Book Review: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin

The house at the end of the lane burned down, and Rita Frost and her teenage ward, Bevan, were never seen again. The townspeople never learned what happened. Only Mae and her brother Rossa know the truth; they spent two summers with Rita and Bevan, two of the strangest summers of their lives…

Because nothing in that house was as it seemed: a cat who was more than a cat, and a dark power called Sweet James that lurked behind the wallpaper, enthralling Bevan with whispers of neon magic and escape.

And in the summer heat, Mae became equally as enthralled with Bevan. Desperately in the grips of first love, she’d give the other girl anything. A dangerous offer when all that Sweet James desired was a taste of new flesh…

What I Thought:

Having loved Spare and Found Parts, picking up Other Words for Smoke was very easy indeed. For a start, it’s a thing of beauty – I’m a sucker for foil details and a sprayed edge – but the beauty continues within, with some of the most lyrical and magical writing that you could ever hope to read.

Magic is at the heart of this book, the magic created by women and the raw, primal magic that exists beyond the world. As the early stages of the book are seen from Rossa and Mae’s points of view, the magical elements of the house are revealed slowly as we are let in on the many secrets hidden in the walls,

I was lucky enought to hear Sarah Maria Griffin speak at YALC this year, and she explained that the house is a representation of Ireland, and Irish history built on the suffering of women and that really comes through clearly. There are instances in Rita’s life which draw on the Magdalene laundries and, while those institutions might be shuttered for good, their reach in Ireland and in the lives of these characters is long and deep.

There are several different voices at play here, which allows us to delve more deeply into each character, with Bevan being interesting and likeable/unlikeable/compelling all at the same time. She toys with the forces in the house and can’t stop herself, even when she wants to and causes a quiet kind of havoc until the walls finally come crashing down.

I can’t be particularly more specific in this review for fear of spoiling, but there are some passages that you will read over and over again, as they are more akin to poetry than prose, but they still push the story forward at a comfortable pace.

You’d really be doing yourself a favour if you picked up any of Sarah Maria Griffin’s work, there’s just something undefinable about her writing that, like this book, has magic in it.

Other Words for Smoke is published by Titan Books.

To find out more about Sarah Maria Griffin, the best place to find her is on Instagram, 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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Blog Tour: Gorgito’s Ice Rink by Elizabeth Ducie

Two small boys grieving for lost sisters — torn between family and other loves. Can keeping a new promise make up for breaking an old one?

When Gorgito Tabatadze sees his sister run off with a soldier, he is bereft. When she disappears into Stalin’s Gulag system, he is devastated. He promises their mother on her death-bed he will find the missing girl and bring her home; but it is to prove an impossible quest.

Forty years later, Gorgito, now a successful businessman in post-Soviet Russia, watches another young boy lose his sister to a love stronger than family. When a talented Russian skater gets the chance to train in America, Gorgito promises her grief-stricken brother he will build an ice-rink in Nikolevsky, their home town, to bring her home again.

With the help of a British engineer, who has fled to Russia to escape her own heartache, and hindered by the local Mayor who has his own reasons for wanting the project to fail, can Gorgito overcome bureaucracy, corruption, economic melt-down and the harsh Russian climate in his quest to build the ice-rink and bring a lost sister home? And will he finally forgive himself for breaking the promise to his mother?

A story of love, loss and broken promises. Gorgito’s story, told through the eyes of the people whose lives he touched.

What I Thought:

An interesting read today with Gorgito’s Ice Rink by Elizabeth Ducie. Set in post-communist Russia, this dual time novel highlights a larger-than-life figure, striving to prevent his story repeating itself.

The modern section of the novel shows the bureaucracy and corruption of Russia in the post communist era, with British engineers helping to build a solid economy – without much help from local government! At the centre of these efforts stands Gorgito, whose bluff and jolly exterior hides a personal agony and what he views as his failure.

This failure we later learn, is returning his sister, Maria, to their Georgian village after she falls in love with a visiting soldier.

