Celebrating Books for Adults and YA – 2018 and before.

 


Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

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I love a good drama no matter how it’s presented. Be it radio, television, book or on the big screen, each method has a thoroughly unique way of bringing the story to you. This is one of the reasons I love storytelling, there are so many possibilities. Each begins with the storyteller themselves and then the reader/viewer/listener comes along and creates their own version. We all see things with different eyes and I believe each reader/viewer/listener will experience the story in their own unique way. Our beliefs and our personalities all have an effect on what we take from a story. We won’t all love or hate the same things and when we enter a story, as individuals, we interpret it in our own way.

I do love to read the books from which the stories originated but I’m not precious about which should come first. For example when I was younger I found The Lord of the Rings difficult to get into, that is until I saw the films. I was swept away by Peter Jackson’s vision and it encouraged me to return to the novels and now I find their complexity absorbing and fascinating. There is generally so much more in the books themselves and I found it easier to dive into them after being spellbound by the films.

One of the most heavily adapted authors over the years is the wonderful Agatha Christie. I have quite literally grown up on the adventures of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. It’s easy to be swept away by a new adaptation on our screens but I’d love to take a moment to remind you of the pure joy of falling into one of her novels and discovering her stories exactly how she intended them.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is possibly not as festive a read as the title suggests, for as you’d expect murder casts a shadow over the festivities. I was given, by my husband, a beautifully produced hardback edition, published by Harper Collins, for my wedding anniversary in October. It’s been a while since I’ve actually read an Agatha Christie novel so I very much looked forward to this festive treat. The inscription alone was enough to assure me I was in for something special.

My Dear James,

You have always been one of the most faithful and kindly of my readers, and I was therefore seriously perturbed when I received from you a word of criticism.

You complained that my murders were getting too refined – anaemia, in fact. You yearned for a “good violent murder with lots of blood.” A murder where there was no doubt about its being murder!

So this is your special story – written for you. I hope it may please.

Your affectionate sister-in-law,

Agatha

I was completely absorbed by Agatha’s superb plotting and characterisation skills. I absolutely adore these classic, old fashioned mysteries. I recently read that she began writing her stories at the end and worked her way backwards. The complexity to them certainly fits this method. What fun she must have had! There are generally several possibilities as to who the murderer could be and she drops clues a plenty along the way. When watching the screen adaptations I often find it hard to discover who the guilty party is, it is difficult to squeeze all the vital information in along the way but as I read I found myself nodding, “Yes, but of course!”

In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas we see the gathering of an estranged family at Christmas time. Old Simeon Lee is a ‘thin, shrivelled figure of an old man’, a man looking forward to a Christmas surrounded by his family. Yet this old man is not feeling sentimental. He is a wicked, cruel man who is intent on stirring up a hornets nest. As the family slowly gather Agatha gives us an insight into their relationships with the old man. Before long old Simeon Lee meets a violent, bloody end and any one of them could have been tempted to yield the knife. Yet the murder took place behind a locked door with only the victim discovered inside. A complicated case but one that Hercule Poirot expertly unpicks.

The book is rather wonderful and I was immediately curious to see how it was transferred on to the small screen. Thankfully ITV player currently has a number of the wonderful adaptations starring David Suchet as Poirot and so I was able to settle down with a selection of festive treats and watch. The adaptation was of course changed to suit the time constraints of television and also some details had been tweaked but I still enjoyed it immensely. For me the book was the winner as generally we can discover so much more about character and plot that may not always come across on the screen. I also preferred Agatha’s original detail. Reading the novel also reminded me of where all these programmes that thrill and entertain us come from. It all begins with words on paper and for me that’s an exciting and inspiring thought.

Synopsis

It is Christmas Eve. The Lee family reunion is shattered by a deafening crash of furniture, followed by a high-pitched wailing scream. Upstairs, the tyrannical Simeon Lee lies dead in a pool of blood, his throat slashed. But when Hercule Poirot, who is staying in the village with a friend for Christmas, offers to assist, he finds an atmosphere not of mourning but of mutual suspicion. It seems everyone had their own reason to hate the old man.

For more information why not visit the Agatha Christie website here.

“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

Macbeth.

 


Attend by West Camel

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Every now and then a novel comes along that is something particularly extraordinary and unusual.  Attend is one such novel.  A tapestry in novel form, West has built a story that brings together the threads of three very different lives.  Characters who have suffered, are suffering, who feel broken and cut off. Failures, unable to fit in and yet when it comes down to it, as we weave our way through the story we can see that those around them are just the same, if not worse.  Perhaps these broken souls can actually save themselves and those around them after all.

Deborah is this strange, almost ghost like figure.  She is old, very old.  A lonely, invisible soul who believes she can never die.  She also believes that people can’t see her yet Sam and Anne both stumble across her at a time when each are consumed with a sense of despair and sadness.  Sam has moved to Deptford in the hope to finding his way and to escape the cycle of self hate and one night stands with strange men.  Anne is a recovering addict, ostracised from her family, daughter and grandson.  She’s now clean but those closest to her are set in their belief that she’ll never change, that she’ll always be a disappointment.

For both Sam and Anne, their encounters with Deborah are confusing and almost unbelievable and yet somehow she begins to make them see things a little more clearly with her strange stories and adventures. She seems to lurk in the background and yet is a central character leading the story; the thread that brings them together if you like.

This is a brilliantly written and impressive debut from West.  Words at times can be crass and harsh, making me wince and at other times beautiful and lyrical, perfectly capturing all at once the heartbreak and the brutality, as well as the beauty and wonder of the lives we are visiting.  There is a magical mystery that is held beneath the streets of Deptford, in tunnels where secrets lie still within the dank darkness. Yet these secrets begin to surface as dangerous events threaten those dear to both Sam and Anne. Action must be taken and so both face their own demons head on for the sake of those they love.

This is a tale that shows us the impact our actions can have… they seep out into the world, affecting people and events far more than we realise. No matter how small we feel our lives are, they matter.  Even for Deborah, who felt invisible and forgotten for so long.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and to Orenda Books for a copy of the eBook.  Attend is a wonderful, rich atmospheric novel and I thoroughly recommend it.

Synopsis

‘A highly anticipated debut, blending the magical realism of Angela Carter and the gritty authenticity of Eastenders’

When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah. Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne
and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises. With echoes of Armistead Maupin, Attend is a beautifully written, darkly funny, mesmerisingly emotive and deliciously told debut novel, rich in finely wrought characters and set against the unmistakable backdrop of Deptford and South London.

 

About the Author

1Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist, and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his work as editor at Orenda Books with writing and editing a wide range of material for various arts organisations, including ghost- writing a New-Adult novel and editing The Riveter magazine for the European Literature Network. He has also written several short
scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres, and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. Attend is his first novel.

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Odette by Jessica Duchen

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There is something rather wonderfully unique about this tale. A fairytale for grown ups with all the darkness and magic that surrounds them. I absolutely adore the ballet Swan Lake; the music, the dancing and the storytelling is all wonderful and something I never tire of. When I read the synopsis of Odette my immediate thought was ‘I have to read this!’ I was curious how this tragic story could be brought into the twenty-first century.

By day Odette lives as a swan and then at dusk she becomes a woman and so it has been for nearly 200 years after being cursed by the evil Baron Von Rothbart. She lost everything that day and ever since has been looking for her one true love, a love that will last a lifetime – as this, she believes, is the key to break the spell. Then on a cold, stormy night she crashes through Mitzi’s window. Mitzi who is nursing her own broken heart after the death of her father and the end of a relationship. Mitzi who now wonders if she might be going mad. After all how else would you explain a woman who is half human, half swan?

With most fairy-tales true love is the key to breaking the spell but this is no ordinary fairy-tale and I was carried along following the twists and turns, wondering if a young woman from the 19th century could actually find true love in the 21st.  The combination of villainy, romance, music and literature all added up to an enchanting read.

I absolutely adored this novel. It is a wonderful story and the ending quite unexpected but perfect. The characters remain with me long after reading the final word and I can still see them all in my mind’s eye. I’d love to know what life has in store for them next.

This is a story about finding love, empathy, loyalty and friendship.  Yet it also touches on contemporary issues such as homelessness, exploitation, illegal immigrants and integration.   It shimmered and shined from beginning to end and held me under it’s spell long after I read the final page. Thoroughly recommended.

SYNOPSIS
When a swan crashes through her window at the height of a winter storm, Mitzi Fairweather decides to nurse the injured bird back to health. At sunset, though, it becomes a human being.

This unexpected visitor is Odette, the swan princess – alone, in danger and adrift in 21st-century Britain, dependent on the kindness of strangers. Bird by day, woman by night, with no way to go home to Russia, she remains convinced that only a man’s vow of eternal love can break her spell.

