Author Interview – Simon Van der Velde

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde was the first compilation of short stories I’ve ever read and I absolutely loved it! There was an element of guessing to each story – trying to work out who the famous (or infamous) protagonist was and I found it a genius book! It kept me entertained and altered the reading experience for me, from just reading a book to it becoming a game in its own right. You can read my review for Backstories by clicking here.

For those who don’t know what Backstories is, here’s the synopsis:

Backstories – ‘the stand-out most original book of the year’ – is a collection of stories each told from the point of view of one of my personal heroes, (or villains) back when they were just another Jew or black, or queer – back when they were nobody. Bullied, assaulted or psychologically abused, their road to redemption was never easy, and for some there would be no redemption, only a descent into evil.

These are the stories of people you know. The settings are mostly 60’s and 70’s UK and USA, the driving themes are inclusion and social justice – but the real key to these stories is that I withhold the protagonists’ identities. This means that your job is to find them – leading to that Eureka moment when you realise who’s mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.

I should also add that this is a book that operates on two levels. Yes, there’s the game of identifying the mystery activist or actor, singer or murderer, but there is then the more serious business of trying to understand them. This in turn leads to the challenge of overlaying what you now know about these famous people onto what you thought you knew – not to mention the inherent challenge to your moral compass.

These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

This book is dedicated to the victims of violent crime, the struggle against discrimination in all its forms and making the world a better place for our children. That is why 30% of all profits will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

Here’s my interview with Simon:

At what point did you decide to be an author / publish books?

I’ve always found the real world a bit dull and stressful, which meant I spent a lot of time living in my head.  It took me till my early 20’s though, to get my act together enough to put anything on paper – a story about a boy wizard having a tough time at school, until it turned out he had the true power.  The twist is, this was back in about ’92, before Harry Potter was even written – though it did owe a little to Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Usually, I have trouble writing when I try to rush, or when I get distracted by social media and marketing.  The key for me is to remember why I’m doing this – for the peace and purity of thought – and then get back to basics.  Who is my character?  What do they want?  What’s in their way?  And what’s happening, step by step, blow by blow, – see it and write it down.

Was there anything you edited out of a book that you later wished you kept in?

Yes, but I can’t tell you, because it will be in Backstories 2.

How do you find the inspiration for new novels and storylines?

The Backstories collection is, of course, a series of backstories about my heroes, (and villains) before they were famous.  This makes the inspiration easy, I just read and research one of my heroes until I see the way into their story – the key moment that made it all happen.

If you could give one tip to someone wanting to get into writing, what would it be?

Do it for its own sake, for the joy of creating (simulated) life, and the meditative place it can take you to.

What made you choose to write a series of short stories?

It came about accidentally.

A few years ago my wife and I went to see a performer from way back when.  The truth is, I was a bit worried.  Would he still be any good?  In fact, he was brilliant.  Great voice, great music and above all, great honesty, especially about his struggles as a kid.

The next day I put aside my novel and wrote a piece about that kid.  Not about the super-star, but about the kid, starting out with the whole world against him.  That was why I withheld his name.  I didn’t want to write some sycophantic, ‘what a genius, it was always meant to be’ tribute.  I wanted to set aside preconceptions and give you the lost little kid who could easily have gone down in flames.  I wanted to highlight the emotional truth of this person, and leave the reader with a fresh perspective.

The guessing game was a bi-product.  Blind luck.  I can’t even say that I realised what I had.  But my wife, (and number one critic), loved it.  She saw the potential in both the game and the meaning.  The result is a book that operates on two distinct levels with pretty broad appeal.

Like a lot of things though, this game element is double-edged.  Yes, Backstories is a fun, easy read.  Everyone likes a challenge, but it frustrates me when people race through the book at 100mph, desperate to ‘find the mystery characters’ and come away thinking that’s all there is to it. 

Sure, read Backstories for the game.  But when that’s done, please, slow down.  Remember how it felt to be a kid.  Open your heart to the pain and the joy and the fury simmering between the lines.

Are there any of your short stories that you’d like to adapt into a full novel?

No.  A lot of these people’s stories have been told already.  What I like about Backstories is that these are snapshots from surprising or revealing perspectives.  I wouldn’t want to lose that.

Is there anyone you’d like to write a short story about but think it would be too controversial? 

Oh yes.  Trump is one I always toy with, so much material there, what really makes him tick?  I haven’t written it, though.  Yet.

Is there another genre of writing you’d like to explore in the future?

