and a District Nurse. She met my Grandad, Harry, in her early 20’s but didn’t marry him until years later as in those days, women had to give up their careers when they got married. Despite being written out of her parents’ will, she stuck to her guns and pursued the career she wanted. I used to love hearing these stories when I was little – she was such an independent woman way ahead of her time and stuck to her principles despite being disinherited (actually, that’s not quite true – her parents left her a tea-towel in their will!). My Grandmother went on to have three children (two in her late 20’s when she finally married my Grandad) and then my Mum when she was almost 40 (very late in those days). She also drove a moped (which she crashed and was in a coma for a while and then got back on again when she was back on her feet). Lily passed away in 1996 but we still talk about her a lot – she was feisty and said what she thought but she was also loving and kind. I’m really proud of telling this story as I think she was truly inspirational. And she would have been straight down to that Lido, waving banners and holding placards!!

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NB/ I was sent a copy of this book in return for an honest review by Orion and I was delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour for this wonderful book. Please do also check out the other reviews that have already been posted and the ones scheduled for the next few days.

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