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A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “September, 1937. Kitty Travers enrols at the Conservatoire on the banks of the Seine to pursue her dream of becoming a concert pianist. But then war breaks out and the city of light falls into shadow. Nearly twenty-five years later, Fay Knox, a talented young violinist, visits Paris on tour with her orchestra. She barely knows the city, so why does it feel so familiar? Soon touches of memory become something stronger, and she realises her connection with these streets runs deeper than she ever expected. As Fay traces the past, with only an address in an old rucksack to help her, she discovers dark secrets hidden years ago, secrets that cause her to question who she is and where she belongs.”

REVIEW: A few weeks ago I reviewed one of Hore’s previous novel, ‘A Place of Secrets’, which I was truly enchanted by – and I had similar experience whilst reading ‘A Week in Paris’. ‘A Week in Paris’ tells the story of Fay Knox, a musician who goes in search of a past that her mother has always kept hidden from her whilst on a week-long working trip to Paris, where her parents lived during the Second World War. As Fay begins to uncover more of the terrifying events that took place surrounding her parents during the French occupation of France, she also develops a tentative but realistic and moving relationship with Adam, an activist and journalist whom she met many years before during a school trip to Paris. When Fay discovers an old friend of her mother’s, a Madame Ramond, the story of her parents’ past begins to unfold, with the narrative switching between Fay’s journey in the 1960s and her mother, Kitty’s, troubling experiences during the Second World War. The change between the past and the present keeps the reader constantly on their toes, always eager to read on and see what happened next in the stories of both women. The violence that Kitty sees towards Jews in the past sections are also cleverly paralleled with the terrible treatment of oppressed Algerians in France during the present section, making the targeting of minorities a very prominent issue within the novel as a whole. It is difficult to say more about the novel without ruining the shocks that await both Fay and the reader as Kitty’s story begins to emerge in ways that we could not possibly have imagined. I will say, however, that this book had me hooked from start to finish, I simply couldn’t put it down! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and look forward to working my way through the rest of Hore’s published works.

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Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know? Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. But I never expected Oz to look like this. A place where Good Witches can’t be trusted and Wicked Witches may just be the good guys. A place where even the yellow brick road is crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy.

My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, and I’ve been given a mission: Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart. Steal the Scarecrow’s brain. Take the Lion’s courage. And then – Dorothy must die.”

REVIEW: I have always been a huge fan of the tale of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. As it was my mum’s favourite childhood film and book, I became absorbed in the world of Oz from a very young age, and have never truly left it. Even now, at nearly twenty, my room contains a number of Wizard of Oz memorabilia that has been bought for me over the years. Because of this fascination I have with the land of Oz, I’m always looking out for books that bring a fresh new twist to one of my favourite tales – and Danielle Paige’s ‘Dorothy Must Die’ has certainly done that. At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to Amy Gumm, a teenage girl from Kansas who is suffering with bullies at school and a neglectful, alcoholic mother at home. When a tornado sweeps through the trailer park where Amy and her mother live, Amy finds herself crash-landing in an Oz that is barely recognisable, bathed in what seems to be eternal night and covered with barren land. With the help of a Munchkin girl named Indigo and a monkey named Ollie, Amy begins the initial stages of her journey to the Emerald City to find out exactly what has happened to the land she knows so well from the books and movies. What Amy ends up finding, however, is something much darker than she could have imagined. Dorothy has returned to Oz and, trapped by her greed for magic, has become a ruthless dictator, controlling the entire land of Oz and systematically draining it of its magic – and it seems that Amy is the only one who can stop her. Upon being recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, Amy is given training to develop her own magical and fighting potential by a group of renegade witches, who all persist in telling her the same thing – she is the only one who can defeat Dorothy, and Dorothy must die. Amy’s journey through Oz, and her attempts to grow close to Dorothy by becoming a Palace maid, is extremely gripping, both thrilling and sometimes terrifying the reader, but always with a hint of Amy’s sarcastic humour to lighten the dark tone of the tale. The transformation of Dorothy from the innocent heroine we know and love into a malicious and calculating dictator is one that stuns the reader, and makes the story even more gripping. The novel ends on a frustrating cliffhanger, with the reader desperate to go on to the next stage of the journey with Amy – fortunately, a sequel is due for release in early May which I personally am greatly looking forward to. What amazed me most about this book, however, was the brilliance of its storytelling – that it could turn I, the little girl who dressed up as Dorothy for years on end and worshipped her on film and in print,  into a vicarious member of the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked  – that is what amazes me the most about this novel.