My writing is generally literary but accessible, and that’s what works for me – digging down into the emotional truth of my characters.  There’ll be novels, but to be honest I struggle to suspend disbelief when reading fantasy, and crime tends to be formulaic – so I think I’ll be sticking with the character-led stuff, at least for the foreseeable future.

Can you share any spoilers about your next book?

Spoilers!  They’re called that for a reason.  Half the fun of Backstories is identifying the characters, (the other half is understanding them).  So why spoil half the fun?  

What I can say is that there’ll be the same startling mix in Backstories 2 as there is in Backstories – so you can never quite trust the character you’re with, because whilst they could be a musical or political hero, they just might turn out to be a murderer.

Purchase Links:

Amazon (UK) Paperback edition – click here

Amazon (UK) Kindle edition- click here

Audiobook via Audible – click here

Simon’s Social Media:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/SimonVdVwriter

Website – https://www.simonvandervelde.com/

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Lying With Lions – Annabel Fielding

AD – PR Product – NetGalley book

Genre: Historical fiction

Pages: 233

My Rating: ☆☆☆/5

TRIGGER WARNINGS: death of a child, murder, arson, rape, sexual assault, misogyny.

Synopsis: Edwardian England. Agnes Ashford knows that her duty is threefold: she needs to work on cataloguing the archive of the titled Bryant family, she needs to keep the wounds of her past tightly under wraps, and she needs to be quietly grateful to her employers for taking her up in her hour of need. However, a dark secret she uncovers due to her work thrusts her into the Bryants’ brilliant orbit – and into the clutch of their ambitions.

They are prepared to take the new century head-on and fight for their preeminent position and political survival tooth and nail – and not just to the first blood. With a mix of loyalty, competence, and well-judged silence Agnes rises to the position of a right-hand woman to the family matriarch – the cunning and glamorous Lady Helen. But Lady Helen’s plans to hold on to power through her son are as bold as they are cynical, and one day Agnes is going to face an impossible choice…

My thoughts: As anyone who’s been reading my blogs for a while will know, historical fiction is my favourite genre to read, so I jumped at the chance to read this historical fiction novel via NetGalley. I found the beginning of the book quite confusing – it felt like we were thrown into the story with very little context, and it is for that reason that the I gave the book a 3 star rating. Once I’d figured out what was happening, I started to become deeply invested in the storyline. Despite the lack of context at the beginning of the book, I thought the writing was fantastic throughout.

The relationship between Helen and Agnes was great, and I think that LGBT+ representation in historical fiction is so important – just because at the time it was frowned upon doesn’t mean it didn’t exist! The storyline is intriguing and immersive, and when I was starting out reading the book, I wouldn’t have been able to guess its plot if I was just going off the synopsis.

There are a number content throughout the book that could be seen as problematic for some readers (see trigger warnings at the top of the page). Being mindful of these, I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a historical fiction with plenty of drama and Edwardian lesbians.

Thanks again to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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*BLOG TOUR* From My Balcony to Yours – Nino Gugunishvili

AD – PR Product – A free copy of this book was given to me in exchange for a place on the blog tour.

Genre: Non Fiction | Memoir

Pages: 80

My Rating: ☆☆☆/5

Synopsis: “From My Balcony to Yours,” author Nino Gugunishvili shares her personal account during the first several months of the COVID -19 global pandemic in the form of short stories and observations.

My Thoughts: I want to just start by saying that this time last year I vowed to never watch or read anything pandemic related because I didn’t want to relive it, but 12 months later here I am, reading a book about lockdown. From My Balcony To Yours is only a very short book – 80 pages long – but documents Nino’s experience in lockdown from the day it was announced until September 2020.

In a way, it was quite nice to reminisce on the past 16 months, in a very strange way – there are elements of the first lockdown that I do truly miss now that life is getting back to normal (like not having to speak to people to be honest). Nino’s lockdown experience was fairly different to mine, but I enjoyed having an insight into someone else’s life and experiences – mainly because I’m really nosy.

What I enjoyed about this book is how there were parts of it that I’d completely forgot we ever had to endure, and so there were elements of this book that I feel like we experienced as a nation – Zoom quizzes. At times I laughed out loud and I managed to read the book in about half an hour.

The reason I gave this book 3 stars is because I felt that sometimes the writing wasn’t the easiest to follow. I found that on some occasions I couldn’t really grasp at what was being said very well. I know that it was supposed to read like a diary (because that’s essentially what it is!), but it did sometimes feel like a very much unedited diary and it didn’t flow very well from one page / diary entry to the next.

