Celebrating Books for Adult and YA


1-1Help the Witch by Tom Cox

There is a line where mist becomes fog and during the early days of December it is crossed.  But it’s not during fog that what has been growing in the river breaks the surface and takes a look around.  It’s on a clear night after a frosty day where sheer cold has made resilient leaves surrender and quiver to the ground.

Today I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the first fictional offering from writer, Tom Cox.  I’ve been a follower of Tom on social media on both Facebook and Twitter for some time now and have very much enjoyed his cat related musings and following his highs and lows over the years. I am very much a cat (and general animal) lover and so have been drawn to the sensitivity and connection that he quite clearly has towards them.  He is a person who appears to feel things deeply; sensitive, enquiring and  what I would call an ‘old soul’.  Therefore I was incredibly excited to hear about his latest project of a selection of short stories.  Ghost stories.  So I am delighted to have been invited to take part in this blog tour celebrating this fantastic book and also to be able to put some questions to the author.

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1-1Help the Witchis a beautifully presented selection of short stories with a ghostly, other worldly theme.  Storytelling has been prevalent since before man could read and write.  Tales told orally would be passed down from generation to generation as a means to educate, inspire and entertain.  Of course now there are many means of telling a story.  Tom has delighted us for years with his writing through a variety of mediums including books, journalism and his website ,where he states ‘since 2015 I’ve written many many thousands of words about about nature, folklore, music, books, landscape, family, social history, films and more’.  I love reading his work and he has a wonderful gift of putting words together to create something rather magical.  Help the Witchis his first book of fictional stories and I asked him what inspired him to write this particular selection of short stories.

‘Walking and what I find while I do it has always been a big inspiration for me – particularly during my latest non-fiction book, 21st Century Yokel, and – in a more wintry, haunting sense – ‘Help The Witch’. Derelict buildings. Old clothes left on fence posts, creating an inadvertent figure who, upon being approached from the other side might potentially have a gnashing nightmare face. Copses and spinneys that retain and trap events from the distant past. What you have in ‘Help The Witch’ are some remnant echoes of the folk horror novels I tried and failed to write in my late 20s and early 30s – hopefully in more coherent, less overreaching form. It’s all really the result of a burning ambition to write spooky stories that I’ve had since I was seven years old, but tempered with scepticism, questions, a reverence for nature as the true magic and religion, and executed in a manner more minimalist than it might once have been, allowing some spaces for the reader to choose their own adventure.’

So now I ask you reader, do you believe in ghosts?  Some people are sceptical, after all  we now live in a world where our thirst for knowledge can’t be quenched.  In the past 100 years science has moved on in an alarming rate and yet there are still so many questions that remain unanswered.  To some, if we can’t explain it then it simply can’t be real.  Yet constantly we seem drawn to tales that go straight to the heart of these unanswerable questions, perhaps because they spark curiosity and fear.  It is natural to fear the unexplained.  Tom has a wise voice,  an old soul, who, although a self-confessed ‘near sceptic’, questions the world around him and looks beneath the layers of what surrounds us.  I asked him what it is that fascinates him about ghost stories.

‘Apart from the basic thing that makes so many people fascinated by ghosts – a slightly inward looking question about what we are and where all our energy goes when we’re no longer alive – I’m interested in the idea of buildings, and other spaces, that absorb events and seem to hold them. I am interested in the intangible magic that age gradually begins to add to some objects. What is also interesting when you’re writing ghost stories and tell people that is that nearly everyone has a story to share from their life, even if they are a total sceptic: an incident, often nocturnal, with no rational scientific explanation. I’m not a total sceptic, and I’ve got a few of these incidents too, although I don’t think I can honestly state that I have seen a ghost in any traditionally recognised sense. Most of all, I think, as I get older, I am more and more fascinated – happy to get totally lost in – history, and I think if you’re fascinated by that, it’s hard not to be fascinated by ghosts in some form.’

Personally I do believe in ghosts.  I believe that we each carry an energy and that events and situations leave an imprint on the places we have been.  I too have never knowingly seen a ghost but I often sense something that has been left behind.  This is one of the things I found interesting about the stories in Help the Witch, they aren’t simply your traditional creaking doorways and things seen out of the corner of your eye.  The stories are almost subtle, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.

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…also visually stunning, the illustrations sit perfectly alongside the stories.  Even those have left a ghostly shadow on the opposite page, something that only adds to the overall ethereal feeling that accompanies the book.

I enjoyed the sheer variety of stories that fill the book.  No two where the same and I found each and every one enticing. It feels like a collection of tales developed over time, handed down through generations.  I can imagine them being read aloud around a camp fire as the sounds of nature surround you, along with the deep, silent dark.