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The Gentleman’s Daughter by Amanda Vickery

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RATING: 4/5

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed my second venture into the historical research of Amanda Vickery, and found this book to be absolutely fascinating in terms of addressing the lives of middle- to upper-class women living in England in the Georgian era. Being a feminist I have a very keen interest in women’s history, but knew very little about the lives of Georgian women aside from what I had learnt from Jane Austen novels. In this book, Vickery tackles her subject with the use of personal items like diaries and letters, which give us a real flavour of what these women went through, and their thoughts and feelings regarding such events. Soon the reader finds themselves developing a personal attachment to women like Elizabeth Parker, whose first happy marriage was destroyed by the death of her husband and who then seems to have suffered a relationship of both mental and physical abuse with her second husband, John Shackleton. The stories of these women can be touching, heartwarming, amusing and even heartbreaking, but they provide a fascinating insight into the private lives of women whom I personally knew so little about. It is this personal element, I feel, that makes the book so easy to read and absorb; the information given about life for these women is accompanied by real primary evidence that adds a new depth to what we already knew about life in Georgian society. I was completely fascinated not only by the vast amount of information presented to me, but also by the way Vickery writes and incorporates such personal details into a vivid account of everyday life. I would very highly recommend this book to anyone studying the Georgian period and also to those with an interest in women’s history.

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Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Juliet Capulet didn’t take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted the most, her new husband, Romeo Montague, who made the sacrifice to ensure his own immortality. But Romeo didn’t anticipate that Juliet would be granted eternal life as well, and would become an agent for the Ambassadors of Light. For seven hundred years, Juliet has struggled to preserve romantic love and the lives of the innocent, while Romeo has fought for the dark side, seeking to destroy the human heart. Until now. Now Juliet has found forbidden love, and Romeo, O Romeo, will do everything in his power to destroy their happiness”

REVIEW: This novel opens with the soul of Juliet awakening in the body of Ariel Dragland, a teenage girl who has both physical and emotional scars that Juliet is hoping to heal by finding Ariel’s soulmate and giving her life a purpose. When Juliet wakes she is in a car accident with the boy who broke and humiliated Ariel, Dylan Stroud – and things get much, much worse when Juliet realises that Romeo is occupying Dylan’s body and aiming to destroy her. This event, a dramatic opening to the novel, leads to Juliet meeting Ariel’s saviour – and, she is soon to realise, her very own soulmate – Ben. As Juliet tries to pick up the pieces of Ariel’s relationship with her mother, Melanie, and Gemma, her best friend, she discovers that her feelings for Ben are growing stronger. Upon discovering, however, that Ben is meant to be Gemma’s soulmate, and that these are the two people she was sent to earth to reunite, Juliet’s new life on earth becomes much more complicated – particularly with Romeo making false promises and thwarting her plans every step of the way. The way the novel plays out provides several twists and turns, but the book as a whole remains a relatively light and easy read, both hugely moving and entertaining, and gives a brilliant twist on the traditional story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I would definitely recommend it to fans of Shakespeare’s original and fans of young adult fiction.

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A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore

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REVIEW: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Can dreams be passed down through families? As a child Jude suffered a recurrent nightmare: running through a dark forest, crying for her mother. Now her six-year-old niece, Summer, is having the same dream, and Jude is frightened for her. A successful auctioneer, Jude is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband. When she’s asked to value a collection of scientific instruments and manuscripts belonging to Anthony Wickham, a lonely 18th-century astronomer, she leaps at the chance to escape London for the untamed beauty of Norfolk, where she grew up. As Jude untangles Wickham’s tragic story, she discovers threatening links to the present. What have Summer’s nightmares to do with Starborough folly, the eerie crumbling tower in the woods from which Wickham and his adopted daughter Esther once viewed the night sky? With the help of Euan, a local naturalist, Jude searches for answers in the wild, haunting splendour of the Norfolk forests. Dare she leave behind the sadness in her own life, and learn to love again?”

