Blog tours, new releases

Blog Tour: Conjure Women

A bonus post this Wednesday for you as I’m the latest stop on the blog tour for Conjure Women by Afia Atakora. This is a debut novel that’s got a fair bit of of hype – just yesterday morning it made it into an email from Barnes and Noble, who have picked it for their book club this month. Anyway, after a string of romance and crime reviews, it’s been really nice to get my teeth into some thing a bit different – and this is a world away from most of my recent reading that I’ve been telling you about.

Cover of Conjure Women

So what’s it about: Set in the American South and moving around in time before, during and after the Civil War, it is the story of May Belle a wise woman and healer for a plantation; her daughter Rue, who she passes her skills as a midwife on to and Varina, the daughter of the plantation owner, who is a similar age to Rue. Told principally through the eyes of Rue, over the course of the novel a web of secrets, passions and friendships unfolds, starting with the birth of the child Rue accidentally christens Black-Eyed Bean and who the village people think is cursed. Bean is pale-skinned and has black-eyed and people are sure he’s a bad omen. When a sickness starts sweeping through the community, they’re sure of it. Rue finds herself at the centre of their suspicions – not only did she deliver Bean, but she’s been spotted in the woods late at night, she (or her mother) has conjured spells to help many of them before – so is she conjuring to help Bean now? And why is she so wary of the preacher who comes to visit them?

So firstly – the writing in this is beautiful. The characters feel incredibly real and you can really see the plantation in your mind’s eye as you read. Rue is a seductive protagonist – she’s observant and smart, but she doesn’t always see the reality of the world – even though she thinks that she does. It means that you think that you know better than her about what is going on – and then every time, it turns out that you don’t. You know that Rue’s friendship with Varina is going to be a problem, but the narrative moves around in time so cleverly that you pick up scraps of the bigger story but the full picture never really becomes clear to you (even if you think it has) until Atakora wants you to be able to see it. Life on the plantation before the war is filled with violence and arbitary punishment, life after the war is filled with a new peril.

Goodreads has this tagged with fantasy as well as historical fiction, and among the comparison novels is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, but part of the skill of this is that it keeps you wondering if May Belle and her mother really can do magic. This was definitely a change from what I’ve been reading for the past few weeks, and it gave me a lot to think about. I’m still thinking about it now, still wondering, imagining. If you’re feeling particularly anxious at the moment, maybe wait until you’re feeling more resilient because this is very tense, with unexpected violence at various points that will horrify you. But if you want something to lift you away from the reality of a lockdown and to remind you that life could be – has been – so much worse, then this could be the book for you.

I said at the top that this is a very different pick from most of my recent reviews, but over the history of this blog I’ve written about a fair few literary fiction books, and have had a particular interest in books about the black experience in the American South since I studied The Color Purple at A Level. I’ve already mentioned The Underground Railroad, but as well as Colson Whitehead, if you’ve read Ta-Nehisi Coates (and I have the Water Dancer on my tbr pile), or Toni Morrison or of Yaa Gyasi (also on my tbr) this should be on your reading list. And if you read The Confessions of Frannie Langton after I recommended that last year, then maybe give this a try too.

Conjure Women came out yesterday in ebook on Kindle and Kobo. The hardback is out next week and I don’t know how easy it will be to get from your local independent bookseller straight away, but if you’re going to read this, i’d encourage you to order it from your local bookshop if you can, even if you have to wait a bit for it to turn up because booksellers need all the help they can get at the moment.

Happy Reading!

Blog tour poster for Conjure Women

Blog tours

Blog Tour: The Five-Year Plan

A bonus post today, as I’m on the blog tour for The Five-Year Plan by Carla Burgess, which is out later this week.

Our heroine is Orla, a trainee reporter on a local paper and she has a plan. A five-year plan in fact, to get to a job on a national newspaper. She definitely doesn’t want a boyfriend – he’d only get in the way. But then she’s sent out on assignment to interview wildlife photographer Aiden. He’s dedicated to his career too and spends his life travelling the world and sleeping in a tent. He only has casual relationships, because he doesn’t want to be tied down. As they get to know each other, they do everything they can to make sure they don’t fall for each other – but it doesn’t seem to be working. But they follow the plan and go their separate ways. Then five years later they meet again…

I really, really wanted to like this more than I did – partly because it has such a promising start. The opening when Orla and Aiden meet again at his exhibition really grabbed me and hooked me in. But then it jumped back five years to their first meeting and stayed there for an awful lot longer than I was expecting. I wasn’t so interested in what happened back then, I wanted to know what happened next and it took a long time to get back to that. And while we were in the past section, I found that I didn’t like either of the characters as much as I had at the start.

