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27 March 2020

Q&A with VV James

Today I have the joy and privilege of interviewing one of my all time favourite authors, the marvellous VV James. I'm lucky to be kicking off the blog tour celebrating the paperback release of Sanctuary. 

Can you describe Sanctuary in five words?
Great way to spend quarantine.

What inspired you to write Sanctuary?
Two things: my amazing editor, Rachel Winterbottom, who said how much she wanted to read a ‘Big Little Lies with witches’ book and who was key to SANCTUARY’s creation, and my experience filming in the US during the Women’s Marches and the start of the #MeToo movement. I’d been in America filming a doc about the first days of the Trump presidency, and saw first hand the anger of women nationwide – this was after the ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ tape had surfaced while I was covering the election campaign itself. And when Lana del Rey issued a cryptic tweet seemingly calling the witches of America to hex the new president, well, it was impossible not to wonder ‘What if they really could…?’ 

Which of your characters would you most like to sit down and have a cuppa with?
Right now, in the middle of Covid-19, Bridget – calm, comforting Bridget. Keeping metres apart, of course! In happier times, Rowan, the magical investigator. They’ve got such great stories to tell, like that of the cow-hexing Kentucky triplets. Or Maggie and Chester, who could be relied upon to bring a box of excellent doughnuts. 

What was the most difficult thing about writing Sanctuary?
There were lots of challenges. Writing in first person for the first time. Making sure the three principal voices – all adult women – were clear and distinct. As a Brit, making sure my depiction of America didn’t strike any false notes. Ensuring that my depiction of characters with marginalised identities was accurate and respectful. Likewise with my representation of witchcraft, which although fictionalised I wanted to be recognisable, and which therefore draws on elements recognisable to practicing Wiccans and pagans today. Lots of things it was vital to get right. But that’s what keeps things interesting. 

How do you think you would cope if you were dropped into the story?
Badly! I’m a logical person, always asking questions, insisting on evidence. It’s one of the things that makes me (I hope!) a good journalist. I get stressed by situations where there’s no data or clarity, and frustrated when the irrational takes over – as it does in an entire community in SANCTUARY.

Are you a planner or a pantser?
Usually somewhere in between, as I suspect most writers are. But SANCTUARY was very tightly plotted, so for this one I had a long and detailed outline before I even started.

What is your favourite thing about writing?
That it totally legitimises having imaginary friends! Also, the dress code (ie. slippers and my snuggliest cardigan…)

Finally, what are you working on now? What can we expect from you in the future?
Right now, I’m working on two historical novels – both plotty and twisty and with a large cast, just as I love to write. And while SANCTUARY was always conceived as a standalone, there’s obviously a lot more ahead for these characters, should readers want to know. So I have a sequel all plotted out and ready to go, if this book finds plenty of readers or the TV series currently in development gets the green light. Keeping everything crossed!

So there we have it! Have you read Sanctuary? 

20 March 2020

Book Beginnings: Get Even by Gretchen McNeil *AD - Gifted

For Book Beginnings, Rose City Reader invites us to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

For Friday 56, Freda's Voice asks you to turn to Page 56 in your book or 56% on your e-reader and pick a sentence.

I am currently reading Get Even by Gretchen McNeil (gifted copy).
Get Even by Gretchen McNeil cover
Bree sat back against the chain-link fence, bouncing her tennis racket lightly against the toe of her black Converse. "Why do we still have physical education in school?"
I was sent a free review copy of Get Even by Gretchen McNeil.

This first line is a total mood. I hated Physical Education in school so I feel like I have a bond with Bree already.

I am literally just starting this book as I type, and I'm excited to see how it will go. I think I'm going to enjoy it!

Olivia kept her distance as she followed Margot through pockets of lunching underclassmen, past the science building, to the courtyard outside the boys' locker room. It was completely deserted except for one person.
This is from page 56 in my finished copy.

This is the first lines of chapter nine, so not too far in to the story. Luckily I didn't see any spoilers as I flicked through to the Friday 56 haha.

I'm excited to watch the TV show after I've read the book too, it's all on iPlayer.

What are you reading this week?

17 March 2020

Book Review: Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane *AD Gifted

Titan sent me a review copy of Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane ahead of the blog tour. 

Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane coverAdd to Goodreads button
Twenty curses, old and new, from bestselling fantasy authors such as Neil Gaiman, Christina Henry, M.R. Carey and Charlie Jane Anders.


It's a prick of blood, the bite of an apple, the evil eye, a wedding ring or a pair of red shoes. Curses come in all shapes and sizes, and they can happen to anyone, not just those of us with unpopular stepparents...