REVIEW: This novel is both one of the most fascinating crossovers of past and present I have ever read, and also one of the most complex to try and explain! The novel takes so many twists and turns, both in Jude’s present story and the past that she becomes absorbed in through her research, that it is difficult to try and describe the plot without giving too much away. Rather than attempting to do this and giving away spoilers of this amazing novel, I will say instead that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story of Jude and her conflict with her sister Claire, as well as her fascinating journey of discovery into the life of Esther Wickham, whose journals she discovers in the back of a cupboard whilst she is valuating the books of Esther’s adopted father, Anthony Wickham, is a brilliant combination of historical enquiry and modern family dilemmas. Jude’s blossoming relationship with Euan, whom she fears may in fact have feelings for Claire, also provides the added tension to the sisterly dynamic that makes Jude and Claire’s relationship so interesting. The story of Esther, revealed through her journals, as well as the mystery of Tamsin Lovall, Jude’s gran’s closest friend from childhood who disappeared one day, both have links to the present that astonish and amaze the reader. The book in its entirety is extremely gripping and holds the attention of the reader from beginning to end. I look forward to reading more of Hore’s  books in the future.

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‘The Vampyre’ and Other Tales of the Macabre by John Polidori

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “John Polidori’s classic tale of the vampire was a product of the same ghost-story competition that produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Written in reaction to the dominating presence of his employer, Lord Byron, the story introduced the vampire into English fiction, launching a vampire craze that has never diminished. This edition also includes thirteen other tales of the macabre first published in the leading London and Dublin magazines between 1819 and 1838, including Edward Bulwer’s chilling account of the doppelganger, Letitia Landon’s elegant reworking of the Gothic romance, William Carleton’s terrifying description of an actual lynching, and James Hogg’s ghoulish exploitation of the cholera epidemic of 1831-1832.”

REVIEW: This collection of Gothic tales contains fourteen different short stories –  as there are so many stories in this collection, I have selected my three favourites to review in order to give you a flavour of the sorts of subjects that the stories deal with. First of these is ‘The Vampyre’ by John Polidori, which is probably the most famous of all these tales due to the fact that it was written after a stormy night in the Villa Diodati when Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley decided upon a competition to write the best ghost story. This night and its so-called competition is possibly one of the most famous moments in literary history; unfortunately, many people are not aware that Polidori actually played a part in it himself. Polidori’s vampire, Lord Ruthven, is clearly based on Byron himself; charismatic, domineering and handsome, he has no trouble finding beautiful women willing to fall prey to his schemes. Although the protagonist, Aubrey, becomes fascinated with Ruthven and sets off on his travels with him, he remains aware of the darker side of his companion’s nature, and his suspicions about Ruthven’s motives come frighteningly to life after Ruthven dies and is subsequently resurrected. Guessing that Aubrey has discovered his depravity, Ruthven sets out to make his next victim someone very dear to Aubrey, and his attack on this new victim takes place at the end of the tale. The story is well-written and gripping, giving the reader a sense of the supernatural as any Gothic story should. It is made all the more interesting for the reader with the clear parallels that take place not only between Ruthven and Byron, but also between Aubrey and Polidori.

Another of my favourite tales, and the one I found the most chilling, was Edward Bulwer’s ‘Monos and Daimonos’. This short but terrifying tale deals with a man who discovers his doppelganger and, despite his desire to be alone, cannot escape his frightening shadow by any means. When the two are stranded alone on an island, the nameless protagonist tries everything in his power to escape his demon; the doppelganger is banished to another part of the island, buried alive, injured, even murdered – but each and every time he manages to return to torment the protagonist. Even when the protagonist is saved and makes his re-entry back into society, the doppelganger stays with him, tormenting him at every turn. This tale is one of the darkest in the collection, and gives the reader a constant need to look over their shoulder that truly captures the essence of the Gothic genre.

