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Sanctuary by VV James – Blog Tour Book Review

It is my spot on the blog tour for Sanctuary by VV James which releases in paperback tomorrow (2nd April 2020).

About the book

Sanctuary. It’s the perfect town. . . to hide a secret. 


The star quarterback’s death was a tragic accident.

Those rumours about his ex-girlfriend? Local gossip.
Detective Maggie Knight thinks she has it all figured out.

She’s wrong.

The small town of Sanctuary is rocked by the death of its star quarterback. Daniel’s death looked like an accident, but everyone knows his ex-girlfriend, Harper, was there when he died. 

Then the rumours start. When Harper insists Dan was guilty of a terrible act, the town turns on her. So was his death an accident, revenge – or something even darker? 

As accusations fly and secrets are revealed, paranoia grips the town, culminating in a trial that the whole world is watching.

About the author


V.V. James is the author (as Vic James) of the contemporary fantasy trilogy Gilded Cage, Tarnished City, and Bright Ruin. Gilded Cage is a 2018 World Book Night pick and a Radio 2 Book Club selection. V.V. worked as an investigative producer for Channel 4 News and now directs documentaries for BBC1 and BBC2.

What I Thought


I had been really struggling with reading since the covid crisis so I put aside plenty of time to read this for the blog tour, but thankfully I ended up whipping through it.


The chapters were generally short and pacy which really helped but the premise was so good and the characters and plot intriguing. If you have any interest in the Salem witch trials and/or crime fiction you are going to want to read this.


Told in multiple points of view mainly from 3 adult women. Abigail – mother of the deceased, Sarah – town witch and mother of the accused and Maggie – detective.


In this world after the witch trials, witches were embedded into the fabric of America but under strict social control, having to register, banned from performing certain spells or using certain texts. The use of magic in a crime increases the severity of the punishment and evidence gained from magical means is inadmissible in trial.

The idea of a coven being between one witch and other non magical women who can loan their energy was fresh and added an extra layer to the uncertainty about what had happened. The secrets and lies between the women begin to unravel not only their friendship but society as a whole. The small town setting added to the claustrophobic atmosphere with everyone interconnected. The relationships were complex and nuanced.


There is an uneasy acceptance of witches in society, hate crime against witches being outlawed but clearly bubbling below. Trust is easily broken and fear stoked up and fuelled by the sorrow of losing a high school quarterback. Football being it’s own religion in certain quarters.

At its heart this was a murder mystery, a who or what done it and why, and I managed to guess at some aspects but not the whole. And this made it a hugely satisfying pay off. The gradual hints at and unfurling of a prior mystery were also so intricately plotted and made this a compelling page turner.


There was so much incidental diversity included. It was a breath of fresh air when a non binary character was introduced who was initially mis-pronouned. But once the character was corrected they simply used the correct pronouns without it being an issue at all.
Ironically towards the end of the book the town gets put into a quarantine because of a “sickness”. But don’t let that parallel with what’s going on in the world put you off. This is a clever and insightful take on a number of contemporary issues. I’ll leave you to learn the lessons of the witches. Something given for something gotten.

For fans of The Crucible, Practical Magic, Witches of East End and Asking For It. Trigger warning for rape and some grotesque moments. Adult.

Thanks to Orion for the paperback copy for the purposes of an honest review. The hardback edition came in Illumicrate. Do check out the rest of the stops on the tour.

Fierce, Fearless and Free by Lari Don (Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon) – International Women’s Day Blog Tour Book Review


Happy International Women’s Day everyone.


Today I have a review of Lari Don’s collection of fierce, fearless and free girls from myths and legends around the world.


About the Book


A brilliant, inclusive collection of traditional tales from around the world featuring amazing women and girls. Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince who – no, that’s not right! Once upon a time, there were strong, fierce women who plotted, schemed, took action, showed kindness, used magic and trickery, and made their own destiny. From the long-haired Petrosinella who escaped the tower and broke the spell that the ogress had cast over her and Nana Miriam who beat a hippo using politeness and magic, to Kate Crackernuts who tried to save her stepsister from her mother’s curse, these are stories of girls doing it for themselves! With stories drawn from all over the world, including China, Scotland, Armenia, Italy and Nigeria, Lari Don presents heroine stories that don’t leave girls sitting around waiting to be saved by the handsome prince.

