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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7+, 9+, Adventure, Children's Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Mystery, Summer Reads, Suspense

Summer Reads – Secrets of a Sun King

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.

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll

Recommended for Middle Grade (9+) & above…

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Here’s the synopsis:

London, 1922.

A discovery from ancient Egypt . . .
A cursed package . . .
The untold story of a young pharaoh . . .

When Lilian Kaye finds a parcel on her grandad’s doorstep, she is shocked to see who sent it: a famous Egyptologist, found dead that very morning, according to every newspaper in England!

The mysterious package holds the key to a story . . . about a king whose tomb archaeologists are desperately hunting for.

Lil and her friends must embark on an incredible journey – to return the package to its resting place, to protect those they love, and to break the deadly pharaoh’s curse . . .

 

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Emma is an incredibly talented children’s author.  Prior to being a full time author she taught in a secondary school and her novels show that she really understands children and how to talk to them.  She has a wonderful back catalogue of books and writes brilliant middle-grade historical fiction.  I would say they are good for Yr5 + and I even stock them in my own secondary school Library as I know Yr7’s (and some 8’s) still very much enjoy reading them.  They make a super read and perfect if you’re looking for something to read alongside your children (family book club anyone!?).

Secrets of a Sun King was published last year and there is also the wonderful When We Were Warriors which was publish in February this year.  Emma’s novels are readily available in all good book shops so do pop in and have a browse. Her novels are also available in eBook and Audiobook format.

Secrets of a Sun King ISBN: 9780571328499

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Read any of Emma’s novels 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, Blog Tour, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Relationship Stories

The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans

This evening I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for the latest novel by Harriet Evans, The Garden of Lost and Found.  From the moment I held it in my hands I knew I was in for a wonderful journey.

I adore a novel that features a house that is almost a character in itself.  They have such presence and there is something there, something that sucks me in, captures my imagination and whisks me away.  I am a homebody and I totally get the way we can become ingrained in a building.  Every memory clinging to bricks and mortar, every inch bringing new life and memories.  Of course the memories can’t always be good and even Nightingale House has had it’s share of tragedy.  This is a wonderful epic tale of love lost and saved, betrayal and trust, all wrapped up in a families history and even it’s future.  The house plays a big part but it is in the garden where memories are forged and generations come together.  The Garden of Lost and Found.

We begin in 1918 with Ned burning a painting, but not just any painting,  his most famous painting.  A painting whose story is ingrained throughout the pages of the book.  Why did he burn it? What madness possessed him.  It was all that remained of them. The children lost to them.  But how, when and where? It was incredibly enticing, I couldn’t stop reading, at times with tears, also anger but also with hope.  What a wonderful tale Harriet has created, almost as artfully as a painter bringing a canvas to life. I could see each character in my minds eye. They whispered their story through her words so I couldn’t turn away until I reached the very end.

Pure, wonderful escapism. Harriet wonderfully merges the difficulties faced by each of the women in this story.   From the 19th century right through to present day we watch the story of this family unfold.  Juliet, our modern day mum is going through a time of great change and upset.  As she tries to cope with all that it thrown at her she returns to the home of her grandmother and a house that holds many secrets; secrets that are now ready to be known. At times I read in horror at what was endured by the characters, and it was heartbreaking yet wonderfully moving.  A tale filled with love, courage, hate and bitterness but more than all of that it is a story of the importance of those who came before us and the hope that love can save the day.

This was a wonderful read that I consumed in a long weekend and thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour.

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Synopsis

Nightingale House, 1919. Liddy Horner discovers her husband, the world-famous
artist Sir Edward Horner, burning his best-known painting The Garden of Lost and
Found days before his sudden death.

Nightingale House was the Horner family’s beloved home – a gem of design created
to inspire happiness – and it was here Ned painted The Garden of Lost and Found,
capturing his children on a perfect day.
One magical moment. Before it all came tumbling down…

When Ned and Liddy’s great-granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale
House, she starts a new life with her three children, and opens the door onto a
forgotten world. The house holds its mysteries close but she is in search of answers.
For who would choose to destroy what they love most? Whether Ned’s masterpiece – or,
in Juliet’s case, her own children’s happiness.
Something shattered this corner of paradise. But what?