Mitzi is determined to help Odette, but as the two try to hide the improbable truth, their web of deception grows increasingly tangled…

A narrated concert based on ODETTE is in the planning stages with the award-winning violinist Fenella Humphreys. pianist Viv McLean and Jessica as narrator. Music will include a celebration of Tchaikovsky’s magical score for Swan Lake, plus works by Chopin, Liszt and Gershwin. The first performances will be at Music at Mansfield Street, London W1, 17 April 2019 and St Mary’s, Perivale, 27 April 2019. – This sounds just wonderful!

About The Author

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Jessica Duchen is an acclaimed author and journalist, specialising in words for, with and about music. Her work has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times, plus numerous magazines around the world. Her first five novels have gathered a loyal fan-base and wide acclaim. Music plays a vital role in her books, and she frequently narrates concert versions of Alicia’s Gift, Hungarian Dances and Ghost Variations.

Jessica is the librettist for the opera Silver Birch by Roxanna Panufnik, commissioned by Garsington Opera and shortlisted for a 2018 International Opera Award. Current projects include the libretto for a youth opera with composer Paul Fincham for Garsington 2019 (an updating of an Oscar Wilde fairy tale) and two large-scale choral works with Roxanna Panufnik.

She was born within the sound of Bow Bells, studied music at Cambridge and held editorial posts on several music magazines before going freelance to concentrate on writing. She edited a piano magazine for five years and was then classical music and ballet correspondent for The Independent from 2004-2016. Her output also includes plays, poetry, biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré (published by Phaidon) and her popular classical music blog, JDCMB. She lives in London with her violinist husband and two cats. She enjoys playing the piano, cookery, long walks and obscure books about music.

Thank you to Anne at RandomThingsTours for my ebook to read and review and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.  This is definitely one I will be buying for my bookshelves.

For a longer synopsis and an extract from the book please visit: https://unbound.com/books/odette/

LINKS

ORDER FROM UNBOUND

https://unbound.com/books/odette/

AMAZON: PAPERBACK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Odette-Jessica-Duchen/dp/1789650003/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1539504625&sr=8-1&keywords=Odette+duchen

AMAZON: KINDLE

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Odette-Jessica-Duchen-ebook/dp/B07JC5NJ4Y/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1539504625&sr=8-2&keywords=Odette+duchen

WATERSTONES

https://www.waterstones.com/book/odette/jessica-duchen/9781789650006

JESSICA DUCHEN’S WEBSITE

https://www.jessicaduchen.co.uk

 

 

 


Nici’s Christmas Tale by Jean Gill – Blog Tour

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A stand-alone short story in the multi-award-winning Troubadours Quartet series

1157: Aquitaine. The wolves are coming! At midnight on Christmas Eve, while the blizzard blasts snow through every crack in the castle walls, Nici the Shepherd’s Dog stands guard in the sheepfold.

Beside him as usual are his pack and the flock they protect but this night is not usual at all. A small boy braves the snowy night, seeking the protection of his great friend while he is banned from his parents’ quarters in the castle.  Nici recalls other times and other dangers, his trials and failures, the reasons why he ran away with a young girl, now the little boy’s mother.  He would still give his life in a heartbeat for Lady Estela. And yet, on this snowy night, he cannot help her. So, while he waits and comforts Estela’s son, he tells his own puppies the story of a dog’s life.

Nici’s Christmas Tale is a short story, at only 58 pages it is a quick read but each one of those pages is full of rich detail and a beautifully told dog’s tale.

This is my first encounter of the Troubadours Quartet series and indeed of Jean Gill’s writing.  I was drawn to the idea of a dog being the narrator and I think Jean has stepped into the mind Nici perfectly.

Nici is a Great Pyrenees.  My knowledge of dogs is very limited but you can tell that Jean has a great love for the breed and knows an awful to about them.  Nici’s tale is set in the 12th century so it took some research of shepherding of this time for Jean but she has captured time and place perfectly.

Nici’s bond with both his humans and pack is incredibly moving and, from my limited expertise of dogs, absolutely spot on.  I love her take on a new life coming into the world on Christmas Eve, with all the worry and trauma that surrounds the birth, especially during medieval times.  As Nici recounts his story to his pups we are also taken on his journey, following through his hardships, his courage and at times his despair.  This is one brave dog who has encountered great cruelty but never shied away from his duty and what he felt was right.  He is certainly a dog I would like to have by my side.

This is a lovely, unusual Christmas tale that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Although I am not familiar with The Troubadours Quartet and the adventures of Estela and Dragonetz, I have enjoyed getting to know their most loyal companion and I now look forward to reading more of their tales too.

About The Author

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Jean Gill is a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with two scruffy dogs, a beehive named ‘Endeavour’, a Nikon D750 and a man. For many years, she taught English and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Wales. She is mother or stepmother to five children so life was hectic.

Publications are varied, including prize-winning poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.
Sign up to Jean special readers’ group at http://www.jeangill.com/ for exclusive news, offers and a free book.

You can follow Jean on Twitter: @writerjeangill

You can purchase the ebook of Nici’s Christmas Tale here.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and thanks to both her and Jean for the review copy.  I’ve really enjoyed visiting Nici’s world.

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The Cairo Brief by Fiona Veitch Smith

Poppy Denby is intrigued when she is invited to attend the auction for the Death Mask of Nefertiti. Held on the country estate of Sir James Maddox, a famous explorer, the auction promises to be a controversial and newsworthy affair.

Representatives from the world’s leading museums are gathering to bid on the mask, which was discovered in Egypt. Poppy quickly sniffs out that the mask was not the only thing found that night: the underground chamber also contained a dead body.

Poppy and her colleagues from The Daily Globe, who are trying to stay one step ahead of their rivals from The London Courier, dismiss rumours about the mask’s ancient curse. But when one of the auction party is murdered, and someone starts stalking Poppy, the race is on to find the killer before “the curse” can strike again…

1-6The Cairo Brief is the fourth in the POPPY DENBY INVESTIGATES series but it is the first that I have read. Although some references are made to previous storylines I in no way felt that I was missing vital information so please don’t worry if you’re starting here too. Of course like me, once you’ve read The Cairo Brief, you’ll probably be itching to read the previous three novels too!

I’ve always been a fan of an Agatha Christie type of thriller. I love the gentle (yet deadly), old fashioned mystery that has a host of characters and circumstances expertly woven into the story with many motives and possibilities. I adore trying to work out who the guilty party is and this novel by Fiona Veitch Smith ticks all the boxes for me.

So what’s right about it? Firstly, the time and setting.  It has that brilliant 1920’s atmosphere and style.  Secondly I love the historical element of the story.  Based around antiquities theft, Fiona has drawn on this interesting, controversial and emotive subject to create an intriguing storyline.  Do check out her guest article below about Poppy Denby and the murky world of antiquities theft.  It makes fascinating reading.

Another important element of this story is how Fiona combines a mixture of fictional and real characters into the story.  Bringing authenticity and a sense of the time in which is set.   Of course the main protagonist is Poppy herself, our amateur sleuth/journalist who has ‘a nose for murder’.  Just like Agatha Christie’s  Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, you know the killer is in trouble if she is around.   She’s feisty, courageous and smart, and definitely a woman who knows her own mind. The police are also well written and though we see their own investigation from afar, they aren’t made out to be bumbling fools and but part of a collaboration between journalists and law enforcement to get to the bottom of the crime. I love the way the plot gradually unfolds, with the mystery thickening throughout the novel until it finally reaches it’s climax.  Can you work out who did it?  If you’re anything like me you may well change your mind several times before the end.

For me this is the perfect novel to curl up on a winters afternoon/evening, perhaps with  a glass of mulled wine (or like Poppy, a glass of Sherry) by your side and lose yourself in a little escapism and mystery.

Now read on for some an insight into antiquities theft from author, Fiona Veitch Smith…

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Guest Article by Fiona Veitch Smith

Poppy Denby and the Murky World of Antiquities Theft

Think back to the last time you were in the British Museum. Or any national museum in a European or North American country. Did you stand in awe of ancient artefacts from Africa, Asia or South America? Did you wonder how they managed to travel so far from their native lands? Most of these artefacts were collected by European adventurers and archaelogists during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but not all of them were legally acquired.

This is the backdrop to my new Poppy Denby Investigates book: The Cairo Brief. An ancient death mask of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti is up for auction in London. Representatives from some of the world’s leading museums are there to bid for the mask, but so are two people from the Cairo Museum, claiming the mask was stolen and should not be up for sale at all. When one of the auction party is murdered, our intrepid sleuth sets about finding out not only who dunnit, but also how the mask came to be in London in the first place.

As part of my research for writing the book I did a short online course in art and antiquities theft, with the University of Glasgow (Future Learn). I learned about subsistence looting where local people consider ancient artefacts fair game to earn a living. I also learned about some of the convoluted routes that were taken to ‘launder’ artefacts so that when they got to the West they appeared to have come through legitimate channels.