About the Author


Lari Don is an award-winning writer for young people of all ages. She loved Scottish traditional tales as a child, and now loves gathering myths, legends and folktales from all over the world to inspire her novels. Since becoming a full-time author, she has written more than 30 children’s books, from picture books and early readers to middle-grade adventure novels and a teen thriller. Lari is passionate about visiting schools and libraries to share the traditional tales she loves, to show how those old stories can be used to inspire new stories, and to encourage young people to create their own adventures. Fierce, Fearless and Free is her fifth collection of traditional tales for Bloomsbury, returning to the theme of her first, the bestselling Girls, Goddesses and Giants. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and two fierce, fearless and free daughters.

Website: www.laridon.co.uk

Twitter: http://twitter.com/LariDonWriter

About the Illustrator


When Eilidh Muldoon isn’t drawing she’s thinking about drawing and she loves nothing in no more than to immerse herself in the world of traditional stories. Her sketch books are packed with detailed drawings and plots and plans. An illustrator and designer, she loves the variety of working one day on one of her popular colouring books or city-scape prints, and the next on one of Lari’s extraordinary heroines. This is her first book for Bloomsbury.

What I Thought


I really enjoyed the fact that there were tales inspired by local and international myths and seeing how fairytales such as Rapunzel and Red Riding Hood have a different spin in different areas.


Each story opens with a beautiful black and white illustration, with title and locality of the stories inspiration. Then comes Lari’s version of the tale. They are perfectly bite sized for a bedtime story or for readers to read independently.
At the back of the book Lari also briefly looks at the tale’s origins and I love how she highlights how and if she has adapted the stories. Each one has always been about the girls taking things into their own hands though – and the only thing Lari has usually changed is removing the trite “and she married a prince and lived happily ever after” endings. They aren’t needed – the resourcefulness and determination shown by the girls is the end goal.


My favourites were Neringa and the Sea Dragon (Lithuania – where you can visit the peninsula inspired by the tale), Bridget and the Witches (don’t leave your feet water out!), The Lace Dragon (even lace dragons breathe fire) and Medea and the Metal Man and now I’m just wondering how to slip that latter tale into my own Medea retelling.


I have one criticism and that is we needed a gorgeous hardback edition with full colour illustrations by Eilidh. After all girls deserve the best.


Fierce, Fearless and Free also has the well deserved title of hive’s Children’s Book of The Month – https://twitter.com/hivestores/status/1235572450647146496?s=21


Thanks to @fayerogerspr and @bloomsburyed for the #gifted copy for the purposes of an honest review and to @laridonwriter and @EilidhMuldoon for giving us some fabulous #FierceFearlessAndFree tales for #IWD. Do check out the rest of the stops on the tour.

Soot (& Smoke) by Dan Vyleta – Blog Tour Book Review


Today I am happy to be part of the blog tour for the release of Dan Vyleta’s Soot (27/02/2020) – the follow up to Smoke (2016).

About the Book/s


Smoke


‘The laws of Smoke are complex. Not every lie will trigger it. A fleeting thought of evil may pass unseen. Next thing you know it’s smell is in your nose. There is no more hateful smell in the world than the smell of Smoke…’


Smoke opens in a private boarding school near Oxford, but history has not followed the path known to us. In this other past, sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children are born carrying the seeds of evil within them. The ruling elite have learned to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless.


It is within the closeted world of this school that the sons of the wealthy and well-connected are trained as future leaders. Among their number are two boys, Thomas and Charlie. On a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, the boys will witness an event that will make them question everything they have been told about the past. For there is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it…


Soot


Welcome to a world where every desire is visible, rising from the body as a plume of Smoke. A world where bodies speak to one another and infect each other with desire, anger, greed. It is 1909 and this world stands on a precipice – some celebrate this constant whisper of skin to skin, and some seek to silence it forever.