My favourite story is from where the title of the collection is taken, ‘Help the Witch‘. It was to my mind the spookiest, or perhaps just a little more obviously spooky than the others.  It’s tone and style of narration put me in mind of Emily Bronte as I read.  Tom creates atmosphere and a sense of place wonderfully.  He entwines history through the tale, gradually bringing the ghosts alive.  I have recently read an article by Tom called ‘the ghosts of the mountain house’ which talks about his (rather brave) plan of method-writing when working on the book, ‘to retreat to a spooky place to put it together.’  I must say it certainly worked, and reading about his stay at a desolate farmhouse in the Peak District makes the story even more spine-tingling.

Each writer is as unique as their stories and I always find the writing process fascinating.  I asked Tom to tell me a little of his methods such as if he keeps a writer’s notebook or journal.

‘I wish I’d kept journals when I was younger. I try not to have regrets in life, but that might be one. I started keeping them in earnest about a decade ago, when I was already 32. It would be interesting, just for my own entertainment, to look back on an earlier period in my life in print. Far more interesting than reading record reviews I wrote for newspapers in my early 20s, I’m sure. I had my bag stolen in August, containing a year’s worth of thoughts towards future books. It still hurts, although I don’t think it was my best or fullest journal. I write down weird things that have happened to me or people I’ve met: sometimes incredibly mundane, but weird. Sometimes the very act of writing them helps you remember them and you don’t even need to refer back to them.’

So what happens when the time comes to sit down and write?  How does your first draft come? Handwritten or typed?

Typed. I’ve becoming better at pushing through and writing a load of text in longhand but ultimately I’m part of the first generation of people whose customary way to write is using a computer: I’m accustomed to the luxury it gives you of fiddling with text as you go along.’

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write as and when?

‘My ideal routine is to start between six and seven am, and write all the way through
to late lunchtime. Then maybe go for a walk in the afternoon, or do some editing or
admin. These best laid plans happen too seldom though, and in reality my schedule
is far more chaotic. One thing that stays a stone fact is that I never write anything
very great between 1pm and 4pm. If someone tells you they wrote something great
between 1pm and 4pm, they’re lying.’

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One of the things that initially drew me to Tom was his love for cats and his ability to look at the world through their eyes with humour, love and compassion.  My own cat, Mr Perry, features heavily on my personal instagram account and I am always fascinated how these creatures who share our lives become such an important part of them.  There is a feline presence in the title story ‘Help The Witch’ and so I was curious how much of an influence Tom’s cats had on his fictional stories too.

‘I was writing non-fiction and journalism for years without cats being a known theme of my writing life, but they bullied their way into my writing quite often. So I relented and
gave them the floor for four books, while also using that as a way to write about lots
of other themes. They were like Trojan cats. People saw them on book covers, and
didn’t realise they were a way to smuggle in stories about family, the countryside,
landscape, other animals, plus a bit of light DIY philosophy. I think they’ll always be
popping in, whatever I write, although they’re probably not as dominant as people
who haven’t read my books often assume. I’m a creatively stubborn person, but
hopefully not needlessly stubborn, and this book has a strong witchy undercurrent.
Not letting a few cats have cameo roles to add to that undercurrent would have been
needlessly stubborn.’

Help the Witch is a great collection of stories and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading and writing about. It’s also visually stunning and the illustrations sit perfectly alongside the stories.  Even those have left a ghostly shadow on the opposite page, something that only adds to the overall ethereal feeling that accompanies the book. It is only right that I hand the last few words of this piece over to Tom to answer the question, will you be writing more fictional tales?

‘Absolutely. That has always been part of the plan. I’d always assumed that when I finally published some fiction I’d do nothing but that forever. But I don’t quite feel like that now. I get a lot of pleasure out of fiction and non-fiction. I hope to write much more of both. That said, since finishing Help The Witch, so many more eerie stories have been knocking on the door – often in the early hours – and I can only oblige and let them in.’

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Help the Witch is published on the 18th of October 2018 by Unbound and is available to order from all good bookshops (find your local independent here),  Amazon ,Watersones to name but a few,

Tom has a completely fabulous and fascinating website so do pop along for a look here.

Thank you to Anne Carter of Random Things Tours and Tom for sending me this wonderful book.


Palm Beach Finland by Antti Tuomainen

Fargo meets Baywatch in a darkly funny thriller by the critically acclaimed author of The Man Who Died

Sex, lies and ill-fitting swimwear… Sun Protection Factor 100

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Jan Nyman, the ace detective of the covert operations unit of the National Central Police, is sent to a sleepy seaside town to investigate a mysterious death. Nyman arrives in the town dominated by a bizarre seaside town to investigate a mysterious death. Nyman arrives in the town dominated by a bizarre holiday village – the ‘hottest beach in Finland’. the suspect: Olivia Koski, who has only recently returned to her hometown. The mission:find out what happened, by any means necessary. With a nod to Fargo, and the darkest noir, Palm Beach, Finland is both a page-turning thriller and a wicked black comedy about lust for money, fleeing dreams and people struggling at turning points in their lives… from the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’.