Finally, ‘The Bride of Lindorf’ by Letitia E. Landon is a tragic reworking of the Gothic romance, and possibly my ultimate favourite in the collection. Ernest discovers a secret passageway that leads him to the dungeons of the castle belonging to his uncle, where he finds a beautiful young woman called Minna who claims to be being kept in captivity by his Uncle, whom she claims is violent and cruel towards her. Ernest and Minna fall in love and secretly marry after Ernest helps Minna to escape – only to find out the very next day that his Uncle is dead. Upon riding over to his Uncle’s house, Ernest discovers a letter that his Uncle was writing to him before his death, which commends the women of the house to Ernest’s care, including Minna. The letter reveals that Minna was kept captive due to the fact that she was seen to be mad and dangerous after she attempted to kill her baby sister at the age of fourteen. Ernest is shocked and horrified by the news, and is condemned to spend the rest of his days with a raging, jealous wife who murders those that she feels might get in the way of her husband’s affections.

Overall, this collection is dark and truly captures the essence of the Gothic. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would highly recommend it to fans of classic Gothic fiction.

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The Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “The Boleyn family appeared from nowhere at the end of the fourteenth century, moving from peasant to princess in only a few generations. The women of the family brought about its advancement, beginning with the heiresses Alice Bracton Boleyn, Anne Hoo Boleyn and Margaret Butler Boleyn, who brought wealth and aristocratic connections. Then there was Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, who was rumoured to have been the mistress of Henry VIII, along with her daughter Mary and her niece Madge, who certainly were. Anne Boleyn became the King’s second wife and her aunts, Lady Boleyn and Lady Shelton, helped bring her to the block. The infamous Jane Boleyn, the last of her generation, betrayed her husband before dying on the scaffold with Queen Catherine Howard. The next generation was no less turbulent and Catherine Carey, the daughter of Mary Boleyn, fled from England to avoid persecution under Mary Tudor.Her daughter, Lettice, was locked in bitter rivalry with the greatest Boleyn lady of all, Elizabeth I, winning the battle for the affections of Robert Dudley but losing her position in society as a consequence. Finally, another Catherine Carey, the Countess of Nottingham, was so close to her cousin, the Queen, that Elizabeth died of grief following her death. The Boleyn family was the most ambitious dynasty of the sixteenth century, rising dramatically to prominence in the early years of a century that would end with a Boleyn on the throne.”

REVIEW: Elizabeth Norton has written many works on interesting Tudor women, including biographies of all of Henry VIII’s six wives and one of his early mistress Bessie Blount, all of which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed. Her book ‘The Anne Boleyn Papers’ is also one of my favourites, as it works not only as a sourcebook vital to any Anne Boleyn research but also as a fascinating collection of documents for any reader. Therefore, my enjoyment of these previous books meant that I was very excited to receive this one for Christmas and read it at great speed. I thoroughly enjoyed this condensed biography of the amazing Boleyn women – particularly reading about women like Anne Hoo Boleyn, whom I had previously known nothing about. The tracing of the female Boleyn bloodline through over a century of history gives the reader a wide span of knowledge, not only about these women but also about the political and social contexts that shaped their lives individually. It is always enjoyable to read a work of non-fiction that is both easy to read and to understand, and doesn’t make the reader feel as though the work is purely directed towards scholars. I also enjoyed the heavy focus placed on many women that are often ignored by history – for example, Catherine Carey is one of my favourite historical figures but very little ever seems to be written about her. Although there were parts of the book that I sometimes wished had been expanded upon, I understand that this only took place because the author had so much to cover and had to condense this information to make the book more easily accessible; with this in mind, I think the chosen information was extremely well-selected and clearly thoroughly researched, as although the chapters were short readers gain a detailed portrait of each of the chosen women in these chapters. Overall I would highly recommend this book for fans of the Boleyns or those who wish to know more about the lives of Tudor women in general.