About the author

Harriet Evans

Harriet Evans Author PictureHarriet Evans is the author, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic, The Love of Her Life, I Remember You, Love Always, Happily Ever After and Not Without You. Before becoming a full time writer Harriet was a successful editor for a London publishing house. She lives in London with her family.

You can follow Harriet on Twitter at @HarrietEvans

and on Instagram at @harrietevansauthor

 

The Garden of Lost and Found was published in hardback by Headline Review on April 18th 2019. It is also available in eBook and Audiobook.

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Books that adults should read, Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018, Historical Fiction

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll

Emma is one of the best authors in historical fiction for children. Her first novel, Frost Hollow Hall, was published in 2013 and she has been inspiring children (and adults) to read ever since. I absolutely adore her books and it makes me incredibly happy that she is such a prolific writer as I am never particularly patient when waiting for the next. Her most recent novel, Secrets of a Sun King, is detailed below but do check out her backlist as they are ALL marvellous.

London, 1922. 

A discovery from ancient Egypt . . .
A cursed package . . .
The untold story of a young pharaoh . . .

When Lilian Kaye finds a parcel on her grandad’s doorstep, she is shocked to see who sent it: a famous Egyptologist, found dead that very morning, according to every newspaper in England!

The mysterious package holds the key to a story . . . about a king whose tomb archaeologists are desperately hunting for.

Lil and her friends must embark on an incredible journey – to return the package to its resting place, to protect those they love, and to break the deadly pharaoh’s curse . . .

Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Historical Fiction

The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner, a story that is especially poignant in this, the 100th anniversary since the end of the First World War.

The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner

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

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

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

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

But here’s a little more about Paul Marriner…

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

You can follow Paul on Twitter : @marriner_p

 

Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire by Brian Keaney

Thomas de Quincey
Thomas de Quincey, author of ‘Confessions of an English Opium-Eater’

Some years ago I came across Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.   It was a fleeting moment within my studies but he has lingered somewhere in the depths of my mind and I thought that one day I would like to discover a little more about the man who not only shared such an intimate and scandalous memoir but was also friends with William Wordsworth. I was therefore greatly delighted when Holland House publishers sent me a novel by the name of The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire by Brian Keany.

Alphaber of Hearts DesireThis is a novel born from true events in de Quincey’s life but it is a gloriously imagined work of fiction. When de Quincey was only 17 years old he ran away from his family and their expectations of what his future should be and spent some time in London.  In Confessions of an English Opium-Eater de Quincey recounts how he met a young street girl (Ann of Oxford Street) and it was this passage that lit the spark for Keaney’s novel. I must say I thought the novel rather wonderful and it has reignited my desire to explore de Quincey further.

‘I am nobody of consequence,’ the stanger replies. ‘I am only here to give you this.’  He holds out his hand and in his open palm there nestles a small silver locket upon a chain. ‘She asked me to return it to you, at the very end.’

A visitor calls with a gift and a message from the past…

In 1802 Thomas de Quincey, a young man from a comfortable middle-class background who would go on to become one of the most celebrated writers of his day, collapsed on Oxford Street and was discovered by a teenage prostitute who brought him back to her room and nursed him to health.  It was the beginning of a relationship that would introduce Thomas to a world just below the surface of London’s polite society, where pleasure was a tradeable commodity and opium could seem the only relief from poverty.  Yet it is also a world where love might blossom, and goodness survive.

The lives of a street girl, an aspiring writer, and a freed slave cross and re-cross the slums of London in this novel about the birth of passion, the burden of addiction, and the consolations of literature.