That being said, I think it’s a really fantastic concept to have written a diary throughout the (hopefully) once in a lifetime scenario that we found ourselves in. As I was reading I did wish I’d done the same and documented my experiences – although mine was mainly just ‘get degree coursework finished’ until the end of June, so perhaps not overly entertaining.

From My Balcony to Yours is available to buy on Amazon on Kindle or in paperback: Click here

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Author Interview – S.Z. Attwell

This week’s author interview is with the wonderful S.Z. Attwell who wrote the Aestus books. I recently reviewed Aestus: Book 1: The City which was a 5 star read. If you’re yet to read my review, you can do so by clicking here. If you haven’t read these books then you need to as soon as possible! Aestus: Book 2: The Colony is on my TBR for July/August and I can’t wait to get stuck into it.

Since writing my review, countries around the world are starting to experience sweltering temperatures like never before. Hopefully Aestus stays a work of fiction and doesn’t one day become a reality.

Before I get too depressing on a Sunday, here’s my interview with S.Z. Attwell:

At what point did you decide to be an author / publish books?

I’ve wanted to write since I was really small. When I was a little kid, I would go to the library and get entire stacks of books and bring them home and read through them in a few days. I had notebooks and would write stories – I had a little short story published as a child, plus a poem, and got runner-up in a TV writing competition as a teenager, but that was it until recently. But I’ve always wanted to write, almost since I can remember, I think. Publishing – I never had anything I thought about publishing until recently. I loved my stories, but to show them to the world? Talk about intimidating.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Sometimes I write a scene from another character’s point of view. Sometimes I take a break. Often I think about what needs to happen, and just mechanically start putting down information, but that’s just to hopefully get the ideas going. 

Was there anything you edited out of a book that you later wished you kept in?

Not so far!

How do you find the inspiration for new novels and storylines?

Aestus was, quite literally, my reaction to a late bus while waiting in a miserably hot bus tunnel on a summer evening with an incoming thunderstorm, and wondering what humanity would do if climate change got worse (God forbid). Where would we go? If we couldn’t go north (or south, in the Southern Hemisphere)…could we go underground? What if my bus were to go down into the earth after work? Then I started thinking about what that might look like, what issues people might face, etc.

Often my stories are built on an image – my shadow as I walk down the edge of Boston Common on a winter night, which became a scene in my pirates YA WIP (work in progress) – or a concept (a moon colony, for example, although I’m not currently working on that. Just a thought.).

If you could give one tip to someone wanting to get into writing, what would it be?

Read. A lot. And practice. But mostly read.

Is science fiction a genre you’ve always had an interest in?

I think so. Not consciously, maybe, but I really like books that make me think/wonder. I bought some old “astrolithography” pieces recently – etchings of the view from an asteroid, or from the surface of a planet, as imagined by artists many decades ago. I miss that sense of wonder, that sense I used to get from staring up at the stars as a child. That’s one reason I asked my cover designer for Aestus to give me an older-sci-fi-style cover. 

I get that from a lot of sci-fi and speculative fiction. It’s also a fun genre because there are so many things you can do with it. 

If Aestus was made into an audiobook, who would you want to read it?

Ooh. I don’t know. I have to think about that one! 

Who is your favourite character in the Aestus books?

Ahhhh I can’t say! I love Jossey but my true favorite is someone else.

I can say I love Thompson. He’s silly and sweet and I love him. 

Is there an Aestus: Book 3 in the making?

I am mulling things over right now. 

Is there another genre of writing you’d like to explore in the future?

I really love historical fiction. It involves a lot of research but I love history too so I don’t mind. I’d also like to maybe write kids’ mysteries.

S.Z Attwell’s Social Media:

Website: https://szattwell.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/szattwellauthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/szattwellauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/szattwellauthor

Where to Buy Aestus:

Amazon (USA) book 2 also available – click here

Barnes and Nobel (USA) – click here

Amazon (UK) book 2 also available – click here

Waterstones (UK) – click here

My Socials:

Thank you for checking out my blog. If you would like to support the content I create, then you can donate to me on Ko-Fi! I do all of this for free and in my spare time, which can be extremely time consuming. Click the button below to go to my Ko-Fi page!

*BLOG TOUR* The Mismatch – Sara Jafari

AD – PR PRODUCT – A copy of this book was given to me free of charge in exchange for a place on this blog tour and an honest review.

