Book Review: Dynasty by Christina Oxenberg

Part memoir, part royal history – this is the intimate and enchanting true story of Christina Oxenberg’s discovery of her remarkable and illustrious Serbian heritage.

In 2014 Christina Oxenberg visited Serbia for the first time on the trail of her family history. What she discovered was not only the astonishing story of her origins – a descendant of the Karadjordjevic dynasty who rose from shepherds to kings – but also the hair-raising history of Europe and its royals from the 18th century to the present day. Deftly weaving Oxenberg’s own family history with that of Europe’s tumultuous recent past, Dynasty is a gripping and at times controversial royal saga, illustrated with 8 pages of beautiful images from Christina’s private collection.

What I Thought:
My recent media tastes seem to have leant towards royalty, given that I have watched both Victoria and The Crown within the last few weeks. I could probably write what I know about the crowned heads of Europe on the back of a postage stamp, but I was quickly drawn in and fascinated by the history of the Serbian royal family, as written by Christina Oxenberg in Dynasty.

Although non-fiction, the story of Oxenberg’s forebears from a humble shepherd, to a young man used as a pawn by the Allies of WW2, the family history reads like an adventure novel – it’s so easy to get caught up in the drama of it all that it is easy to forget that these are not a made-up cast of characters.

What makes this memoir so easy to read is the inclusion of Christina Oxenberg’s own memories of a childhood spent with exiled relatives, and knowing that there was something different about the family but never speaking openly about any of the events that had affected them. To have this interspersed with the whole shocking story adds to the feeling that you are not just reading a history book, but that the terrible world events that happened around and to the family are given an edge of humanity.

There are times when the author writes quite emotionally about her grandparents, and the things she discovered had happened to them only after they had passed away and this adds to the power of such an otherwise public and well-documented family history.

Complete with several pages of family photos, Dynasty is a fascinating book for historians, but at the same time it’s a human story of cherished family members that has clearly been written with love and respect.

Dynasty is published by Quartet Books. To find out more about the book and its author you can check out Christina Oxenberg’s website.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Only she knows what happened.
Only I can make her speak.

I love him so totally, completely, sometimes it threatens to overwhelm me.
Sometimes I think-

No. I won’t write about that.

Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.

Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.

Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought.

And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?

What I Thought:
It’s a risky business hyping a book and telling people it is a must-read. I mean, can it ever really live up to all that hype? The Silent Patient not only lives up to the hype, the twist in it by far surpasses anything that anyone told me about the book and could quite possibly have you yelling a swear…

Told from both the perspective of psychotherapist Theo Faber, a man who becomes obsessed with breaking through Alicia’s silence, and through the diaries of Alicia Berenson, it creates a tense thriller and the book is really impressive for a debut novel.

I felt that, despite the sensationalist nature of Alicia’s crime, the book started with a slow burn but, as her diaries become more frantic and indicative of a woman on the edge, the urge to read right to the end was compulsive and once all is reavealed, it really is breathtaking!

Right from the off, Theo is an unconventional psychotherapist in that he alone feels that he can break through Alicia’s silence when everyone else has written her off. He visits members of her family, trying to understand her and gets into trouble for going way beyond his remit as her caregiver. What that does do though is give us a deeper understanding of Alicia as a character when put alongside her own diaries which, in the end, provide all the words that are needed.

The style and format of this book is great – the voices are interwoven in such a way that, just when you think you’re getting somewhere, the other voice will continue the story instead – it truly is tantalising!

The book is not out until Feb 2019, so it’s quite a wait but, I assure you, it’s worth it, so Pre-order or add it to your wish lists now.

The Silent Patient will be published by Orion Books in February 2019. For more information on this book and Alex Michaelides, you can connect with him on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.

Such prophecies could be dismissed as trickery and nonsense, yet the Golds bury theirs deep. Over the years that follow they attempt to ignore, embrace, cheat and defy the ‘knowledge’ given to them that day – but it will shape the course of their lives forever.

