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.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Testament by Kim Sherwood - #BlogTour

A prize-winning literary timeslip novel about what happens after you survive. A young woman uncovers the truth about her family's past as Hungarian Jews who came to Britain in 1945.

 * * * * * * 

The letter was in the Blue Room - her grandfather's painting studio, where Eva spent the happier days of her childhood. After his death, she is the one responsible for his legacy - a legacy threatened by the letter she finds. It is from the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

They have found the testimony her grandfather gave after surviving the labour camps in Austria. And, since he was one of Britain's greatest twentieth century artists, they want to exhibit it. But Joseph Silk - leaving behind József Zyyad - remade himself long ago.

As Eva begins to uncover the truth, she understands the trauma, and the lies, that have haunted her family. She will unravel what happened to József and his brother, who came to England as refugees. One never spoke of his past - the other couldn't let it go.

Their story - and that of the woman they both loved - is in her hands. Revealing it would change her grandfather's hard-won identity. But it could also change the tide of history. This testament can lend words to wordless grief, and teach her how to live.

Kim Sherwood's extraordinary first novel is a powerful statement of intent. Beautifully written, moving and hopeful, it crosses the tidemark where the third generation meets the first, finding a new language to express love, loss and our place within history.

This is an extremely ambitious debut novel. Its scope is huge and I think the author has accomplished this through writing with skill, intelligence and compassion.

Bearing in mind the difficult subject matter, the language is beautiful and each word has meaning. Nothing is superfluous to the construction of this novel and at times I was so caught up in the lyricism of Ms. Sherwood's writing that I had to slow my reading down and re-read occasional sentences of this novel just to luxuriate in it.

There are many Holocaust novels on the shelves of bookshops but this one has a slightly different perspective to some of the others. It looks closely at self-identity and what can happen to the relationships of those who survived and also, the impact that has had on the future generations of survivors.

Evidently well researched the author has brought a myriad of facts to the novel and turned them into an amazingly accomplished and powerful first novel and I look forward to seeing what she will realize in her future writing.

ISBN: 978 1786488671

Publisher: Riverrun

About the Author:

Kim Sherwood was born in Camden, London in 1989. She studied on the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, going on to teach creative writing at UEA and the University of Sussex. Kim's stories and articles have appeared in numerous journals, including Mslexia, Lighthouse and Going Down Swinging. The manuscript of her debut novel, Testament, won the Bath Novel Award in 2016.

Kim began writing Testament in 2011 after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away. In the same year, Kim's grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. These events provided seeds for a story that grew as Kim undertook research into the events of the Holocaust in Hungary, and as extremism rose again across Europe.

Kim lives in Bath. She is s Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of the West of England. Testament is her first novel.

Friday, 13 July 2018

How to be a Heroine (Or, What I've Learned From Reading Too Much) by Samantha Ellis - Book Review

"A couple of summers ago, I was on the Yorkshire moors, arguing (over the wuthering) with my best friend about whether we'd rather be Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. I thought Cathy, Obviously Cathy."

On a pilgrimage to Wuthering heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, free, passionate Cathy, but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob who betrays Heathcliff for Edgar and makes them all unhappy - while courageous Jane makes her own way.

And that's when Samantha realsied that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane.

So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennett); some of them decidedly did not (turns our Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone With the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper......

How To Be A Heroine is a funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives - and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.

This was such a fun book to read that I could not put it down. The author takes us on a romp through the heroines of books that she has read throughout her life, how she has internalised some of those behaviours and the effect that they have had on her life.

Her chapter headings are:

1.   The Little Mermaid
2.   Anne of Green Gables
3.   Lizzy Bennett
4.   Scarlett O'Hara
5.   Franny Glass
6.   Esther Greenwood
7.   Lucy Honeychurch
8.   The Dolls (from the Valley)
9.   Cathy Earnshaw
10. Flora Poste
11. Scheherazade

However, these are not essays solely on each of these characters. Throughout each chapter Ms. Ellis draws on many other fictional characters who have crossed her reading path and thus this book becomes a multi-coloured ramble through the flowers and thorns she has encountered in her reading.

This is also part-memoir and we learn much about the authors Iraqi-Jewish upbringing and culture and the expectations that were put on her as part of this community.

Although, written from a femininist perspective I felt that both women and men would appreciate the message that Ms Ellis is conveying in this book. In her final chapter she writes:

"No writer is writing me a better journey. No writer is guiding me through my misunderstandings and muddles and wrong turns to reach my happy ending. And then I realise I am the writer. I don't mean because I write. I mean because we all write our own lives."