Olivia Koski arrives home to find her kitchen in one hell of a mess and a dead man lying on the floor. She immediately calls the police and pretty soon is their number one suspect. They think perhaps she arranged to have her boyfriend ‘dealt with’ but in reality she had never set eyes on the man before in her life. Jan Nyman is sent undercover to try to get to the bottom of things. Thorough, tough and determined to get the information he needs, Jan doesn’t hold back when it comes to cracking the case.

This is a super novel; dark, sassy, sharp and oh so funny. The characters are a mixed bunch but all equally readable. From the inept duo trying to scare Olivia into selling her home to the cold dark psychopath who sent real chills up my spine they all kept me reading. Antti does characterisation really well.

The translation by David Jackson is fantastic and I can imagine that Antti will be delighted to have worked with such a skilful translator. Of course I would expect nothing less from the team at Orenda Books, they are one of the best publishers of adult crime around and as always have brought us another incredible author. I can’t wait to read more of his work.

About the Author

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Finnish Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. The critically acclaimed My Brother’s Keeper was published two years later. In 2011, Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. Two years later, in 2013, the Finnish press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark and hilarious The Man Who Died became an international bestseller, shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards.

Thank you so much to Anne Carter and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for sending me the review copy. I truly loved it and will be recommending it to all who like something rather dark and rather funny.


Street Cat Blues by Alison O’Leary.

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A quiet life for Aubrey?

After spending several months banged up in Sunny Banks rescue centre, Aubrey, a large tabby cat, has finally found his forever home with Molly and Jeremy Goodman, and life is looking good.

However, all that changes when a serial killer begins to target elderly victims in the neighbourhood.

Aubrey wasn’t particularly upset by the death of some of the previous victims, including Miss Jenkins whom Aubrey recalls as a vinegar-lipped bitch of an old woman who enjoyed throwing stones at cats, but Mr Telling was different.

Mr Telling was a mate…

A murder mystery like no other. I was intrigued when I first read the synopsis. The main protagonist is a cat. How fabulous is that!? Refreshing, funny and a super read. I really enjoyed Street Cat Blues.

Okay I admit I am both a lover of both cats and crime novels and so I didn’t take much convincing but it was actually a great story. I loved Alison’s take on cat life; from the turf wars, waiting for food and tickles, to surviving ‘Sunny Banks’ rescue centre. I loved sharing time with Aubrey. Quite often he went unnoticed and gave us a completely new insight into the mystery.

Aubrey is a tom cat who is familiar with tragedy. After a sad, unsettled start to life he eventually ends up living a comfortable quiet life with Jeremy and Mollie. A quiet life that suddenly comes to an end with the murder of Mr Telling. This wasn’t the first murder in the area but for Aubrey it was a step too far. He liked Mr Telling.

A cat is a curious creature that can slip unnoticed into the most difficult of situations and Aubrey makes the purrfect cat detective as he works to get to the bottom of who is behind the growing number of murders. But there is more going on in this mystery than even Aubrey realises and it’s not long before the danger is very real.

A fantastic, feline-led murder mystery that was an absolute delight to read.

Thoroughly recommended for those who like a gentle murder mystery with an unusual detective leading the way.

About the author…

Alison was born in London and spent her teenaged years in Hertfordshire. She has also lived in Somerset and Gloucestershire. After studying Law she decided to teach rather than go into practice and for many years taught Criminal Law to adults and young people. Since moving to the south coast, Alison has been involved in qualification and assessment development for major awarding bodies.

When not writing, she enjoys crosswords, walking by the sea and playing Scrabble on her iPad – which she always sets to beginner level because, hey, why take chances? Alison lives with her husband John and cat Archie.

Street Cat Blues is published by Crooked Cat Books.


The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner, is a story that is especially poignant in this, the 100th anniversary since the end of the First World War.

The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner

1Margate 1920 The Great War is over but Britain is still to find peace and its spirit is not yet mended. Edward and William have returned from the front as changed men. Together they have survived grotesque horrors and remain haunted by memories of comrades who did not come home. The summer season in Margate is a chance for them to rebuild their lives and reconcile the past. Evelyn and Catherine are young women ready to live to live life to the full. Their independence has been hard won and, with little knowledge of the cost of their freedom, they are ready to face new challenges side by side. Can they define their own future and open their hearts to the prospect of finding love? Will the summer of 1920 be a turning point for these new friends and the country?