I then went on to do further reading into some of the more controversial antiquities held in Western museums. One of these is the Bust of Nefertiti at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. This was found by a German archaeologist called Ludwig Borchardt in 1912 and was the springboard for my story in The Cairo Brief. The mask in my story is fictional, but the Borchardt bust of Nefertiti is the real thing. However, up until this day, it is said that the bust was stolen by the Germans and the Egyptians want it back.

Just last year there was a high profile case in America of a Christian arts and crafts chain called Hobby Lobby that was found to have illegally acquired Iraqi artefacts (over 5,000 of them!). They were fined $3million and had to return all the artefacts. The company claimed they were unaware of all the regulations and procedures, but the US Department of Justice said that they had gone ahead with the purchase despite being warned that it may not all be above board.

And then today, just as I was preparing to write this article, I read that a delegation from Easter Island have come to London to beg the British Museum to return one of their statues that was stolen in 1868. It’s a heartrending tale in which the leader of the delegation tearfully told the director of the British Museum: ‘you have our soul’. They have offered to make a replica of the statue, free of charge, in return for the original that is not to the people of the island simply a piece of art, but a part of their national psyche. I will watch this case with interest.

“Twenty thousand pounds! Is that the final offer from New York? Dr Mortimer? Herr Stein? No? All right then, for twenty thousand pounds the death mask of Nefertiti is going… going… gone!” Albert Carnaby, auctioneer in The Cairo Brief.

1-5Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and university lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Her 1920s mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction), was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger award in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee, was a finalist for the Foreword Review mystery novel of the year 2016/17. Book four in the series, The Cairo Brief, has been shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize. For more on the series visit www.poppydenby.com

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Many thanks to Fiona for such an interesting article and some great links.

Thank you so much also to Rhoda Hardie for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.  I can’t wait to catch up on the previous three Poppy Denby mysteries.

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Good Samaritans by Will Carver

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Two women have been murdered. Some time apart but it’s undoubtedly the same killer, yet nothing ties them together.

Seth is an insomniac. He feels frustrated, lonely and spends his nights drinking coffee and talking to strangers on the phone.

Maeve is his wife. She drinks too much and spends her nights alone in the marital bed listening to the murmurs of her husband as he talks and waiting for him to make yet another mistake so that he’ll need her again.

Hadley is depressed. She’s tried killing herself and still thinks about it constantly until one night she decides to call the Samaritans. Finally she finds someone she can talk to, someone who understands. At least that what she thinks…

Wowser, this is one that will stay with me for some time. Brutal, thrilling with no holds barred, this is an extraordinary novel; gradually building pace so you’re literally unable to put the book down until you arrive breathlessly at the end. It is somewhat disturbing right from the start but I found myself unable to look away. The characters are brilliantly constructed and each view point gradually adds to the story until the puzzle is complete.

This is the first novel I have read by Will Carver and I absolutely love his writing style. His short, punchy chapters are brilliant, each told from a different viewpoint. Great characterisation and a knack for picking up on the minute details of ordinary life, make this an extraordinary piece of crime fiction. He highlights society, the use of social media, the monotony of life when lived through technology; the things we miss and the sheer loneliness that we feel despite being surrounded by people, either in reality or virtually. The way we constantly suffer an overflow of information; it messes with our minds causing insomnia, depression and pushes us to spend our lives judging people, shutting out those ones that are close and yet never really knowing what is going on beneath the surface. Always comparing and never satisfied with our own reality.

‘….And he was sick of the way social media had made people less sociable and how the great art of conversation had seemingly been lost somewhere between your latest faux-bragging status and your next hashtag.’

I’m not sure that I particularly warmed to any of the characters but each one held me spellbound as I tried to work out how the dead women fitted in to their stories… and if another was about to join them. Who was the killer? There are clues dropped along the way but my mind kept changing as I explored every possibility. The end didn’t disappoint and already I’m flicking back through to look over the clues.

Good Samaritans is quite hard hitting. There are elements that we can all relate to – some of the references to Facebook certainly made me think and there were many parts that I found quite shocking and yet unable to stop reading. This is not a read for the easily shocked so be aware there are some hard-hitting scenes but oh my it’s good. I, for one, could not put it down.

One crossed wire, three dead bodies and six bottles of bleach

Seth Beauman can’t sleep. He stays up late, calling strangers from his
phonebook, hoping to make a connection, while his wife, Maeve, sleeps
upstairs. A crossed wire finds a suicidal Hadley Serf on the phone to Seth, thinking she is talking to The Samaritans. But a seemingly harmless, late-night hobby turns into something more for Seth and for Hadley, and soon their late-night talks are turning into day-time meet-ups. And then this dysfunctional love story turns into something altogether darker, when Seth brings Hadley home…

And someone is watching…

Dark, sexy, dangerous and wildly readable, Good Samaritans marks the
scorching return of one of crime fiction’s most exceptional voices.

About the author

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Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the JanuaryDavid series (Arrow). He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK at age 11, when his sporting career took off. He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and
television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company.

He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, while working on his next thriller. He lives in Reading with his two children.

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Thank you so much to Anne Cater for my review copy and for inviting me to take part in this blog tour with #RandomThingsTours This is another awesome novel from the good people at Orenda Books.

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The Lingering by SJI Holliday

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‘Jack and Ali are looking for a fresh start and a new home at Rosalind House, a self-sufficient commune established in a former psychiatric hospital.  But the couple are clearly not all they seem, and their arrival sparks a chain of unexpected and unexplained incidents.

As the disturbing history of Rosalind House and the nearby village come to light, events from the past return to haunt the residents, and someone is seeking retribution…’

Atmospheric, chilling, the tension masterfully built as the true horror of the story is revealed.  Today I’m delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Lingering by SJI Holliday and this one, dear reader, is a cracker of a novel.

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Something lingers at Rosalind House. The place has a reputation with the locals and certainly the commune that is currently based there is only adding kindling to the flames. Yet all they seek is to live in peace and remove themselves from the excess of modern life. They simply seek an escape.

Jack and Ali arrive in what appears to be a last ditch attempt to save their marriage, their sanity and themselves.  They have left everything behind and yet there is the sense they are running away from something, something that isn’t quite ready to let them go.  Their circumstances are revealed gradually through the story and I have to say that parts of their backstory gave me more chills than the events at Rosalind House. Not everyone is suited to the life of a commune and Ali struggles to adapt. Strange things start to happen and it’s not long before she begins to doubt her decision to go there. Their past however, doesn’t seem to want to leave them and it creeps slowly into the day to day life of the commune.  Their arrival causes Rosalind House to stir.  It’s dark history leaving them unable to find any peace until the icy, chill of its touch reaches out and grabs them. Evil has been lingering in the shadows of Rosalind House and it seems that Jack and Ali’s arrival only helps bring it out into the light.

A fantastic mix of psychological thriller, murder mystery and ghost story, The Lingering is simply wonderful.  It pulls you in right from the get-go and consumes your thoughts long after the final page is turned.  Even now, several weeks later, it still send shivers down my spine and creeps into my dreams.  I do love a creepy, story but just one word of advice… perhaps don’t read this in the bath.

The Lingering by S J I Holliday is another fantastic offering from the wonderful Orenda Books

You can follow Susi on Twitter @SJIHolliday or visit her website: sjiholliday.com.

Thank you so much to Anne at and Orenda Books for my review copy and for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour.  This is a book I will definitely be recommending and I now look forward to reading more from S J I Holliday.

There is a fantastic promotional video on Facebook which I very much urge you to take a peek at here.


Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

EVERYONE’S GOING TO REMEMBER WHERE THEY WERE WHEN THE TAPS RAN DRY

The drought – or the tap-out, as everyone calls it – has been going on for a while. Life has become an endless list of don’t: don’t water the lawn, don’t take long showers, don’t panic. But now there is no water left at all.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation and violence. When her parents go missing, she and her younger brother must team up with an unlikely group in search of water. Each of them will need to make impossible choices to survive.

The kitchen faucet makes the most bizarre sounds.

It coughs and wheezes like it’s gone asthmatic. It gurgles like someone drowning. It spits once, and then goes silent.

And so it begins…

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There are certain things in modern life that are a given. We go to the supermarket, we buy food. We go home and then cook and eat that food. Our neighbours are often there for us in a crisis. Help is always on hand. We have fresh water to drink and wash with. We only have to turn on the tap. So imagine if one day the water ran out. Imagine the worst possible drought. Not in some far off country that you see in commercials asking for aid but in the country you live. A country where swimming pools are common place and everything is taken for granted.

Dry is a great novel. Through the eyes of a regular, American, suburban family we see the breakdown of society. Every aspect of human nature is shown within this story. The heroes, the cowards and the villains. Those who find their calling, those who find their strength and also those who will take and do anything, at whatever cost, to profit from the suffering of others.

