Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland - Guest Post - Blog Tour

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland. Sandra is a guest on the blog today and is talking about her novel and what inspired her to write it.

The Cruel Sister, a Border Ballad
Around the fire in the not-so distant past, you might have settled down to listen to a song of love and heartache, of sibling rivalry, betrayal and murder. All the ingredients, you might think, for a first- class soap, a Hollywood blockbuster or even a page-turning novel. This is the ballad of The Cruel Sister, often known as the Twa Sisters, which has inspired not only my second novel Bone Deep, but also work by countless other writers and artists from Alfred Lord Tennyson to Bob Dylan.

The ballad was first formally documented by Sir Walter Scott in his 1802 collection, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, but this macabre tale has crossed borders, oceans, and cultures, with more than 531 versions of the ballad currently recorded in countries all around the world, according to the Roud Folk Song Index, which catalogues traditional songs.

The challenge for me was how to incorporate this fascinating tale into a contemporary thriller. After all, I’m not an historical novelist and I like creating modern characters in very 21st century situations. However, the past is never far away. In Bone Deep, my protagonist Lucie is helping Mac, a rather eccentric academic, to organise her work. Mac is collecting old folktales and ballads, and I wondered what would happen if Lucie began to see herself in the tale of the Two Sisters…

The premise of the ancient ballad is simple but deadly. Two sisters go down to a body of water, sometimes a river, or the sea, but often, as in BoneDeep, a mill pond. The older sister pushes the younger one into the water and refuses to pull her out. At the last minute she realises what she’s done and tries to grasp her hand, but mostly it’s a case of murder most foul…

The motive is always jealousy. In some variants, the sisters are being two-timed by a suitor; in others, the elder sister's affections are not returned by the young man, and he proposes marriage to the younger girl. Invariably, the suitor arranges to marry the surviving sibling.

The body of the younger girl is recovered downstream by a very dodgy miller. If you want to know more, pick up a copy of Bone Deep!

ISBN:  978 1846974183

Publisher: Polygon Books

Monday, 13 August 2018

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah - Book Review

"A woman has to be tough as steel up here. You can't count on anyone to save you and your children. You have to be willing to save yourselves. And you have to learn fast. In Alaska you can make one mistake. One. The second one will kill you."

Alaska, 1974. Untamed. Unpredictable. A story of a family in crisis struggling to survive at the edge of the world. It is also a story of young and enduring love.

Cora Allbright and her husband, Ernt - a recently returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war - uproot their thirteen-year-old daughter, Leni, to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness.

At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America. With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women. It is the finest example of Hannah's ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.

This novel is about the setting as much as plot or character. The cold and hardships of living in Alaska are excellently portrayed in this book. The author has brought the environment completely alive, from the long dark winters to the long days of spring and summer. Despite my reading this during a heatwave here in England (very rare) there were times I reached for my wrap such was her ability to draw the reader into the book. Her research has come from her own experience of her fathers love for adventure and their own residence in the location in which the book is set.

The characters are carefully drawn and easy to become involved with. There are some truly wonderful characters in this book. I found myself rooting for Leni, Cora and Matthew throughout and I would challenge anyone not to love Large Marge. Ms. Hannah is extremely skilled at developing her characters and bringing them vividly to life.

Combined with a plot which is advanced in an easy to read narrative, these three factors all come together to form a totally gripping novel.

My only small criticism was that some of the story was a little too sugary and ultimately predictable for my taste, but that is entirely personal. I continue to love this author's writing and I have read and reviewed The Nightingale (in fact I have read this twice and was one of my top ten favourite books of 2016) and Night Road - you can read my reviews by clicking on the title. One thing that makes me very happy is that the author has a long back list which I am looking forward to reading in the future.

Do you have a favourite book written by Kristin Hannah? I would love to hear about it.

ISBN: 978 1250193773

Publisher: Macmillan USA

About the Author:

Kristin Hannah is a New York Times bestselling author. She is a lawyer-turned-writer and is the mother of one son. She and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle and Hawaii. Her first novel published in the UK, Night Road, was one of eight books selected for the 2011 TV Book Club Summer Read and The Nightingale was a New York Times number one bestseller, selling almost three million copies worldwide.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

"A bottle of wine. A family-sized packet of Nacho Cheese Flavoured Tortilla Chips and a jar of hot salsa dip. A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know). The rain hammering against the windows. And a book. What could have been lovelier?"

Crime writer Alan Conway has been a bestselling author for years. Readers love his detective, Atticus Pund, a celebrated solver of crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s.

But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of a real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

There is nothing that I enjoy more than a book about a book. Within this novel we get to read the fictional manuscript of a murder mystery whilst the publishing editor reads it and forms the suspicion that there is a real life mystery going on around her. This dual aspect is highly effective and lifted this novel into something rather special.

I was completely gripped by both stories and Mr Horowitz has created a novel which is both clever and entertaining. It was a joy to read and anyone who likes murder mysteries will thoroughly enjoy this novel.

The author moved seamlessly between the period of the manuscript, which was set during the heyday of British crime fiction, to the modern day editorial and captured both eloquently. His writing style is easy to read and he set the pace of this book appropriately to the two time periods depicted in the book.

I have never read an adult book by Mr Horowitz but used to read his books for children with my sons when they were younger. Indeed, we were lucky enough to meet him when he did a book signing and reading in a children's book shop in Lewes several years ago. My son's were big fans of his and the opportunity to meet him was the icing on the cake for them.

He is clearly as skilled at writing for adults as he is for children but as he is such an established and accomplished screen-writer that should come as no surprise. I would certainly read more by this author and hope that you will enjoy this book as much as I have.