Here you'll find unique twists on curses, from fairy tale classics to brand-new hexes of the modern world - expect new monsters and mythologies as well as twists on well-loved fables. Stories to shock and stories of warning, stories of monsters and stories of magic. 

Amazon UK | Amazon US

Source: Review copy

5 Word Review: Something beautifully haunting for everyone.

I loved this anthology so much. I generally have a great love for anthologies because of the scope - there tends to be something for everyone and there are a wide range of styles. They are a great way to discover new authors or find something different from an author you love.

When I saw that Christina Henry was contributing to this anthology of dark fairy tales, I was sold, because she is a master at twisting fairy tales and making them Dark. The second story in the anthology, I have to admit that As Red As Blood, As White As Snow was my favourite of the bunch.

Weirdly for an antholgy, there wasn't a single piece that I didn't like. They're all awesome. I loved the styles, the darkness, the humour. I thought it was fantastically curated and loved the order of the stories. I liked that it wasn't just retellings too - there are plenty of brand new fables to get stuck in to. 

Collectively, this anothology is beautiful and haunting. Individually the stories are gruesome and dark and twisted and horrific. It's truly excellent.

This is collection to give you goosebumps and a thrill. It's perfect for fans of fairy tales and fantasy and horror.

16 March 2020

Book Review: The Prized Girl by Amy K Green *AD Gifted

HQ sent me a review copy of The Prized Girl by Amy K Green ahead of the blog tour.

The Prized Girl by Amy K Green cover
Add to Goodreads button
From debut author Amy K. Green comes a devastating tale of psychological suspense: a teen pageant queen is found murdered in a small New England town, and her sister’s search for answers unearths more than she bargained for.

Days after a young teenager named Jenny is found murdered, her small town grieves the loss alongside her picture-perfect parents. At first glance, Jenny’s tragic death appears clear-cut for investigators. In the murder of a former pageant queen from a safe and loving family, the most obvious suspect is a fan who got too close for comfort. But Jenny’s sarcastic, older half-sister Virginia isn’t so sure of his guilt and takes matters into her own hands to find the killer.

But for Jenny’s case and and Virginia’s investigation, there’s more to the story. Virginia, still living in town and haunted by her own troubled teenage years, suspects that a similar darkness lay beneath the sparkling veneer of Jenny’s life. Alternating between Jenny’s final days and Virginia’s determined search for the truth, the sisters’ dual narratives follow a harrowing trail of suspects, with surprising turns that race toward a shocking finale.

Amazon UK | Amazon US

Source: Review copy

5 Word Review: Family, community, beauty, pride, mystery.

There is something very unsettling about the story and the writing, and what is more unsettling is that I can't put my finger on what it was! I thought that it was very cleverly written, a thrilling read, and a perfect page turner.

It felt like this was quite a short read, but it's not. It's fast paced and I couldn't stop turning the pages, I raced through it. It's a fantastic debut.

The first character we meet is Virginia, and I really liked how unlikeable she was. She's abrupt and sick of this shit, and I enjoyed her narrative voice and parts of the story the most.

I did struggle a little to connect with the characters in general, but that's a Me problem, and nothing to do with the writing. I enjoyed the dual narrative and the way that the mystery was slowly revealed. 

The Prized Girl is a pretty dark story, with lots of twists that I didn't see coming - definitely a thrilling read.

13 March 2020

Book Beginnings: The Prized Girl by Amy K Green *AD - Gifted

For Book Beginnings, Rose City Reader invites us to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

For Friday 56, Freda's Voice asks you to turn to Page 56 in your book or 56% on your e-reader and pick a sentence.

I am currently reading The Prized Girl by Amy K Green (gifted copy).
The Prized Girl by Amy K Green cover
When my half sister, Jenny, was killed, it was all over the news - national news, not just the local paper that had to use an offensively large font to fill its pages. 
I was sent a free review copy of The Prized Girl by Amy K Green ahead of the blog tour.

I really like the cover for The Prized Girl - it's very striking with the vibrant pink and chilling blue tones.

I feel like this first line really gives you a good idea of Virginia's voice as a character. She's pretty cynical and sick of everyone's shit.
The door opened and there he stood. Just a man.
This is from page 56 in my review copy.

This is where I feel that you really get in to this story - it's fast paces and even by page 56 I was well invested and turning pages as quickly as I could.

What are you reading this week?

