Celebrating Books for Adults and YA – 2019

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The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

I first read Chocolat by Joanne Harris in 2001. I remember it so well because it was the book I took on my honeymoon.  Back in those days there was no social media and more often then not a book would be chosen by simply browsing in a book shop or Library.  Even now, that is something I still get great pleasure from.  The cover is always the first thing I notice when I go into a bookshop.  The displays may be there to entice me with prominent positioning and ‘Books of the Month’, but it’s the the cover image that will call out to me and prevent me from walking on by.  Although I have only a very vague recollection of buying Chocolat,  I know that it was purchased at the airport as I browsed amongst the shelves whilst awaiting our flight.

It was the paperback version but still had the glorious purple cover which sparkled with magic and images of golden eggs.  ‘Try me…test me…’ read me…    I have to admit I’m not sure of I had seen the film at this time but I feel that the book came first for me although that may simply be because I have read it so many times.  As our flight took off on route to New York I began a journey to Lansquenet.

I leant that first copy of Chocolatpurchased all that time ago at the beginning of my own exciting journey,  to a friend.  Unfortunately both the friend and book are now long gone but when I realised it would not be returning to me I searched online for another edition with the same cover.  I found a small hardback first edition which I now treasure.  Sadly the friend was not so easy to replace but like that lost paperback I will always have a place in my heart for her.

So now nearly eighteen years later I am thrilled to return to the village of Lansquenet and the characters that found their way into my heart.  Of course I have returned many times before, repeatedly with Chocolat and also with The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé,  but there is something wonderful about a new story. The turning  to the first page, not knowing where it will take you.  Even so, these characters have meant so much to me over the years that I was slightly nervous as to what may now hold for them.

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The Strawberry Thief

Everyone is different.  Some of us are just more than others…

Vianne Rocher has settled down.

Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become home.  With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community.  Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.

But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray.  The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal all of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…

This is a very welcome return to Lansquenet and it’s inhabitants.  I have missed their stories, the smell of chocolate and the whispering of the wind. This time the story focuses on Narcisse, Reynaud, Rosette and a mysterious new visitor to the town. A visitor who brings change, something that Vianne fears.  What do I remember of Narcisse from the earlier books?  Not a great deal.  He ran the flower shop, was kind to Roux and offered him work when others turned their back and he didn’t see eye to eye with the local Curé.  Yet I felt a sadness when he died, that feeling you get when you wished you had gotten to know someone better when they were alive.  He was always in the background, just out of sight.

Upon his death he leaves a wood to Rosette.  It is a place that is incredibly special to her in a way that only Narcisse understands.  Yet that very action causes anger and mistrust amongst his surviving family.  They are suspicious of his motives and eager to see the confession he left behind.  But the confession is for the eyes of Reynaud only.  His old adversary and someone who has more in common with him then he thinks.

Right within the very heart of the story, Vianne remains fighting to keep her family together.  Constantly on guard of the wind and what it might bring… or take away.  Narcisse’s death brings with it a mysterious stranger to the town of Lansquenet, a stranger not unlike Vianne herself.  Yet the wind begins to blow and stirs up hidden danger, accidents and an unknown force that threatens to tear apart her carefully protected life.

As always I fall into Joanne’s story with ease, returning to Vianne’s life is like a warm hug or a soothing cup of hot chocolate. Her writing is beautiful and as I read I can hear each syllable resonating through my head.  I imagine the audio books are wonderful too, like listening to an old friend.

If you have yet to discover these books then I would recommend starting at the beginning with Chocolat.  Of course it’s not vital but I do think you’ll get so much more from the stories.  I think it’s time I returned there too, back to the beginning and with the hope that before too long we may return there again for another new story.

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Other recommended books by Joanne Harris

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Blackberry Wine

What if you could bottle a year of your past? Which one would it be? Which time of year? What would it smell like? How would it taste?

These are the questions which began Blackberry Wine: the second volume of my “food trilogy” and the story of Jay Mackintosh, a writer of pulp fiction with one literary success to his name and a dwindling grasp of reality. Trapped between an unresolved past and a humdrum present, suffering from writer’s block and the beginnings of alcoholism, Jay has lost his bearings.

But the accidental discovery of six bottles of home-brewed wine, a legacy from an old and vanished friend, seems to hold the key to a new beginning, a means of escape, and a final reconciliation. For there is something magical about this wine; something which brings the past to life, an agent of transformation. Under its influence, time can work backwards and the dead return to life – as Jay finds, when, on impulse, he gives up his glamorous London lifestyle and escapes to a half-derelict farmhouse in a remote village in Gascony, where two mysteries await him; a ghost from the past whom no-one else can see, and Marise, a reclusive widow with ghosts of her own…

Published in 2000, Blackberry Wine is another favourite of mine that I return to again and again.

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The Little Book of Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde

Try me…test me…taste me…

Joanne Harris’s Chocolat trilogy has tantalised readers with its sensuous descriptions of chocolate since it was first published.  Now, to celebrate the much-loved story of Vianne Rocher’s deliciously decadent chocolaterie, Joanne Harris and Fran Warde have created the ultimate book of chocolate lore and recipes from around the world, bringing a touch of magic to your kitchen.

 

This is a stunning recipe book filled with incredibly mouthwatering recipes.  Now THIS would make the perfect Easter gift.

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Joanne is currently busy with a book tour to coincide with the publication of The Strawberry Thief.  Visit Joannes website here for more information and to see if she will be coming to an event near you.  I am very much looking forward to seeing her talk at the Chiddingstone Literary Festival in May.

You can also follow Joanne on Twitter at @Joannechocolat

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Thank you for taking the time to visit Tales Before Bedtime today.  Joanne Harris is a writer of enormous versatility and writes in many genres.  Which of her novels is your favourite?

 


55 by James Delargy

 

Two Suspects. Two identical stories. Which one is the truth?

Wilbrook in Western Australia is a sleepy, remote town that sits on the edge of miles and miles of unexplored wilderness. It is home to Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, who is proud to run the town’s small police station, a place used to dealing with domestic disputes and noise complaints. 

All that changes on a scorching day when an injured man stumbles into Chandler’s station. He’s covered in dried blood. His name is Gabriel. He tells Chandler what he remembers – he was drugged and driven to a cabin in the mountains and tied up in iron chains. The man who took him was called Heath. Heath told Gabriel he was going to be number 55. His 55th victim. Heath is a serial killer.

As a manhunt is launched, a man who says he is Heath walks into the same station. He tells Chandler he was taken by a man named Gabriel. Gabriel told Heath he was going to be victim 55. Gabriel is the serial killer. 

Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins needs to find out who is telling the truth – and quick. He is forced to call in Mitch, his former partner and now insufferable superior, a partnership which dissolved in acrimony years earlier. Can Mitch and Chandler uncover the truth, before the 55th victim is taken?

James Delargy has written one of the most exciting debuts of 2019. He masterfully paints the picture of a remote Western Australian town and its people, swallowed whole by the hunt for a serial killer.

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Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for 55 by James Delargy.  I can’t believe that this is actually a debut!  It’s very well plotted and shows incredible promise from this new author.  I can’t wait to see what he brings us next.

For a brief time we enter the small, remote town of Wilbrook.  A community where the local police sergeant knows all his residents.  His small team are like a second family to him and life is quiet.  That is until one day Gabriel walks in to his station claiming to have escaped from a serial killer, a man called Heath.  Of course things become complicated when a man called Heath arrives at the station claiming that Gabriel kidnapped and tried to kill him.  This is what we do know as we go into the story and James skilfully carries us through, leading us to conclusions and then shattering them along the way.  The twists and turns kept me on my feet and although I thought I knew what was going on, he made me constantly doubt myself right the way through.  It made for exciting reading.

I was immediately on Chandlers side and I can’t tell you how many times I would have quite happily punched Mitch in the face.  His arrogance, lack of empathy and the underhand way in which he treated Chandler, left me wondering just what had gone on between these two men who had once been ‘friends’.  As the story unfolds we also flash back to a time when both men were newly instated as officers and worked together on a case searching the harsh Australian outback for a lost teenager.  That case had a lasting impression on both men and it’s not surprising that it now comes back to haunt them.  However, no one could have foreseen the devastating consequences that it would have brought so many years later as Chandler and Mitch attempt to put their issues aside and work on this new case.  Old ghosts are hard to bury though and soon the investigation becomes personal and very deadly.

The two suspects also made a lasting impression and my mind changed on many occasions as to which one was the guilty party.  Now it’s not often that I get spooked by a book whilst reading during the day but this one certainly had me on edge.  Snuggled up on my sofa, alone in the house and suddenly every creak and groan of my surroundings became an ominous sign.  My pulse raced and yes I was very nervous when nature called and I had to venture upstairs. I had to check EVERY ROOM for goodness sake.  This is an absolutely riveting read and one that had me on the edge of my seat right from the very start. The ending left me with my heart in my mouth as James tormented my imagination right to the very last word. I’m thrilled to discover that there may be a film adaptation and hope that comes to fruition.  I urge you to read 55 and thoroughly recommend it!

About the author

James Delargy was born and raised in Ireland and lived in South Africa, Australia and Scotland, before ending up in semi-rural England where he now lives.  He incorporates his diverse knowledge of towns, cities, landscape and culture picked up on his travels into his writing.  55 is his first novel, which has been sold in 19 countries so far and optioned for film by Zucker Productions in partnership with Prodigy Pictures.

You can follow James on Twitter at @JDelargyAuthor

For more information visit his website at Jamesdelargy.com

55 is published by Simon & Schuster  on the 4th of April. Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour which runs until the 10th of April.

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The Quiet At The End Of The World by Lauren James

How far would you go to save those you love?

Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people on the planet after a virus caused global infertility. Closeted in a pocket of London and doted upon by a small, ageing community, the pair spend their days mudlarking and looking for treasure – until a secret is uncovered that threatens not only their family but humanity’s entire existence.

Now Lowrie and Shen face an impossible choice: in the quiet at the end of the world, they must decide what to sacrifice to save the whole human race…

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All that history – all that time – wiped away in one moment.  Just like us.  Humans will be as easily lost as these footprints, when the last of us dies.  Our lives are particles on a riverbed being lost by the waters of time.  Here and then gone in a moment.  Nothing, in the grand scheme of things.

For me, this is one of the underlying themes of this book.  It ponders the bigger questions that we have about our very existence with subtlety and grace.  What is it all for? What happens when human beings are no longer here, when WE face extinction? In Lowrie’s world that reality is not too far away but what The Quiet At The End Of The World does, within the pages of this exciting story about two teenagers facing the world alone, is to look at how incredible human beings are. So surely there must be a way that, in the end, we can save ourselves.  The capacity of genius is there within us. We are capable of evolving, moving forward and having a real positive effect on the world in which we live.  Yes we can be selfish, arrogant and our obsession with power is our worst enemy and yet we have this huge potential to be amazing.

If you think that the world is going to end after you’ve gone, then you’re not trying hard enough to find a way to live.

I realise now that every person can make a difference.  However small a change, it counts.

Within this YA novel are characters and situations that young people can relate to. They are facing these massive problems and yet they also experience the same doubts, fears and confusion that we all have felt growing up.  It highlights how these things never really change.  The issues may alter slightly but when it comes down to it there is the same anguish over life, our world and our place within it, as we move through to adulthood whilst getting to know and accept ourselves for who we are.

The Quiet At The End Of The World  explores identity, sexuality and the desire to follow find our own way, no matter what the world throws at you.  Lowrie is a strong female lead.  She’s intelligent, adventurous and determined to make her own place in the world.  She’s fiercely loyal and courageous.  Her relationship with Shen is interestingly explored, the pressure of being the youngest and possibly the last of the human race makes the friendship they have even more precious.  I loved watching how things developed with them.

Their fascination with the world and it’s history is strong from the outset. Whilst out mudlarking one day they stumble across a relic from the past century and with the help of social media records are able to uncover the mysterious owner and discover a little more about the virus that has caused the global infertility.  Gradually they find out more and more, information that becomes vital as a new danger emerges and threatens the very existence of everyone they love and care for.

Author, Lauren James, is a graduate of Chemistry and Physics and through her novels she is making science look cool and relevant.  Her love and knowledge of technology is clear and it’s good to see it portrayed in a positive light. For example the dangers of social media are often (quite rightly) highlighted but these things are now part of who we are and can also be a positive part of today’s world. Lauren doesn’t preach to her readers, she simply shows how our actions, no matter how small, do have a consequence. But she doesn’t condemn, she inspires. As a Librarian, Lauren makes my job terribly easy to find smart, sassy novels for teens & young adults who like their fiction to reflect who they are, or who they aspire to be.

This is a fantastic novel. Lowrie and Shen are normal teenagers in an abnormal world. So much depends on them and although their plight is a story of science fiction it is incredibly thought-provoking. There are so many things within the pages of this story that are so very real. Perfect for teens & Ya, but for all the adults out there – never be afraid to pick up a book such as this. If your children are reading it then it’s important but more than that it will also tap in to that part of you that was young and full of dreams as to what the world could be for you.

The Quiet At The End Of The World is a novel that will definitely be one of my top reads for 2019.

I think about the legacy we’re leaving behind all the time: pollution and plastic and buildings and everything else. As one of the last humans, my choices and decisions are imbued with the full weight of the billions of lives that came before me. It feels like my ancestors are watching me, waiting to see how I ensure their legacy, how I remember them.’

About the author

Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 09.32.21Lauren James was born in 1992, and graduated in 2014 from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. She is the Carnegie-nominated British Young Adult author of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Quiet at the End of the World and The Next Together series.

She started writing during secondary school English classes, because she couldn’t stop thinking about a couple who kept falling in love throughout history. She sold the rights to the novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.

Her books have sold over fifty thousand copies in the UK alone, and been translated into five languages worldwide. She has been described as ‘Gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘A strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly.

Her other novels include The Last Beginning, named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent, and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, which was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. The Quiet at the End of the World considers the legacy and evolution of the human race into the far future.

Lauren is published in the UK by Walker Books and in the US by HarperCollins. She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2019. She teaches creative writing at university level, and works with Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.

You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, Tumblr at @laurenjames or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.

 


The Point of Poetry by Joe Nutt

What’s the point of poetry? It’s a question asked in classrooms all over the world, but it rarely receives a satisfactory answer. Which is why so many people, who read all kinds of books, never read poetry after leaving school.

Exploring twenty-two works from poets as varied as William Blake, Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove and Hollie McNish, this book makes the case for what poetry has to offer us, what it can tell us about the things that matter in life. Each poem is discussed with humour and refreshing clarity, using a mixture of anecdote and literary criticism that has been honed over a lifetime of teaching. Poetry can enrich our lives, if we’ll let it.

The Point of Poetry is the perfect companion for anyone looking to discover how.

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Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Point of Poetry by John Nutt, a book to remove the feeling that poetry is highbrow or something that can be difficult to relate to or even enjoy. Poetry can seem scary, I agree with that. It’s one of those tricky mediums that people often shy away from because they feel they won’t understand it or are put off by a seemingly endless list of jargon that leaves them feeling that they simply aren’t allowed to enjoy it because they don’t know what it all means. Words like alliteration, stanza, metrical foot, octave, pentameter – it can all be very off-putting to say the least. Or perhaps those who read poetry are seen as one of those airy fairy types who gaze wistfully at the clouds looking to find the hidden meaning in every small detail in life.

Listening to a radio broadcast more recently, about the popularity of poetry on Instagram, I heard an academic comment on how so many ordinary people felt excluded from poetry in the same way they did opera.

I have to admit I can find reading poetry a little daunting. I’ve studied it for a bit, written a little but am a true believer that there is a poem out there for everyone. I do not claim to understand all the complexities of the different type of poetry and the nuts and bolts of it all but I enjoy reading it. Therefore I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read John’s The Point of Poetry. As a school librarian I try to incorporate as much poetry into the day to day life as possible. I’m constantly on the look out for poetry books that may engage and inspire our young readers and make it more accessible. I believe it should be an everyday part of life so much so that I try to have poems scattered in the Library and in display wherever I can sneak them in around the school. The right person will find them when they need them. Then once they begin to read they may be inspired to share or even write poetry.

Poetry affords people (not just students) the opportunity to express and communicate in all the colours of the rainbow.

The Point of Poetry is a breath of fresh air. Joe is a natural writer and he is informative, yet not preachy which is without doubt part of his ‘teacher’ skills honed and perfected over a lifetime of teaching. To be taught without realising you are learning is a great skill indeed. Filled with humour and fascinating insights into the poets behind the poems, this book does actually make poetry seem within reach. You may not have heard of all of the poets but that really doesn’t matter. Joe chats about the poet and poem beforehand but his observations are interesting, insightful and most of all easy to follow. This book is enough to set you off on your poetic journey. It’s not setting you up to become an expert but merely sending you off on smooth waters. Striking the spark so to speak and lighting your way.

Many thanks to Anne Cater for sending me my review copy and inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author

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Joe Nutt is a former teacher with twenty years of English teaching experience. He has written books on Shakespeare, John Donne and most recently a guidebook to Paradise Lost for one of the world’s foremost academic publishers. He is now one of the leading educationalists in the UK and writes a fortnightly column for the Times Educational Supplement.
You can follow Joe on Twitter: @joenutt_author

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Welcome to the Heady Heights by David F Ross

One of the things I love about independent publishers such as Orenda Books, is the sheer variety of titles they publish and, because they are small and generally filled with the most passionate of book lovers, you know that they are all about quality.  Welcome to the Heady Heights is a great example of this.  This novel is an impressively written, gritty, 70’s infused dark comedy and I loved it.

Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light-entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks, and immediately seizes the opportunity to aim for the big time. With dreams of becoming a musical impresario, he creates a new singing group called The High Five with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. The plan? Make it to the final of Heady’s Saturday night talent show, where fame and fortune awaits… But there’s a complication. Archie’s made a fairly major misstep in his pursuit of fame and fortune, and now a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC are all on his tail…

A hilarious, poignant nod to the elusiveness of stardom, in an age when ‘making it’ was ‘having it all’, Welcome to the Heady Heights is also a dark, laugh-out-loud comedy, a poignant tribute to a bygone age and a delicious drama about desperate men, connected by secrets and lies, by accidents of time and, most of all, the city they live in.

Now I know the we shouldn’t really talk about gender but I do feel the edgy, tough 70’s story line will definitely appeal to a male readership.  Of course women will love it too.   I especially loved it’s references to 1970’s Glasgow. The music and TV playlist that David scattered  throughout certainly added to the mix brilliantly.  I can still hear the theme tune to the Sweeney playing in the back of my mind.

The dialect took me a moment or two to adjust (I am very much a delicately spoken south east girl) but it wasn’t long before I was in the full swing of it.  Welcome to the Heady Heights has a dark but hugely entertaining humour which I thoroughly enjoyed.  This novel would be perfect for adapting for the TV.  Amongst the humour there is a darker side to this story and a part of me hopes that a sequel is in the pipeline.  I’d like to know more about what happens next for some of these characters and there were one of two that I certainly would like to see…. Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Go read it, it’s fab.  Enjoy the grit, the rudeness and the fabulous seventies setting.

About the author

David_F_Ross_001v.jpgDavid F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock for over thirty years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a hilarious social media commentator, author and enabler by night. His most prized possession is a signed Joe Strummer LP. Since the publication of his debut novel The Last Days of Disco, he’s become something of a media celebrity in Scotland, with a signed copy of his book going for £500 at auction, and the German edition has not left the bestseller list since it was published.

 


The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby

Birmingham, 1885.

Born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse, Cora Burns has always struggled to control the violence inside her.

Haunted by memories of a terrible crime, she seeks a new life working as a servant in the home of scientist Thomas Jerwood.  Here, Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment.  But is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora…?

With the  power  and intrigue  of Laura Purcell’s ‘See What I Have Done’, Carolyn Kirby’s stunning  debut takes  the reader  on a heart-breaking  journey through Victorian Birmingham and questions where we first learn violence: from our scars or from our hearts.

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Is a person born bad?  Does evil course through the veins like blood or is it something that arises out of circumstance?  Nature or nurture?  This is a question that filled me throughout this bewitching tale.

Right from the very first page we are plunged head first into the dark, murky depths of a brutal Victorian Britain.  Cora is born in a gaol and we follow her journey at two intervals of her life.  We know she is protecting a dark secret and yet we can’t be sure what her crime is…not at first.  Cora is an intriguing character and although her difficult start in life can warrant some allowances for her tough attitude there are moments when I did wonder what kind of monster she really was.  Yet there is also an underlying question mark that hovers over her throughout the story that makes you want to understand where her actions are coming from.  Carolyn makes full use of the Victorian attitudes to science and mental health and the story is layered with sinister goings on, creating a misty moodiness that brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the timeframe of the story.  I do love a good Victorian gothic and there is a darkness to this tale that drew me in and I could not stop reading, no matter what horror lay before me.  This is strong debut from Carolyn and I’m excited to see what comes next.

The Conviction of Cora Burns is published on March 21st 2019.  The cover alone is absolutely stunning.

Many thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. It’s such a thrill to discover a new author.

About the author

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Originally from Sunderland, Carolyn Kirby studied history at St Hilda’a College, Oxford before working in social housing and then as a teacher of English as a foreign language.

Her debut novel The Conviction of Cora Burns (Previously titled Half of You) was begun in 2013 on a writing course at Faber academy in London.  The unpublished novel achieved success in several competitions including as finalist in the Mslexia Novel Competition and as winner of the inaugural Bluepencilagency Award.

Carolyn has two grown-up daughters and lives with her husband in rural Oxfordshire.


21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox

’21st-Century Yokel is not quite nature writing, not quite a family memoir, not quite a book about walking, not quite a collection of humorous essays, but a bit of all five.
Thick with owls and badgers, oak trees and wood piles, scarecrows and ghosts, and Tom Cox’s loud and excitable dad, this book is full of the folklore of several counties – the ancient kind and the everyday variety – as well as wild places, mystical spots and curious objects. Emerging from this focus on the detail are themes that are broader and bigger and more important than ever. Tom’s writing treads a new path, one that has a lot in common with a rambling country walk; it’s bewitched by fresh air and big skies, intrepid in minor ways, haunted by weather and old stories and the spooky edges of the outdoors, restless and prone to a few detours, but it always reaches its destination in the end.’1-7

I absolutely jumped at the chance to take part in the blog tour for 21st Century Yokel, I’ve heard many wonderful things about it and I thoroughly enjoyed Tom’s short story collection Help the Witch  which I reviewed towards the end of last year.  So as I’ve been wanting to read it for such a long time, this seemed an opportunity too good to miss.  I absolutely adore the way Tom writes.  I follow him on Twitter, Instagram and via his website.  He comes across as funny and sensitive but with such a wise old head on his shoulders that I’m sure he is actually a very old soul.  His connection with nature is absolutely entrancing and whilst reading it almost feels as though I am wondering along beside him as he discovers the countryside that surrounds him.  He certainly doesn’t see  through rose-tinted glasses but he notices things that, in this day and age, we are more often than not too darn busy to stop and appreciate.  21st Century Yokel is such an interesting book.  It’s one that I want to linger over, take my time and enjoy each and every tale.  The images he invokes are incredibly powerful and I can almost see the witches’ knickers blowing in the breeze or his dad lying in a starfish position talking VERY LOUDLY.  It is such an intimate book in some ways but it also looks at much bigger issues going on in the world.  His highly readable and beautiful prose brings together the historical detail, folklore and the challenges faced today with wit, and panache.  He reminds us that we are simply passing through in this world of ours.  It has been here much longer than we have and there are many tales to be told and retold.  If only the trees could talk! Tom, however, is possibly the next best thing.

‘If you spend enough time out walking and witnessing this stuff you realise that there was always a predestiny to the ghosts and monsters that have, for centuries, spilled from the imagination of rurally situated British writers: if the people who invented them hadn’t made them up, someone else would have, or at least ones not unlike them. The countryside – particularly the gnarly, craggy, knobbly countryside of the Deep South West – and the creaking, weather-blasted architecture of that countryside, especially when stripped back by seasonal change, is too rich with spooky imagery for it never to have happened. I am hugely inspired by this on my walks, to the point that it can send me into a minor state of witchy rapture, and I welcome the onset, but, even so, winter is not my season. It claws at me with its mucky nails and strips me back until I’m in the proper fallow state to best receive and fully appreciate my true season, which is spring.’

I envy the source of inspiration for his writing. I too have a love of nature and find being outside incredibly healing, a great antidote to the madness that often surrounds us in day to day life.  For me the sound of birdsong in the morning is incredibly special and never fails to fill me with cheer and wonder.  The rare occasion when I hear an owl hoot is one to treasure.  Unfortunately for many of us the reality is that we don’t spend as much time as we would like outside, so for me, reading Tom’s writing is the perfect way to bring a little more of the natural wonder of our world, along with the magic and mystery into my life every day.  It also brings me new ways to look at my surroundings on the occasions when I am out and about.  And more than anything it makes me want to get out and explore, explore , explore my surroundings; to see the beauty in whatever part of the world we live in.  This would also be a wonderful book for any reader who, for whatever reason, are unable to get out walking.  Tom’s writing will most certainly take you there.

This is a real treasure of a book and one that I will return to many times.  I urge you to read this and let yourself be swept away in the wonder and magic of the world we live in and the stories that Tom has to tell.

Tom is currently publishing his books with Unbound, a publisher where the books are crowdfunded and supported by book lovers.  At present he is writing his next book Ring The Hill – do check out the website for more information and see how you to can support fantastic authors such as Tom.

21st Century Yokel is available in hardback and will be published in paperback on March 21st.  It’s available through all major book stores and of course through your local independents.

Thanks so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author

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Tom Cox lives in Devon. A one-time music journalist he is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling The Good, the Bad and the Furry and the William Hill Sports Book longlisted Bring Me The Head of Sergio Garcia. Help the Witch, a collection of folk ghost stories, was published in October 2018.

 

You can follow Tom on Twitter: @cox_tom

or on Instagram: 21stcenturyyokel

or by visiting his website here.

 


The Perfect Betrayal by Lauren North.

It’s a few days since I finished reading this and I’m still recovering.  Now that is a sign of a good read!

The Perfect Betrayal Cover

After the sudden death of her husband, Tess is drowning in grief. All she has left is her son, Jamie, and she’ll do anything to protect him – but she’s struggling to cope. When grief counsellor Shelley knocks on their door, everything changes. Shelley is beautiful, confident and takes control when Tess can’t bear to face the outside world. She is the perfect friend to Tess and Jamie, but when Jamie’s behaviour starts to change, and Tess starts to forget things, she begins to suspect that Shelley might not be the answer to their problems after all. When questions arise over her husband’s death and strange things start to happen, Tess begins to suspect that Shelley may have an ulterior motive. Tess knows she must do everything she can to keep Jamie safe – but who can she trust?

The Perfect Betrayal is a dark, emotionally engaging novel that asks:

Who can you trust in your darkest moment?

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This novel was not an easy ride I can tell you that. Right from the very start it had me on tenterhooks, unsure as to where it was leading. As a mum it’s a terrifying.  It’s so easy to put yourself in Tess’ position and I keenly felt her despair after the death of her husband and the absolute obsession with keeping her son safe from harm, her last glimmer of hope in a world gone dark with grief.

At first the arrival of Shelley seems like a blessing, a ray of light to help her through the darker days, but soon strange things begin to happen and Tess begins to become suspicious. Before long she’s fighting a desperate battle to keep her son with her, and keep him safe as she starts to suspect all is not as it seems with Shelley.

This is an absolute roller coaster of a journey and I felt helpless as I was carried along, watching events happen before me. I read to the end with a sense of horror and total fear for what was unfolding before me.   The ending was particularly good and has left a lasting impression.  As a debut this is a very bright start for Lauren and an absolute shocker of a psychological thriller (in a good way).

Thanks to Anne Carter for inviting me to be part of this Random Things blog tour and for arranging my review copy.

About the author

Lauren North writes psychological suspense novels that delve into the darker side of relationships and families. She has a lifelong passion for writing, reading, and all things books. Lauren’s love of psychological suspense has grown since childhood and her dark imagination of always wondering what’s the worst thing that could happen in every situation.

Lauren studied psychology before moving to London where she lived and worked for many years. She now lives with her family in the Suffolk countryside.

Readers can follow Lauren on Twitter @Lauren_C _North and Facebook @LaurenNorthAuthor


The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl

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‘This is what dying is like, she thinks. You have gone and the world doesn’t care. You die and others eat pastries.’

In Oslo in 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In great haste, she escapes to Sweden whilst the rest of her family is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, Ester ’s childhood best friend. A relationship develops between them, but ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire. And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter Turid. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…

Written with Dahl’s trademark characterisation and clever plotting, The Courier sees one of Norway’s most critically acclaimed authors at his best, as he takes on one of the most horrifying periods of modern history. With its sophisticated storytelling and elegant prose, this stunning and compelling wartime thriller is reminiscent of the writing of John Le Carré and William Boyd.

 

Now I read a LOT of books and a lot of good ones at that. That’s not a boast, it’s simply a fact. I’m not entering in to a ‘I can read the most books (smug face) competition’, it’s just part of what I do. My love of reading led me to study literature at degree level and come away with a first class distinction. I also worked in the book recommendation industry for a good few years, with an extremely knowledgeable mentor who had worked in publishing for years and years.  So in a (slightly smug) way I do consider myself to have some expertise on the subject.  I tell you this, not to show off or flex my ‘experience’ muscles but just to highlight that when I say The Courier IS A FANTASTIC BOOK… that it really is FANTASTIC.

Of course Kjell Ola Dahl’s resume speaks for itself.  He is an award winning writer whose work has been published in no less then 14 countries.  This is the first of his books that I have read and I can honestly say that he is an incredibly skilled writer.  This is even more evident thanks to the superb work of the translator, Don Bartlett. I was absolutely blown away by The Courier.

Each chapter moves back and forth between different points in the timeline. From war time Norway and Sweden to 1960’s and 2015 Oslo.  Now this technique is often used, but in this case it was used quite brilliantly. Each period guiding you through the story, building the suspense and tension, and carrying you on, always wanting to read just one more chapter, and then another and another…

This novel shows us the lingering horrors of war and oppression but it also highlights the crimes that go on in times of conflict, crimes that are equally horrific and can be used and distorted for others means, the real cause overshadowed and (almost) forgotten.

For me, as an English woman who had grandparents who lived through the horror and hardships of WWII, I find it incredibly interesting to read the view point of others. We all know the horrific persecution that many millions endured but I think at times we can be a little unaware as to just how far this actually spread out of Germany and France. It never ceases to move and horrify me.  In my naivety I never considered the idea of Jews suffering in Norway, so this novel has again imparted more about this part of history (a subject that one of my fellow bloggers, Victoria Goldman,  was moved to investigating further after also reading The Courier.  You can read her fascinating findings here.)

I grew up with World War Two as part of my history but a history that I was still removed from and experienced by others.  My grandparents chose not to talk about it and I wonder what horrors they themselves witnessed.  What stories they could have told, especially my grandfather who spent a time in a concentration camp – something he never discussed with us.

But this isn’t a story about concentration camps or soldiers fighting on the front line.  Within this story the war itself is a backstory. This is about those living with the war and the repercussions they feel in a time when Europe was filled with conflict and hate. This is the story of those fighting in a very different way and trying to survive against a force that is so evil and only intent on destroying everything in its path.

There are complexities to the plot but it is expertly built so it felt an easy read. Beneath the spies, the resistance, the gestapo and the war, there is the story of the murder of a young mother.  The crime remains, almost forgotten through time, but the truth will be revealed and I have to say that I for one didn’t see it coming.  It is shocking, compelling – A very excellent novel that I thoroughly recommend, not only as a piece of historical fiction but also as a thriller that will hold you spellbound until the end.

About the author

0One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

 

Thank you to the lovely Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and to Orenda Books for my review copy.  It was absolutely stunning.


The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

img_0186-1I have been following the official Agatha Christie website on Instagram and Twitter and their #readchristie2019 challenge in which they suggest a different Christie novel to read each month. In January they kicked the challenge off with The ABC Murders and I as I had been lucky enough to receive this beautiful hardback edition for Christmas so I happily jumped on board. I am a big Christie fan, watching countless TV adaptations, but as a reader I have read shockingly few of her actual novels and short stories. Time to rectify that me thinks.

If you’d like to join in with Read Christie 2019 then why not visit their website here and sign up for the newsletter.

The February book is The Giant’s Bread which Agatha wrote under the pseudonym, Mary Westmacott. I’m currently listening to that on audio book (my first!).

The March title is The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, the 8th Miss Marple novel and one that I very much look forward to reading soon. I have read none of the Miss Marple stories as of yet.

There has been much discussion and awareness about The ABC Murders after the recent BBC adaptation was screened over Christmas. This adaptation was my first experience of the story.

But before we get into the TV adaptation let’s talk about the novel itself…

It is not often that I read the book after watching the film or TV adaptation but I did on this occasion. I enjoyed all three versions but I have to say that it was wonderful to return to the original story, exactly how Agatha Christie wanted to tell it. Her writing is superb and I can see why her stories continue to inspire and engage. If you’ve never read a Christie novel then I urge you to pick one up. They are such a delight and she has a rather brilliant way of bringing humour and a lightness of touch to even the darkest of subject matter. They are, after all, jolly good crime novels, written to reveal the dark side of human nature but first and foremost to entertain…and that they certainly do.

The edition that I received is a stunning hardback edition published by HarperCollins. It is beautiful and certainly adds to the joy whenever picked up. I am hoping they may reproduce the entire Poirot collection in this format. I want to read each and every one. What a wonderful addition to the bookshelves that would make!

Now on to TV…

Now, I came to the conclusion long ago that when watching a film or small screen adaptation of a book it is best to view it, where possible, as a completely separate entity. Very rarely can they be the same. It is after all not (usually) written, directed or produced by the author. It is therefore a collaboration of opinions pulled together from an original story. Not one person will read a story in exactly the same way and when it comes to reproducing they will, of course, want to add their own touch to it.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Phelps’ interpretation on the BBC. It was dark, brooding and kept me thoroughly gripped over the three nights. It has moved towards the slightly more gruesome side that TV seems to need these days. I mean why just batter someone other the head when you can literally decapitate them with a spade or leave them in a vast pool of blood after slitting their throat?

I also found the stereotypical chubby sister of the second murder victim, Betty Barnard, finding freedom from the shadows of her slim, beautiful sister a little unnecessary. The Megan Barnard of the novel was rather intelligent and interesting. We could delve deeper into why Sarah chose for the attractive, promiscuous sister to meet a gruesome end, and the sister who was presented on screen as over weight, drab and bitter, as the one who eventually finds freedom by escaping out the window (where on earth does she go!?) but that’s not for this blog to discuss today. Agatha has written many meek, forgotten women in her novels but they quite often tend to end up having strength simmering beneath the surface, as what is revealed is a strong, resilient (and at times calculating and murderous) woman. Perhaps this is how Sarah chose to portrayed this.

My only (slight) disappointments in this adaptation being the death of Detective Inspector Japp, the absence of Hastings, and the rather sad, lonely and humiliated Poirot that I couldn’t really see in the novels. Once I got over that though I became thoroughly engrossed. I did feel John Malkovich made an excellent Poirot and as the story progressed our beloved character did make a rather wonderful comeback. Saying that I do feel that losing the Belgium accent takes away part of the essence of the character (but I believe that was director, Alex Gabassi’s call). You could say they have almost created a completely different Poirot.

The retelling as a whole did encourage me to look at Agatha’s books in a new light to see where Sarah’s inspiration came for the backstory and changes she chose to make. This is the wonderful thing about brokerage bringing these fresh adaptations to the screen. Not only do they bring a whole new audience to the stories but they make those of us familiar with the author and characters look at them with fresh eyes too. The acting and overall production was superb and I look forward to more from the BBC and Sarah in the future.

David Suchet – my Poirot

A few weeks after watching the BBC adaptation I settled down to watch the wonderful David Suchet take the lead in the investigation along with Hastings and, thankfully, a very fit and healthy Japp. I never tire of watching these versions and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have enjoyed each of the many different actors who have taken on the famous detective but Suchet is without doubt my favourite. He played the detective for 25 years and in an article in The Express is quoted as saying that whilst preparing for his role back in 1988…

I started to write my private list of Poirot’s habits and character. I called it my ‘dossier of characteristics’. It ended up five pages long and detailed 93 different aspects of life. I have the list to this day – in fact, I carried it around on the set with me throughout all my years as Poirot, just as I gave a copy to every director I worked with on a Poirot film.

I feel that he is possibly the truest Hercule to Agatha’s creation. He is a joy to watch and he is how I imagine Poirot to be when I read the books.

Are you taking part in Read Christie 2019? Which Christie novel would you most like to read this year? I’m hoping for Murder on the Orient Express. A story I know very well but still haven’t read.


The Blameless Dead by Gary Haynes.

1-4This novel is equally incredible and disturbing and without doubt will stay with you for a very long time.

Synopsis

In the dying days of World War Two, Pavel Romasko and his Red Army colleagues pick their way through the carnage and detritus of a dying Berlin. Stumbling upon the smoking remains of a Nazi bunker, they find something inside that eclipses the horror of even the worst excesses in the city above them…

As the war ends, retribution begins. But some revenge cannot be taken at once. Some revenge takes years.

And so it is, as post-war Europe tries desperately to drag itself back onto its feet, and soldiers attempt a return to normality, that retribution continues to ferment in the Gulags of the Soviet Union and beneath the surface of apparently ordinary lives.

Which is how, seventy years later, FBI agent Carla Romero and New York lawyer Gabriel Hall are enlisted to investigate a series of blood-chilling crimes that seem to have their roots in the distant past — even though the suffering they cause is all too present. And for one of them, the disappearance of young women is a particularly personal matter.

The Blameless Dead is an epic, compelling, edge-of-the-seat drama that sweeps the reader from twentieth century Europe to modern-day New York, taking in some of the most important events of modern history and exposing them in honest and unflinching terms. Part murder-mystery, part historical novel and shot through with adrenaline-pumping action, this novel superbly demonstrates that, while the hostilities may cease and the peace be signed, the horror that is war is never really over.

This novel is an incredibly brutal read. Gary’s writing technique is distinctive and rather unusual. At times blunt and cold, yet there was also incredibly beautiful descriptive passages which stood out amongst the dark story line. This style, I think, reflects the subject matter brilliantly. I found it an incredibly stirring read and quite difficult at times. It shocked me. The horrors arose from the outset and it wasn’t an easy ride but was nonetheless incredibly gripping.

There are so many layers to this novel and the story is built gradually, moving back and forth through different timelines. Characters damaged by the most heinous of acts that ricochet through generations, culminating in an explosive, emotional ending. Violence breeds violence and you wonder where it can ever end. Not for the feint-hearted but an important exploration of the effects of extreme trauma.

About the Author

Bestselling thriller, crime and historical fiction novelist published by HarperCollins/Endeavour Quill. Gary Haynes studied law at university before becoming a commercial litigator. He is interested in history, philosophy and international relations. When he’s not writing or reading, he enjoys watching European films, travelling, hillwalking and spending time with his family. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization.


The Bridal Party by J G Murray.

This is one chilling read!

WINNER OF THE DEVIANT MINDS CRIME THRILLER PRIZE 2018

Sometimes friendship can be murder…

It’s the weekend of Clarisse’s bridal party, a trip the girls have all been looking forward to.

Then, on the day of their flight, Tamsyn, the maid of honour, suddenly backs out. Upset and confused, they try to make the most of the stunning, isolated seaside house they find
themselves in.  But, there is a surprise in store – Tamsyn has organised a murder mystery, a sinister game in which they must discover a killer in their midst. As tensions quickly boil over, it becomes clear to them all that there are some secrets that won’t stay buried…

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From the very first page this novel grabs your attention with bloodstains and the creepy events.   Immediately the atmosphere is filled with tension but as you continue you are drip fed information leaving you on edge and unable to stop reading. We going a group of friends embarking on a hen weekend in Jersey.  A weekend of fun, drink and surprises all organised by maid of honour, Tamsyn.   However things begin to unravel when, at the last minute, Tamsyn in unable to make it.  Now it’s down to the rest of the hens to make sure the bride still has a weekend she’ll remember.

Things are looking up when they arrive at a luxurious, yet remote house with the promise of cosy, drink fuelled fun.  It’s not long before a series of events occur that leave the friends feeling uneasy and on edge, and what should be a fun filled girlie weekend becomes a fight for survival from an unknown predator. Desperate to keep their fearss from the bride, the hens try to keep the atmosphere light but there’s a growing sense of unease as small things start to chip away. It seems that events from the past are coming back to haunt them and being miles from nowhere, with no phone lines or internet connection, things begin to spiral out of control. This is quite a intense read and the end was brilliantly done, leaving me reeling with the after effects.

Allow yourself some me-time, this is a novel to curl up with and read in one sitting. Absolutely chilling. Sink into the atmosphere and be carried along on the ride.

About the author

J G Murray Author Picture

J G Murray grew up in Cornwall and, after a spell selling chocolates in Brussels, qualified as an
English teacher. Murray now lives, teaches and writes in London.

 

 

 

 

 


Mr Doubler Begins Again by Seni Glaister

Potatoes, gin and friendship…

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Do you ever come across a book that you just know you’re going to love? Well last summer I was invited along to the HQ Stories Summer Showcase and I met some wonderful authors that night and discovered some fantastic new books. One of the things I remember most about the evening was how friendly everyone was; the authors, the members of the HQ team, and the other guests. The evening was a great success and each author and novel was beautifully presented. I was introduced to Mr Doubler for the first time and I knew, straight away, that he and I were going to get along.

So it was here on a beautiful summers evening that I had the pleasure of meeting Seni and discovering the rather wonderful Mr Doubler. I was delighted to bring home an early proof copy well ahead of it’s publication date in January. I am a keen gardener and I have even grown my own potatoes down on my allotment, so possibly that may have been what drew me to this particular table but I think it was also a combination of Seni’s warm smile and the beautiful display of proof copies bearing the quote ‘Not every journey takes you far from home…

So what’s the story about…

Synopsis

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Baked, mashed, boiled or fried, Mr Doubler knows his potatoes. But the same can’t be said for people. Since he lost his wife, he’s been on his own at Mirth Farm – and that suits Doubler just fine. Crowds are for other people; the only company he needs are his potato plants and his housekeeper, Mrs Millwood, who visits every day.

So when Mrs Millwood is taken ill, it ruins everything – and Mr Doubler begins to worry that he might have lost his way. But could the kindness of strangers be enough to bring him down from the hill?

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This is a wonderful novel and such a pleasure to read. Oh how I loved Mr Doubler and what a joy it would be to sit with him in his warm, inviting kitchen, enjoying one of his expertly produced G&T’s and a slice of homemade cake.

For quite some time Doubler has plodded along quietly on Mirth Farm, with only his potatoes and his housekeeper, Mrs Millwood, for company. He has been perfectly content with his well-ordered, predictable life. His only concern is his potatoes, his ‘secret’ project and the occasional visit from his ‘well-meaning’ children. Until that is, Mrs Millwood is taken ill and his life is turned upside down.

Although I had been looking forward to reading this novel for quite sometime I actually picked it up after suffering from a dose of flu. I’d felt so ill I couldn’t even read and then as I began to feel better Mr Doubler called to me. He was the perfect tonic and a brilliant escape for those moments when life is just feeling a little too gray and drizzly. He made me feel like spring was on the way.

Now novels about old men finding their way have been done and enjoyed before (A Man Called Ove and of course The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry are examples that come to mind and that I very much enjoyed) but Mr Doubler is very different, wonderful and completely memorable in his own right.

So what is it that I loved about this novel? Well the writing itself is beautifully done. It carries you along, sweeping you away with the story. Seni has the ability, somewhat Harry Potter like, to pull you into the book so you can almost smell the food on Doubler’s table and hear the sounds of the birds as he takes an early morning stroll around his land.

As he stood at these edge-lands, he allowed his brain to settle into nothingness. It was still dark. He stopped and listened. A bird sang from a hazel branch not far from him. The pure sound cut through the dark and distracted Doubler from his quandary.

‘Hello robin!’ Doubler said, under his breath for fear of disturbing the gutsy singer. ‘It’s a bit early for that racket, isn’t it?’

The lone, tentative voice was almost immediately joined by another flute-like refrain from just behind him. The birds sensed the dawn before any trace of the new day had become obvious to Doubler. These birds, the robin and perhaps a black-bird, were soon joined by several others and now, after just a few moments of listening, the chorus was beginning in earnest and it was impossible to separate one song from another. Together, this competing cacophony should have jarred, but instead it united to form a harmonious ensemble that appeared to be led by one unseen conductor.

Full to the brim with endearing (and a few rather unlikeable) characters, Mr Doubler Begins Again is a joy to read; a celebration of an ordinary man who has done the best he can through some rather difficult circumstances. Doubler shows us the importance of the ‘ordinary folk’, the impact they have, and that each and every one will leave an important legacy in the friends and memories they leave behind. At times I found it incredibly poignant and sad, but at others I was whooping in delight for Mr Doubler and the friends who came to his aid. I cheered him on right until the very last page, and I’m still cheering him on now. There is much more than potatoes beneath the surface of this quiet, old recluse who lives on the hill. I was saddened that those who should have known him the best, were the ones who seemed to not understand him at all. This kind, old soul. What an incredible friend he would be.

Yet even an old recluse like Doubler needs a little help from time to time and this small community found its way into my heart and I feel as though I have learnt so much from them. There are times when we feel like we know what is best for others but in reality only they can know what will bring them contentment and happiness. This novel has taught me that things are rarely black and white. There is always more to the situation than you can see. It taught me that the easy option is not always the best. That each of us, no matter how old we are, are valued and that there is no age limit on hopes and dreams.

One of the characteristics I loved most about Doubler was his absolute unwavering opinions and his lack of fear in expressing them. From his idea of a perfect lunch (potatoes), to the precise ingredients and method of making a gin and tonic. His appreciation of perfectly blended tea and the effort and time he gives to laying on tea and cake for his guests. As, with the assistance and encouragement of Mrs Millwood, he slowly returns to the community, he begins to understand how much he can actually contribute to the lives of those around him and just what that gives him in return. Doubler is a man with a big heart and oh, how I would love to try a sip of his gin.

Gin

The making of gin, as I have recently discovered, is quite an art and the mix of botanicals makes each recipe unique. It has of course recently had a resurgence of popularity. In my childhood I recall it as being the choice of drink by the evil Miss Hannigan (played by the rather wonderful Carol Burnett ) in the 1982 movie Annie, as she literally bathed in the stuff. The drink of drunks and down and outs. Then as an adult myself I enjoyed it cold, mixed with tonic and a slice of lemon. About six months ago I treated myself to a gin subscription (absolute decadence I know but I’m worth it) with The Craft Gin company.

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My first delivery from Craft Gin included the most delicious Burleigh’s gin, mixers and oh so scrummy chocolate.
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My second box had a rather festive ( but good enough to drink any time) bottle of Tarquin’s Cornish Christmas gin.
I love roses… especially in a glass of Naud’s gin!

Every two months I receive a unique craft gin, mixers and edible treats and also a magazine talking about… yes you guessed it, gin. So it was a total delight when I came to read Mr Doubler chatting about gin. It actual makes my mouth water just thinking about the scene in his kitchen when he first shares his homemade produce. It put me in mind of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat and the way she was able to bring the taste and smell of chocolate so expertly alive within the pages of her book. Seni does the very same here with Mr Doubler and gin.

‘I am, however, not going to overwhelm you. I expect you’re all familiar with the G and T, the ice and a slice. And that is what I shall prepare for you because I want you to notice the gin, not the accompaniments. Some gins lend themselves to this classic treatment. But it is very possible to tease out the flavour of a gin by the addition of other flavours. I am not a gin pedant – in fact, I would go as far as to consider myself more liberal than most.’

While Doubler spoke, he cut the lemon into thin slices, allowing the scent of citrus to fill the room.

‘All gin makers use a mix of botanicals to flavour their spirit. We all know and love juniper berries, and this is, of course, the flavour that we associate with the spirit. Indeed, it is essential to qualify as a London dry gin, as I’m sure you all know. But, depending on the distillery, you might find notes of any number of spices, herbs, plants or other flavourings – for example, coriander, angelica, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom,orris,cinnamon, nutmeg, cassia bark, almond, liquorice or cubeb. When you’re mixing a drink yourself, it is advisable to accentuate the flavour of the botanicals that have been used to craft it, so a gin that has used rose and cucumber to enhance its flavour might well benefit from the addiction of a slice of cucumber or a couple of freshly picked rose petals. If there are no citrus notes at all, you should steer clear of lemon or lime.’

Now Doubler has certainly given me food for thought when it comes to mixing a gin based beverage and I very much look forward to a little experimentation (with a little bit of help fromThe Craft Gin Club.) Now it’s not everyday you come across a recipe for a cocktail within a novel but there is actually a ‘Mirth Farm’ recipe created by The Mixology Group and I’m delighted to be able to share it with you here. It sounds like the perfect summer cocktail to me.

Mirth Farm Garden Cocktail

SERVES 1

INGREDIENTS

50ml good quality gin

5cm piece of cucumber

20ml lemon juice

20ml cucumber syrup

8-10 mint leaves

Soda

Garnish with large mint sprig

and borage flowers

METHOD

Add all but soda to a tall glass

and lightly muddle.

Fill glass with crushed ice and

the add a dash of soda.

There are plenty of recipes for cucumber syrup on the internet so why not make a small batch and give it a try. It sounds perfectly refreshing.

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Whatever your tipple be it gin, wine or a nice cup of tea, I definitely recommend reading this rather wonderful novel and welcoming Mr Doubler into your life…it will be all the better for it.

Mr Doubler Begins Again was published in January 2019 by HQStories.

You can follow Seni on Twitter: @SeniGlaister

You can follow HQStories on Twitter: @HQstories

The Craft Gin club have exclusive offers for new members so do check out there website here.

Thanks again to HQStories for inviting me to the showcase last summer and to Seni for my copy of Mr Doubler (and for signing it too).


The Burning by Laura Bates

NEW SCHOOL.

TICK.

NEW TOWN.

TICK.

NEW SURNAME.

TICK.

SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILES?

ERASED.

There’s nothing to trace Anna back to her old life.

Nothing to link her to the ‘incident’.

At least that’s what she thinks.

Until the whispers start up again….

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So today I am thrilled to be hosting the Blog Tour for The Burning, the first YA novel by Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.  Laura is the author of three non-fiction titles exploring gender inequality and the difficulties still facing girls and women in the world today.

Last week I was invited along to the launch of The Burning and to listen to Laura in conversation with Anna James at Foyles Bookshop.  She was incredibly inspiring to listen to, especially after reading The Burning just a few days before.

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This book is incredible and as a piece of YA fiction very, very important. The Burning is not only a great piece of fiction, but will also help others who suffer from any similar form of abuse and bullying.  Anna is a character that sadly many girls and women will be able to identify with.  In the author’s note at the back of the book Laura yells us that ‘almost everything that happens to Anna is based on the real-life experiences of students I have worked with in schools, or young people who have contacted me online.’  I find it absolutely shocking and this book, I hope, will give those who face such experiences the courage to speak out and, at the very least, to know that they are not to blame. There are SO many discussions that this novel can inspire. I urge you to read it, no matter what age or gender.

Anna’s world  falls apart when she shares an intimate photograph with someone she trusts.   To use something so intimate that has been shared with trust is an even greater betrayal and yet she is the one who is vilified.  This isn’t a simple girl against boy story.  It shows the power that rumour has and the effect it can have over people.  ‘A rumour is like a fire.  You might think you’ve extinguished it, but all it takes is one spark…’ Girls, boys and adults are seen as behaving in a terrible, unacceptable manner but we also see great courage and support within the pages of this story too.

‘The Burning tells the story of fifteen-year-old Anna who has moved to a small Scottish village with her mother.  There’s nothing to trace Anna back to her old life. Nothing to link her to the ‘incident’.  At least that’s what she thinks… until the whispers start up again.

Desperate for a distraction to escape the brutal bullying at school, Anna finds herself in a history project about a young girl, Maggie, who was accused of witchcraft hundreds of years before.  Anna finds herself irresistibly drawn to the tale of Maggie, a girl whose story has terrifying similarities to Anna’s own…

The Parallels between the persecution of medieval witches and the social burning of modern day Anna become unnervingly apparent.  the reader will be left in no doubt: it’s time to extinguish society’s sexist attitudes.’

I found this book deeply unsettling and I believe that parents, teachers and adults in general should read this story. It gives us an insight into what our young people face. It stirred certain memories hidden in my subconscious. Those moments growing up that we ignore and try to bury. Yet in comparison, back in my teenage years, we had so much less to contend with.  Social media has moved the goal posts dramatically and opens up the possibility of being mercilessly hounded and bullied at any time of day or night to an ever growing audience.  We need to sit up and take notice now.  With an ever growing online-presence,  our past and experiences really never leave us. They are there for all to see and the level of abuse possible through these mediums is scary. The dual time frame brilliantly shows us that the problems girls face aren’t a contemporary problem and that even after years of feminist campaigning things haven’t changed, there are simply new ways for women to be persecuted and mistreated. The term witch-hunt for so many girls and women is still very real.  This snowballing form of abuse at times can feel like a form of torture. The constant ping of social media notifications gradually pushing them to the limits and offering no escape or peace of mind.

As a parent I will look to inform my son. As a Librarian I will make these stories accessible to my students and teachers. As a book blogger I will share the word as much as I can. This book has made me stop and think. I was shocked at how those who should have been protecting Anna were simply not equipped to do so with either experience or understanding.  It has made me so much more aware. Feminism isn’t just about equality. It’s about a woman’s right to feel safe. To not be used and abused simply because she is a woman.

About the Author

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Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, an ever-increasing collection of over 100,000 testimonies of gender inequality, with branches in 25 countries worldwide. She is author of Everyday Sexism, Misogynation and the Sunday Times bestseller Girl Up. Laura writes regularly for the Guardian, New York Times and others and win a British Press Award In 2015. She is a prolific commentator, appearing regularly on Newsnight, The Today Programme, Woman’s Hour, Channel 4 News, BBC News, BBC Breakfast and others. She works closely with politicians, businesses, schools, police forces and organisations from the Council of Europe to the United Nations to tackle gender inequality. She was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list 2015 and has been named a woman of the year by Cosmopolitan, Red Magazine, The Huffington Post, and The Sunday Times Magazine. Laura is a contributor at Women Under Siege, a New York-based project tackling rape in conflict worldwide and is patron of SARSAS, Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support.


The Belle Hotel by Craig Melvin.

A tale of the rise and fall of Charlie Sheridan through the historical rich last quarter of the twentieth century.

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13 October 2008. Welcome to the worst day of Chef Charlie Sheridan’s life, the day he’s about to lose his two great loves: his childhood sweetheart, Lulu, and the legendary Brighton hotel his grandfather, Franco Sheridan, opened in 1973.

This is the story of the Belle Hotel, one that spans the course of four decades – from the
training of a young chef in the 1970s and 80s, through the hedonistic 90s, up to the credit
crunch of the noughties – and leads us right back to Charlie’s present-day suffering.

In this bittersweet and salty tale, our two Michelin star-crossed lovers navigate their seaside hangout for actors, artists and rock stars; the lure of the great restaurants of London; and the devastating effects of three generations of family secrets.

There is something rather special about this novel. Not only is it full with great recipes but it’s also a great walk through major historical events of the last 30 years of the twentieth century.  We begin a little closer in 2008 with Charlie in dire straights and having quite possibly one of the worst days of his life.  He has three hours to find £10,000 or Belle Hotel will be repossessed and he’ll be left with nothing, not even the other love of his life, Lulu.  At this stage I must admit I thought Charlie a bit of an arse and couldn’t see why on earth I would be routing for him to save himself but before long Melvin takes us back to where it all began with Charlie’s grandfather, Franco.  And oh what a story he has weaved.

This is clearly an author who knows about food and the restaurant/hotel business. It’s not an easy life and the job is most definitely a lifestyle – not the kind of job you can leave behind when it’s time to clock off.  I found Franco Sheridan is an immensely likeable character and one who knows how to charm.  He is already late on in his life when we meet him in 1973 (a very good year – the year I was born).  His story is incredibly intriguing.  We join him when he is head steward on the Brighton Belle train serving the one and only Sir Lawrence Olivier, or Larry as Franco calls him, as he travels to and from London.  Before long Franco, (with a little help from Larry) opens Belle Hotel and has his sights on earning the restaurant a Michelin star.  Always reaching for the top, Franco passes on everything he knows to his grandson Charlie.  Franco tells Charlie he was born a chef and expects only the very best for him and the Belle Hotel.  The pair are completely driven but when Franco suddenly dies Charlie finds it hard to fill his shoes.

A novel full of flavour and interest, we watch Charlie living the dream with women, drugs and the attention that someone being on top invites. Famous names litter the pages with  guest appearances from Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Noel Gallagher, Jamie Oliver and the Carry On cast to name but a few.  Sizzling with sex, drugs and good food this is a scintillating read.  I wondered on more than one occasion how Charlie was ever going to pull himself out from the hole he had dug but I admit I was rather cheering for him towards the end and hoped that he found away.

About the Author

1-3Craig Melvin holds an MA in Creative Writing from Sussex University and is a restaurant consultant in London and Brighton.  He was mentored by Albert Roux at catering college and has worked in the restaurant and site business ever since.  He also runs www.lunarlemonproductions.com with his wife Mel.

 

 

 

You can also find Craig:

on Twitter: @ccmelvin

on Instagram: @melvincraig

on Facebook: Craig Melvin Brighton

Hotel Belle is published by Unbound, the world’s first crowdfunding publisher, established in 2011.

‘We believe that wonderful things can happen when you lear a path for people who share a passion.  That’s why we’ve built a platform that brings together readers and authors to crowdfund books they believe in – and give fresh ideas that don’t fit with traditional mould the chance they deserve.’

Again I am totally impressed by the quality that Unbound publishes.  Hotel Belle  is a super read and gives an intriguing insight into the (at times seedier side ) of life as chef trying to stay at the top.

 


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Beton Rouge by Simone Buchholz

The second book in the critically acclaimed Chastity Riley series.

On a warm September morning, a man is found unconscious and tortured in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of Germany’s biggest magazines. He’s soon identified as a manager of the company. Three days later, another manager appears in a similar way.

The magazine staff were facing significant layoffs, so sympathy for the two men is in short supply. Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect, to the dubious past shared by both victims. Travelling to the south of Germany, they step into the hothouse world of boarding schools, where secrets are currency, and monsters are bred…monsters who will stop at nothing to protect themselves.

This is the second novel featuring Chastity Riley and although I don’t think it is vital to have read the first, it could possibly give you a little insight into her back story. The case she is called in to help on is a strange one. A man is discovered in a cage outside his place of work. He’s been tortured but he’s alive. Immediately you know this isn’t your regular crime story. They’re not looking for a murderer but it suggests a different kind of criminal who is looking to terrify and humiliate their victims. A person who wants the scars left behind to go much further than any physical ones ever could. They want their victims to suffer, to carry the weight of their experience with them for the rest of their lives.

There is an intense creepiness to these crimes, especially with the level of dislike aimed at the victims from even those who now work with them. This is a difficult case to get to the bottom of but it soon becomes clear that their past is about to catch up with them in a very unpleasant way. But what are the crimes leading to and can Chastity and Ivo find out who’s behind these kidnappings and work out who the next target is before they turn deadly? As you get to know each of the victims and the story that binds them together it’s difficult to feel sorry for them. These are not nice people. Yet does that make us more sympathetic to the perpetrator? For me, as a reader, that’s an uncomfortable place to be but it raises some interesting questions and creates a gripping storyline.

Chastity herself is an unusual heroine. She’s a hard-drinking mess of a person but somehow manages to get the job done. Her story is compelling and seems complex. She has suffered and is obviously running from her own demons. The writing style is sharp and punchy adding to the sense of chaos that seems to follow Chastity. How she gets up and with it most days I’m not sure but there is a steely determination about her. It’s refreshing to see such a strong but damaged female lead and I look forward to getting to know her more.

This is a series to watch and I thoroughly urge you to jump on board.

About the Author

Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award, and second place in the German Crime Fiction Prize, for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

You can follow Simone on Twitter: @ohneklippo

or visit her website: www.simonebucholz.com

If you’re new to Simone and the series why not start with Blue Night in which we are first introduced to Chastity Riley.

After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble. However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying g under police guard in hospital, Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in.

Using all her powers of pursuasion, she soon gains her charge’s confidence, and funds herself on the trail to Leipzig, a new ally, and a whole heap of lethal synthetic drugs. When she discovers that a friend and former colleague is trying to bring down Hamburg’s Albanian mafia kingpin single-handedly, it looks like Chas Riley’s dull life on witness protection really has been short-lived.

About the publisher

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been short- or long-listed for the CWA Daggers. Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell.

www.orendabooks.co.uk

On Twitter: @OrendaBooks


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The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie.

Over 100k eBooks have already been sold to date and the publication in paperback will bring this wonderful family saga to the hands of many more readers.

It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again.

Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.

More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams.

He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.

There is something rather wonderful about a good family saga. It pulls you in, makes you care and you follow through all the ups and downs, the heartache and the happiness because you want to see where it all ends. The Sewing Machine is one such story.

I was initially drawn in by the sewing machine. Using both image and name tempted me to pick up this engaging novel. My Nan used to own a singer sewing machine and so the brand itself holds memories of my own.

The Sewing Machine takes us through a period of time of over a hundred years, through various time points until the threads are all brilliantly brought together. Although at times heartbreaking, it was a comforting read, like a warm, hearty casserole on a winters day.

At the heart of the story is the sewing machine itself and how this item impacted on so many lives. I thought Natalie brought each of the characters together wonderfully. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every one. There was an awful lot of love amongst the pages of this book and it shows us that hope can be found in even the most difficult circumstances. My favourite character was Alf, such a warm, loving and generous human being. I also loved Fred and the issues he faced as he unravelled his past and the past of his family. A beautifully written debut, The Sewing Machine is simply unforgettable. I enjoyed reading this so very much.

Thank you Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and for arranging my review copy.

About the Author

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Natalie Fergie is a textile enthusiast, and has spent the last ten years running a one-woman dyeing business,
sending parcels of unique yarn and thread all over the world. Before this she had a career in nursing. She lives
near Edinburgh.

www.nataliefergie.com
@NatalieSFergie


Inborn by Thomas Enger

Today I’m delighted to be hosting the blog tour for another gripping offering from Orenda Books. Inborn by Thomas Enger is a thrilling court room drama that had me hooked and reading into the night.

When a teenager is accused of a high-school murder, he finds himself subject to trial by social media … and in the dock.

A taut, moving and chilling thriller by one of Nordic Noir’s finest writers.

When the high school in the small Norwegian village of Fredheim becomes a murder scene, the finger is soon pointed at seventeen-year-old Even. As the investigation closes in, social media is ablaze with accusations, rumours and even threats, and Even finds himself the subject of an online trial as well as being in the dock … for murder?

Even pores over his memories of the months leading up to the crime, and it becomes clear that more than one villager was acting suspiciously … and secrets are simmering beneath the calm surface of this close-knit community. As events from the past play tag with the present, he’s forced to question everything he thought he knew. Was the death of his father in a car crash a decade earlier really accidental? Has his relationship stirred up something that someone is prepared to kill to protect?

It seems that there may be no one that Even can trust.

But can we trust him?

A taut, moving and chilling thriller, Inborn examines the very nature of evil, and asks the questions: How well do we really know our families? How well do we know ourselves?

Oh my, this is one good read. A chilling prologue leads us into the story where we follow young Johannes, a bright young soul, as he walks into something he really wishes he hadn’t. What follows is a series of events that we begin to witness through the trial when 17 year old Even takes to the dock.

Twists and turns aplenty my suspicions changed on many occasions. Wonderfully told mostly through the voice of a 17 year old the story keeps the fear, frustration and despair right on the surface. It brilliantly showed the dangers of social media. How it can be easy to condemn and spread hate and mistrust. Chinese whispers for the 21st century and a super way to throw in those clues (or red herrings).

You can’t help but feel sorry for Even; he has a difficult life with a reclusive younger brother and a mother who still continues to drown her sorrows some years after the death of their father in a car crash. The only sense of parental support comes from their uncle Imo. And now Even’s recently ex-girlfriend has been murdered and he is under suspicion.

I love the way Enger has built the story around the trial, hearing what Even has to say but also returning to past events with flashbacks through Yngve Monk, the Chief Inspector who has recently lost his wife and is floundering somewhat. He is also a great character though and I felt his loss keenly. Enger expertly portraying the sense of bewilderment and sadness that follows the death of a loved one. Monk really cares about the case too, determined to get to the bottom of what happened on that awful night he puts his grief to one side and gets the job done – with a little bit of help of course. The picture gradually becoming clearer and clearer until the shocking conclusion is revealed.

Absolutely gripping, this is one that I would definitely recommend for young adults and older readers alike. It is also crying out for a tv adaptation. There are plenty of skeletons in the closet of the people in Fredheim and they’re about to come out in a most spectacular but deadly way.

Thoroughly recommended.

Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and to her and Orenda Books for my eBook. As much as I prefer print copies I do LOVE the way I can read in the dark with an eBook. 🙂

About the author

Thomas Enger is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel Burned in 2010, which became an international sensation before publication, and marked the first in the bestselling Henning Juul series. Rights to the series have been sold to 28 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Killer Instinct, upon which Inborn is based, and another Young Adult suspense novel, was published in Norway in 2017 and won the prestigious prize. Most recently, Thomas has co-written a thriller with Jorn Lier Horst. Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.


Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

Sometimes you discover an author and there is an instant connection.  You soak up their words and disappear into their worlds.  Whenever you hear there is a new offering on the horizon your ears prick up, damn it your whole damn head up – somewhat like a meerkat – and wait eagerly for it to arrive.  It’s a truly wonderful feeling.  One such author that holds that magic over me is Louise Beech. Her writing never fails to leave me entranced.  Her novels are all so different and yet all so wonderful.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to receive a proof copy of her latest novel, Call Me Star Girl.  

There were three things that sold this novel to me.

The author. The publisher. The synopsis.

Although the fact that it was quoted as being ‘reminiscent of Play Misty For Me, surely one of Clint Eastwood finest and most chilling of films, did catch my attention too.  I watched the film again not too long ago and there is still so much I love about it, not least the 70’s music, style and cinematography, but it gives you the feeling that you’re watching a series of events spiralling helplessly out of control. All these factors put together had me feeling this novel was going to be GOOOOD.  And Oh my, I wasn’t wrong.

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

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Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show.

The theme is secrets.  You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.  Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years.  She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father…

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station, who says he knows who killed the pregnant Victoria Valbon, found brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago. 

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything.

In her writing Louise delves deep into the mind. She looks at cause and effect, how events and trauma shape our personalities and actions. We can never really know what goes on in another’s mind and she shows the dark maze winding deep within each of us; holding endless fears, desires, doubts and secrets. It is truly powerful. Call Me Star Girl also looks at the darker side of love. The all-consuming love that can rarely end well. The story is dark, creepy and utterly engrossing as Stella’s past and present collide with shattering consequences.

Louise’s characters have this wonderful ability to get inside your head, leading you on with the story, sharing their story, so you are standing right beside them in that dark, god forsaken alley. Atmospheric to say the least, the setting of a radio station through the night provides the perfect backdrop for events to unfold.

Her plotting is superb, the twists and turns leaving you fearful for the outcome but unable to tear yourself away. This is one story that will stay with you; like a whisper it will creep into your thoughts long after you turn the final page.

Absolutely brilliant and thoroughly recommended.

Here is a wee snippet taken from the first few pages…

‘The lights buzzed and flickered. I held my breath. Exhaled when they settled. I would not be spooked by a trickster.

Stella, this will tell you everything.

How did they know what I wanted to know?

What was everything?

I opened the main door, book held tight to my hammering chest. The car park was empty, a weed-logged expanse edged with dying trees. It’s always quiet at this hour of the night. I waited, not sure what I expected to happen – maybe some stranger loitering, hunched over and menacing. They would not scare me.

“I’m not afraid,’ I said it aloud.

Who was I trying to convince?

I set off for home. I usually walk, enjoying the night air after a stuffy studio. I’m not sure why – though now it seems profound – but I paused at the alley that separates the allotment from the Fortune Bingo hall. Bramble bushes tangle there like sweet barbed wire. It’s a long but narrow cut-through that kids ride their bikes too fast along and drunks stagger down when the pub shuts. I rarely walk down there, even though it would make my journey home quicker. The place disturbs me, so I always hurry past, take the long way around, without glancing into the shadows.

I did that night too.

But I looked back. Just once, the strange book pressed against my chest.

It was two weeks before they found the girl there.

Two weeks before I started getting phone calls.

I didn’t know any of that then. If I had, I might have walked a little faster.’

 

About the Author

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Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015.  the follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize.  Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed and critically acclaimed.  All four have been #1 kindle bestsellers.  Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetics Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice.  Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

You can follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseWriter and visit her website here.

Call Me Star Girl is published by Orenda Books on April 18th 2019 which still gives you plenty of time to discover Louise’s previous work if you haven’t yet done so.

Thank you so much to the lovely team at Orenda Books for sending me the proof copy to read and review for an honest opinion.

 

 


The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden

Today, I’m delighted to say,  is my stop on the blog tour for The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden.  This is a wonderful novel and Oh Billy, you have broken my heart. There is something rather beautiful in this tale of lost love, mistakes and missed opportunities and it moved me to tears on more than one occasion.

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The Six Loves of Billy Binns is deeply moving, bittersweet century-spanning debut set in London against the backdrop of the changing 20th century.

At well over a hundred years old, Billy Binns believes he’s the oldest man in Europe and knows his days are numbered. But Billy has a final wish: he wants to remember what Love feels like one last time.

As he looks back at the relationships that have coloured his life – and the events that shaped the century – he recalls a lifetime of hope and heartbreak.

This is the story of an ordinary man’s life, an enchanting novel which takes you on an epic yet intimate journey that will make you laugh, cry and reflect on the universal turmoil of love.

Billy was born on the first day, on the first year of the 20th century. He is over a 100 years old and spending his final days in a care home. He has seen many residents come and go. Chairs filled and then left empty awaiting the next old soul. He knows he doesn’t have long but he has a need to remember the man he was and remember the times he knew love.

‘I want to remember what love feels like, one last time.  To remember each of the people I loved, to see them all clearly again.’

Surely he was a good man and he simply wants to be remembered for something other than the shrivelled old body he has become. Because once upon a time there was so much more.

According to author, Richard Lumsden, the idea for the novel began in 1992 when he was just twenty-seven and living in Shepherd’s Bush.

richard lumsden author picture‘Inspired by old photographs on the walls of the library (now the bush theatre) of trams on the Green, and an old white arch beside the central line station, I mapped out Billy’s story but became daunted by the amount of research required to detail all of the last century and turned to written TV & radio scripts instead.

In 2000, I discovered a series of booklets published by the Shepherd’s Bush Local History Society.  I phoned their secretary, Joan Blake, who invited me to their monthly meetings in the back of St Luke’s Church on the Uxbridge Road.  Over the next few months I listened to stories of growing up in W12 through the 20s, 30s & 40s, and watched slide shows featuring the exhibition palaces and canals at White City.  With the kind help of Joan and her friends I was finally able to get started.  It took me eighteen months to research and write part one of the novel.  Then, faced with more intensive bouts of historical research for parts two to five, I decided I wasn’t cut out to write novels and abandoned the idea.

By 2009, having already worked on a couple of plays for BBC Radio 4, I decided to write ‘The Six Loves of Billy Binns’ as a play too.  It still needed more research but a 45 minute radio script was less daunting than going back to the novel.  In 2009 Sir Tom Courtenay gave Billy his voice, and the radio play, of which I’m very proud, still gets repeated from time to time.  However, I knew I’d bottled out by not telling Billy’s story as originally intended.

In 2015 I turned fifty, and at a very different stage of life, twenty-three years after starting part one of the novel.  A supportive literary agent encouraged me to get it finished.  I went back to my Shepherd’s Bush Local History Society booklets and took another two years to complete a draft to send out to publishers.

It’s a story about love, disappointment, and the flaws that make us human.  Billy has a tendency to reinterpret his own history, but ultimately he’s an ordinary man who lived an ordinary life, and I hope the readers might take him to heart on his journey to remember what love feels like.’

So Billy’s journey has taken it’s time to come to us but the time is definitely right.  Life today moves incredibly fast  and this novel not only takes us through the history of the last century but reminds us that life is fleeting.  Yes, his story was at times incredibly sad and there were moments when I just wanted to shout ‘Billy NO!’ in frustration.  Yet there were also the most wonderful moments of tenderness, especially towards the end.  Moments that made me stop to take a breath.  Now that I’ve reached the end I feel that I have shared so much with Billy.  I have such affection for him and I wish that some things had worked out differently.  Yet every experience he went brought him to the place he was at the end.  It was beautifully done, beautifully worded and I really don’t think I will ever forget Billy Binns and the lessons he has taught me.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and sending me a copy of this wonderful novel.  Thank you also to Richard for bringing Billy to us.  This novel has quite obviously been a journey for you and I’m so glad you carried it through to the end.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden will be published by Tinder Press on the 24th of January.

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Midland by James Flint

Today I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off the blog tour for this incredible novel. Readers, may I introduce you to Midland by James Flint.

A tale of two families torn apart by the hidden debts of love, from the award-winning novelist James Flint

On his way back from a meeting one day, investment banker Alex Wold finds himself standing up to his waist in the Thames, trying to guide a lost bottlenose whale back out to the sea. Later, as he’s drying out his suit and shoes, the news comes through that Tony Nolan – his mother’s ex-husband – has died of a sudden heart attack. Alex wonders if the universe is urging him to resolve a long-running feud with his environmentalist brother Matthew, and with the Wolds and the Nolans all heading back to Warwickshire for Tony’s funeral he now has an opportunity to do just that. But he finds Matthew as angry as ever, unable to relinquish his obsession with Caitlin, Tony’s troubled daughter, whose actions force both families to take an uncomfortable journey into the past. 

In Midland, the acclaimed novelist James Flint carries out a devastating exploration of what binds families together, and what tears them apart.

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This is absolutely stunning.  It’s a novel to take your time over and immerse yourself in James’ beautiful writing.  From the very first chapter I was entranced.  To me this novel felt like a celebration of language and the power it has.  James has a unique voice, capturing moment, place and circumstance perfectly.  He freezes time; holds it still for us and allows us to look at it from all angles. Here is a tiny snippet from early on in the novel where we are introduced to Alex and the whale he is compelled to help.

It was a perfect January day.  The spokes of the London Eye shone with the glycerine light of the low winter sun.  Big Ben stood cold and proud above the traffic, rendered timeless by the refrigerated air.  News helicopters hovered at the old clock’s shoulders like winged familiars, their spinning rotors patiently processing the sky, almost but not quite achieving thought.  And the river shone beneath the Victorian arches of the bridges, slapping and sucking at the weedy brickwork as the tide went out, grinning and gurgling as it slowly slackened its grip.

In the midst of all this beauty the whale seemed like hope, like a conciliatory messenger sent upstream by the senate of the seas.  Here they were, the people of England, gathering to greet it, to embrace it, to send it back from whence it came with tidings of peace and love.  Festival was in the air.  People were happy and amazed.  People were good, the universe was good.  Today had become one of those rare days on which the laws of combat were suspended and, for a brief period, death was not the truth of things.

It was the image of a man and whale that drew me to the synopsis of this novel. It is an incredibly strong image and sums up the power of the story wonderfully. Secrets, homecomings and the complexities of family are woven in the landscape and James has created a novel that is both bold and memorable. It is one that I keep safe on my bookcase and will no doubt return to, it is so rich in detail that I feel I’ll always find something new amongst the pages.

The blog tour runs through until the end of the month so do check out what others are saying about Midland. I’m so thrilled to have discovered James Flint. I think he is an exciting talent and I look forward to reading more from him. Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author

james flint author pictureBorn in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1968, James Flint is the author of three novels and one book of short stories. In 1998 Time Out magazine called his first book, Habitus, “probably the best British fiction début of the last five years,” and when it was published in France it was judged one of the top five foreign novels of 2002. His second novel, 52 Ways to Magic America, claimed the Amazon.co.uk award for the year 2000, and his third, The Book of Ash, won an Arts Council Writers Award and was described by the Independent’s leading literary critic as “a bold British counterpart to DeLillo’s Underworld.”

In 2002 his short story The Nuclear Train was adapted for Channel 4 television; he has had a long involvement with Port Eliot Festival and curated the film tent there for several years; and his journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, Sight & Sound, Time Out, The Times, The Independent, Arena, The Economist, Dazed & Confused and many others. From 2009-2012 he was Editor-in-Chief of the Telegraph Weekly World Edition, and he is currently the co-founder and CEO of the health communications start-up Hospify.

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Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb and oh my, is it a cracking good read.  Published on January 10th this novel has quite literally started my new year off with a bang.  It was an absolute treat to read.  Fast paced, brutal and a total adrenaline ride, I consumed it in a weekend.  Every possible minute this beauty  was in my hands.  It was a deliciously guilty pleasure and I overindulged with glee.

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Yes, I know, my fluffy slippers and comfy pj’s don’t exactly say ‘girl kicking ass’ but in my head I was right there, living it. 🙂

Here’s the synopsis:

A price on her head.  A secret worth dying for.

Just 48 hours to expose the truth…

Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson has finally got her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob – and they want her dead.  Rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ – Carlton North – who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them.  If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed.  If she fails, they die.

With North due back in court in 48 hours, Lori sets off across Florida, racing against the clock to find him and save her family.  Only in this race the prize is more deadly – and the secret she shares with JT more dangerous – than she ever could have imagined.

In this race only the winner gets out alive…

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Deep Dirty Truth  is book three in the series and I have to be honest and say that this is my first encounter with Lori Anderson.  It didn’t hinder my reading in any way.  The story is so sharp, so well written that I felt like I’d been following all along.  The novel has been described as ‘Brimming with tension, high-voltage action & high-stakes jeopardy’ and I completely agree.  I just could not put it down.  I loved it.  It was a thrilling ride and I instantly fell in love with Lori.  Man, can she kick ass and yet there is something vulnerable about her, something that makes her incredibly likeable.  From the very outset I was invested in her and her feisty, courageous daughter, Dakota.

The story starts off with a perfectly normal school run but within pages the action hits as Lori is abducted right outside the school gates.  From that moment on it doesn’t let up and the death toll steadily rises as she fights against all odds to keep her family – and herself – alive.   We hear the story mostly through Lori’s voice so we can feel her fear, pain, courage, anger, and her sheer determination to find a way out of this seemingly hopeless situation.

Apparently film rights are under negotiation and that is nothing but a good thing.  Its just crying out for the big screen.  Thoroughly recommended.

More about the author

1-2Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most
of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego –
Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging
at crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest
releases. She is also a member of the crime-themed girl band The Splice Girls.

Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University
London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California, which inspired her Lori
Anderson thrillers. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and
chickens.

Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts. My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym Stephanie Marland was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Thank you so much to the wonderful Anne Cater and superb publisher, Orenda Books for my review copy.  I shall definitely look to catch up on the previous two Lori Anderson novels and very much look forward to book four.

Find out more about author Steph Broadribb here.

Find out more about Orenda Books here.

For more reviews on this awesome novel check out #DeepDirtyTruth on Twitter and follow the #BlogTour

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The Woman in the Window by A.J.Finn

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Now this review is a wee throw back to February last year.  I’m excited to share it again as the paperback edition has now been published by HarperCollins.  Towards the end of 2017 when I was still on the editorial team of Lovereading, we received a proof in the office that caught our eye. It was hailed as THE book of 2018. Quite a claim don’t you think? Yet it did sound intriguing.

So 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.

The book…

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The Woman in the Window By A.J.Finn

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. It was already creating a stir and 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.

Now published in Paperback by HarperCollins

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