What I Thought:
Wowsers! I am often struck by how good Tinder Press is at picking its titles – at least all the titles of theirs that I have picked up have been absolute crackers!

The Immortalists is no exception, coming from a premise that I think occupies many of us more than we would like to admit – if we knew when we were going to die, how would we live?

The Gold siblings are so very different, despite their hand-in-hand upbringing so, obviously, their responses to finding out their dates of death are very different, with some racing headlong towards their dates and filling their lives with colour, while the others try to minimise themselves until you wonder what is the point of living if you are not going to live?

Out of all the sections, the one about Simon was the one that I took to the most. Although you can see what is going to happen to him from a mile away, just by looking at when the book is set and doing some basic maths, getting to the inevitable is a riotous, colourful and emotional experience. Klara’s chapter too is beautifully written, making what happens to them both equally tragic.

Above all, The Immortalists asks the question of what we would do if we knew when we were going to die, but it does not offer easy answers. It shows us four possible responses to the situation and shows us too that even if you know when your time is up, what happens until then still has the power to surprise. It was a book I was still thinking of long after finishing it and it’s one of those books that has the power to provoke further debate in the longer term.

The Immortalists is published by Tinder Press and, as an aside, something else that they do well is cover art and this book is as beautiful to look at as it is to read…

To find out more about Chloe Benjamin, you can check out her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Queens of Fennbirn by Kendare Blake

Queens of Fennbirn contains two gripping stories from the New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns universe, written by Kendare Blake.

The Young Queens is the story of the three queens when they were born, before they were separated – it gives a short glimpse of the time when they all lived together, loved each other and protected one another. It’s also the story of the day they were torn apart and the immediate years that followed before the opening of Three Dark Crowns.

The Oracle Queen – historically, baby queens born with the sight gift were drowned. This had been the practice for hundreds of years, so long that few were even born any more, as if the Goddess knew it would be a waste. It is a harsh sentence, but necessary, for it is well-known that in a queen the sight gift will run strong. Strong enough to drive her mad. This is the tale of the last sight-gift queen to be allowed to live. She was overcome by paranoia and false visions, driven past the brink by the phantom thoughts of others in her head, so she set upon the capital with bloody ruin, murdering whole houses, whole family lines, without trial. Or at least, that is how the tale is told. This is her story.

What I Thought:
When it first came out I absolutely adored Three Dark Crowns. Having firmly labelled myself as not a fan of Fantasy, I’ve had to refine my definition as I LOVED that book and the world Kendare Blake has created with Fennbirn and its warring Queens!

Queens of Fennbirn unites two short stories that take place within the world of Three Dark Crowns, one of which explores the relationship between the three Queens before they were separated, and one that looks at the history of one of Fennbirn’s most interesting Queens.

Both give new depth to Three Dark Crowns but I will warn you that if you even vaguely identify with Feminist ideals, The Oracle Queen will make you very, very angry…

I really love the world that Kendare Blake has created and her writing style is so easy to read. Having two more books in this series to read, I was thrilled to get hold of this companion piece to add extra depth to it all and it’s definitely worth grabbing a copy – if only for the gorgeous cover art which unites the books in the series.

Queens of Fennbirn is published by Macmillan Children’s Books, and is available now. To find out more about this book and Kendare Blake, you can check out her website.

Keep an eye on the blog at the beginning of next month, and I might have something exciting for you from the Three Dark Crowns world!

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions. It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN, because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… or does God have a higher purpose after all?

Despite that, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. It is a book about memory and how, if we could remember things slightly differently, would we also be changed? In HVN, Lorna can at first remember nothing. But as her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that, maybe, she can find a way back home.