ISBN:  978 1409158387

Publisher: Orion

About the Author:

Anthony Horowitz is one of the UK's most prolific and successful writers. His novels The House of Silk and Moriarty were Sunday Times Top 10 Bestsellers and sold in more than thirty-five countries around the world. He is also the author of a James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis. His bestselling Alex Rider series for children has sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide.

As a TV screenwriter he created both Midsomer Murders and the BAFTA-winning Foyle's War; other TV work includes Poirot and the widely acclaimed mini-series Collision and Injustice, and most recently New Blood for the BBC. Anthony sits on the board of the Old Vic and regularly contributes to a wide variety of national newspapers and magazines. In January 2014 he was awarded an OBE for services to literature.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Second Footman by Jasper Barry

"Just as a pretty parlour maid may be considered a perquisite by the master of the house, so some of our ladies are not immune to the charms of a handsome footman."

A glorious novel full of complex and beguiling characters. It is a tale of ambition, unexpected passion and the frailty of human nature.

Nineteen year old Max is the duchess de Claireville's second footman, but he doesn't intend to endure the indignities of service for long. He has a plan - to find an aristocratic patron to become his unwitting accomplice in an audacious fraud.

Packed with rich period detail, the lavish 19th century French setting reflects the grand but suffocating restrictions of aristocratic society - contrasting the lives of the rich and of those who must serve them.

Recommended by the Historical Novel Society, this book is the first in a trilogy.

ISBN: 978 1780883656

Publisher: Matador

Friday, 20 July 2018

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta's tiny dress store appears quite ordinary to passers-by, but the colourfully vibrant racks of beaded silks and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: with just a few stitches from Etta's needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman's deepest desires. Etta's granddaughter, Cora Sparks, has spent her life hidden away in the safety of the little shop and her university lab, ever since her parents' mysterious deaths many years ago.

Cora's studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her for years. Determined not to let Cora miss her chance at happiness, Etta sets in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora's life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

This has been a delightful read although was not the book I was expecting. As a needlewoman, I am always attracted to fiction that involves dressmaking and I was instantly drawn to the cover on this book as it suggested the light read I was looking for. On one hand, that was exactly what this book provided along with a little magical realism. However, there is a darker and more gripping thread (pardon the pun) running through this which elevated this to a higher level of storytelling and made the story much more involved.

The characters are well drawn and I enjoyed reading about Cora, Walt and Etta. All are enchanting personalities in their own way.

There is a lovely blend of mystery, romance and magical realism in this book and they come together to provide an entertaining novel. It defies being categorised into one particular genre although I think the marketing of the cover and the blurb has attempted to do so.

I am definitely keen to read more by this author and I think she will appeal to many readers. Have you read any of her books? I would love to hear your thoughts on which I should read next.

About the Author:

In her own words:

"I’ve worked as a reader for BBC Films & TV and as a script editor for a number of independent production companies. I still work as a freelance script editor/consultant. I self-published my novella, Men, Money and Chocolate. Nine months later I sold it to Hay House and today it’s been translated into 26 languages – so far. The sequel, Happier Than She's Ever Been, followed a year later.

The House at the End of Hope Street was published by Penguin in 2013. Random House published The Dress Shop of Dreams (Jan, 2015) and will publish The Witches of Cambridge (Feb, 2016). Allison & Busby have published all three novels in the UK. I’m currently working on my new novel, The Three Acts of Aubrey H. Gagné."

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht - #BookReview

"Look for your sister after each dive. Never forget. If you see her, you are safe."

Hana and her little sister, Emi, are part of an island community of haenyeo, women who make their living from diving deep into the sea off the southernmost tip of Korea.

One day Hana sees a Japanese soldier heading for where Emi is guarding the day's catch on the beach. Her mother has told her again and again never to be caught alone with one. Terrified for her sister, Hana swims as hard as she can for the shore.

So begins the story of two sisters suddenly and violently separated by war. Switching between Hana in 1943 and Emi as an old woman today, White Chrysanthemum takes us into a dark and devastating corner of history. But pulling us back into the light are two women whose love for one another is strong enough to triumph over the evils of war.

This is one of the best books I have ever read; praise which I do not give lightly. Rarely has a book simultaneously shocked, affected and impressed me as this one has. In fact, I borrowed this from the library and having read it I have pre-ordered a copy of the paperback from a book retailer, which is due to be released on the 30th of August, here in the UK, as I am certain that I will want to re-read this book.

I have read some excellent debut novels this year and I am confident in saying that this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. The writing is beautiful and tells the story of the little known history of Korea's women during the Japanese invasion of Korea during World War Two. Ms. Bract is to be applauded for bringing this to the attention of modern readers. I, for one, had no knowledge of this devastating aspect of twentieth-century history.

If ever fictional characters deserve to be fallen in love with, it is Hana and Emi. The author portrays her characters so fully that I really felt that I knew them and cried for the horrors that they were forced to endure. It is hard to leave this book behind.

The authors research has been thorough and she conveys this information with intelligence and understanding. By the time I had finished this book I was deeply affected and inspired by the bravery and strength of the women being portrayed and, therefore, their real life counterparts.

Bravo, to Ms. Bract for bringing this horrendous period of history to the fore and I strongly recommend this book to you all.

ISBN: 978 1784741440

Publisher: Chatto and Windus

About the Author:

Mary Lynn Bracht is an American author of Korean descent who now lives in London. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London.

She grew up in a large ex-pat community of women who came of age in post-war South Korea. In 2002 Bracht visited her mother's childhood village, and it was during this trip she first learned of the 'comfort women' captured and set up in brothels for the Japanese military.

White Chrysanthemum is her first novel.