Set in the post-war period, Maria’s story gives us a perspective on the height of the communist era in Russia and the suffering of many groups, including political prisoners, the Jewish population and everyday, ordinary Russians. It really highlights that the chances of being shipped to a prison camp were really quite high, even if you had done nothing wrong and touches on the conditions in these places.

I felt quite invested in Maria’s story – more so I’d have to say than the more modern sections, and I would have loved to read more about her, and this time in Russian history. I suppose that is because I am more of a history buff, and it’s certainly not to say that any parts of the book are bad.

At the time of writing this review, Gorgito’s Ice Rink is priced at only 99p on Kindle and, for what you get for your money, this is an absolute steal.

To find out more about author Elizabeth Ducie and her work, why not check out her website? Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a Blog Blitz to celebrate Gorgito’s Ice Rink and let everyone know that it’s now at a bargain price. There are lots of fab blogs taking part, so do be sure to check out the #GorgitosIceRink hashtag 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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Blog Tour: Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald

In 1919, in the wake of the First World War, a group of extraordinary women came together to create the Women’s Engineering Society. They were trailblazers, pioneers and boundary breakers, but many of their stories have been lost to history. To mark the centenary of the society’s creation, Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines brings them back to life.

Their leaders were Katharine and Rachel Parsons, wife and daughter of the engineering genius Charles Parsons, and Caroline Haslett, a self-taught electrical engineer who campaigned to free women from domestic drudgery and became the most powerful professional woman of her age. Also featured are Eleanor Shelley-Rolls, sister of car magnate Charles Rolls; Viscountess Rhondda, a director of thirty-three companies who founded and edited the revolutionary Time and Tide magazine; and Laura Willson, a suffragette and labour rights activist from Halifax, who was twice imprisoned for her political activities.This is not just the story of the women themselves, but also the era in which they lived. Beginning at the moment when women in Britain were allowed to vote for the first time, and to stand for Parliament and when several professions were opened up to them Magnificent Women charts the changing attitudes towards women in society and in the workplace.

What I Thought:

The Victorian era and early 20th Century seems to have been a golden age for technological advancement and invention, but all too often we hear about the inventiveness of men, and history tends to gloss over the contribution made to techological advancement by women.

In Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines, Henrietta Heald tries to put that right by introducing us to a generation of exceptional female engineers on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).

For a start, this is such a readable book, as it makes connections between many well-known inventions and inventors, and then shows where the women involved in these things were subtly written out of the narrative. With the main thrust of the book being the founding of the WES after the First World War, there is a chapter dedicated to those women who answered the call to fill in in the munitions factories when the men were called to war, and were then unceremoniously dumped once the war ended. With blunt instruments like the Restoration of Pre-war Practices bill, there was a sweeping move to put women firmly back into the kitchen but these women were not ready to go quietly.

There is much to induce rage in this book – not least of which is the bill I mentioned above – including women not being granted degrees from Cambridge University until 1948, like a large number of women being turned down for fellowship of industry bodies and many other instances where women were considered to be inferior in brainpower and strength to men, but there are also countless inspirational women who not only break through into their chosen professions, but also hold the door open for younger women to follow them.

From Naval and aeronauctical design, to flying solo around the world, so many different women in a diverse range of fields are represented here in a tribute to the pioneering spirit of the women of the early 20th Century and, with an afterword by Dawn Childs, current President of the the WES, there is much more to look forward to from more Magnificent Women. Although this does come with a caveat – still, only 11% of professional engineers in the UK are women, hopefully a number that will continue to grow with the help of WES and organisations like it.

This is a timely book given recent initiatives to increase the number of women and girls studying STEM subjects and it’s definitely an eye opener. Highly recommended from me, another fantastic project published through Unbound.

To find out more about Henrietta Heald and her work, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines – do be sure to check out some of the other fantastic blogs taking part:

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 Foundling’s Daughter by Ann Bennett

In 1934, Anne Foster, the wife of a British Army Officer, privately harbouring pain and remorse, sets sail from Bombay on a fateful journey home, a letter from a charismatic stranger — orphanage superintendent, Reverend Ezra Burroughs — in her pocket.

Seventy-six years later, Connie Burroughs, Ezra’s daughter, now in her nineties and in a care home, still lives in fear of her dead father. She guards his secrets loyally, but with a lifetime of regrets.