A young man taken far away from everything and everyone he has ever known and sold to the highest bidder; a young girl living in squalor, who chooses to run away to a brothel rather than endure the abuse of her mother’s lover; and a young man desperate to find his own path and not be bullied into a life without passion or creativity.  Through the lives of each of these characters we are taken back through the mist and fog to early 19th century London. A London where death came early to many through illness or violence. This is a richly woven story with some wonderful characters. It is incredibly vivid and beautifully written and I felt it a celebration of the written word not only in the way Brian Keaney shares the story with us, but as an underlying theme that runs through the novel.

He lived extremely frugally, spending nothing on his own attire or his appearance beyond what was necessary to preserve a degree of respectability, or on furnishings for the house or shop.  Reading was his sole recreation.  He brought books and he read them.  In time, I came to appreciate the wisdom of this way of living, and to make it my own.  Between us we sought to work our way through the great pile of books that littered the upstairs of the house.  But we never came anywhere near exhausting the volumes in Archie’s makeshift library for their number was always growing.

The novel is incredibly dark at times and I can fully understand why these characters would need the written word to escape their reality.  Harsh and unkind as it quite often was, yet amongst the darkness there was kindness, hope and love.  Something that can be difficult to see in times of hardship.  The London that Keaney brings to us is corrupt and filled with crime and selfishness.  It brings to mind Wordsworth’s sonnet London, 1802 in which he laments the capital and how it has lost its way.

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;

An excerpt from London, 1802 by William Wordsworth

I feel that Keaney has captured the tone of the city at this time.  The despair and darkness that many lived with and the effects of drug addiction.  A thought provoking, interesting novel and one that I thoroughly recommend.

This is the first time I have read anything by Brian Keaney although he had written many books for children, YA and The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire is his first book for adults. I very much look forward to reading more from him in the future.

You can find out more about Brian Keaney by visiting his website here.

The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire was published by Holland House Books in November 2017.

Thank you so much to Holland House Books for sending me a review copy of The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire.  

 

Adult Fiction, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Liz Robinson Reviews, Relationship Stories

Last Letter from Istanbul by Lucy Foley – a guest review by Liz Robinson

Last Letter from Istanbul is the latest offering from Sunday Times bestselling author, Lucy Foley.

Last letter from IstanbulJust gorgeous, this is a story to shine a light in the darkness, even in moments of despair.

Constantinople in 1921 is a confusing, often frightening place to be, in the first few pages, two reports from 1918, perfectly sum up the two opposing sides, each report almost interchangeable. Nur’s house is in the hands of the British and being used as a hospital, she finds her thoughts on the occupiers altering and conflicted when she takes an orphan in her care to be treated by George Munroe. Five separate yet entwined stories exist side by side, different time frames ensure the past spears the present, while the future whispers to the past. Lucy Foley has developed a beautiful writing style, the vivid colour stamps it’s impression on the pages, conjuring taste, touch, smells and sounds, as well as creating a feast for your eyes.

As the book began to come to a close, it felt as though two trains were on an inevitable collision course. The sweeping horror of war and occupation, both momentous and insidious, is clearly felt, yet it is the intimate, the individual connections, that were the highlight of this read for me. ‘Last Letter from Istanbul’ caresses, sparks and skewers thoughts and feelings, it is a truly penetrating and captivating read – highly recommended.

Synopsis:

Constantinople, 1921

Each day Nur gazes across the waters of the Bosphorus to her childhood home, a grand white house, nestled on the opposite bank. Memories float on the breeze – the fragrance of the fig trees, the saffron sunsets of languid summer evenings. But now those days are dead.

The house has been transformed into an army hospital, it is a prize of war in the hands of the British. And as Nur weaves through the streets carrying the embroideries that have become her livelihood, Constantinople swarms with Allied soldiers – a reminder of how far she and her city have fallen.

The most precious thing in Nur’s new life is the orphan in her care – a boy with a terrible secret. When he falls dangerously ill Nur’s world becomes entwined with the enemy’s. She must return to where she grew up, and plead for help from Medical Officer George Monroe.

As the lines between enemy and friend become fainter, a new danger emerges – something even more threatening than the lingering shadow of war.

Last Letter From Istanbul will be published by HarperCollins on the 5th of April 2018.