Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC #Histfic #Romance THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair

Today we have another Review-A-Book Challenger, Claire can be found on Instagram here @saintorrow

Claire has been reading The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair 

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The Mermaid and The Bear is a whimsical title and although the first half of the story does weigh a little heavy on the whimsy (in the most delightful way), it is certainly intriguing in equal measure. For this is definitely a tale of two halves. Set in Scotland in the late 1500s at the height of the witch trials, I began the book knowing what direction it was going to go in but was hooked from the start with the exciting opening line, “The first time the sea killed me, my brother brought me back to life.” The heroine, Isobell, describes her sea sickness as she travels with her twin, Jasper and his friend, Ian. It becomes clear that they are in fact, escaping, as we are told of their arrival after dark by boat at the castle, which is central to the story. Secret tunnels, hidden doorways and shadowy figures drew me in to a whole other world immediately.

Isobell is a sweet and relatable character, on the run from her betrothed – an abusive man who is in cahoots with her father and nasty older brother. She must take on a new life and act the part of kitchen assistant in the castle, but the cook, Bessie, quickly susses her out and takes her under her wing. However, she also has Agnes to contend with, the spiteful, self-proclaimed governess to Wee Thomas, The Laird’s son.

My interest in reading this book was very much with regards to the witch trials, however the first half of the book is quite a sumptuous love story: Isobell’s love for the gorgeous Scottish landscape is second only to the growing love she feels for the Laird. I’m not a big love story fan, but Sinclair writes beautifully and manages to avoid any kind of cringiness. Plus, Isobell is portrayed so brilliantly that you can’t help but root for her – yes, she’s sweet but she’s no fool, and she deserves her prince.

What I found interesting was the very real and true depiction of how accusations of witchery came about. There were no pointed hats and broomsticks, frogs or cauldrons – often only a plain dislike or mistrust, as well as jealousy of women with knowledge or wisdom (particularly in relation to healing and herbalism). And that is exactly what unravels between Agnes towards Isobell and Bessie. I will say no more, but from the midpoint onwards, the story hurtles onto a very different trajectory from the initial dreaminess of Isobell’s seemingly magical new life. There is always the gnawing feeling that her past will catch up with her, but how it plays out is genuinely terrifying. It struck me as a grim parallel with today’s politics of polarization and finger-pointing, and as a reader, it was easy to empathise with the nightmarish quality of what transpires.

I loved this book much more than I thought I would. It has a depth that I did not expect but at the same time, it had an open-heartedness and generosity that I’m not used to when compared to my usual contemporary fiction reading. I think Ailish Sinclair is a wonderful writer and managed to keep true to history in a way that some more well-known authors who have chosen to write about this increasingly popular subject matter of the witch trials – both in the UK and the USA – do not always manage. She has clearly done her research and literal groundwork, which comes through vividly via her knowledge and descriptions of the Aberdeenshire landscape. I follow her on Instagram, and it is great to get a peek into her writer’s mind, her inspiration, and mythic gnosis of the land. Someday, I’d love to visit that beautiful pink castle and the mystical stone circle which are both as much lead characters as Isobell. Looking forward to the second novel to come from this talented author in Spring 2021, Fireflies and Chocolate.

5 stars

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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Guest Author Jamie Baywood

Today my guest on the blog is Jamie Baywood and her book Getting Rooted in New Zealand.

Jamie Baywood authorLet’s find out more about Jamie;

1) Where is your home town?

Petaluma, California.

2) You wrote your book from diary entries, have you always liked writing?

I didn’t start keeping a diary or writing until I moved to New Zealand. Getting Rooted in New Zealand is a collection of my emails, memories, and dairy entries. It seemed natural to organize the book in chronological order in dairy format.

3) Can you tell our readers what made you choose to go to New Zealand?

Growing up in California, it was always my dream to live abroad. I found a work abroad company that helped young Americans get work visas in New Zealand and Australia. I had been watching a lot of Flight of the Conchords at the time and enjoyed Bret and Jemaine’s sense of humour and accents.

I had bad dating experiences in California and read in a New Zealand tour book that the country’s population at 100,000 fewer men than women.  I wanted to have some me time and an adventure. New Zealand seemed like a good place to do so.

4) How long did you plan to initially stay in New Zealand?

I had a 12 month visa, but I literally had no plans.