11 March 2020

Magical Readathon Recommendations for OWL Prompts 2020

Magical Readathon is back for a third year and I am excited! I'm still trying to figure out which career to pursue, but I thought I'd get a head start on figuring out my TBR. This year, some of the prompts are a little tricky, so I've put together a list of books I personally loved that fit the prompts to help you build your own TBR. A lot of them are less well known, but every one of them was a five star read for me.
Magical Readathon Recommendations for OWL Prompts 2020

Are you unsure about what books to read for your OWLs? Then look no further as I have one for every subject and prompt.

Ancient Runes

Heart rune: heart on the cover or in the title
This book is stunning and vivid and I thought it was beautifully written. The Hand, The Eye & The Heart by Zoë Marriott fits this prompt perfectly, and the cover and story are breathtaking.


Magical qualities of number 2: balance/opposites - read something outside your favourite genre
I read across a lot of different genres and if this were for me I'd probably go for something totally outside of my comfort zone like a Mal Peet sports thriller. But my recommendation is Wild Embers by Nikita Gill. When was the last time you read a poetry collection?


Night classes: read majority of this book when it's dark outside
I was just going to straight up recommend the Charlotte Brontë classic, but I thought I'd mix it up a put Jane Eyre: A Retelling by Tanya Landman. You could read this in a single short sitting and still experience everything that is so haunting and beautiful about the well loved classic.

Care of Magical Creatures

Hippogriffs: creature with a beak on the cover
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson has a great big raven on the cover. Although I originally read this when I was not in a fae phase, it's still one I'd recommend, I loved all of the manipulation.


Lumos Maxima: white cover
My mind straight away jumped to Gilded Cage by Vic James. I first read this book when it was available only as an ebook, and since then I have literally read it to death. My first copy has fallen apart. And the UK edition has a stunning white cover, with gold foil details.

Defence Against the Dark Arts

Grindylows: book set at the sea/coast
I got The Beholder by Anna Bright in a Fairyloot box last year, and I instantly fell in love with it. It's set at sea, on a ship, for a fair portion of the story, and quite near to the coast for others. Also the cover is amazing and features a beautiful ship.


Third eye: assign numbers to your TBR and use a random number generator to pick your read
I did this with my 5-star reads to pick out a recommendation, and it popped out The Sharp Edge of a Snowflake by Sif Sigmarsdóttir, a fantastically dark Nordic Noir YA Thriller.


Mimbulus mimbletonia: title starts with an M
My mind went straight to Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff for this prompt! It's a fantastically clever book set in a brilliant magical world, and I recommend it whenever I can.

History of Magic

Witch hunts: book featuring witches/wizards
How could I not recommend The Witch's Kiss by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr? It's a fantastic story about magic and family and fate.

Muggle Studies

Book from a perspective of a muggle (contemporary)
I almost hesitated to recommend this book because it's so hard hitting, but I'm recommending Meat Market by Juno Dawson. Jana's story is amazingly written, and although tough going at times really fills you with hope.


Shrinking Solutions: book under 150 pages
I could basically recommend any Barrington Stoke book here, but I'm specifically recommending Letting Go by Cat Clarke because I read it in December and still think about it almost daily. It's a little over 100 pages long and it's wonderfully crafted.


Animagus lecture: book/series that includes shapeshifting
I ended up going for werewolves-ish for this prompt, mostly because shapeshifting is Not My Thing and the book I am recommending is amazing. Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger is a bit of a boarding school caper, if that boarding school was actually a finishing school for students espionage and assassination on a dirigible floating in the sky.

Are you taking part in Magical Readathon?
What's on your TBR?

09 March 2020

The Beauty and the Beast Book Tag

I saw this tag done by Steph at A Little But A Lot a few years ago, and Charlotte at Charlotte, Somewhere last week and I couldn't resist having a go myself!

The Beauty and the Beast Book Tag

The Beauty and the Beast Tag

“Tale A Old As Time” – a popular theme, trope, or setting you will never get bored of reading. 

Slow burn romances. Yes, please. I absolutely love a slow-burn. Something like A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer.

Belle – a book you bought for a beautiful cover, that’s just as beautiful inside. 

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. It's a book I had heard a lot of mixed things about, but I read it in a single day and absolutely loved it. The cover is stunning.

Beast – a book you didn’t expect much from but pleasantly surprised you. 

Weirdly, Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, which I absolutely loved! I am always apprehensive about space-sci-fi for Reasons (idk) and then I end up really enjoying them!

Gaston – a book everyone loves but you don’t.

Basically every Cassandra Clare book, I am just not a fan. And I have tried many times. I just cannot get in to them. Weirdly, I really like the The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones film with Lily Collins.

Lefou – a loyal sidekick you can’t help but love more than their counterpart. 