After the taps run dry, Alyssa and her brother Garrett watch their parents head off towards a promised supply of fresh water.

‘See you in a bit’ Alyssa says as they go but she’s uneasy. Supplies are dwindling fast and people are turning on each other as the panic begins to spread. When their parents don’t return, the youngsters embark on a dangerous journey to find them and the water. With danger around every corner and not knowing who they can trust, things begin to spiral out of control and it’s not long before Alyssa and Garrett are fighting for their lives.

They form an unlikely fellowship with some other kids, kids they wouldn’t normally have anything to do with, but there is nothing normal about their situation and it doesn’t take them long to work out that if they’re going to survive this, they’re going to have to work together.

An absolutely electrifying story that looks at the many sides of human nature and the lengths that people will go to to survive in a world that suddenly turns upside down.

Dry is published by Walker Books.


The Museum of Cathy by Anna Stothard

Today I would like to throw back to a title published in 2016 by Salt Publishing. It was fantastic and even now, more than two years later I’m still thinking of it.

Museum of Cathy

This latest novel from the acclaimed author of the Orange-longlisted The Pink Hotel is an exploration of memories, consequence and the difficulties of living with the past. Cathy is a curator of natural history in Berlin. She is engaged, about to receive an award for her work and beginning to feel that she has finally escaped her past, a past that she keeps locked away within her own museum of curiosities. Yet on the day she is due to receive her award she receives a gift that tells her that a shadow that haunts her memories has resurfaced to claim back what he feels belongs to him.

I was completely swept away with this story. Stothard’s technique allows us to watch events unfold with regular insights into Cathy’s past that slowly reveal the reality of what she has been hiding from with a steadily rising sense of foreboding. I found the exploration of characters sensitively handled and yet provided enough suspense and contained a level of sinister tension that had me guessing just what each one may be capable of. This is exquisite, beautifully written prose and the use of the museum as a theme throughout with setting, a means of storytelling and metaphor, is quite brilliantly executed. It is personal, it is universal and it is something that lives within each of us and the memories we hold. Cathy’s story moved me and I so wanted her to find the escape she desperately needed. Highly recommended.

And here’s the synopsis

From the author of the Orange Prize long-listed, The Pink Hotel Cathy is a young woman who escapes her feral childhood in a rundown chalet on the East coast of England to become a curator of natural history in Berlin. Although seemingly liberated from her destructive past, she commemorates her most significant memories and love affairs – one savage, one innocent, one full of potential – in a collection of objects that form a bizarre museum of her life. When an old lover turns up at a masked party at Berlin’s natural history museum and events take a terrifying turn, Cathy must confront their shared secrets in order to protect her future. This is an exquisitely crafted, rare and original work.’

The Museum of Cathy was published by Salt Publishing in November 2016.

Find out more about author Anna Stothard by visiting her website here.

Find out more about Salt Publishing by visiting their website here.


1-1Help the Witch by Tom Cox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Palm Beach Finland by Antti Tuomainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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


VOX by Christina Dalcher

100 words. That’s all you have per day. You are being watched, your every action and movement monitored and if you step out of line the consequences are unthinkable. This is America, once the land of the free but now the land of the ‘Pure’. The unimaginable has happened. For women the freedom of speech has been eradicated.

Amazing, thought provoking and absolutely terrifying, Vox is so relevant it’s frightening. It’s a stark message to never stop trying to be heard. Never let anyone take away your voice.

Absolutely brilliant, Vox is the novel that everybody will be talking about. (100 words)

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The Light Between Us by Katie Khan

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A classic unrequited love story…with a twist.

The brilliant new novel from the author of Hold Back The Stars

Thea and Isaac were close, but they’ve grown apart.

Thea world tirelessly, convinced that she can prove everyone around her wrong – convinced she can prove that time travel is possible. But when her latest attempts goes awry, she finds herself picking up the phone and calling her old friend.

Issac is in New York – it’s the middle of the night, but when he sees who’s calling him, he cannot ignore his phone. At Thea’s request, he travels home, determined to help her in her hour of need.

But neither of them are prepared for what they will discover when he gets there.

The Light Between Us is a story of second chances and time travel. It begs the dangerous question that we all ask ourselves – what could have been? “

Katie’s novels are completely unique. They are love stories that are complex with plots that are smart, thought-provoking and brave. She makes us question the reality that surrounds us and just how far love can take us.

The Light Between Us is a story about love, yes, but it is also about the choices and actions we take and the effect they have on the world around us. There is also a very powerful message about mis-understanding, lack of communication and jumping to conclusions.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the story as I wouldn’t want to give anything away.  I thoroughly enjoyed discovering as I read and I urge you to do the same. This is science fiction slap bang in the here and now, totally relatable and current. The writing as always is brilliantly sharp.  Setting, character and place are brought to life wonderfully; there is also adventure, danger and of course a love story.

She feels the thrill of excitement – her skin tingles with the power of the laser, magnified by the glass house; the hairs on her arms stand up and she can’t help but smile.

Is it working? There’s the smell of electricity in the room, and a sound of crackling, underpinned by a thrumming hum. It must be working – she knew it would. She was right all along.

She hopes Rosy’s all right in the glass house, and that it’s not too warm. She should check on her.

Thea shields her eyes with her arm, peering towards the glass house where, inside, Rosy should be standing – is she there. It’s too bright to see. Thea moves gingerly towards the cubicle, protecting herself from the light, when –

‘Fuck!’

A blinding colourless brightness, then the power goes out with a womp as the lab falls into total darkness.

‘Oh, hell.’

They stand at the centre of it all, surrounded by the black.

‘I think we did something bad.’

The Light Between Us by Katie Khan

I love a novel that leaves my mind full of images at the end. This story has certainly stayed with me and the vividness, light and emotion along with it. Katie has the ability to capture the magic, wonder and fragility that encompasses love.  As always there is an element of heartbreak, light and darkness but I absolutely love the way Katie ends her novels. This one was particularly memorable and as with Hold Back The Stars, I can see The Light Between Us coming to film or tv.

Katie is an exciting, intelligent author and I have loved both of her novels so far. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Thank you so much to Hannah Bright for sending me a copy of The Light Between Us, it was an absolute joy to read.

Also by Katie Khan…

Hold Back The Stars

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Ninety minutes.

A few years from now, not too far in the future, two people meet.

It is a classic story of boy meets girl.

Except that it’s not.

When we find them, they have an hour and a half left.

Unless they can save themselves, they won’t survive.

The clock is ticking.

Bittersweet and life-affirming, Hold Back the Stars is the love story of the year.

Beautifully written, this stunning, unusual debut weaves its way through an intense, all-encompassing first love.  A love forbidden by the times in which they live and yet one that they’ll risk everything not to lose.

Hold Back the Stars is set in a future where the world has been ravaged by war and a new society introduced. The earth is now peaceful but this comes at a price. There are rules and one of the rules is that you don’t fall in love until you reach the appropriate age.  Yet the heart rarely follows rules and when Carys and Max meet its ten years before either should be thinking of settling down.  They are young, rebellious and maybe the system no longer works for their generation.

Throughout the novel Carys and Max are desperately trying to find a way to survive after their ship is damaged and they are stranded in space and rapidly running out of both air and options.  I loved discovering their relationship as Khan dips in and out of their past moving us towards the moment that brought them to be being in space and the catastrophic situation they find themselves in.  It is intense and Khan conjures up the sheer vastness of space and their desperation as they watch the minute’s tick away taking them closer to death.  Yes this is a novel about survival but ultimately it is a unique love story about how true love can turn our world upside down and also, maybe it can be the very thing that saves us too.

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Katie Khan

I write books about light and space.”

To find out more about Katie you can visit her website here.

You can also follow Katie on Twitter: @Katie_khan

 


Coldwater by Samuel Parker

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The Vigilantes behind him are nothing compared to the enemy within.

Having forfeited his youth to the state prison system, Michael moved back to the still vacant house of his parents in a town with one stoplight.  A town that hated him.  Had always hated him.  And was ready to pick up where the prison system had left off.

Now he’s on the run from men who’ve tried to kill him once; but Michael is more than an ex-con.  A powerful, sinister force skulks within him, threatening and destructive.  What – and who – it will destroy next is the only real question.

From the bold voice that brought readers down with ‘Purgatory Road’ comes a new pulse-pounding, spine-rattling tale of vengeance and justice.

There is something rather delicious about a good thriller.  The kind of thriller that sweeps you up in the story, pushing you on to the next chapter, making you turn page after thrilling page. With Coldwater  Samuel Parker has created such a story.  From the first page this was absolutely gripping.  I was completely enthralled.

THE DAY WAS BORN IN DARKNESS

Michael opened his eyes and saw nothing.

Blackness.