Genre: Contemporary | Romance

Pages: 368

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆/5

TRIGGER WARNINGS: This book contains themes that some readers might find distressing. These themes include domestic violence, alcohol consumption or addiction and drug consumption and addiction.

Synopsis: Now that Soraya Nazari has graduated from university, she thinks it’s time to get some of the life experience she feels she’s lacking, partly due to her strict upbringing—and Magnus Evans seems like the perfect way to get it.

Where she’s the somewhat timid, artistic daughter of Iranian immigrants, Magnus is the quintessential British lad. They have little in common, so there’s no way Soraya could ever fall for him. What’s the harm in having some fun as she navigates her postgrad life? And he could give her some distance from her
increasingly complicated home life, where things are strained by her father’s struggles, her mother’s unhappiness and her eldest sister’s estrangement under a vague cloud of shame fifteen years earlier.

Distracting herself with Magnus is easy at first. But just as Soraya realizes there’s more to Magnus than she thought, long-buried secrets, and hard questions, begin to surface—will any of her relationships survive the truth coming out?

Moving between modern-day London and revolutionary Iran, The Mismatch is a gorgeously written coming-of-age story that follows a young woman as she finds love in a most unexpected place, and a path in life amid two different cultures.

My Thoughts: I’m coming towards the end of my time at university and so there were parts of this book where I could really resonate with how Soraya was feeling – will I ever get a job?! I’m about to enter the period of the unknown: job hunting and wondering how I will fund my life, and something I liked about this book was that it was really able to broaden my horizons on things I can do post-completion of my degree to make some money and not go insane. Obviously, not everyone will read this book and think that, however I’m at the exact same stage in life as Soraya, so I really appreciated that.

Please don’t think I’m extremely narrow-minded when I say this, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a Muslim main character. I found it really interesting to learn a little bit more about Islam and the way in which Muslims live and how that differs from my life as someone who is atheist. Going off what I’ve just said, it’s really clear to see that Muslim main characters (or characters in general) in contemporary fiction are really under-represented. I also enjoyed the dual-timeline within the book. Some chapters were focusing on Soraya in 2014/5, whereas there were also chapters focusing on her mum, Neda back in the 1970s when she was a student herself in Iran and then followed her journey to England. Inter-racial relationships such as that between Soraya and Magnus are also a subject I’ve never really seen in books before – WE. NEED. MORE. OF. THIS!!!

I think that the characters in this book are really thoroughly developed – especially Soraya, Neda and Hussein (Soraya’s dad / Neda’s husband). Hussein is definitely a problematic character and the potential trigger warning situations that occur in the book are all revolving around him. Another topic that I feel is under-represented in today’s books (or maybe I just haven’t found them yet) are dysfunctional families. The Nazari family is extremely dysfunctional. However, I like the way that’s represented as I feel a lot of books try to play ‘happy families’ which quite frankly isn’t the case in a lot of households.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would love a sequel which continued to follow Soraya and her family as Soraya enters adulthood. The reason I gave this book 4 stars as opposed to 5 is because I did feel the first 1/3 of the book did really drag and wasn’t always particularly interesting, however it really picked up in the final two thirds of the book.

This book was released on the 24th June 2021 so is available to buy right now!

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Author Interview – Lynn Johnson

After an accidental 3 months away from my author interview series (and blog as a whole), I’m back! The first author back to my blog is Lynn Johnson. You might recognise her name from one of my book reviews earlier in the year; Wartime With The Tram Girls. This was the first wartime saga I’ve ever read and I was a tad apprehensive going into it as I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, this book proved to be everything I wanted and more! It was one of the first 5 stars I gave to a book in 2021 and I firmly stick by my decision for it to be a 5 star read.

If you’d like to read my blog tour review of Wartime With The Tram Girls then click here. At the bottom of this post will be links to her work (which I’d highly recommend checking out!).

Lynn is a fantastic author and I really loved reading through her responses to the questions I sent. I hope you enjoy!

At what point did you decide to be an author / publish books?

Writing was something I took up later in life. I was lucky to be able to retire in my 50’s and I began researching my family tree. To my absolute shock I discovered that my Grandma had been in the local workhouse as a child. Seeing the entry written down, in black and white, moved me considerably. Soon after, my husband and I moved to Orkney and the first thing I did was join Stromness Writing Group. One of the first short stories I wrote was about Grandma and, years later, it became the prologue for my first book, The Girl from the Workhouse. A member of the Group said I had a Catherine Cookson flair and should write a novel. I wrote and re-wrote that first book, did various short courses on writing techniques, editing and so on. When I decided to take it seriously, I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, I am very pleased to say, everything fell into place from that point. It is still a novelty to think of myself as an author! 