Historical fiction can encourage us to think about the past by going beyond fact bringing alive time and place by making us care about the character, making them relatable in unforgettable.  They were, after all, ordinary people living through extreme hardship and suffering.   I do feel that Paul has written a wonderful novel here. At 601 pages long it is quite a lengthy read but the characters and subject matter draw you in and you become invested in their story even though at times it could be utterly heartbreaking.

There are some difficult subject matters addressed but Paul brings a gentleness to the story with his writing.  The story is set after the First World War and focuses on lives forever affected by the horrors experienced.  It reminds us that even after the fighting has ceased, the pain, guilt and heartache carry on.  These events can never be forgotten and his amalgamation of both fact and fiction give us a powerful read with characters that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

You can discover more about Paul Marriner and The Blue Bench at Bluescale Publishing.

But here’s a little more about Paul Marriner…

Paul Marriner Author picturePaul grew up in a west London suburb and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two children. He is passionate about music, sport and, most of all, writing, on which he now concentrates full-time. Paul has written four novels and his primary literary
ambition is that you enjoy reading them while he is hard at work on the next one (but still finding
time to play drums with Redlands and Rags 2 Riches).

You can follow Paul on Twitter : @marriner_p


The Woman in the Window By A.J.Finn

9780008234157So what’s the hook? – A woman trapped in her own home and suffering with a debilitating mental illness witnesses a terrible crime. She is an unreliable witness. She drinks heavily, barely existing on meds and a diet of wine, she limps through each day watching classic crime movies and spying on her neighbours. The police shrug the crime off as an hallucination caused by the mix of drugs and alcohol, yet she’s convinced what she saw actually happened. But how can she prove it when she’s unable to even leave the house without being consumed by terror and panic?

Yet things are about to become even more terrifying for Anna as someone else knows what really happened that night and they’re determined to make sure the truth stays hidden – no matter what.

Here’s the synopsis:

 

What did she see? It’s been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside. Anna’s lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers. But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?

So, I was intrigued. Fellow Lovereading expert reviewer, Liz Robinson loved it, the consumer reader review panel at Lovereading loved it. I leant it to a friend who quite simply devours crime novels – and she loved it. Finally over half term I found time to sit down with it myself and I absolutely LOVED it.

It’s a cracking psychological read. Brilliantly told through Anna’s perspective, the tension is built in such a way that I felt as though I was standing right next to her, so palpable was her fear and distress. His ability to plunge us into her mental issues whilst slowly revealing both her past and present was absolutely gripping. Finn’s nod towards the classic thrillers such as Niagara, Wait Until Dark, The Vanishing, Rosemary’s Baby and of course, Rear Window add a sense of crime noir that has you gripped from the start (and started the itch to watch those old, yet timeless classics again).

This is definitely worth the hype and one that I would recommend reading when you have the time to immerse yourself fully, without distractions.

Published by HarperCollins

Published on the 22nd January 2018


Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech

Maria in the Moon

Opening lines….

Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name.

     When she called me it in her sing-song voice, I felt as lovely as the shimmering Virgin Mary statue on the bureau in her hallway.  When I went for Sunday lunch, I’d sneak away from the table while everyone ate lemon meringue pie and I’d stroke Mary’s vibrant blue dress.  Then, listening for adults approaching the door, I’d kiss her peeking-out feet – very carefully so that I didn’t knock her over.

     I didn’t want to break her.  Not because I knew my mother would send me to bed without supper.  Not because I knew I’d be reminded of my clumsiness for weeks after.  But because Nanny Eve was given Virgin Mary by her own mother, and she loved it dearly.  She would whisper to me that ‘virgin’ meant ‘pure’. Pure Mary.  Some of the letters in Mary were like those in my middle name.

     But that was all we shared.

Louise has been writing for many years and has won awards for her short fiction.  In 2015 her debut novel, How To Be Brave was published by the small but wonderful publishing house, Orenda Books.  Orenda have a knack of finding excellent writers who produce outstanding work and Louise is certainly a great example of that.

I read Maria in the Moon towards the end of the summer and have since found my mind returning to it many times.  It is a wonderfully absorbing read, incredibly moving and absolutely beautifully written.  Louise is a skilled writer whose characters draw you into their world and when you finally reemerge a part of them and their story will always remain with you.  Maria in the Moon is an expertly crafted exploration of the mind and the power of the memories we hold there.