Sarah Jennings, escaping an unhappy marriage, moves to be near her ageing father. She buys Cedar Lodge, the crumbling former home of the Burroughs family, a renovation project she hopes will bring peace of mind to trying times. But she’s not prepared for the shocking secrets she uncovers. Determined to track down the past, Sarah embarks on a quest to expose the chilling events that took place at Ezra Burroughs’ orphanage in the 1930s; a quest that will ultimately change her life.

What I Thought:

Having read Ann Bennett’s excellent trilogy of novels based in South-East Asia, I was delighted to pick up The Foundling’s Daughter.

Although we’ve moved from Thailand and Malaysia to India, the evocative descriptions of rainforest, busy Indian cities and deserted jungle palaces are just as well-written, providing a clear sense of place and time.

The historical part of the story takes place at the height of the British Raj, but rather than glorifying the British in India (which goes on far too much these days for my liking), it shows something of the seemier side of that society, and the realities of young women embroiled in scandal moving to the other side of the world to snag themselves a husband and respectability.

To be fair to Anne, although that is what ends up happening to her, it is clearly not her initial intention, which we learn through diary entries cut between the more modern parts of the book.

I liked Sarah, the main, modern character and it was fun to follow her through her discoveries as she delved more into the Burroughs orphanage and its connections to her own life. Her collaboration with Connie Burroughs, whose fear of her father’s influence had kept her silent for so many years was an interesting dynamic, as Connie fought her own distrust, to eventually open up after a shocking discovery.

As I said, I’ve enjoyed Ann’s previous novels, and this is a thrilling and mysterious addition to her collection.

To find out more about Ann Bennett, her work and her love of India, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

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

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Blog Tour: The Love Delusion by Nicola Mostyn


The Love Delusion Cover

That’s the belief of Frida McKenzie, devoted member of The Love Delusion movement, determined to cure humans of our ridiculous obsession with love.

But there’s something she’s forgotten…

When Frida finds a mysterious picture of herself with a man she barely knows, the certainties she has about her world begin to unravel.

What are the sinister roots of the cult that seems to have gripped humanity? Why can’t she remember anything about her life before – including the strange(ly attractive) man in that picture? And just when exactly did she take up fantasy role play?

As a battle approaches that’s been millennia in the making, it’s beginning to look like there’s only one question that really matters: if love conquers all, what happens when it’s gone?

What I Thought:

I try not to judge a book by its cover, but I am ashamed to say that I picked up Nicola Mostyn’s The Love Delusion solely based on the fantastic, bright, bold cover. Lucky for me then that the book inside more than matched up to the cover design!

Although I was not aware at the time, The Love Delusion is the second in the Gods of Love series, which brings the myths and legends of ancient Greece screeching into the present day. I will admit to sometimes feeling as though I was missing something by not reading the first book first, but it didn’t really detract from what was a thrilling and original story.

I went back and bought The Gods of Love, as I loved Nicola Mostyn’s writing and the characters of Frida and Dan. If you know your Greek Gods, then you’ll be miles ahead of the curve, but it isn’t really necessary, as their back stories are expertly explained in the book.

We all get stuck in a reading rut from time to time and, recently, I’ve fallen into the trap of reading quite a few books that are similar in theme, but this book was a refreshing change, with lots to love about it.

I think the most interesting thing in the book was how quickly and easily the Love Delusion cult was able to grow. I know this is fiction, but it’s easy to see how these things get started and whip people up – take a regular person and tell them that the reason they are unpopular/have a crappy job/don’t have any money is that society is unfairly based around couples and you can see how easy it might be for the disaffected and vulnerable to be swayed. This may be an extreme example, but we see similar things everyday, especially on the internet. Whether she intended to or not, Nicola Mostyn has made an interesting comment on these things…

Definitely recommended, I’ll feed back about The Gods of Love at a later date…

The Love Delusion is published by Piatkus Books.

To find out more about The Love Delusion and Nicola Mostyn, you can check out her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate The Love Delusion. Why not check out some of the blogs below for more reviews and other exclusive content?

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

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