How do you overcome writer’s block?

So far, writer’s block hasn’t been too bad for me. I would say that all writers have days when the words flow less freely than others. Something that worked for me was finishing the day half-way through a scene. When I first started to write professionally I tried to write to the end of a chapter. I picked up a tip from somewhere – I can’t remember where, that stopping half-way through a piece of writing means it’s easier to pick up and run with in the next session. So I now write in scenes rather than chapters and am able to continue with the next session because I’ve already worked out what I want to say.  

Was there anything you edited out of a book that you later wished you kept in?

I can’t think of anything, to be honest. I go through suggested edits with my editor, Keshini Naidoo at Hera Books, and we discuss possible changes and the reasons why. Usually we can agree which ideas to run with. I think if you have a valid reason for keeping something it, it’s worth talking about. Perhaps I’ve been lucky.

How do you find the inspiration for new novels and storylines?

Inspiration for new novels has been ok so far because I am writing a series although I didn’t start to write it as one. When I was writing The Girl from the Workhouse, I introduced a character called Connie and Connie was determined to play a bigger part in the story than I had anticipated. So much so that she became the protagonist of the second book, Wartime with the Tram Girls. I interview my characters and find out what they have to tell me about their life and I have to say, she’s a marvellous character to work with.

If you could give one tip to someone wanting to get into writing, what would it be?

I think the tip that started me off was starting to read writing magazines where I discovered there were such things as writing groups. Before I joined a group, I didn’t know anyone who wrote and it all seemed to be the stuff of dreams. When I joined the Group, I learned to write at a set time ie during the meeting, for about 40 minutes and then to read out what I had written which, for a beginner, was quite scary. But I learned so much during that time. I learned to develop both plot and characters and that writing is a work in progress for as long as you need it to be. But, at some point, you have to come off the fence and send it out into the world.

What made you choose to write a war time saga?

I rather fell into it, I think. Because the story was loosely based on Grandma’s story, it covers the period from 1911 through to the end of the Great War. Some of what happened to Ginnie, in The Girl from the Workhouse, actually happened to my Grandma, and that dictated the period I was writing about. It was unbelievable that workhouses were still open in Edwardian Britain; I associated workhouses with the Charles Dicken era. My biggest problem was moving from writing fact to fiction. I had to give myself permission to make that leap before I could move on – a different type of writer’s block, you might say.

What period of history do you find most interesting and would you ever write a book set in that period?

I love the Wars of the Roses period. In fact, a few years ago I was a member of the Richard III Society. I have a load of books about him and I am a firm believer that he did not kill the princes in the tower! But – I don’t think I could write about the period. The period I write about appears to have chosen me and I love developing strong characters living in my home city of Stoke-on-Trent.

If Wartime with the Tram Girls was made into an audiobook, who would you want to read it?

Actually, Wartime with the Tram Girls is due to be published as an audiobook later this year by Ulverscroft. On narration, I was so lucky! The first book was narrated by an actor, Julia Franklin, who originates from The Potteries had the dialect perfectly. I would love for her to narrate the Tram Girls too. 

Can you tell us anything about the next book you plan to release?

I am well into the third book in my Potteries Girls series at the moment. I can tell you that it features some friends from the previous two books, and tells the story of one of them. We find out a lot more about the character and what made them who they are. As with the first two, it takes place during the second decade of the twentieth century. I find it amazing just how much all my characters have to tell me about themselves!

Is there another genre of writing you’d like to explore in the future?

I do have ideas for novels for the future, but they would most probably be sagas or historical. I have, unwittingly as I said, fallen into the genre that suits me best. I might fancy trying timeslip or dual time with a historical bent – who knows? I certainly love to read them. However, I have a fourth novel to write under my current contract and that will also be part of the Potteries Girls series. What happens after that – well, we’ll just have to wait and see!