M-Bot from Skyward by Brandon Sanderson! The quirky, sassy ship was my favourite character in both books, even if he was a much smaller part of the second book.

Mrs Potts, Chip, Lumier, and Cogsworth – a book that helped you through a difficult time or that taught you something valuable. 

Suddenly Single by Carol Wyver really helped me when I ended up suddenly single myself. It was a fantastic book that helped me find myself again and gave me some hope.

“Something There” – a book or series that you weren’t into at first but picked up towards the end. 

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas. It's a series that definitely grew on me, and by the end I really enjoyed it a lot.

“Be Our Guest” – a fictional character you’d love to have over for dinner. 

Ead from The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Basically because it's Ead, and if you've read Priory then I think you'll understand.

Have you done this tag? 
Which book helped you through a difficult time?

06 March 2020

Book Beginnings: Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran *AD - Gifted

For Book Beginnings, Rose City Reader invites us to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

For Friday 56, Freda's Voice asks you to turn to Page 56 in your book or 56% on your e-reader and pick a sentence.

I am currently reading Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran (gifted copy).
Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran book cover
The sheep were undeniably dead. 
I was sent a free review copy of Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran. I received it last year and read the first chapter and fell in love, so I promptly

The cover is so pretty, with gold foil and super shiny! I even painted my nails shiny gold to match because reasons. Shiny reasons.

This is a great start. Short and stark and shocking, it grabbed me straight away. It's the kind of start that you can't help but keep reading.
I had to prove how I responded to unfamiliar situations.
This is from page 56 in my review copy, so may not match up with ebooks and finished copies!

Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helem Corcoran is over 400 pages, so this is not very far in. But already we are steeped in court intrigue, and it is excellent.

The writing is addictive and I am so invested in the story and characters already. It's rare that I can say this so early into a book, but I am confident that this could be a new all time favourite. It is exceptional.

What are you reading this week?

04 March 2020

Q&A with Matt Killeen *AD - Gifted

I have read Orphan Monster Spy about three times, and it's a book I love. Sarah is so fierce and the book is so vicious. I was lucky enough to do a Q&A back when the first book was published so when I was offered the chance to do another I jumped at it! I love seeing how writing processes and expectations change, and I think it's fascinating to hear about the research process behind historical novels.

Devil Darling Spy is just as good as Orphan Monster Spy, it packs a punch and isn't afraid of being brutal in its execution.

Q&A with Matt Killeen

Q&A with Matt Killeen

Can you describe Devil Darling Spy in five words?
Thrilling. Gripping. Treacherous. Horrifying. Emotional

What was the biggest challenge of writing a sequel to Orphan Monster Spy?
Doing something the same, but different. These are opposing drives. Sarah has to grow but be as compelling a character as before. She has… fans, I guess. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Then the story has to be more exciting, yet as emotionally authentic. Oh, and all in six months, when the last book took five years. I utterly failed to do the latter, by the way. Don’t get me wrong, these were all excellent and rewarding problems to have. But if you are in any way fragile, if you doubt yourself the tiniest amount, and I do, it seems like a mountain to climb.

The second challenge was choosing to set a book in Central Africa, where the research is difficult to come by and in French. The risk of screwing it up in a really offensive way kept me up at night.

What was the most interesting thing that you found while you were researching book two?
I wasn’t much interested in the Fall of France, Dunkirk or the Battle of Britain, which were the big events of 1940. There were plenty of books and films about those things already and I didn’t think there was many new things to say. But at the same time I had just read The Kaiser's Holocaust by David Olusoga & Casper W Erichsen, which discusses the extermination of the Herero and Nama peoples by Imperial Germany at the start of the 20th century and knew I had to reflect it somehow. It wasn’t just the pre-echoes of the Holocaust that I saw in the book, but the reality of the whole Imperialist framework that just tutted about the atrocity, as it had the horrors of the Congo Free State before it.

I suddenly “got” empire and colonialism in a way I hadn’t before.

I would burst into rooms carrying the book, demanding everyone listen to me, the way Sarah does with Red Rubber in Devil Darling Spy. One of my intentions behind the books, and my school talks, is to try to make the moral complexity of the war obvious – and colonialism is inextricably linked to that. To who we think we are. And man, right now the UK needs to understand its part in both the war and the empire. Too many people think it’s something to be proud of, as opposed to the darkest stain on our nation’s character.

What was your favourite thing about writing a sequel to Orphan Monster Spy?
It was great to move Sarah’s story forward and to discover things that even I hadn’t realised yet. But in many ways she’s never out of my head so I knew most of the secrets. The best bit? Getting it done. I know that sounds awful – like asking my four year old what his favourite bit of school was – but I suffered a bit with this one and I felt like I was letting everyone down.