Set after the destructive floods of 2007, we join Catherine as she begins a stint as a volunteer for a local Flood Crisis call centre.  She listens to others who are suffering, others who are in pain.  Yet deep within her memory lies a secret that is working it’s way towards the surface, a secret that has stayed suppressed in her memory since she was a child.  This is an emotive read.  It made me laugh, it made me cry and I was swept away by the story and the many varied characters that I met along the way.  Catherine was complex and damaged but also very compassionate.  Her story is heartbreaking and I felt every bit of her pain and confusion due to the wonderful writing.   The human mind will always inspire dark subject matter, but Louise has also captured the beauty there too and shows that sometimes out of the flood comes a chance for healing and for light to lay where darkness once was.

Absolutely stunning, I recommend this wholeheartedly and if you haven’t discovered Louise Beech yet, well, you’re in for a treat.

Synopsis

‘Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’

Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria.

With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything.

Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…

‘Like a cold spider, the memory stirred in my head and spun an icy web about my brain.

Someone else crawled in.

I remembered.’

Maria in the Moon was published by Orenda Books on 30th September 2017


The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward

Ever wandered late into to a series? You’ve heard the hype but for whatever reason didn’t quite jump on board when what feels like the whole world did? I know exactly how you feel but thankfully it’s never too late and the great thing is that when you do finally catch on, you don’t have to wait for the next release! It’s all there, from beginning to end, ready for you to immerse yourself in and you can simply jump straight in and enjoy.

There’s something rather fantastic about reading a whole series all together. For one thing it allows you to disappear within the pages of the story while still fresh from the last. Of course it has to be a great series and what better than one with a kickass heroine with a cute love interest and a strong desire to save her family business, her reputation, oh and pretty much the whole darn world. A little bit of magic, alchemy, peril and of course romance and you have the recipe to an awesome trilogy.

So why am only just reading The Potion Diaries series now? The first in the series – The Potion Diaries – was published in 2015, and in 2016 was chosen for The Zoella Book Club. Hot on it’s heels was Royal Tour and finally this year, Going Viral. I have to admit these books have been on my radar for quite some time. The first title was a Lovereading4kids book of the month in July 2015 and the consumer reader review panel absolutely loved it, so I was extremely pleased when I found myself in possession of all three books this summer. They are actually rather wonderful. Amy has created a very likeable protagonist who I grew very attached to and to be honest I am missing her quite a bit. Each book follows on from the last (but equally independently readable – although how anyone can not read them all is beyond me) and are filled to the brim with adventure, magic, danger, and a little bit of luv. I thoroughly recommend them and although aimed at the teen/YA market, I think an older reader (such as myself) will very much enjoy them. The content is pretty okay for younger and ‘almost’ teens too.

To my mind the proof of a good series is that you’re always left wanting more, always wondering where the story could go next. I believe Going Viral is to be the last in The Potion Diaries series but I am thrilled to read that Amy has started work on a brand new series, so that’s rather exciting. She is definitely an author worth seeking out.

Here’s a few more details about each of the three titles.  Just a warning though –  the synopsis’ for books 2 and 3 do kind of have spoilers to the previous book.

 

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The Potion Diaries – Book 1

When the PRINCESS OF NOVA accidentally pioisons herself with a LOVE POTION meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection.  OPPS. A nationwide hunt is called to find a cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter SAMANTHA KEMI – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent.  Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but have fallen on hard times and winning the hunt would save their reputation.  But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company?  And just how close is she willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing enemy, in the meantime?

Just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.

NO BIG DEAL, THEN.

 

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Royal Tour –            Book 2

Since winning the Hunt and savving her new BFF, Princess Evelyn, Sam Kemi has been royally busy.  What with TV interviews, working in her family’s potion store ad preparing to join Evelyn on her world tour, Sam STILL hasn’t had time for a real date with Zain, her new-boyfriend-slash-former-rival.

And that’s not happening anytime soon.  Someone has tampered with Sam’s grandad’s mind and she is the only one who can UNLOCK HIS MEMORIES.  But those memories hold the key to the most powerful potion in the world – which people would KILL for…

So Sam must swap dresses, princes and palaces for dragons, centaurs and caves in her quest to save her grandad (and everyone else).

JUST YOUR STANDARD EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A POTION-MAKING TEENAGER, THEN.

 

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Going Viral –            Book 3

After finding her great-grandmother’s potion diary, escaping the clutches of Emilia Thoth, saving her grandfather’s memories AND becoming a Master Alchemist, surely it’s time for SAM KEMI to have a good, long rest?  And maybe, just maybe, a proper date with her boyfriend Zain?

But now that Princess Evelyn is married to the sinister Prince Stefan and showing symptoms of the Gergon illness, it looks as though Sam’s adventures are just beginning  the GOOD news: there might be a cure for the virus soreading like dagonfire through the city.  The BAD news?  It’s buried in a remote village in a far-flung country next to an active volcano – and Sam’s not the only one after it.