5) What type of jobs did your work visa allow you to do? Would you like to see a change in this type of visa?

The visa I was on only permitted me to work temporary positions. This greatly limited my options.

As crazy as my job experiences were in New Zealand, I would actually like to return to New Zealand and give it another try working as a writer. It would be great to return to New Zealand to make Getting Rooted in New Zealand into a TV show.

6) I believe the cost of living shocked you, can you give us some examples?

It was mostly the cost of fresh produce at grocery stores like bell peppers and cucumbers were $5 each. It would have been ideal to have a garden and grow my own veggies.

7) Tell us about “Performing” stories from your adventures. Where did you perform them?

I was very lucky in New Zealand to meet a lot of talented people outside of work. I had the opportunity to write and perform for Thomas Sainsbury the most prolific playwright in New Zealand. I performed a monologue about my jobs in the Basement Theatre in Auckland.

The funny thing about that experience was Tom kept me separated from the other performers until it was time to perform. I was under the impression that all the performers were foreigners giving their experiences in New Zealand.  All of the other performers were professional actors telling stories that weren’t their own. At first I was mortified, but the audience seemed to enjoy my “performance,” laughing their way through my monologue. After the shows we would go out and mingle with the audience. People would ask me how long I had been acting. I would tell them, “I wasn’t acting; I have to go to work tomorrow and sit next to the girl wearing her dead dog’s collar.” No one believed I was telling the truth.

8) How did meeting Grant change your views on meeting men?

I’ve always loved men, too much in fact. I didn’t escape California because I hated men; I left because I was perplexed by how to date.  I had one boyfriend from the age of fourteen to twenty-three. There were a lot of life experiences and things I should have learned in high school and at university that I didn’t.  After my first relationship ended I felt like a zoo animal released into the wild. I had no idea how to date and for a few years was completed bombarded by unwanted suitors in California.

By the time I meet Grant at the age of twenty-seven, I had fulfilled my dream of living abroad, been single for over a year and felt healed from previous heartbreaks. Grant had been in a long term relationship since he was a teen as well. He was more clueless about dating than I was. I found comfort in our mutual awkwardness.  Grant was very different than the guys I dated in California. We spent the first couple months going on long walks and talking. It reminded me an old-fashion courtship. I knew very early into dating him that he would be my husband.

9) At the end of your book you were hoping to move to Scotland to find a college course, did this work out?

 We didn’t stay in Scotland to study as planned. For unwanted complicated reasons, we had to move to England to study.  I have just completed a one year MA in Design. Designing my book cover was my dissertation project.  Grant is in middle of a two year MA in Landscape Architecture he will be done in 2014. We plan to move when his course is completed.

10) I know you a had a sneak look on the internet at holding a wedding in a Scottish Castle, did you fulfil this dream?

We got married in a little castle in Scotland at the beginning of year 2012. My husband wore a kilt. I was hoping for a white winter wedding, but we ended up getting sunshine in Scotland during the winter. It was a magical day; we had a rainbow over a loch, bunny rabbits hoping by us, birds chirping and a full moon reflecting on the loch at night.

Getting Rooted in New Zealand is available in paperback and eBook on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/1482601907 and Amazon.co.uk

Jamie Baywood can be followed on:

Facebook.com/jamiebaywood
Twitter.com/jamiebaywood
Pinterest.com/jamiebaywood
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7069448.Jamie_Baywood
amazon.com/author/jamiebaywood

Getting Rooted in New ZealandGetting Rooted in New Zealand book description:
Craving change and lacking logic, at 26, Jamie, a cute and quirky Californian, impulsively moves to New Zealand to avoid dating after reading that the country’s population has 100,000 fewer men. In her journal, she captures a hysterically honest look at herself, her past and her new wonderfully weird world filled with curious characters and slapstick situations in unbelievably bizarre jobs. It takes a zany jaunt to the end of the Earth and a serendipitous meeting with a fellow traveler before Jamie learns what it really means to get rooted.
About the author Jamie Baywood:
Jamie Baywood grew up in Petaluma, California. In 2010, she made the most impulsive decision of her life by moving to New Zealand. Getting Rooted in New Zealand is her first book about her experiences living there. Jamie is now married and living happily ever after in the United Kingdom. She is working on her second book.

I’d like to Thank Jamie for being our guest today.