A little bit extra about Lynn:

I come from a working-class background and that’s what I like to write about. I left school at 15 and started to work but I gave it up to study O Levels once I realised that I needed qualifications in order to become a teacher or a librarian. I achieved my qualification objectives mainly through evening classes in my own time, studying for an OU degree while working fulltime, and obtaining a postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies. After several promotions I became an HR Manager. I proved I could write, but progressing from writing reports to writing fiction was difficult. It was after taking early retirement that I started writing fiction. I joined a local writing group which got me used to writing and reading out loud in public. Over the years I did my author apprenticeship by signing up for various short courses and, more recently, joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. My first novel was published in 2020 and I am now the proud author of two historical sagas.

Buying Links

The Girl from the Workhouse

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2NQ7ZQ3

Kobo: https://bit.ly/38EMIAT

Wartime with the Tram Girls

Amazon: https://amzn.to/36zlzjX

Kobo : http://bit.ly/3tlMQQX

Apple: http://apple.co./3cuGmsV

Lynn’s Social Media:

Website: www.lynnjohnsonauthor.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/lynnjohnsonjots

Facebook: Lynn Johnson Author

My Socials:

Thank you for checking out my blog. If you would like to support the content I create, then you can donate to me on Ko-Fi! I do all of this for free and in my spare time, which can be extremely time consuming. Click the button below to go to my Ko-Fi page!

Aestus: Book 1: The City – S.Z. Attwell

Genre: Dystopian | Sci-Fi

Pages: 706

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆/5

Synopsis: “An underground city, built centuries ago to ride out the devastating heat. A society under attack. And a young solar engineer whose skills may be the key to saving her city…if she doesn’t get herself killed first.

When Jossey was ten, the creatures of the aboveground took her brother and left her for dead, with horrible scars. Now, years later, she’s a successful solar engineer, working to keep her underground city’s power running, but she’s never really recovered. After she saves dozens of people during a second attack, she is offered a top-secret assignment as a field Engineer with Patrol, but fear prevents her from taking it…until Patrol finds bones near where her brother disappeared.

She signs on and finds herself catapulted into a world that is far more dangerous, and requires far more of her, than she ever imagined. The creatures and the burning heat aboveground are not the only threats facing the City, and what she learns during her assignment could cost her her life: one of the greatest threats to the City may in fact lie within. With thousands of lives at stake, can she act in time?

Aestus is an adult dystopian science-fiction series set centuries after climate change has ravaged much of Earth. An epic story of vengeance, power, shifting loyalties, and survival that looks at just how far people will go to protect what they love, brought to you by science writer S.Z. Attwell, Aestus paints a picture of a world in which far too little has changed.”

My Review: I will start with a disclaimer. S.Z. Attwell very kindly sent me with a free Kindle copy of this book when I was at a low point mentally. She said to read it at my own leisure and did not want a review in return. However, here we are, writing a review. After a brief hiatus from blogging whilst I’ve sorted my head out, I couldn’t think of a better book to return with.

This book really has opened my eyes to a whole world of literature I had been purposely ignoring. When I started the book and realised it was 1. Sci-fi and 2. Over 700 pages long, I’ll be honest I did panic a bit because they’re two factors majorly out of my comfort zone. Turns out I actually very much enjoy sci-fi – I’ve removed the ‘do not send me sci-fi’ from my review policy, and long books aren’t as terrifying as they seem.

I’m going to just put it out there now: This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

For context, the climate change crisis got out of hand and as a result the population had to move underground because it was too hot to continue to live above ground. The word ‘aestus’ means heat / fire in Latin. A word that was perfectly chosen to be the title of this book series.

The book begins with a prologue set 15 years prior to the main storyline. Jossey, who was 10 at the time, and her brother Tark snuck aboveground to watch the moon rise. They knew they shouldn’t have been aboveground due to the Onlar – vicious creatures who attack anyone who is still aboveground when it becomes dark, but take the risk anyway. Unfortunately their adventure doesn’t end well and Tark is taken by the Onlar and is presumed dead as there’s no trace of him anywhere.

Fast forward 15 years to the present day and Jossey works as a solar engineer working above ground during the day. On her way back underground one night there is another Onlar attack. Jossey’s actions don’t go unnoticed and she is offered an assignment with Patrol as a field engineer. I don’t want to say more about the storyline itself as there are lots of twists and turns and I’m not one for spoiling books for other people!

There are a few reviews that say that Attwell’s writing could be improved, however I didn’t spot anything I deemed to be a problem when I was reading the book — maybe that’s because I was so enthralled in the story itself. The book is suspenseful, but well-paced. It doesn’t feel like it goes too slow, and it also doesn’t feel like it goes too quickly. There is a lot of action packed into 700 pages and I was making my way through the pages at the speed of light because I couldn’t put the book down.