Pressing send on the first draft and getting a positive response from my editors was a major moment. I was having real imposter syndrome.

The more nice things people said about Orphan Monster Spy, the more impossible the task of following it seemed to be. I have at least followed it and not entirely embarrassed myself, to my satisfaction at least.

Are you a planner or a pantser? Has your planning/pantsing changed since Orphan Monster Spy?
I am a plotter-cusp-pantser… I have a beginning and an end and a few tentpole moments that I have to get to, but I then write the rest chronologically. This allows the characters to do things I wasn’t expecting, to say different things – I make no apologies for the fact that they’re in charge really – and for the opportunity to explore something that just occurs along the way. Inevitably I end up adding whole scenes and bits and pieces after the first draft, but I don’t like it!

I blitzed the chronological write of Devil Darling Spy in just 45 days, after spending far too long freaking out and doing research, but there were some super-vague issues to fix. In the end I was gratified that the whole Japanese embassy scene grew from a dog-walking spark – when something clarifies in the woods walking the doggie – and it wrote itself fairly quickly, with whole sections of Sarah’s back story coming to life.

What was the biggest surprise about your debut year?
There is zero preparation you can do for being published in this way. When the book was announced, veteran authors dropped me emails offering some good advice and a shoulder to cry on if necessary. It’s a whole set of new issues, challenges and opportunities. Plenty of traps for the depressed and doubtful.

At the same time there were lots of lovely things – the Costa shortlist was wonderful and meeting the young teenagers whose world you’ve changed by dumping your weird little story on them – but almost everything was a surprise.

Finally, what are you working on now? What can we expect from you in the future?
Sarah will return, but publishing being publishing, I don’t know exactly when yet. I’m kicking around some ideas and researching some stuff pretty hard.

I’ve been writing about Soviet combat medics on the eastern front in WW2 – usually young women who were considered combatants so were bandaging the wounded while being shot at – and working on an idea about the Nazi movement in the US before WW2 and their summer camp programmes. Yes, Nazi summer camp.

In many ways the biggest challenge is leaving Sarah behind for a bit. She’s pushy. She doesn’t like thoughts that don’t involve her.

Devil Darling Spy by Matt Killeen Blog Tour banner

And that wraps up my Q&A with the wonderful Matt Killeen! I hope you enjoyed it and are now even more excited to read Orphan Monster Spy and Devil Darling Spy. I promise you, they are amazing. And the covers are gorgeous shiny foil which looks amazing glittering away on your shelf.

Have you read Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen?

02 March 2020

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I have had The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon sat on my shelf for the longest time - I even have a signed hardback. But I was intimidated by the massive length and kept putting it off. Which was a silly thing to do as it's actually incredible and amazing and a new favourite.

The Priory of the Orange Tree also has the honour of being the only book I have successfully used Whispersync for Voice with a book. I ended up downloading the ebook so it was easier to carry around, then got the Audible copy reduced because of it, and switched between my copies as I read. It was a first for me, and a very enjoyable experience. Also, it meant I knew how to pronounce everyone's names. I loved Liyah Summers' narration.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon coverAdd to Goodreads button
A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep. 

Source: Purchase

5 Word Review: Power, duty, friendship, belief, love.

Content Warnings: Infertility, miscarriage, suicide.

You could probably tell from my Book Beginnings that I had a lot of big feelings going in to this book. And right from the start I was impressed by the drama.

You can feel what all of the passion that went in to Priory of the Orange tree when you're reading it. I got so caught up in the story and the characters, and for the longest time I thought I wouldn't be able to pick a favourite. Then I checked myself, because OBVIOUSLY Ead is the best. Honestly she's an astonishing character and I loved her so much, her development and complexities.

There were so many quotes that I could have picked out, but I thought that I would share my two favourite quotes from The Priory of the Orange Tree.

In the story, she has no name, like too many women in stories of old.
No woman should be made to fear that she was not enough.

Those two quotes just really hit me hard, and they're a total Mood.

The Priory of the Orange Tree is a truly epic story, in both actual length, and the scope of the world. One thing that initially put my off picking up this book, despite me having a gorgeous signed hardback and all of the hype flying around, was the length. But I'd definitely say to try and see this as a bind up of six shorter books in the same wider story arc. It definitely makes it much less daunting a prospect.

Basically, when it comes to The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, believe the hype. It is an absolutely outstanding book, and one that I already want to read again.

Have you read The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon?