Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Relationship Stories, Romance, Summer Reads

The Last Concerto by Sara Alexander

Today I am delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Last Concerto by Sara Alexander.

Synopsis

Sardinia, 1968.

Eleven-year-old Alba Fresu’s brother, and her father, Bruno, are abducted by criminals who mistake Bruno for a rich man. After a gruelling journey through the countryside, the two are eventually released – but the experience leaves Alba shaken and unable to readjust to normal life.

Accompanying her mother to cleaning jobs, Alba visits the villa of an eccentric Signora and touches the keys of a piano for the first time. The instrument’s spell is immediate. During secret lessons, forbidden by her mother, Alba is at last able to express emotions too powerful for words alone. Ignoring her parents’ wishes, she accepts a scholarship to the Rome conservatoire. There she immerses herself in a vibrant world of art and a passionate affair.

But her path will lead her to a crossroads, and Alba will have to decide how to reconcile her talent with her longing for love and her family…

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My thoughts…

This is an incredibly beautifully written novel. The story is engrossing and Sara’s use of language, imagery and her characterisation create a deeply moving and engrossing story. Alba’s life on Sardinia is far from easy. Restricted by family traditions and expectations, along with the trauma and guilt that weighs her down after the abduction of her father and brother, her home life is far from happy. Those closest to her see her only as a difficult, silent child who brings grief and trouble to the family. Yet Signora Elias, a local woman who her mother cleans for, spots a talent burning bright within Alba. This kind, generous old woman takes her under her wing and teaches her the piano. Alba finally finds a way to express the torrent of emotions within and releases a unique talent from within. So many times I felt the injustice of the treatment towards Alba that watching her flourish through her music was a complete joy.

I met author, Sara Alexander at Destination HQ earlier this summer. Listening to her briefly talk about this book I was immediately intrigued to know more. She seemed such a charismatic and vibrant person and spoke of both the novel and her love of music and food (touching briefly on her produce grown on her own allotment). I could tell that she was incredibly proud of her Sardinian ancestry and I felt that such a colourful person would produce an interesting and animated story. During the evening we bonded briefly over our shared love of allotment life and I was excited to receive a copy of both this and her previous novel The Secret Legacy. I’m so glad that I did because she writes beautifully and all that charisma, colour, vibrancy and knowledge seeps into the story to create an absolutely stunning novel. She reminded me a little of Victoria Hislop, although I try to avoid author comparisons, Sara’s ability to bring Sardinia alive did bring Victoria to mind. I love the way she uses music so wonderfully and her articulation and sentence structure is superb. So many of my senses were engaged whilst reading. She conjures a piece of music to your mind with words alone, the atmosphere and emotion are all there. The same goes when she talks about food, such an important part of family life and skilfully used to bring moments with the story to life.

As for Alba’s journey well of course it isn’t easy but she is a wonderful character to follow and her story is one with joy as well as sadness. Be swept away to Italy with this gorgeous novel, it is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Thank you so much to the lovely people at HQ Stories for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for the review copy. It is wonderful and I now look forward to reading Sara’s previous novels, Under A Sardinian Sky and The Secret legacy.

As well as being a incredibly talented novelist, Sara is also and actress and I have to say my son was VERY IMPRESSED that I chatted with an actress who had appeared in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Every time we watch it (and we do quite a lot) I remind him ‘I met her!’ 🙂

About the author

Sara Alexander

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Sara Alexander attended Hamstead School, went on to graduate from the University of Bristol, with a BA hons in Theatre, Film & TV. She followed on to complete her postgraduate diploma in acting from Drama Studio London. She has worked extensively in the theatre, film and television industries, including roles in much-loved productions such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Doctor Who, and Franco Zeffirelli’s Sparrow. She is based in London.

Find out more about Sara by visiting her website at http://www.saraalexander.net

You can follow Sara on Twitter at @AuthorSaraAlex

You can find Sara on Instagram at @sarajalexander

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Adult Fiction, Crime, Suspense, Thriller

Summer Reads – The Inquiry

Books to be swept away with this summer…

There are SO MANY great books around at the moment and so I’d like to share a few that I think are particularly exciting.  I’m not going to plop them all together in one post but give each the opportunity to shine in it’s own right…

Hold on to your hats… here are my summer 2019 recommendations.

The Inquiry by Will Caine

Adult Fiction

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Here’s the synopsis:

Former MP Francis Morahan swore never to return to politics. But when he’s asked to chair a government inquiry into the intelligence agencies’ record against terror, it’s clear that it’s an order from the top – not a request.

Sara Shah once teetered on the edge of a dangerous circle. Now a lawyer in a prestigious London firm, she’s put her past behind her. Until a letter delivered by hand summons her to join the Morahan Inquiry.

Duty-bound, Sara accepts. Armed only with a list of names, dodging her one-time connection to the networks she infiltrates, she finds herself led by an anonymous source into the darkest corners of post-9/11 Britain.

What, or who, was the weapon at the heart of British terror?

IT IS A SECRET SOME WILL STOP AT NOTHING TO KEEP HIDDEN.

Westminster’s best-kept secrets are hunted down in this edge-of-your-seat political thriller – perfect for fans of Sam Bourne, Frank Gardner and Mick Herron.

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I love a good thriller and this is most definitely one.  Out in hardback now (paperback is due at the end of the year) and it’s also now available on eBook and Audiobook.  It’s published by HQ and imprint of HarperCollins so check out there website here for more information.

Hardback ISBN: 978008325619

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Read it already?  Please feel free to let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Happy reading and I hope you have a fabulous summer!

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Adult Fiction, Fiction, Summer Reads, Suspense, Thriller

Summer Reads – The Cliff House

Books to be swept away with this summer…

There are SO MANY great books around at the moment and so I’d like to share a few that I think are particularly exciting.  I’m not going to plop them all together in one post but give each the opportunity to shine in it’s own right…

Hold on to your hats… here are my summer 2019 recommendations.

The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings

Adult Fiction

 

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Here’s the synopsis:

Some friendships are made to be broken

Cornwall, summer of 1986.

The Davenports, with their fast cars and glamorous clothes, living the dream in a breathtaking house overlooking the sea.

If only… thinks sixteen-year-old Tamsyn, her binoculars trained on the perfect family in their perfect home.

If only her life was as perfect as theirs.

If only Edie Davenport would be her friend.

If only she lived at The Cliff House…

Amanda Jennings weaves a haunting tale of obsession, loss and longing, set against the brooding North Cornish coastline, destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.

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I read and reviews this novel when it was published in hardback last year and I absolutely LOVED it.  Please do check out my review here.  Set in one of my favourite places in the world, Cornwall; it’s a blooming brilliant read and perfect for right now whilst the sun is shining (or anytime really but especially now).  Just go grab a copy, okay!

The Cliff House is out in paperback today!  Visit the publishers (HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins) website here for more information on where you can buy this title (also your local indie will be able to get hold of it too if they don’t already have a copy.) 

Paperback ISBN: 978-0008248895

The Cliff House is also available in Hardback, eBook and on Audiobook.

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Read it already?  Please feel free to let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Happy reading and I hope you have a fabulous summer!

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9+, Adventure, Children's Fiction, Magic, Middle Grade Fiction, Summer Reads, Witchcraft

Summer Reading – Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day

Books to be swept away with this summer…

There are SO MANY great books around at the moment and so I’d like to share a few that I think are particularly exciting.  I’m not going to plop them all together in one post but give each the opportunity to shine in it’s own right…

Hold on to your hats… here are my summer 2019 recommendations.

Starfell by Dominique Valente

Willow Moss and the Lost Day

Recommended for Middle Grade (8+) & above…

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Here’s the synopsis:

The most spellbinding new children’s fantasy series of 2019, in a stunning hardback edition with beautiful black-and-white inside illustrations by Sarah Warburton. Perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell and Nevermoor.

Willow Moss, the youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches, has a magical ability for finding lost things – like keys, or socks, or wooden teeth. Useful, but not exactly exciting . . .

Then the most powerful witch in the world of Starfell turns up at Willow’s door and asks for her help. A whole day – last Tuesday to be precise – has gone missing. Completely. And, without it, the whole universe could unravel.

Now Willow holds the fate of Starfell in her rather unremarkable hands . . . Can she save the day – by finding the lost one?

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Starfell  was published in hardback by HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks in May and you can find where to buy it here (also your local indie will be able to get hold of it too if they don’t already have a copy.). It’s also available on both eBook and Audiobook.

ISBN: 9780008308391

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Read it already?  Please feel free to let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Happy reading and I hope you have a fabulous summer!

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Adult Fiction, Crime, ReadAgatha2019, Thriller

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

I 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.

Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Thriller

The Blameless Dead by Gary Haynes

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Today I am delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Blameless Dead by Gary Haynes. This 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.

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Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Suspense, Thriller

The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings

I’m so thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings.

Synopsis

Some friendships are made to be broken

Cornwall, summer of 1986.

The Davenports, with their fast cars and glamorous clothes, living the dream in a breathtaking house overlooking the sea.

If only… thinks sixteen-year-old Tamsyn, her binoculars trained on the perfect family in their perfect home.

If only her life was as perfect as theirs.

If only Edie Davenport would be her friend.

If only she lived at The Cliff House…

Amanda Jennings weaves a haunting tale of obsession, loss and longing, set against the brooding North Cornish coastline, destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.

Cliff House

You sit and watch them from the same place you always do.

I spy.

With my little eye.

The opening lines to this thrilling novel are sinister and full of meaning. The prologue setting the tone of the book from the get go. I read this in two days straight. I loved it. It held my interest and sparked a need in me to find out what happened and who indeed would become the victim in the end. I could feel it coming. The sense of foreboding that ran through the novel like a stream rushing towards the ultimate deluge when all was revealed.

The characterisation was fantastic. The different view points gave an interesting perspective on proceedings never quite allowing me to work out who I should feel sorry for, who was the victim and who was really injecting the posion that threaded its way through the story. I have my theory now but not wishing to spoil the story for you I’ll keep my thoughts to myself. Do message me though if you’d like to know.

The characters are complex, all damaged in their own way. This novel has so many layers. It looks deeply at how past experiences can taint our actions and lives forever but it also looks at how memories are never quite true but heavily influenced by who owns it. The same experience is never equally remembered by two different people and time has the power to change and alter events so that the reality can become grotesque and unbelievable in our self editing minds. We remember what we chose to remember from our own view point.

So what is the story about? The central character for me, is the house itself. Echoing faintly of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, The Cliff House not only takes the title but also takes centre stage. It seems to have a life of it’s own and possesses people in an unnatural way that makes them either love or hate it. Jennings has done a wonderful job of creating the atmosphere, providing the contrast of a hot summer in 1986 and the cold, sinister evil that seems to catch hold of both the occupants and visitors of The Cliff House.

As you read you know that things are going to go horribly wrong but you can’t quite work out what or who it will happen to. It was a thrilling read and one that lingers in my mind. I can almost hear the soft lapping of the water as Tamsyn swims through the still, dark water or the ‘caw’ of the raven.

Tamsyn has never recovered from the death of her father six years ago. The whole family have been suspended in their grief, doing all they can do to survive but never quite living. She takes solace in stolen visits to the house she and her father adored from afar when he was alive. The house they crept into to swim in the pool on the day he died. For Tamsyn there was always a part of her father still at the house and there wasn’t anywhere in the world she’d rather be. One day she sneaks back into the house only to be surprised by the early return of the owner and she soon becomes a part of the lives she has spent so long watching and idolising. And so begins a story of obsession and jealousy that can only lead to catastropy.

Amanda Jennings has a beautiful way with words. Her descriptive prose is stunning as she gets to the heart of the way her characters are feeling and sets each scene perfectly.

I turned my attention back to them all as they danced and screeched and smoked and drank. I was mesmerised by it all and relieved I’d stayed and not run back to St Just. This world was Wonderland and I was Alice. The characters around me were as weird and wonderful as the Queen of Hearts and the smoking Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat’s floating smile. I thought of my father, hear the voices he used when he read me that story. Saw his face twisted into the manic grin of the Mad Hatter as he poured tea on the Dormouse. As I watched them they seemed to grow more fantastical. Their clothes brighter and more outlandish. I watched them pop whole eggs into their mouths, the eggs so tiny it gave the illusion they were giants.

Tamsyn longs to be part of the life at The Cliff House. She longs to run away from the pain and frustration of her family, a family left splintered by the death of her father.

He drags his feet up the stairs. He can never be the man he knows he should be. A man his father would be proud to call his son. While his mother worries about red-topped bills and food in their bellies, what does he do? Kicks around feeling sorry for himself. Moans about unemployment and the government and Tory wankers who live up their own arses. He smokes weed he can’t afford. Apathy is his constant companion, his Peter Pan shadow, sewn to his heels so he can never escape. It’s like he’s slipped into a waking coma. He is numb.

Just wonderful. I especially loved the line ‘Apathy is his constant companion, his Peter Pan shadow, sewn to his heels so he can never escape’

This was a thrilling, exciting read and one that I would thoroughly recommend.

The Cliff House is published by HQ, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd in Hardback on the 17th of May 2018.

You can find out more about author Amanda Jennings here.