What I Thought:
As the blurb indicates, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is a difficult book to pigeonhole. There are elements of both sci-fi and fantasy in the book, but the overiding feel of it is that it strays more into the realms of spirituality. That certainly isn’t to say that it is a religious book, as that would most definitely not be my thing, but it does ask interesting questions about our mortality, perspective and the decisions we make throughout our lives.

Lorna, as a main character is distinctly average. She is not rich, she’s pretty but not knock-out, she’s got where she is in life by working hard, not because of who her family is. She’s had setbacks and tragedy in her family life and, painful as it’s been, she has overcome it. This is what makes her so relatable – this book could be about any one of us, being asked to look back on life and see where our decisions have changed our direction. As a person who seems to very often think about where different decisions might have taken me, Lorna really resonated with me.

From the cover art to the twists and turns of the story, you can tell that this is a quirky book – an infestation of hamsters onboard a space ship should tell you that much – but it is not so quirky and off-the-wall that it is not enjoyable. Reading about Lorna’s teenage holidays and romances brings back fond memories making this a very cosy book to read.

Ultimately, this is definitely a book to mull over – are we so very different to Lorna, and if we had the chance to go back over our memories and help them inform our future, what would we do?

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is published by Accent Press. To find out more about the book and Charlie Laidlaw, you can check out his website. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles

What happened to me?

Why can’t I remember?

Weeks after blacking out and waking up in hospital, Lux still has no memory of what happened.
She doesn’t know why her days are consumed by pain and her nights by terrifying dreams; why her parents won’t stop shouting and her friends stop talking when she walks into the room.

All she knows is that the Lux she once was is gone – and that if she can’t uncover the truth, everything she loves will be taken away too.

What I Thought:
The Taste of Blue Light is a book I’ve had for a while, but recently picked up when a friend demanded I read it immediately. Not one to ignore such a request, I started it and I was not disappointed.

Our introduction to Lux Langley and her school – a school for children gifted in the arts, with not much of a nod to discipline – seems to deliberately set her up as somewhat unlikeable. I’m not sure whether I felt this more acutely because I am well above the target audience for this book, or whether it was a ploy to just make us think ‘well, if she just drank too much and blacked out it’s her own fault’, but that very thought was articulated by one of her classmates later on in the book so maybe that was the author’s intention all along.

I won’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to have missing hours or days in your life, but Lydia Ruffles does a great job in trying to convey that, the sense of something missing and the pressure to try and remember and she also gives an enlightening look at how the world looks different for someone with synaesthesia, where the stimulation of one of the senses can create a reaction in another – hence the title of the book.

I think what I liked most about this book was that, although the blurb indicated that finding out what happened to Lux was the crux of the book, the reveal (wow, by the way) happened in the middle, leaving a lot of time for Lux and her friends and family deal with the aftermath. This provided a better resolution for me than simply finding out at the end and wondering what went on after I’d closed the book. It was very well done.

After reading The Taste of Blue Light I added Lydia Ruffles’ new book (Colour Me In) to my reading list as, if it’s anything like this, it’s sure to be a cracker!

The Taste of Blue Light is published by Hodder Children’s Books. You can find out more about Lydia Ruffles and connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: One Day in December by Josie Silver

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn’t exist. After all, life isn’t a scene from the movies, is it? But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic…and then her bus drives away.

Laurie thinks she’ll never see the boy from the bus again. But at their Christmas party a year later, her best friend Sarah introduces her to the new love of her life. Who is, of course, the boy from the bus.

Determined to let him go, Laurie gets on with her life. But what if fate has other plans?

What I Thought:
It seems perhaps a little early in the year to be on a blog tour for a christmas book but, rest assured, although Josie Silver’s debut novel is called One Day in December, there are lots of other days of the year to choose from, leaving December as the anchor point in a clever way to increase the span of this book to ten years.

This book is being billed as a book for fans of Love, Actually and I’d agree that it does have the same kind of feel and, in fact, even references that movie in the first few chapters but while that perennial christmas classic interweaves the lives of a number of couples over one christmas, this book focuses on Laurie, Jack and Sarah – the three sides of a heart-warming and heart-breaking love triangle over a ten year period.