The motes in his eyes drifted across the void.

His mouth was sealed with what felt like tape.  Michael tried to lift himself and felt the hard knock of wood against his forehead.  A light sprinkle of sand fell on his face, but he was blind to its source, he could only feel it as it dusted his lashes, scratching at his pupils.  He raised his head slowly again until he felt the board press against his skin.  He lay back down.  His shoulders ached, his back.  He tried to move his hands up to his eyes to rub the grit out of them but found they were bound together.  He stated breathing faster, nostrils flaring in the dark.

He was as a newborn cast out into the vacuum of space.  He could feel his heart beat faster as his mind raced to keep up with this discovery of himself.  Michael could feel his nerves begin to fire in all his limbs as electric panic coursed through his body.  He lifted his head again and hit the boards, a few inches above him.

And so it begins…

There is a sinister force running throughout this novel and there were many times that I questioned who was actually the monster.  The level of hate towards Michael, a man who had served his time in prison,  a prison in which he had been sent to as child and emerged a man.  Yet we would be led to believe that he is evil, damaged and a danger to all those he comes in contact with.  Even Michael himself who longs only to be accepted, to be left alone,  knows that he will never be able to live a normal life.  And yet he wants to live.  He still has hope.  So he runs from his pursuers, the vigilantes who have taken it upon themselves to rid their small town of this man who they believe does not deserve a second chance. Yet their very actions bring them closer to becoming the monster they are trying to destroy.

Michael is an incredibly complex character.  He has so much going against him and although his crime was heinous, I did begin to feel a certain amount of empathy towards him.  This novel is a wonderful metaphor for the effects of crime on those who commit it, their victims and anyone who has to deal with the aftermath. Once Michael committed the fateful act, the evil awoke within him and infiltrated everyone and everything he came into contact with.

It gave me much to think about but in essence this is a wonderful novel that was thrilling to read.  I’m so delighted to have discovered Samuel Parker and I look forward to reading more from this exciting author.

Thank you so much to Rhoda Hardie for the review copy – you said I would love it and I absolutely did!

You can purchase a copy of Coldwater from Amazon. or any good bookshop.  The ISBN number for the paperback edition is: 978-0800727345 but it is also available in Hardback and on eBook.

Coldwater was published by Revell part of the Baker Publishing Group.

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If you’d like to read more about Samuel Parker then please do visit his website here.

 

 

 

 

 


Keeper by Johana Gustawsson

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The next in the award-winning Roy and Castells series.

Whitechapel, 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror.

London 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets nurders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2015: a woman’s body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims.  With the man arrested or the Tower Hamlets crimes already locked up, do the new killings mean he has a dangerous accomplice, or is a copy-cat serial killer on the loose?

Profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells again find themselves drawn into an intriguing case, with personal links that turn their world upside down…

Oh my goodness I enjoyed this, KEEPER is brilliantly written.  Although I read a lot I’m not a fast reader, I generally like to take my time with a story, savour the words and allow myself to become immersed in the story. KEEPER however didn’t allow me that luxury.  It pulled me in right from the start and I literally couldn’t put it down. Short chapters that create quite a punch carried me on whilst crying a constant ‘just one more’ like a child at the park bargaining for another turn on the slide.

I’ve always been a big fan of crime thrillers and murder mystery.  From an early age I’ve had a love of the old fashioned Agatha Christie novels (and TV adaptations) and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  I love trying to figure out who the guilty party is.  Johana Gustawsson brings the crime novel right up to date with her incredibly sharp, suspenseful writing.  KEEPER features a host of intriguing (and rather damaged) characters who all contribute to the story in their own (at times rather disturbing) ways. There are so many twists and turns that I honestly found the ending a complete surprise.  Just when you think you’ve begun to understand the who, why and when, it takes you in a totally different direction.  This doesn’t mean it’s unwieldy and difficult to follow – in fact quite the opposite.  The writing is excellent and by the time I turned the last page I felt that the story had come to an excellent conclusion and all my questions had been answered.

Johana weaves her story from the late nineteenth century with the reign of terror held by Jack the Ripper through to 2015 when the brilliant Roy and Castells attempt to crack the case of a modern day serial killer who is incredibly sadistic and dangerous.  Johana Gustawsson is a French writer and I have to say the translation by Maxim Jakubowski is faultless.  He has expertly maintained the tempo, atmosphere and  brilliance of Johana’s writing.  Not a word is wasted.  At times shocking, this was an incredible thriller I heartily recommend and that will certainly have me checking the back seat of my car for quite some time to come.

I haven’t read BLOCK 46 yet but I will most definitely be adding it to my list AND I can’t wait to see what comes next in the brilliant Roy and Castell series.

KEEPER will be published in paperback by Orenda Books on the 30th of April 2018.

Find out more about Johana Gustawsson here.


Street Cat Blues by Alison O’Leary.

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A quiet life for Aubrey?

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

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

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

Mr Telling was a mate…

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author…

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

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

Street Cat Blues is published by Crooked Cat Books.


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

The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner

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

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

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

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

But here’s a little more about Paul Marriner…

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

You can follow Paul on Twitter : @marriner_p


The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire by Brian Keaney

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 Desireby Brian Keaney.

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.  

 


The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings

Cliff House

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.


Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin cover final[1188]

I’m delighted today to be taking part in the blog tour of Nic Stone’s brilliant debut novel Dear Martin.

A debut confronting modern racism in America finally hits the UK

Justyce McAllister, a black scholarship student at an elite private school in Atlanta, is top of his class, captain of the debate team and heading for Yale.  But his presumptions are challenged when he is arrested by the police for helping his druck ex-girlfriend late at night.  This won’t be his final run-in with the police.  The next time someone gets hurt…

“Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?”

Despite leaving his rough neighbourhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates.  The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous (and white) debate partner and Justyce is starting to feel guilty about how he feels.

Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

How far has America come since 1968?

Dear Martin cover final[1188]Reading is like a super power. It takes you to places you’ve never been, never seen and allows you to try an infinite amount of lives, explore different characters, worlds and experiences.  Stories are the doorway to so many possibilities.  Reading a great novel makes you feel, it creates emotion and touches your very soul. That I love.

We are all different and books, I believe, give us the chance to put ourselves in to another’s shoes.  To feel their emotions, their hopes, their fears, their highs, their lows.  Dear Martin is one such book.  Superbly written, powerful, moving and an  insight into racial hate and the effect it still has on the world today, this is an incredible book.  Eye-opening and unflinching in it’s brutality, I was moved by Justyce and his story.  Such an amazing character; he is brave, tough yet fragile and already so close to being broken.  Justyce is at odds with the world around him.  He is a good kid, smart and popular, yet  for some these qualities are eradicated by the colour of his skin. In a world where people are still judged first by their colour, this novel shows that change does come, albeit slowly, but it comes.

The diversity is excellently portrayed.  Nic Stone has the ability to look at situations from all angles and we are able to build a picture of how the situations arise and although heart-breaking in parts, it is only a reflection of what is still happening in our world today. Prejudice breeds prejudice.  The refusal to accept difference is what keeps conflict alive. That constant lack of understanding and emphathy.  We need stories like this to teach, show and inform.

“Jus, I think I hate everything,” she says. “Why can’t we all get along like butterflies?”

He tuckes her hair behind her ear.  Tries to shift his focus to the TV, where layer upon layer of monarchs cover the trees in some Mexican forest.  While he appreciates her sentiment, Jus wonders if she notices all those butterflies look exactly alike.

This book, like so many that are inspired by real life, has an important message.  Having the courage to stay true to ourselves no matter what conflict or predjudice we might be facing is tough.  We discover this alongside Justyce and at times he is pushed to his absolute limits, but ultimately it will be his own choices that will make the real difference.

I thoroughly recommend this courageous and thought provoking novel and think it would be an excellent choice for the classroom too.  Dear Martin is Nic Stone’s debut novel and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.  She is definitely an author to watch.