WITH A TV CREW TRAILING SAM’S EVERY MOVE AND TIME FAST RUNNING OUT, IT LOOKS LIKE THINGS ARE ABOUT TO…GO VIRAL

Published by Simon & Schuster.

Find out more about the fantastic Amy Alward here.

Find out more about Lovereading4kids here


Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

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Just because I’m quiet doesn’t mean I’m aloof. Maybe I just want to be alone. Maybe I’m not good at conversation. We all can’t be cool and gregarious and Hey, bro what up? like he apparently is. Some of us aren’t wired for that.

I’m a book lover for sure, no big shock there but I also love film too and so the fact that Alex, Approximately combines the both hit the spot straight away. The film quotes at the beginning of each chapter are great, setting the tone perfectly and made me want to go watch them all again and catch the one or two that I haven’t yet seen.

‘Alex’ and Bailey are ‘friends’, friends in the sense that they chat via the internet in a film fanatics online community. They haven’t actually met in real life, not yet anyway. But that could change when Alex invites Bailey to his local film festival, which just so happens to be in California, which just so happens to be where Bailey’s Dad lives, who just so happens to be the person Bailey is going to live with – except she hasn’t told Alex yet. Because Bailey is an habitual evader. She avoids situations that make her uncomfortable or might cause her stress and as she’s desperate for the Alex she meets in real life to be as wonderful as the Alex she knows online, she wants to check him out first. The only problem is she has no idea what he looks like or or even what his real name is. Armed with clues she’s picked up during their many online chats she heads out into the California sunshine to try and track Alex down and find – who she hopes will be – the boy of her dreams. Of course life starts to get in the way, such as a summer job at ‘the Cave’ and co worker Porter, who soon becomes her ‘archnemesis’ and is making her life hell. He’s a surfer boy, all sexy rebellion and sun-kissed curls but she hates him right? Except before long she’s spending way too much time thinking about him which complicates things somewhat, especially her reality evading lifestyle and her search for Alex.

I immediately fell in love with both Alex and Bailey and it didn’t take me long to warm to sexy, surfer boy Porter too. I absolutely loved Alex, Approximately and was completely charmed by Jenn’s writing. Her ability to make you connect with the characters is fantastic and I was sad to say goodbye to them when the story ended. Although there is a love story at the heart of this, it is also a story about overcoming out greatest fears to be the people we want to be. I loved Bailey, she’s smart and sassy yet full of self doubt and it’s only as the story progresses that you realise just how much she’s been through.

There are many nods to films that I adore throughout this book, not only in the quotes but in the inspiration to various scenes and I felt it worked perfectly. It left me feeling warm and fuzzy, just how so many of the films made me feel too. I loved it. It will remain on my bookcase and will no doubt be revisited on those occasions when I feel the need for that comforting, feel good read – the one that feels like a hug on a dark, cold day.

Published by Simon and Schuster
Published in paperback in July 2017
Review copy supplied by the lovely people at Simon and Schuster (thanks so much:)

Find out more about author Jenn Bennett and her novels at her website: here.


This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

this must be the place

Award-winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell returns with her latest breathtaking novel. This Must Be The Place is a story about journeys, it’s about discovering who you are and where you’re meant to be. Daniel Sullivan is leaving on a journey, he is leaving his shotgun-toting, recluse of a wife and his two young children behind in Ireland as he flies to America to celebrate his estranged father’s birthday. Yet anyone can be easily thrown off course, especially when the past creeps in and misty, murky memories begin to haunt Daniel. After so many years it is now time to face his past but just what will it cost him? Will life ever be the same and will he ever be able to return home to Ireland?
I can’t remember exactly when I first discovered the writing of Maggie O’Farrell, I do however remember the book. The Hand That First Held Mine. It was by no means her first novel but for me it was the discovery of something very special. O’Farrell’s writing is exquisite. Her characters are brought to life through her wonderful prose and you can feel their living, breathing presence as you read. Her stories will haunt you and in some small, subtle way you’ll never be quite the same again.

Published by Tinder Press
Published in paperback in April 2017
Published in hardback in May 2016

Review written for Lovereading.co.uk

Visit Maggie’s website here.


The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox

9781409146254

Ed Peters, a young Fleet Street journalist, lives a hedonistic 1970’s lifestyle of which he’s grown weary. Whilst the country is in the grip of a stifling heatwave, Ed returns to his mother’s hometown of Brightland in an effort to make his peace with both her and his past. However, an encounter in a junk shop leaves him bewitched by the story of the young silent movie actress, Leda Grey. As he sets out to meet the reclusive actress both life and sanity are at risk as he enters Leda’s world and the secrets hidden away for over 60 years in her decaying cliff-top house.