This book has truly convinced me to explore more of the world of sci-fi, a genre I previously tried to avoid because I thought it was just men in space rockets (lol). I really loved how it was a real-world setting and it really allowed me to think about the way the world we be if we don’t try change things now, potentially whilst we still have time.

Books don’t make me cry and never have done, but there were times throughout this book where I was getting quite close to shedding a tear. I think I experienced every emotion possible because of the way the storyline lured you in with a false sense of security, only for there to be a huge plot twist, which more often than not had me reading with my mouth wide open.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book to fans of sci-fi as well as those who are like me and haven’t really delved into the genre much. It’s an absolutely fantastic 5 star read, and the other reviews I’ve seen have agreed with me on that! S.Z. Attwell is an extremely talented author – this is her debut novel(!!!) and if this is anything to go by, then Aestus: Book 2: The Colony and any other books written by her in the future are no doubt going to be equally as spectacular.

To purchase the book:

Waterstones click here

Amazon (UK) – click here

Amazon (USA) – click here

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*BLOG TOUR* Competing With The Star – Krysten Lindsey Hager

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult

Pages: 196

My Rating: ☆☆☆/5

**Potential TW:** The grandpa in this book has lewy body dementia. There’s talks of dementia, parkinson’s disease and nursing homes. If this is a theme that you’d find upsetting, then maybe this isn’t the book for you.

Blurb: The perfect guy, the perfect location. What could go wrong?

Hadley Daniels’s life seems perfect. Before the beginning of sophomore year of high school, Hadley and her family move to a beautiful beach town, where she makes amazing new friends and lands the boyfriend of her dreams. She and Nick form a deep bond, but insecurity sets in when Hadley discovers her boyfriend once had a huge crush on her friend—who just happens to be the beautiful teen TV star, Simone Hendrickson. Nick claims to be over Simone, but then Hadley is blindsided with the news that Nick and Simone kissed after school. Now Hadley must determine who is telling the truth.

Love, betrayal, friendship…who needs TV drama when you’re busy competing with a star?

My Thoughts: When I first went into this book it gave me real High School Musical vibes; all the real issues of a teenager – friendships, relationships and enemies. Something that was a real USP to this book compared with similar YA contemporaries was Nick’s grandpa having dementia. I feel that this is a condition that doesn’t have much mention in literature, especially YA literature, and it’s something that really needs more awareness (I’m saying this as someone with a personal experience of dealing with dementia). This really set the book apart from ones with similar storylines and added way more depth and interest to it – something that wasn’t just a teenage drama.

This book I’d say is more suited for a younger teenager (ages 13-16) as the characters in the book are 15 / 16 years old. I think that the younger teenager could really relate to some of the typical high school issues that occur during the book (friendship group issues, relationship issues etc), however the older reader who left school a long time ago could find them a bit immature and not relatable.

Thank you to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for organising this blog tour!

Purchase Links:

US – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08W7M7FGW

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08W7M7FGW

Author Bio : Krysten Lindsay Hager writes about friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, frenemies, crushes, fame, first loves, and values. Her work includes YA contemporary, middle grade fiction, and adult and young adult rom-coms. She is the author of True Colors, Best Friends…Forever?, Next Door to a Star,  Landry in Like, and Competing with the Star, Dating the It Guy, Can Dreams Come True, and In Over Her Head: Lights, Camera, Anxiety.

Krysten’s work has been featured in USA Today, The Flint Journal, the Grand Haven Tribune, the Beavercreek Current, the Bellbrook Times, Springfield News-Sun, Grand Blanc View, Dayton Daily News and on the talk show Living Dayton. She received her BA in English and masters degree in liberal studies from the University of Michigan-Flint.