You can find out more about Nic by visiting her website here.  Here is a snippet that I feel sums up our experience as readers perfectly…

Nic Stone[1189]
Nic Stone
It wasn’t until the summer I turned twenty-three and hopped on that plane to Israel that I began to get a real grasp on the role of Story in the human experience. I spent that summer stepping into other people’s shoes. There were the shoes of a Palestinian Christian girl living in the West Bank who wasn’t allowed into Israel Proper without a permit, but faced insane amounts of harassment in her neighborhood because of her family’s chosen faith. There were the shoes of the Israeli soldier who’d been trained to view all Arabs as potential threats, but was so sickened by it he couldn’t wait to get out of the army so he could leave the country. There were the small shoes of the children in the Palestinian refugee camps training to be Martyrs for Allah because they felt it was their call in life. There were the shoes of the orthodox Jewish man whose entire family had been murdered in his home by Palestinian militants while they slept.As I listened to these stories and made an attempt at empathy—putting myself in their proverbial shoe—my perspectives shifted. Life became less about right and wrong, good and bad, black and white, and more about complexity and nuance, the power of the human being to bring either calm or chaos into the lives of others and the world around them. Storytelling revealed itself as a means of getting people to listen without interrupting. Done well, it engages listeners/readers to the point where they’re completely oblivious to the shifts in worldview taking place as a result of stepping into a different perspective.The stories I heard over that summer, like my own, were the ones I hadn’t encountered in my Language Arts classes. And they shook me. They changed the way I approach people with beliefs that differ from my own. They changed the way I voice my opinions. In a way, they cleaned the lens through which I view the world.I discovered that once I put on all those different pairs of shoes, I wanted to share those shoes and their impact with others. I wanted to tell the stories that weren’t being told, the ones featuring diverse characters in non-stereotypical roles, the ones that blurred the line between “right” and “wrong”, the ones that reveal the humanity in those who are underrepresented or misunderstood. Since that summer I turned 23, I’ve reread most of the books that I was unable to connect with as a teen, and I’m happy to report that I quite enjoy them now that I’ve found the shoes for myself. The answer to my identity crisis was simple: I am a storyteller.Now get those shoes off so I can give you a different pair to try on.

Dear Martin is published in the UK by Simon & Schuster on the 3rd of May 2018.

Thank you to Eve at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of Dear Martin and inviting me to take part in the blog tour.  This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.


Author Spotlight – Gayle Foreman

I have lost my voice

I have lost my love

 I have lost everything

Spring has finally kicked in here in the South East of England.  The trees are springing to life with beautiful blossom and the landscape is brightened with bright and colourful daffodils, crocus and primroses.  The smell of spring and new beginnings is in the air and so it seems perfectly fitting that my author spotlight should fall on YA author Gayle Forman, and her latest novel, I HAVE LOST MY WAY.  I’m also delighted to be the stop on day three in the #IHaveLostMyWay blog tour.

lost my way1

…a tender, sad and yet uplifting tale that shows the power of friendship in times when we feel desperate and unable to find a solution. Three strangers come together and show that strength can be found with each and every one of us no matter what our individual troubles may be. That we too can find our way to a life we truly deserve when we are true to ourselves.

Beautiful, tender and very important, Gayle Forman has yet again captured a coming of age novel that will fill you with hope, love, acceptance and courage.

Gayle Forman makes an incredibly important contribution to today’s YA literature and if you haven’t read her before then I HAVE LOST MY WAY is a great place to start (there is also an amazing back catalogue of her books for you to discover). She captures those difficult years we all go through when finding our identity, leaning about who we are and accepting that we are all different.  Of course this never really ends.  Life is a journey and we are constantly changing and growing according to the roads we take along the way, but our young adulthood is, I believe, when our experiences feel at their most raw and Gayle captures that perfectly.

I grew up in the 80’s and went through my teens and early adulthood with the films of John Hughes; there was something in them that captured my attention and seemed to tap into inner emotions and feelings of self doubt.  So I was fascinated that Gayle’s early influence was Molly Ringwald – someone I myself found a source of comfort as I struggled to fit in to the world around me.

With her YA novels Gayle too is able to tap into emotions that are difficult to voice and I think by reading and getting to know her characters and their own pain you can learn to understand a little more about what you too are going through.  You are not alone.  Our experiences, difficulties, dreams and fears are all unique to us but there is something comforting in knowing we are not alone in the message that we all have those feelings.  I HAVE LOST MY WAY is a perfect example; showing that even three strangers who come together in unexpected circumstances can change their perspective and find hope where hope is lost.

Here’s a little more from Gayle herself…

140910_forman

Which novel do you wish you could have read when you were a teenager?

I would’ve liked to read SAVING FRANCESCA by Melina Marchetta in middle school. I was miserable, a weirdo outcast. Years later, in high school, I would find my people. I love that novel, how Francesca and her friends, find their family of friends where they least expect it. Melina is one of my favourite young adult authors.

You’re characterisation is incredibly intimate which helps us really connect with them. How well do you get to know your characters before you start writing? Or do they develop along with the story?

Both. The book sparked when Freya started whispering in my ear “I have lost my way.” I knew she was a singer who had lost her voice but I didn’t know why. Harun followed and then Nathaniel. Though Freya came to me first, she was actually the last one to crack. It was right at the very end that I understood what motivated her and how that tied into her loss. Ironically, Harun, the character I have the least in common with on the surface, was the one who I understood most immediately.

I feel so close to all three of these characters. More so than any others before them. Which is saying a lot because IF I STAY’s Mia and Adam are like my children!

Where did your inspiration for I Have Lost My Way come from?

My last YA novel was published in 2015 but I actually wrote it in 2011. In the intervening years, I tried, and failed, to find a new YA story to write. I managed to publish a novel for adults (LEAVE ME) but YA is my home and I couldn’t seem to find my way back. I began to wonder if I’d ever write another book. Everything I wrote (and I crashed and burned on 7 different novels) felt insufficient, inauthentic, hollow. It was like the thing I’d known how to do, had always done—explain my world through story—I couldn’t do anymore. I kept thinking: I have lost my way. And then one day Freya came along and said it to me and it started from there.

You were obsessed with Molly Ringwald as a teen. Which is your favourite character that she played?

Samantha in Sixteen Candles. It’s a movie that doesn’t really hold up over time—it’s racist; it’s rapey—but it was the first time I ever saw the weird girl get the boy. Which, in 1980s parlance, was a huge validation that the weird girl had value. I was a weird girl. So you can imagine how this appealed to me.

What are you currently reading?

I’m on vacation with my family and I’m reading Matt Haig’s HOW TO STOP TIME and listening to CONCUSSION by Jeanne Marie Laskas, narrated by Huilar Huber.

And here is my review for I HAVE LOST MY WAY

i have lost my wayA heart-wrenching and powerful YA story exploring themes of loss, love and discovery, from award-winning, bestselling author, Gayle Forman

The story is told over the course of one day with flash backs to the past to help us engage with the characters and understand what has brought them to this place and this moment in time. Through Harun we learn to understand love through his own loss and fears. The love he feels is alien and not acceptable within the society he lives in. He is ashamed, obsessed and utterly lost. Freya is a star in the making but is following a difficult path and is torn between the need for adoration and the ‘friends’ and sense of belonging she fears she will lose if she can no longer sing. Her lack of self-love is evident as she fears losing her voice will mean losing her place in the world and the acceptance she craves. Nathaniel is a tortured soul and his sadness pours from the pages as we slowly discover the tragedy that has driven him to New York. Each character is suffering their own pain and yet when they are brought together they find the strength to try a different path. But is friendship enough to heal the pain of the past?

This is a tender, sad and yet uplifting tale that shows the power of friendship in times when we feel desperate and unable to find a solution. Three strangers come together and show that strength can be found with each and every one of us no matter what our individual troubles may be. That we too can find our way to a life we truly deserve when we are true to ourselves. Beautiful, tender and very important, Gayle Forman has yet again captured a coming of age novel that will fill you with hope, love, acceptance and courage.

I HAVE LOST MY WAY was published on the 5th of April 2018 in the UK by Simon&Schuster.

To discover more about Gayle Forman and her books visit her website here.


The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Wicked Deep

A haunting tale of three sisters on a quest for revenge…

Two centuries ago, in small, isolated Sparrow, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery and drowned in the waters surrounding the town. Now, each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three girls and seeking revenge by dragging boys to their watery deaths.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the town’s fate. Then, on the eve of the sisters’ return, Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into or the fact that his arrival will change everything…

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

Wowser, I loved this beguiling story full of witchcraft and revenge. Even the cover tempts you to pick it up with smatterings of foil that catch the light, making the book shimmer. It is beautifully designed. This isn’t a book that languishes in a tbr pile, it’s one that calls to you until you pick it up and then it entrances you, pulling you in deeper and deeper until you reach the end. Such is the magic of the Swan sisters and their sinister tale.

Ernshaw spins this tale with expert ease. Spanning two hundred years, the Swan sisters story is one that has had a hold on the people of Sparrow, a town cursed by its treatment of the three sisters, outsiders, who were said to bewitch the men with their beauty and the perfumes they concocted. Every year since they have returned to seek their revenge. And as the deadly Swan Season approaches visitors swarm to the town and the teenagers prepare for the annual beach party that welcomes in the season.
As the Swan song starts a sense of foreboding sweeps over the town as they wait for the eerie silence that means that the sisters have returned and the hunt for the first victim begins.

This story swept me away and I loved inhibiting the town of Sparrow (from a safe distance). Full of atmosphere, I was sad to finish the novel but eager to read it again so I can look for all the clues that brought me to the ending. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! Oh and did I mention that it has a shimmery cover?