Having the book set over such a long period of time and fitting into a realistic number of pages is a herculean feat that Josie Silver does really well, skimming over months at a time, but still dropping in on our main characters at crucial times in their lives. Despite them being scattered all over the world there is a genuine, deep and loving relationship between them all, aside from any romantic entanglements, and real love for the characters from the author definitely shows through.

There are moments of joy and moments of tragedy in this book, but it is quite uplifting in this supposedly cold, modern world and even an old cynic like me couldn’t help but adore the ending!

Save until christmas if you must, but One Day in December is – at the time of writing – only 99p on Kindle, so it would be criminal not to grab it!

One Day in December is published by Penguin. To find out more about the book and author Josie Silver, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of the ongoing blog tour to celebrate the release of One Day in December, so do check out some of the reviews, extracts and guest posts at the blogs below.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: The Liar’s Room by Simon Lelic


Susanna Fenton has a secret. Fourteen years ago she left her identity behind, reinventing herself as a counsellor and starting a new life. It was the only way to keep her daughter safe.

But everything changes when Adam Geraghty walks into her office. She’s never met this young man before – so why does she feel like she knows him?

Then Adam starts to tell her about a girl. A girl he wants to hurt.

And Susanna realises she was wrong.
She doesn’t know him.

What I Thought:
My summer holiday reading last year began with Simon Lelic’s The House which I just loved, so what better way to start this year’s summer reading, than with his latest novel The Liar’s Room which, I can assure you, is just as good?

The first thing that recommends this book is that it is a masterclass in plotting and pacing. Starting slowly as Susanna welcomes her new client, Adam, with no reservations until she gets the feeling that she knows him from somewhere, it gradually peels away the layers of Susanna’s new life and revelas to us why she has run away and the horrific events that led to just two people in a room with the highest stakes imaginable.

Then, just as the tension looks fit to break, we also hear from Emily, Susanna’s daughter, in journal entries that advance the story from her perspective. In some ways these give us a break from what is going on in that office, but we also learn that life with Susanna and Emily is not all about the truth.

Very tense and with an unimaginable conclusion (which should, really, come with a trigger warning), this book will be a treat for thriller fans. The feeling of claustrophobia built between only two people in a closed room is expertly done and it was so easy to read large chunks of this book in one sitting. So clever and very twisty, it kept me guessing and wondering right to the end.

What fascinated me most though, was that while one of the players in the book definitely had bad intentions, there was never a clear side. Both of the main characters had flaws and deserved blame, both of them were victims of circumstance and it was easy to see how their lives came to where they found themselves.

The Liar’s Room is definitely one to check out if you like a tense and articulate read.

This book is published by Penguin. At the time of writing, the Kindle version of this book is available at only 99p, so definitely one to grab!

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate The Liar’s Room and it is ongoing on the blogs below. Do check them out for more reviews and exclusive content.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: She Persisted Around the World by Chelsea Clinton ill. Alexandra Boiger

Women around the world have long dreamed big, even when they’ve been told their dreams didn’t matter. They’ve spoken out, risen up and fought for what’s right, even when they’ve been told to be quiet. Whether in science, the arts, sports or activism, women and girls throughout history have been determined to break barriers and change the status quo. They haven’t let anyone get in their way and have helped us better understand our world and what’s possible. In this book, Chelsea Clinton introduces readers to a group of thirteen incredible women who have shaped history all across the globe.

What I Thought:
It’s rare as hens’ teeth to find me reviewing a picture book, but I was really keen to get my hand on this one, written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. She Persisted Around the World is a follow up to 2017’s She Persisted – a look at 13 amazing American women who pioneered, explored, invented and much more. This book takes that worldwide, showing 13 incredible women from a range of countries who wrote, invented, discovered and refused to be silenced.