Enter Eleanor, a young woman with a strange power over Smoke and niece of the Lord Protector of England. Running from her uncle and home, she finds shelter in a New York theatre troupe.
Then Nil, a thief hiding behind a self-effacing name. He’s an orphan snatched from a jungle-home and suspects that a clue to his origins may lie hidden in the vaults of the mighty, newly-risen East India Company.


And finally Thomas, one of three people to release Smoke into the world. On a clandestine mission to India, he hopes to uncover the origins of Smoke and lay to rest his doubts about what he helped to unleash.


In a story that spans the globe – from India to England’s Minetowns – these three seek to control the power of Smoke. As their destinies entwine, a cataclysmic confrontation looms: the Smoke will either bind them together or forever rend the world.

About the Author


Dan Vyleta is the author of four previous novels: Pavel & I, which gathered international acclaim and was translated into eight languages, The Quiet Twin which was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, The Crooked Maid, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and winner of the J.L. Segal Award, and the critically-acclaimed Smoke.


He is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. After growing up in Germany, Dan left to attend university in the US, and he completed a PhD in History at King’s College, London.


He lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.

What I Thought


When I read the synopsis for Soot it sounded familiar although the word Welcome at the beginning made it sound like a new book/series. When the book arrived I realised I thankfully already had an unread copy of Smoke I traded so I have read that also in preparation for this post. I thought I’d try a slightly different type of review today. Hope you like it.

Do I need to read Smoke first?
Ideally yes. There is a small recap of the Smoke characters and actions at the beginning of Soot, although I think this is mainly to help refresh past readers. I think it would be harder to grasp what’s going on in Soot without reading Smoke first.


If sin were visible…what would the world be like?
This is the by-line on the cover of Smoke and the question the books answer. Power dynamics are the main thrust of this and money – the rich find a way to control it and look down on those who can’t afford to whilst, in actuality commit worse sins. This is a dystopia and as with all dystopias parallels to today’s world can be drawn. And often they are scary.


Dickens, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials are some of the comparatives mentioned – do any of them fit?
Most definitely Dickens. Smoke was inspired by a quote from Dombey and Son. I’ve not actually read that but for me Smoke definitely had echos of Great Expectations with an additional gothic Jane Eyre vibe. There are some very creepy moments and some Frankenstein comparisons also wouldn’t be misplaced. Smoke could be seen as similar to Dust in His Dark Materials and there are sinister adult characters lurking. Harry Potter slightly less so although we do open in a school and there is a Draco type character. On the whole the books are much darker – maybe more like the end of the Potter series where the Ministry is corrupt. The mystery element in Smoke reminded me a little of Kerri Maniscalo’s Stalking Jack the Ripper especially when they are rootling through a laboratory. The opening of Soot gave me Interview with a Vampire vibes with the theatre production. The series definitely lives up to some comparisons but is very much its own thing too. A magnificent hybrid.


What about the writing?
It’s sumptuous and rhythmic. In Smoke there is a slow burn, an unfolding of mystery and the start of a revolution. The book is told by a narrator but this is interspersed with first person viewpoints from a whole range of characters. Those who loved the style of The Night Circus with its gradual unfurling and payoff at the end will enjoy this.


Soot interestingly takes a different style and intermixes the structure of a five act play (to echo Eleanor’s joining of the theatre troupe) with historical artefacts including diary and textbook extracts. It feels like a historian unpicking the ashes of a revolution and has a slight distance to it. It is still beautifully written but without the previous connection to the characters got from reading Smoke it might alienate someone picking up book two after a long absence.

Will I like the characters?
Yes, they are all complex and multi layered. In a story about sin none of them are without fault and you will like some despite these and love to hate others because of them. The phrase – He who is without sin cast the first stone – comes to mind in answering this.

Will there be more?
The scope of book two was wider than the first, taking in much more of the world. I’m not sure if there will be more but there very well could be.


Would I recommend?
It really depends on what type of books you like or are in the mood for. These are not quick books to read, they rightly demand attention and raise interesting moral questions. If you are a fan of any of the comparison books or writers then I would definitely recommend picking these up and giving them a go.

Thanks to Orion and Compulsive Readers for my gifted copy of Soot for the purposes of review. Do check out the other stops on the tour.

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