I wake with the choking sense of seawater in my throat. I sit upright, fisting my white sheet in both hands. The feeling of drowning claws at my lungs, but it was only a nightmare.

My head throbs, temples pulse, the lingering taste of whiskey still on my tongue.

It takes a moment to orient myself, last night still whirling through my head. I push back the sheet and stretch my toes over the hardwood floor, feeling stiff and achy like a hammer is cracking against my skull from the inside. Sunlight peeks through the daffodil-yellow curtains, reflecting off the white walls and the white dresser and the high white ceiling – blinding me.

I press my fingers to my eyes and yawn. In the full-length mirror mounted to the closet door, I catch my reflection. Dark circles rim both eyes, and my ponytail has slid partway free so that strands of coffee-brown hair drift across my face. I look horrible.

The floor is cold, but I plod to one of the massive windows overlooking the choppy sea and slide the window upward in its frame.

In the wind I can still hear it: the faint cry of a song.

Thanks so much to Jo Reid at Simon and Schuster for my copy.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw is published on the 8th of March 2018.


The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

I thoroughly enjoyed reading a sampler of this time travelling thriller; it kept me guessing throughout and left me on a knife edge wondering how it will end.

Psychology of time travel1967: Four female scientists invent a time-travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril…

2017: Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady…

2018: When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, flesh. But when the inquest fails to answer any of her questions, Odette is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

A fascinating, thought provoking thriller about time travel, murder and a conspiracy that threatens to explode through time.

Four female scientists invent a time machine in 1967. They can only travel from this point in time, back and forward at will. When the initial trip is made by all four women the consequences are unknown and the whole project is put at risk when one of the women suffers a very public breakdown. Labelled as a liability and shunned by the group she tries to rebuild her life as best she can but always the thrill of time travel stays with her and as we revisit her fifty years later she is filled with the desire for one final trip. But the consequences of messing with the fragile fabric of time can be catastrophic and can set in motion destructive and dangerous events.

Visiting three time different periods in time, Kate Mascarenhas guides us expertly through the story and not once did I feel disorientated or unenjoyably lost. There is an element of trying to fit the pieces together but that is one of the things I love about a thriller, trying to work out the conclusion from the clues scattered throughout as the story builds up to the culmination of the (presumably) murdered women discovered by Odette in 2018.

This is a thriller unlike anything I have read before and I found it fascinating. The only frustration from reading this excellent sampler is that I will not discover what happens until August 2018. I will have to wait patiently for the answers… if only I had a time machine.

The Psychology of Time Travel is published by Head of Zeus on the 9th of August 2018.

Thank you to Head of Zeus and Netgalley for the sampler.

Discover more about author Kate Mascarenhas here.

Oh just one more thing… I love the cover image for this title.

 

 


The Woman in the Window By A.J.Finn

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

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

Here’s the synopsis:

 

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

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

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

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

Published by HarperCollins

Published on the 22nd January 2018


Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech

Maria in the Moon

Opening lines….

Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name.

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

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

     But that was all we shared.

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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

Someone else crawled in.

I remembered.’

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


The Fate of Kings by Mark Stibbe & G.P. Taylor

Fate of Kings cover(1)1793, As the Terror begins to cast a great shadow over France, Thomas Pryce, the new Vicar of Deal, crosses the Channel to find the missing parents of his beautiful French wife.  Facing grave dangers, he makes his way to Brittany where he not only discovers the fate of his in-laws but also uncovers a plot which threatens to topple the British monarchy.  Fighting against a sinister secret society in a race against time, Pryce battles to thwart the plans of a Parisian spymaster and his agents in London.

The Fate of Kings is the first in a series of gripping spy thrillers that will engross readers of C.J. Sansom, Dan Brown, as well as the many avid watchers of Poldark and Grantchester.  In the first years if the British Secret Service,

Thomas Pryce

TRULY IS THE ORIGINAL JAMES BOND

I was pretty excited by the blurb, it’s such an incredible combination of factors.  Set during the French Revolution, a time of great unrest, with the liberty of Britain at stake and the untamed violence that went with it. The Fate of Kings is an intriguing insight into those turbulent times.

Mark Stibbe and G P Taylor at book launch(1)
Authors G. P. Taylor & Mark Stibbe at the book launch of The Fate of Kings

G.P. Taylor is the author of the best-selling Shadowmancer and the Mariah Mundi series.  But for author Mark Stibbe, – a seasoned writer of many successful non-fiction titles – The Fate of Kings is his first foray into the world of fiction and it really works. (You can read more about Mark’s move from non-fiction to fiction in an earlier visit on the blog tour to historical fiction blogger Poppy Coburn)

The story is led by the characters that are all incredibly well written and many taken from the history books.  Within the acknowledgements the authors pay tribute to Elizabeth Sparrow, and her ‘ground-breaking book, published in 1999, Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815‘ for providing a wealth of inspiration and information.  Through the pages of The Fate of Kings’ we are introduced to the very real first British Spy Master, William Wickham in the early days of His Majesty’s Secret Service.

Atmospheric but without unnecessary gore, The Fate of Kings was at times chilling and I keenly felt the horror and barbaric actions that some faced at that time.  A time when even a King could not escape the guillotine.   The protagonist, a fictional creation, is Thomas Pryce, a Vicar who provides an interesting contrast with the comparison of James Bond.  Pryce is young, heroic and cunning when he needs to be.  He is portrayed as being attractive and achieves his fair share of admiration from the ladies but unlike Bond, he is god-fearing and generally a good man with a conscience and a definite sense of right and wrong.  Like James Bond, his courage throughout is insurmountable and I loved his resourcefulness that helped him out of difficult situations.  The authors look to the weapons and innovations of the time to add another level to the story that makes Thomas Pryce stand out.  Events leave him a changed man though. He witnesses horrors and suffering that he has trouble coming to terms with and I feel that this will serve to add to his character in future adventures.  What he has seen has left quite a scar.

 

Written at a time of a great resurgent interest in 18th century history, following the success of Poldark and other period dramas, The Fate of Kings has been described as ‘the original British spy story’. Thomas Pryce, the new Vicar of Deal, crosses the Channel to discover the fate of his beautiful French wife’s missing parents –unwittingly uncovering a plot which threatens to topple the British monarchy. Fighting against a sinister secret society in a race against time, Pryce becomes locked in a desperate battle to thwart the plans of a Parisian spymaster and his agents in London…  The Fate of Kings draws on a deep fascination with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era which both authors have had since childhood. Set in a time when the Illuminati was founded and the world banking order was being set up, and when economics were valued more highly than patriotism, this fast-moving historical thriller will be enjoyed by men and women alike.

This is an exciting novel and one that never felt a chore to read.  I was immersed into the history without it feeling like a history lesson.  It captured my interest and I found myself wanting to research some of the characters so expertly brought back to life.

Mark Stibbe & G.P. Taylor have awakened a period of time of which my knowledge although not ignorant, is certainly sketchy and I came away with a thirst to know more.

I very much look forward to the second title in this exciting new series.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of The Fate of Kings then why not ask in your local book store or you go to book recommendation site Lovereading.co.uk where there is a price comparison option with links to make ordering a doddle.

The Fate of Kings was published on the 3rd of November by Malcolm Down Publishing.

For more information do visit the author’s website: http://www.thomaspryce.co.uk/ but I’m delighted to say I had the opportunity to put a few questions to Mark Stibbe.  Read on for more from this fascinating author…

Interview with Mark Stibbe, author of The Fate of Kings, the first story in the adventures of Thomas Pryce, Vicar and Spy during the years 1793-1821.

1. Where did your inspiration for protagonist Thomas Pryce come from?

It was in the New Year of 2013. I had just been to Bleak House in Broadstairs (Kent) and looked round the smuggler’s museum in the basement there. Many of the exhibits were from the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era. Of course, the coastline of Kent is itself punctuated by Martello Towers from this time frame. All these factors stirred my imagination and within several weeks I had my USP – the Vicar of Deal who becomes a spy in the embryonic British Secret service. As soon as he began to emerge, the story lines for the novels followed quickly.

2. Can you tell us anything about the next novel in the series?

Yes, I’m well into writing it and it’s a lot darker and more complex than the first one. All I’ll say is that the title is The Drowning Man and it’s about the mass drownings in Nantes at the end of 1793 and the start of 1794. These were instigated by the cruellest city governor during the Terror, a very sinister and brutal man by the name of Jean Baptiste Carrier. In this novel, Pryce is going to be given a very tough mission by William Wickham, spy master at Walmer Castle. He will, however, be aided by a new character, Helin – a Chinese spy working for the British Secret service.

3. Do you have a typical routine to your writing process?

Every fulltime writer tends to have a set routine. I am a lark, not a nightingale. My optimum time for creativity is between about 0600 and 1300. I am very disciplined about this and seek to get at least 1500 words done every time I get to my desk. Good, strong, lattés are indispensable.