From J. K. Rowling to Malala Yousafzai in the present, to Viola Desmond and Marie Curie this delight of a book tells their empowering stories, showing how these women were determined in their different ways and giving a strong message to young children that it’s important to follow your star. It’s also beautifully illustrated with details that will make children come back time and again.

In the current climate, it’s so important for books like this to show girls that they can achieve all they can dream, but also to show young boys that reading a book with a female lead character is not something bad – a view that definitely should be encouraged.

As a book nerd, I was drawn to J. K. Rowling’s story, which I’ve included the illustration for here, but the stories included are so diverse that there will be at least one takeaway for everyone who reads this book. In many ways it’s even inspiring for me, even though I am clearly NOT the target market!

I was delighted to donate my review copy to my local Junior School library, as I hope it will be well-used, borrowed and read for years to come.

If you count yourself as a feminist, and you have young children in your life, buy this book. Share this book with them and encourage them to find their own heroic women to idolise – there are so many of them there, usually standing in the background…

She Persisted Around the World is published in the UK by Penguin Young Readers. You can find out more about Chelsea Clinton on her Twitter profile and you can check out Alexandra Boiger’s website, where she has posted some of the other brilliant illustrations from She Persisted Around the World.

Please note: I was sent this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: A Mother’s Grace by Rosie Goodwin

Tuesday’s child is full of grace…

Warwickshire, 1910.

Pious young Grace Kettle escapes the world of her unsavoury and bullying father to train to be a nun. But when she meets the dashing and devout Father Luke her world is turned upside down. Her faith is tested and she is driven to make a scandalous and life-changing choice – one she may well spend the rest of her days seeking forgiveness for…

What I Thought:
Thanks mainly to the dearth of what we would now call YA books, in my formative years, I tended to read a lot of sagas – borrowed from the library ‘for my mum’, I read a lot of Catherine Cookson, Barbara Taylor Bradford and their like. I’ve not really picked up what I would term as a ‘saga’ for quite a while now, so I thought I would give A Mother’s Grace a go.

Rosie Goodwin’s novel is the third in a series of standalone novels connected by the theme of the old rhyme ‘Monday’s Child is Fair of Face…’. I’ve not read any of the other books in the series but, although some secondary characters appear in all three novels, I’ve been told that you don’t have to read the others to enjoy this book, and they’re fine to be read out of order.

On the whole, this was an enjoyable read. Much like those sagas of old, the heroine, Grace, is likeable and puts up with her hardships with stoicism and a can-do attitude. When she finally decides to become a nun, she commits to it wholeheartedly and doesn’t shirk hard work and the deprivations that her choice entails – until loves comes into the picture!

There is a definite formula to these types of novels, but that certainly isn’t to say that the story that Rosie Goodwin has written is predictable and there were lots of elements in Grace’s story that came as a surprise. When I hear this book spoken about it is described as ‘heart-warming’ and it certainly succeeds in that as, you know however Grace suffers, it will work out ok in the end…

While I am happy to recommend the book, there were a couple of things that tested my patience as I was reading. You know those stock phrases that authors use to describe fainting, or someone turning pale with shock? There are lots of ways to describe those things but I found that Rosie Goodwin used the same stock phrases repeatedly – ‘the colour drained from his face’, ‘the ground rose up to meet her’. I know that this will not bother many, many people, but the repetition drew me out of the story and I wondered that an editor didn’t pick it up and recommend alternatives. This is a small, nit-picky point, but one I feel that needs to be considered as it affected my experience of reading the book.

Despite that very minor point, I would be happy to read Rosie Goodwin’s books in future and, considering that she has a quite extensive back catalogue, there is plenty to choose from.

A Mother’s Grace is published by Bonnier Zaffre. To find out more about Rosie Goodwin, you can check out her website where you can also find out about Memory Lane, a community for those who read and write historical sagas.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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