When we finally got back to the present, Orla was a bit more passive than I was hoping that she would be and I felt like I never really got a sense of who she is – even though the story is told from her point of view. Thinking back at the end, I couldn’t name a hobby, or an interest or a band she liked. I’m not even sure what it is about journalism that she liked – her plan is just explained as being to get a job at a national paper. And because you’re in Orla’s head, you never really get to know Aiden except through her eyes – and even through her eyes he has a tendency to seem self-centred and manipulative. I never really understood why they got on together so well or why she’d been so hung up on him for so long or what it was about her that Aiden liked so much, other than her ability to sit in a tent with him and watch otters.

I love a second chance romance, and I thought this had a lot of potential to recapture some of the things I loved about late 90s-early 00s “chick lit” – and which are seem to be so hard to find at the moment. But in the end it didn’t quite do what I wanted it to do – and I’m not sure it’s entirely because I was hoping for it to be something it wasn’t.

The Five-Year Plan may not have been entirely for me, but it may well scratch an itch for some of you out there. And in these difficult times (you know what I’m talking about), it has the advantage of not having any peril, or illness in it (beyond a sprained ankle) and that’s definitely a plus. My copy of The Five-Year Plan came from the publisher, but it is out on Friday on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

*but in fairness, it’s not in the running other women down way.

Five Year Plan blog tour banner

Blog tours, new releases

Blog Tour: Died and Gone to Devon

Happy Friday everyone, and welcome to a special bonus post to mark the mid point in November.  I’m one of the stops on the blog tour for TP Fielden’s Died and Gone to Devon – which came out yesterday – and which I read the other week.

This is the fourth book in the Miss Dimount Investigates series, featuring an intrepid lady reporter in the seaside town of Temple Regis in the late 1950s.  In Died and Gone to Devon, a by-election is looming – but when one of the candidates winds up dead, Judy is soon investigating.  Add into the mix a new and suspiciously ambitious journalist and a visit from her mother, and Judy has soon got a lot on her plate.

Regular readers will know that I love a murder mystery set in the past, and I love an unconventional detective.  Judy is an older lady – not as old as Miss Marple certainly, but definitely not in the first flush of youth – and I really like the fact that she’s got her head screwed on and doesn’t sail off into danger without a thought.  She’s smart, she’s had to fight to get to wear she is and she’s not going to cede her position easily.  And I also like the late 1950s setting – Temple Regis is a sleepy, old-fashioned backwater but you can see the cusp of the swinging sixties on the horizon and the conflicts that are starting as times change.  I had some of the mystery figured out early on, but not all by any means and I enjoyed watching everything unfold, although to be fair reading it in the week that a General Election was called might not have been my best plan – as it all got a bit election overload at times!

I read the first book in the series back in 2017, and enjoyed it but thought that there was a lot of set up for the series going on and a few too many unexplained hints about Judy’s past. But this definitely felt like a book in a series that has hit its stride – the characters are established, there aren’t any info dumps about people and there are a few little nuggets about previous cases that would work as callbacks if you’ve read them, or tempt you into reading them if like me you haven’t.

My copy of Died and Gone to Devon came via the publisher, but it is available now as a paperback and on Kindle, Kobo and Audible.

Happy Reading!

Blog tours, historical, new releases

Blog Tour: The Confessions of Frannie Langton

A Friday bonus post for you today because I am on the blog tour for The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, which came out on Tuesday in the UK.  I actually mentioned this book last week in my post about diverse authors, although  that was focusing on romance and this is a mystery thriller Gothic page turner, definitely not a romance. It’s also a debut and I have many things to say about it.

Hardback of The Confessions of Frannie Langton

Let’s start with the plot. This is the story of a young Jamaican woman named (by her owners) Frances Langton.  When we meet her she is in a cell in Newgate prison, awaiting trial for the murder of her employer and his wife. Over the course of the novel we go back over her life, starting at the plantation in Jamaica where she was born a slave and then the journey that led her to the trial which may see her hanged.

Frannie is an incredible character.  She is smart she is determined and she wants to believe that she can better herself and better her situation in life, despite all the advice from her friends and all the evidence that the world is trying to stop her from doing anything, being anyone and achieving anything.  The story she tells is fractured and oblique at times – there’s a lot of reading between the lines to do and there are lots of twists and turns and information withheld from the reader until very late on – which is more powerful than unravelling it all at once.  I had some of the revelations figured out quite early on, which didn’t make it anyway shocking when it was finally revealed – if anything it made it worse, because I was hoping I was wrong!   I was unsure about how the central mystery, that is who killed Marguerite and Mr Benham, was going to be resolved, but I think that’s the point – the book is keeping you on a knife edge.

