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Joanne M Harris #Runemarks Blog Tour

Joanne Harris is one author whose books I always buy when they come out, so today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for the new edition of Runemarks, her fantastical tale of magic, adventure and Norse mythology. It’s been re-edited, and comes with a new introduction and a gorgeous cover by Andreas Preis, who also designed The Gospel of Loki.

It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else…

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.

Want to read some? Great! Because from 21 November to 3 December, book bloggers are posting extracts from Runemarks (details of all participating blogs below). Yesterday was the turn of and today it’s mine. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…

No one knew much about Red Horse Hill. Some said it had been shaped during the Elder Age, when the heathens still made sacrifices to the old gods. Others said it was the burial mound of some great Outlander chieftain, seeded throughout with deadly traps, though Maddy favoured the theory that the place was a giant treasure mound, piled to the eaves with goblin gold. Read more

Book Review and #Giveaway: The English Girl by Katherine Webb

Thanks to an open book club event run by Book-ish in Crickhowell earlier this year, I read Katherine Webb’s The English Girl when it came out in hardback. Actually, thinking about it, a friend lent me their proof copy because I was so eager to read it before the event, and meeting Katherine. It was the first book of hers that I’d read, although she was an author whose novels I’d been meaning to read for some time – three were waiting patiently on my bookshelves – and the event bumped her up to the top of the TBR pile. Shortly after finishing The English Girl, I bought the remaining two so that I wasted no further time in reading her entire backlist. You can probably guess from all of this that I absolutely loved The English Girl, and because it’s out in paperback today, not only am I going to share my review of it but I’m also going to do a giveaway because when you find a great book, you want other people to read it and this’ll make it easier for one of you.

Joan Seabrook, a fledgling archaeologist, has fulfilled her lifelong dream to travel to Arabia and has arrived in the ancient city of Muscat with her fiancé, Rory. Desperate to escape the pain of a personal tragedy, she longs to explore the desert fort of Jabrin and unearth the wonders held within.

But Oman is a land lost in time, and in the midst of violent upheaval gaining permission to explore could prove impossible. Joan’s disappointment is only eased by the thrill of meeting her childhood heroine, pioneering explorer Maude Vickery, and hearing the stories that captured her imagination and sparked her ambition as a child.

The friendship that forms between the two women will change everything. Both have desires to fulfil and secrets to keep. As their bond grows, Joan is inspired by the thrill of her new friend’s past and finds herself swept up in a bold and dangerous adventure of Maude’s making. Only too late does she begin to question her actions – actions that will spark a wild, and potentially devastating, chain of events.

Will the girl that left England for this beautiful but dangerous land ever find her way back?

What I love about historical fiction is that it often provides me with heroines who I wouldn’t find in or have heard about from history books, shining a light on either overlooked or little known women. And even in the case of fictional heroines, whether or not they’re inspired by real women of the time, hearing the story of a certain time and place from a female perspective, which can be quite different to how their male counterparts would have experienced things, helps me question and hopefully expand my understanding of other places and cultures at various periods throughout history. (And no, I’m not taking novels as fact in the place of history books but they can help bring it alive in a way that sparks an interest into a novel’s events and background which, in turn, leads to further reading and research.) In The English Girl, despite its title, there are not one, but two pioneering women, even if the more modern of the two doesn’t start out intending to be as adventurous and as much of a risk-taker as she ultimately turns out to be. Read more

Book Review: A Year and a Day by Isabelle Broom

Prague is high on my list of places to visit but not somewhere I’ve managed to get to, unfortunately, and with my love of European Christmas markets and wandering medieval towns with cobbled streets and stories and legends at every turn, I’ve always imagined that it’s especially magical this time of year. Happily, one of the joys of reading is being whisked off to a different place, especially when for whatever reason you can’t get there in reality, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to read an early copy of Isabelle Broom’s latest novel, A Year and a Day, the majority of which is set in Prague.

Welcome to a city where wishes are everywhere

For Megan, a winter escape to Prague with her friend Ollie is a chance to find some inspiration for her upcoming photography exhibition. But she’s determined to keep their friendship from becoming anything more. Because if Megan lets Ollie find out about her past, she risks losing everything – and she won’t let that happen again . . .

For Hope, the trip is a surprise treat from Charlie, her new partner. But she’s struggling to enjoy the beauty of the city when she knows how angry her daughter is back home. And that it’s all her fault . . .

For Sophie, the city has always been a magical place. This time she can’t stop counting down the moments until her boyfriend Robin joins her. But in historic Prague you can never escape the past . . .

Three different women.
Three intertwining love stories.
One unforgettable, timeless city.

Of course, it wasn’t only the Prague setting that appealed with this book. The fact that one of the characters, Megan, is a photographer piqued my interest and I also wanted to see how the friends or something more would play out in supposedly one of the most romantic cities in the world. I also liked that the friend in question, Ollie, was a school teacher and not some big shot in the city. I enjoy books where at least some of the characters could be my friends far more than I do reading about unattainable high flyers who have no time for themselves, let alone anyone else. The other characters are equally relatable: there’s Hope, who’s recently left a long-term relationship and is struggling to find her place in the new life she’s stumbled into with Charlie, a follicly-challenged driving instructor. And last but not least, little Sophie, who may be quiet and still live at home on her parent’s farm, but is by far the most travelled of the group and waiting to be joined by her soulmate and fiance in a place they’ve visited many times together.

How these people fare as they wander from hotel to sight to cosy bar to sight and back again, slipping over ice and words while trying to keep warm in the wintry chill of an Eastern European city varies, and the characters’ concerns and sentiments felt pretty real and contemporary. While some turns in their stories were full of modern dilemma, with twists I could guess at, one story in particular left me weeping and shaken, and in dire need of a comforting bear hug or, failing that, a hot spiced wine from one of the stalls in the nearby Christmas market. I was happy to be caught off guard by this story though, it gave the rest of the book a dramatic edge and tempered the sweetness of the other stories to a much more bearable level for me. Yes, there are times when some of the descriptions seem overblown, but I let the characters – and the author – off given I probably will use nothing but superlatives when I finally get to see Prague, too. I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of myth and legend, flashbacks and memories, and finished A Year and a Day feeling wrung out and sated but ultimately hopeful for these people’s futures. Read more

An afternoon with Choc Lit’s Pink Ladies

L – R: Authors Christine Stovell, Evonne Wareham and Christina Courtenay looking very snazzy in their Choc Lit tees, and kudos to Evonne for tolerating a kimono-wearing squirrel on her shoulder.
L – R: Authors Christine Stovell, Evonne Wareham and Christina Courtenay looking very snazzy in their Choc Lit tees, and kudos to Evonne for tolerating a kimono-wearing squirrel on her shoulder.

If you follow me on social media or have ever read this blog before, you’ll know that books, chocolate and adventures with squirrels (and yes, Squizzey, especially one in particular) are three of my favourite things. Luckily, I caught a Facebook post by Evonne Wareham earlier last week advertising an event that combined all three. On Thursday lunchtime, Squizzey and I ventured over to the neighbouring valley to check out the newly refurbished Ystrad Mynach library. It’s bright and welcoming – as are the library staff – and even stocks squirrel-friendly book titles. (Although Squizz was a little wary of the purple dragon guarding them!)

The authors’ books on the table with Japanese footwear and fan underneath it
The authors’ books on the table with Japanese footwear and fan underneath it

As part of the re-opening celebrations, three author friends – Christine Stovell, Evonne Wareham and Christina Courtenay –  were there to talk about Heroes, Heroines and Happy Endings. All three are all published by ChocLit; a publisher of a wide selection of stories, told from both the hero and heroine’s point of view, which all have romance at the heart of them.

Trying to walk in the heavy kimono
Trying to walk in the heavy kimono

All three authors were generous with their time – and the chocolates they handed round to everyone – and open to questions from the audience throughout the afternoon session. They covered the type of books they write, which range from contemporary romance to young adult and historical to thrillers and suspense, and why, showing how the fiction they write stems from their other interests, a desire to combine one or more of those and create a hybrid work, places they had lived or visited, and/or a need to make sense of the world we live in.

A fan of Christina’s books
A fan of Christina’s books

Chris, Evonne and Christina talked about the starting points for stories: a character, a place, a situation or a premise. They all seemed to be pantsters rather than planners, although Evonne did admit that she was academic in her approach thanks to her background, and they all keep some record of the timeline they’re working to, so that this doesn’t cause continuity issues. Christina also said that it was useful for her to colour-code characters’ points of view, to ensure that her stories achieved the right balance, and didn’t favour one character more than any other to the detriment of the whole story. This was especially important to her when writing time slips, where both stories have to carry the same weight.

While both Chris and Christina write straight onto a computer, Evonne still prefers to write long-hand and showed us the manuscript of her current work-in-progress, complete with her own red pen edits. Respect to Evonne for not only writing in longhand and also leaving the house with a handwritten manuscript. I would only do this, if I could clutch it to my chest for the whole time I was away from the house. Not doing regular enough back-ups makes me break out in a cold sweat, as it is! Read more

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