4. How did you meet G.P. Taylor and how did the project come about?

I’ve known Graham for many years. I had already written the first draft of The Fate of Kings when I invited him to join the project, particularly with a view to writing the screenplays. He was very down in May 2015, so I gave him this role to boost his confidence after five years of him not writing anything. This gave him a lift and it also gave me an expert in storytelling as a collaborator – someone with whom I could share and refine ideas.

5. Who are your writing heroes?

The first author I admired was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. My father heard that I had become interested in the Sherlock Holmes stories. He drove from Norfolk to Oxford and bought every book by him in hardback. Dad had been an undergraduate at Oxford and a star pupil and friend of CS Lewis and he’d always loved Blackwell’s. Anyway, when he returned, he brought all the books into my room at bedtime. I must have been about 7 at the time. He gave them to me as a gift even though it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas. I was dumbstruck by his kindness. I have these books to this day. I believe this single act of extreme generosity was the catalyst for my calling as an author.

6. What books do you remember reading as a child?

We had holidays in Scotland as children, near Ullapool, overlooking Loch Broom. There was no TV so I went to the bookshop and bought an Enid Blyton novel, one of the Secret Seven books. I read all of them. Next came the Willard Price stories. Then Agatha Christie. In fact, I remember my parents taking us on a world cruise. When we got to the Holy Land I sat on a bus and read Murder on the Nile while the guide pointed to significant landmarks from ancient history. I missed all of them. I was too preoccupied with Poirot’s investigations. On the way back to the cruise liner, the same thing happened again, only this time I was reading Watership Down…

7. How important is accuracy of facts in historical fiction?

If you’re going to write historical fiction, you’ve got to be committed to a faithful recreation of the times in which your characters lived, even if some of your characters are fictional. However, this doesn’t preclude you exercising some artistic license where necessary. I have done this with The Fate of Kings in the matter of one or two details, but not in the broad picture. I have tried to provide the reader with an accurate picture of what was going on in the first three months of 1793, particularly on the Kent coast in Deal and Walmer, as well as in London, Paris, Jersey and Brittany.

8. There are many themes within the story that are highly relatable today, was this your intention from the outset or did they just evolve with the story?

I didn’t set out with the intention of commenting on the similarities between 1793 and 2017. These surfaced during my research and convinced me that we are living in similar times – or, more precisely, with similar challenges, particularly relating to immigration and Terror. This is one of the delights of writing historical fiction – discovering the extraordinary parallels between past and present history, and then using these resonances to enrich the landscape of your story.

9. Was the story born from your research or vice versa?

The story emerged first, the research followed. When I talk about the creative process, I describe the four phases of inspiration, incubation, investigation, and incarnation. With Thomas Pryce, I was already well on my way when I read Elizabeth Sparrow’s ground-breaking book on The Secret Service. This tour de force was a game changer in that it proved that what we would now recognise as the British Secret Service emerged in the 1790s, not during the first decades of the twentieth century. Her research proved to be invaluable and once I’d assimilated it all, I could truly say with Sherlock Holmes, ‘the game’s afoot!’


The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

9781471143564-337407582.jpg
The Potion Diaries – Book 1

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

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

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

NO BIG DEAL, THEN.

 

royal-tour
Royal Tour –            Book 2

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

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

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

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

 

POTION-DIARIES-GOING-VIRAL-1-768x1178
Going Viral –            Book 3

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

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

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

Published by Simon & Schuster.

Find out more about the fantastic Amy Alward here.

Find out more about Lovereading4kids here


Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

wp-image--189512244

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

this must be the place

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

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

Review written for Lovereading.co.uk

Visit Maggie’s website here.


Author Spotlight – Louise Beech

November 2017

November 2017 has gone in a flash and the nights are cold.  I absolutely love this time of year.  I’m just starting to feel festive, nature has been providing us with beautiful autumnal colours and the cold weather provides the perfect excuse for staying in the warm with a good book.  With Christmas approaching it also give me an extra reason to buy books for others too.  I adore giving books.  They make the perfect gift (easy to wrap too!) and I always hope I manage to match the right book with its recipient.

This year has been an amazing year for books.  I’ve read so many fantastic stories for both adults and children but one of the standout books for adults for me this year has to be Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech.  I have therefore decided to shine my light on Louise this month.

Louise Beech
Louise Beech

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

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

Maria in the Moon

Maria in the Moon

Opening lines….

Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name.

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

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

     But that was all we shared.

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

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

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

Someone else crawled in.

I remembered.’

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

Also by Louise Beech…

The Mountain in my Shoe

Mountain in my shoe

Synopsis

A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself.

On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family …and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.

The Mountain in my Shoe was published by Orenda Books on 19th September 2016

How To Be Brave

How to be Brave

Synopsis

All the stories died that morning – until we found the one we’d always known. When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love – and what it really means to be brave.

How To Be Brave was published by Orenda Books on 17th September 2015

Find out more about Louise by visiting her website and blog here.

Thank you for visiting.  Please do share, like or comment below. Happy Reading!


The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox

9781409146254

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

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

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

Published by Orion
Publication Date: 30th November 2016

Reviewed originally for Lovereading.


Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswel

9780008209889

Courages, strength and erotica is at the heart of this humorous, heart-warming tale about a clash of cultures and the women in our lives we should never take for granted. Nikki is a modern girl living in London who is determined to live life on her own terms. She’s also Punjabi. Her mother hasn’t quite forgiven her for dropping out of law school, or selfishly moving from the family home to work in a pub outside of their community. Sister Mindi, to her horror, wants an arranged marriage and Nikki has never felt more alienated from her family and the traditional values they embrace. When she begins teaching a creative writing class for Punjabi widows, Nikki is surprised by the strength and passion that lies within the women and the secrets they hold. Before long stories begin to emerge. They are good, full of erotic description and give the women a platform to be heard for the first time in their lives. Before long the stories are being shared outside the classroom. However, something darker lies beneath the revered community and its traditions, something that brings danger to this group of women who wish for nothing more than to express themselves and move away from the shadows. A deeper truth is soon exposed, a truth that will send shockwaves throughout the community, bringing danger to both Nikki and the group. A great read filled with memorable characters and their stories.

Published in Hardback: 7th March 2017

9780008209889

Published in Paperback: 7th September 2017

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Published by HarperCollins

Find out more about the author Balli Kaur Jaswal by visiting her website here.

I reviewed this title on behalf of Lovereading.co.uk


Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

EXQUISITE COVER AW.indd

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

Published by Orenda Books
Publication Date: 1st June 2107


Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Published in hardback 2016 with the paperback version following in 2017, I was delighted to review this novel for Lovereading.  I’d now love to share my thoughts with you .

A smart and sassy take on a 21st century mum making her way in the world, trying not to cause too much damage but also hoping that maybe, just maybe she may be able to find the contentment within herself that she so badly craves.

For one day we enter the life of Eleanor and she’s determined that today will be different and if nothing else she’s determined to leave the world a better place than she found it. Then her day takes an unexpected turn as the past creeps into her present. Suddenly there are questions demanding to be answered. Why is her husband on a ‘vacation’ she knows nothing about? Where is he disappearing to each day? How will she explain to Timby about the sister she never talks about? And what will happen to The Flood Girls? Long since consigned to the back of the closet.

Maria Semple’s fresh, unique voice is full of humour and yet also captures the same complexities we all experience trying to find our place in the world. Through this novel we have a snapshot of Eleanor’s life, her fears, her pain and the thing that makes it complete in so many ways. We also experience the crazy thoughts that often flit in and out of her head. Thoughts we can all relate to and the unexplained conclusions we leap to and in turn the consequences they have on our happiness. Semple expertly weaves past experiences into Eleanor’s day as we see her trying to track down her husband whilst also being confronted by a sister that she no longer acknowledges.

Today Will Be Different shares the hope that we can learn to be more accepting of who we are and allow ourselves to be happier. Semple’s writing style is sharp and one that you may either love or hate but it’s bold and distinctive and personally I loved it.

Synopsis

Eleanor Flood knows she’s a mess. But today will be different. Today she will shower and put on real clothes. She will attend her yoga class after dropping her son, Timby, off at school. She’ll see an old friend for lunch. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action – life happens.

For today is the day Timby has decided to pretend to be ill to weasel his way into his mother’s company. It’s also the day surgeon Joe has chosen to tell his receptionist – but not Eleanor – that he’s on vacation. And just when it seems that things can’t go more awry, a former colleague produces a relic from the past – a graphic memoir with pages telling of family secrets long buried and a sister to whom Eleanor never speaks.

Today Will Be Different is pubished by W&N an imprint of Orion Publishing Co

 


A Late Discovery – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book-thief

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

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

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

Five hundred souls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Dress by Kate Kerrigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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