You will know by now I read a lot of historical fiction, and it’s easy to forget when you read them what the reality of life was like for most people, and even worse that most of the money, if not all of the money, that was supporting the lives of wealthy people was supported by the slave trade or by sugar plantations which themselves were run by slaves.  This is the book to read to remind yourself of that and to counteract. It’s dark and disturbing and unflinching at the violence that was inflicted upon slaves by their masters, but it’s also a big old page turner.

Along with my hardback, I got sent some bits and bobs about the book, among them some notes from Sara Collins, who says that this book is in part a response to reading Jane Eyre as a child in the Caribbean and wanting to write a story with a Jamaican former slave in a similarly ambiguous, complicated Gothic love story.  As she puts it “like Jane Eyre, if Jane had been given as a gift to ‘the finest mind in all of England’ and then accused of cuckolding and murdering him.” If you need further convincing, it’s also compared to Sarah Waters, Alias Grace and the Wide Sargasso Sea.

I enjoyed it a lot – and will be looking forward to seeing what Sara Collins does next.  My copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton was sent to me by the publisher, but you can get hold of one of your very own now – in Kindle, Kobo and hardback which is rather well priced at Amazon at time of writing, but I’m expecting it to be in all the bookshops fairly prominently, and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be happy to order it for you too in their new online-only incarnation.

Happy reading!

Blog tours, books, reviews

The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Café (Blog Tour)

Well here we are, in a first for Verity Reads Books, I’m part of a blog tour.  Isn’t this exciting!  Today I welcome Jenny Oliver to the blog.  She’s going to tell you why she loves the arrival of  Spring, and then I’m going to tell you what I thought about The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Café – which is the first book in her new Cherry Pie Island series.  So, over to Jenny:

Hurray it’s Spring!

Every season I think, ‘This is my favourite season!  So naturally, right now, I’m thinking that Spring is my definite fave. Here’s my rational…

1. What could be better than a bright yellow flower with a trumpet that costs less than a pound a bunch? They’re happiness in a vase. Right by my parents’ house in Cornwall there are daffodil fields and I think I’m right in saying they leave them to bloom the first year after planting. Last year it was amazing to see this huge yellow field of happy little flowers.

2. This is not to say that I don’t love winter food – stews and casseroles and lasagnes – but I really love a good salad. I’m talking about crispy lettuce, maybe a bit of rocket, and some tiny new potatoes, crispy bacon, feta and lemon juice. Eaten sitting on our back step (because we don’t have a garden) with a glass of really lovely white wine.

3. The smell of the air when you walk out the door in the morning. The warmth of the sun mingling with the cold of the night, the scent of cut grass and daffodils and the sound of birds and cars and people getting up and starting their day happy because it’s not raining or cold!

4.Not wearing a coat! Don’t get me wrong, I really like my coat but after months of wearing it non-stop it’s a pleasure to walk out the house in only a jumper.

5. The knowledge that summer is just around the corner…

Thanks Jenny!  Now on to my review…

Dandelion Café tells the story of Annie’s return to island that she grew up on to take over the family café.  Annie’s got some issues, and she’s not thrilled to be back on Cherry Pie Island where everyone remembers (and won’t let her forget) her youthful mistakes and misadventures.  But it does have the added bonus of Matt-the-millionaire (not the cliche that it sounds, trust me) who she had a massive crush on when she was at school.

Jenny Oliver manages to get a lot of plot into a short book, but it never feels rushed or forced.  I got swept away in the world of the island and was rooting for it all to turn out right in the end.  And for Annie’s brother to end up getting a dunking in the sea!

I read this on the way home from a nightshift (the last of three), desperately needing some light relief that wouldn’t overtax my frazzled, sleep-deprived brain.  The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Café put a smile on my face (helping counteract the purple dark circles) and perked me up nicely.  It also didn’t send me into the simmering rage that some partworks/serialisation-y type things do by ending on a cliff hanger which I can’t find out the resolution to for weeks/months/years.

There are some loose ends left at the end of this book – don’t get me wrong – and I need to find out what happens to them, but the main plot of this part of the series is resolved at the end, and the next book in the series is set up neatly – with the prospect of keeping track of how Annie gets on as the next story unfolds.  And since reading Dandelion Café, I’ve been back and found a Jenny Oliver book that had been sitting in the Kindle backlog for a while (I’m not looking to see how long – I don’t want to know!) and read and enjoyed that too.

The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe is available now from the usual e-book based outlets.  My copy came from NetGalley – but I liked it so much I’ve shelled out my own money to pre-order the next in the series!