The oppressiveness of the heatwave together with the trickery and magic of the silent films is incredibly atmospheric throughout the book; causing us to question what is real and what is a mirage, blurring fact and fiction. Essie’s writing is beautiful and sensuous, capturing the very essence of time, place and character perfectly. Even days after finishing this story I can still see Leda Grey sweeping through the house, both in her young innocence and later as the weary, tormented ghost of the girl she used to be. Yet there is more to this faded movie star than meets the eye. What secrets surround her and what horrors haunt both woman and house? Ed is soon drawn into her story and the curse that surrounds her.

Haunting, sad and beautifully written, this is yet another stunning novel from the wonderful Essie Fox.

Published by Orion
Publication Date: 30th November 2016

Reviewed originally for Lovereading.


Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

EXQUISITE COVER AW.indd

Wow! This is a cracking psychological thriller. Told in first person from two different viewpoints it causes you to question the reliability of both women. Smart, sensitive, talented Bo, always mothering, always looking to save someone and Alice, young, damaged and a drifter. The two meet at a writers retreat and a spark sets off an unexpected chain of events that will change the lives of both women. Alice is in awe of the successful author and in turn something in Alice’s writing captures Bo’s attention. The two embark on an intense, complex relationship which soon becomes obsessive and destructive. I was completely swept up in the brilliance of Sarah’s carefully constructed plot that had me constantly questioning the outcome and eagerly turning the page. The beautifully atmospheric setting of the Lake District and bustling, bohemian Brighton echo the different characters at the heart of this story. It was a chilling read, expertly crafted and difficult to put down.

Published by Orenda Books
Publication Date: 1st June 2107


A Late Discovery – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book-thief

Sometimes for many different reasons a book will pass you by. This is what happened for me with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak when it was originally published over ten years ago now. Not because I wasn’t interested but because it is based on a subject matter that I’ve always found quite difficult to read about.

However one thing that I love about books is the way they can quite unexpectedly find their way into your life when the time is right. One day, quite by chance, I was chatting to someone about books and reading. I’m always delighted when an unknown common ground can be found between people who really don’t know each other at all – I always feel like I’ve found a friend when we have books in common. He was reading The Book Thief at that time and told me how much he was enjoying it. I admitted I hadn’t read it and so he offered to loan it to me. Just a few weeks later I began reading.

I have to say that it is one of the saddest books I have ever read but right from the start I was so absorbed with the writing that I just could not turn away from this story, no matter how much it hurt to read. As someone who has spent some time over recent years pulling books apart and analyzing the method and use of language I can honestly say that I thought Zusak’s technique rather wonderful. Although the events are centered on a young girl, the narrator is death himself. Zusak states at the end of the story that he wanted to make ‘death a vulnerable narrator wh0 is haunted by humans, as opposed to the typically macabre and superior being’ and in doing this I believe it made the harrowing events more bearable to read. The death I observed through his narration was gentle, caring and beautiful yet pushed to his very limits by the actions of humans.

Five hundred souls.

I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I’d throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.

Some of the characters are difficult to read, so harsh and cruel their actions but the ones who really fill this story, the ones who stay with you are the kindest souls imaginable, even through their suffering they still have the ability to love and see the beauty in life. Getting to know these characters carried me on through the book and although I quite often knew the fate of some early on within the story, I was still compelled to read on, to follow them to their final moments and shed a tear. For the sorrow was still there and possibly more so because I knew it was coming. There was a sad inevitability to events.

The story within The Book Thief is very dark and yet Markus Zusak adds so much beauty with his use of language and colour. It flows through the book even in the bleakest moments and is a constant reminder that with darkness there is always light. It is this contrast, this dark subject that is expressed with such grace and elegance that highlights the horror and the contradiction that human beings bring to the world. As death himself says…

I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words so damning and so brilliant.

Words themselves played an important part within the story. Zusak questioned their power and their ability to create such hate, such misery. Liesel is saved from her nightmares by words when she is taught to read and write by her papa. They become a comfort. She then in turn gives the gift of the written word when she reads aloud to those sheltering with her from the bombs, bringing them too some comfort and a brief escape from their fear as the world above them is torn apart. Yet Liesel soon begins to understand that hate and destruction also grow from words. That were there is love there is hate, beauty there is monstrosity and where there is courage, there is also despair.

The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consulation or wordly tricks to make us feel better. What good were the words? She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. ‘What good are the words?’