Social Media Links :

Website: www.krystenlindsay.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/krystenlindsay/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KrystenLindsayHagerAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KrystenLindsay

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/krystenlindsay/

*BLOG TOUR* Cuban Heel – Leopold Borstinski (Alex Cohen #5)

Genre: Historical Fiction | Crime

Pages: 248

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆/5

A huge thanks to Emma at DampPebbles Blog Tours for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Blurb: Would you work with the devil to build a paradise on Earth?
Jewish gangster, Alex Cohen joins long-time friend and business partner, Meyer Lansky to recreate
Las Vegas in 1950s Havana. When dictator President Batista gives them the opportunity to build
their dream casino complexes, Alex must choose between dancing with this devil or being in debt to
the Italian mob.
If he takes the mafia money then he will be tied to the men who planned his earlier downfall and
removed his mentor, Lucky Luciano from the syndicate. If he refuses their investment then he will be
beholden to the tinpot generalissimo and his bloated ego. But Alex knows that there is more at stake
than mere gelt–now he has his family surrounding him and they will suffer the ultimate price if he
makes a bad decision.
The fifth book in the Alex Cohen series is an historical thriller novel, which tears at the heart of the
Jewish mob’s role in pre-revolution Cuba. Leopold Borstinski’s piercing crime fiction gives each
reader the shocking skinny into the building of modern America.

My thoughts: This is the fifth book in the Alex Cohen series I’ve read and I’ve really loved the way the series has progressed. The series follows the life of Alex Cohen throughout the decades of his life (from the 1910s in book 1 to the 1950s in book 5) and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the series! The books are easy to read and follow but packed full of so much drama that I found myself turning the pages faster than any other book I’ve read! Alex is a character that I really can’t decide whether I love or hate. In the earlier decades of his life I felt sorry for him because he’d been dragged into a criminal world, but he chose to stay in that life (I know it was probably hard to leave a criminal organisation without getting shot).

As anyone who’s been reading my reviews for a while will know, I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. Something I’ve really enjoyed about these books is how it’s covered so many different periods through time, all of which have come with their own quirks. Alex is such a complex character; he’s been well thought through by Leopold Borstinski and Borstinski certainly knows how to write an incredible series of books!

You can read my review on books 1-3 by clicking here

Social Media:
Twitter: @borstinski
Facebook
Website
Instagram

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Via Leopold Borstinski’s website


Published by Sobriety Press on 30 th April 2021

*BLOG TOUR* Heir to the Darkmage – Lisa Cassidy

Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult

Pages: 368

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆/5

PUBLICATION DAY – 22ND APRIL 2021

Blurb: Ambition drives her. Danger thrills her. But magic always has a price.

Twenty years have passed since the Darkmage was destroyed and the war between mages ended. For Lira Astor, the single living heir to the Darkmage, escaping her name is impossible. People still fear what is long dead, and they see in her the rise of another dangerous mage with deadly ambition. Desperate to claw her way free of her grandfather’s shadow, to make her own name amongst the world of mages, Lira is willing to do whatever it takes. Even if that means joining the secretive rebel group looking to restore his vision. Survival is a lesson Lira learned early and often, yet when she is abducted and held prisoner in a deadly game of cat and mouse, she finds herself facing a nemesis she may be no match for. Forced to band together with unlikely allies who challenge everything she believes about what it means to be a mage, she will have to rely on every bit of ruthlessness she possesses.

Because the war may only just be beginning…
…and Lira Astor intends to come out on top.

My Review: Thank you to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I’ve really been loving fantasy books recently and this book was no exception! What I really enjoyed about the book is how it alternated between the present day and when Lira’s mother first passed away and delved into more detail about her childhood. The way it alternated meant that there was a huge amount of character development in Lira, which I really loved. I must say though, that out of the perspectives, I preferred the story of when she was young!

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heir-Darkmage-Lisa-Cassidy-ebook/dp/B08X3C64TZ/ 

US –  https://www.amazon.com/Heir-Darkmage-Lisa-Cassidy-ebook/dp/B08X3C64TZ/

Author Bio –

Lisa is a self-published fantasy author by day and book nerd in every other spare moment she has. She’s a self-confessed coffee snob (don’t try coming near her with any of that instant coffee rubbish) but is willing to accept all other hot drink aficionados, even tea drinkers.

She lives in the Australia’s capital city, Canberra, and like all Australians, is pretty much in constant danger from highly poisonous spiders, crocodiles, sharks, and drop bears, to name a few. As you can see, she is also pro-Oxford comma.

A 2019 SPFBO finalist, Lisa has published the YA fantasy series The Mage Chronicles, and is currently working on her latest epic fantasy series A Tale of Stars and Shadow. She has also partnered up with One Girl, an Australian charity working to build a world where all girls have access to quality education. A world where all girls — no matter where they are born or how much money they have — enjoy the same rights and opportunities as boys. A percentage of all Lisa’s royalties go to One Girl.

Social Media Links –

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/LisaCassidyWrites

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/lcasswrites

Website – https://www.tatehousebooks.com/Lisa-Cassidy