A beautifuly story and I’m so glad I read it. It will stay with me always, as will the memory of the souls and what they represent, that death so gently removed along the way.

https://www.lovereading.co.uk/book/16397/The-Book-Thief-by-Markus-Zusak.html


The Dress by Kate Kerrigan

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One of the many highlights for me in a day at Lovereading.co.uk is when a proof lands on my desk for a novel which we feel will meet the high expectations of our fabulous reader review panel. Quite often the cover gives very little away and it can be particularly thrilling when you are presented with few clues as to what lies on the pages within. However, publisher’s will at times make the proofs (almost) as beautiful as the finished copies and as soon as I saw the cover of Kate Kerrigan’s The Dress, I just wanted to pick it up and start reading. And read it I did, along with a selection of members from the Lovereading Reader Review Panel.

How delighted I was to then discover that Kate Kerrigan herself was coming to our local indie bookshop (yes, we’re lucky enough to still have one) in East Grinstead. So on a bright and beautiful Saturday afternoon I found myself amongst some rather lovely, beautifully dressed ladies listening to Kate as she chatted about her inspiration for the book and her life as a writer.

An extremely warm and friendly woman, she made us all feel welcome, as though meeting an old friend for coffee. Instantly everyone was at ease in the comfortable surroundings of the small cafe within the bookshop. As I had read the novel it was a delight to hear her read a familiar chapter and those discovering the story for the first time were inspired enough to purchase one of the beautiful hard backed copies available to buy on the day.

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Ladies in dresses with Kate (2nd from the right) – (Image provided courtesy of Kate Kerrigan)
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Lovely Kate & I – (Image provided courtesy of Kate Kerrigan)

As Kate spoke about her inspiration for the novel she questioned the power a dress has. This question has since been floating around my head. Personally, I’m a big fan of dresses. They are feminine, smart, sexy, beautiful and they come in so many shapes, sizes and styles. Whatever the season, whatever the occasion there is a dress to suit and I just love that. A favoured garment can make us feel confident, attractive, dare I say beautiful? It can pull us out of the dumps and even reignite precious memories. But can a dress really make someone fall in love? Could it even save a marriage?

These questions are all touched on within the story but there is also so much more within the pages of this delightful novel. I loved the dressmaking details throughout, the dual time setting, glamourous locations and the engaging characters brought to life by Kate. Her characterisation is excellent, as is her attention to detail. During her time with us at The Bookshop, Kate also shared some of her experiences as a writer and divulged the often unrecognised hard work that writing a novel requires. As an (aspiring) writer myself it’s good to know that a book is not just written but nurtured. It takes time, attention and love (and a tough but great editor:) For me The Dress was an engrossing, easy read and a delight from start to finish.

Just a few days after meeting Kate I found myself visiting Killerton House, a National Trust property in Devon. Killerton is home to a fashion collection of over 10,000 items of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing dating from 1690 to the 1970’s (Source – National Trust). Each year the house displays a selection from the collection in an exhibition. This years exhibition, The F-Word: the changing language of fashion, celebrates innovations within the fashion industry and the advances they have brought throughout history. The exhibition features pieces from the past, along with new work created by students from Exeter College.

A selection of dresses from the historic collection at Killerton.
A selection of dresses from the historic collection at Killerton.
Shoes, glorious shoes!
Shoes, glorious shoes!
A knitted wedding dress from the 1970's.
A knitted wedding dress from the 1970’s.
One of the impressive new creations whose story is just beginning.
One of the impressive new creations whose story is just beginning.

As I wandered around the exhibition my thoughts returned to The Dress, Joy, Lily, Honor and Frank. It made me wonder about the stories within each of these historic pieces and if a little of the people who had worn them over the years had been left behind. Maybe some of their energy remained within the folds of fabric, the swish of a skirt or the sparkle of a sequin. Quite often memories are locked into the garments we wear; a wedding dress is treasured, just as a favorite jumper can be. The sorting of clothes after the loss of a loved one can be traumatic and painful. Clothes become part of who we are. This is one thing that most can relate to and why the choice of subject in Kate’s book is so interesting. The Dress feels like a character in itself and I read on intrigued to know it’s fate. It was, after all, the image on the front cover that first drew me to the novel before I had even read the synopsis.

The cover image design was based on descriptions of the dress within the story. It is stunning and inspired me to indulge myself by drawing a version with slight alterations made to fit just me. What decoration would your dress be adorned with? As you may see from the picture below my dress includes images of flowers rather than fairy-tales. Of course the absolute perfect dress for me might well be covered in the titles of my favourite novels.

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Do you have a dress that is special to you? Please share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

You can find further information about The Dress by Kate Kerrigan at Lovereading.co.uk or at www.katekerrigan.ie.

Finally thank you so much to Olivia D’Silva for organising the event and to The Bookshop in East Grinstead for hosting and finally to Kate for coming to visit. I wish her every success with her novel and very much look forward to the next.

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