I liked this conclusion to her book. This is a light read with an important message within. None of us have to settle for another person's plan for our lives. Life itself can give us the inner strength to be the person who we want to be.

In the postscript of this book the author provides her mother's recipe for masafan, an Iraqi-Jewish type of marzipan that she mentions in the book. I had a go at making this the other day and judging by how quickly my grandchildren packed them away they were a resounding success and I encourage you to give them a try. 

Within the covers of this book Ms Ellis has given us insight into books, reading, culture and a recipe for gorgeously sweet biscuits. A marvellous combination. 

ISBN: 978 0099575566

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist. The daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees, she grew up thinking her family had travelled everywhere by magic carpet. From an early age she knew she didn't want their version of a happy ending - marriage to a nice Iraqi-Jewish boy- so she read books to find out what she did want. Her plays include Patching Havoc, Sugar and Snow and Cling to Me Like Ivy, and she is a founding member of women's theatre company Agent 160. She lives in London.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - #BookReview

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he fears he will not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever.

In a novel of extraordinary intelligence and heart, Yanagihara has fashioned a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark and haunting examination of the tyranny of experience and memory.

Some people are put off reading long books. Personally, I quite like them as I see it as a book that I can really get my teeth into. That said, by the time I am drawing towards the denouement I am usually looking forward to getting on with something new. Which is why I was surprised that when I came to the end of this totally engrossing book I was sad that it had come to an end. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I feel slightly bereft that this cast of characters are now out of my life.

Within the unassuming cover of this book lies a novel of exquisite intensity. Bearing in mind that I finished reading this a couple of weeks ago and that I have read a couple of other books since, the fact that I am still mulling this book over in my mind speaks volumes concerning what a fantastic novel it actually is.

Each of the characters are flawed but are written with such absolute honesty that they are very easy to engage with. Although this book is about the four college classmates it focuses on Jude, whose previous life is a mystery to his friends and everyone that he knows. His life is gradually explained to the reader and the author presents us with some extremely difficult themes. However, she deals with Jude with such sensitivity and compassion that, as readers, we are able to bear these revelations.

This is an intelligent character driven novel which looks at the true meaning of love and friendship. Written with tenderness, care and compassion, the author has ensured that this a book I will never forget reading.

As always, there are not any spoilers within this review. What I will say, is that I cannot decide whether I think that the conclusion of this book was the perfect one or whether I really hated it. Have you read this? What are your thoughts?

ISBN:  978 1447294832

Publisher: Picador

About the Author:

A Little Life is Hanya Yanagihara's second book and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and was a finalist for the National Book Award in the same year.

She is an American novelist, editor and travel writer. She grew up in Hawaii and now lives in New York.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Arlette's Story by Angela Barton - #Blog Tour and #Giveaway

I am very pleased to be taking part in the Blog Tour for this lovely book. There is also the change for your to win a beautiful notebook in today's giveaway which you can find at the bottom of the page.

* * *

One woman’s struggle to fight back against the enemy in order to protect the ones she loves.

When Arlette Blaise sees a German plane fly over the family farm in 1940, she’s comforted by the fact that the occupying forces are far away in the north of the country. Surely the war will not reach her family in the idyllic French countryside near to the small town of Oradour-sur-Glane? 

But then Saul Epstein, a young Jewish man driven from his home by the Nazis, arrives at the farm and Arlette begins to realise that her peaceful existence might be gone for good … 

The beautiful cover on this book hints that this book will be special from the very start and I was not disappointed.

Set in France during World War Two the author has created a wonderful set of characters who are believable and easy to engage with. Throughout, our sympathies lie with the people of France and the reader is with them every step of the way as their lives are impacted so horrendously by the invasion of the Nazis into their small, quiet, rural town.

There were times during my reading of this heart wrenching novel that the fear, hunger and desperation of the characters was palpable. The author has evoked the surroundings and lives of these families extremely well and has created a tense and anxious atmosphere in her telling of this story.

Ultimately, this is a book of love and hope; courage and survival; and the recognition that life will never be the same again. It is through Arlette's story that we see how a naive young girl can transform into a strong and courageous woman.

This is a well crafted and sensitive novel and demonstrates that this debut author is one to watch as I am certain that we can look forward to great things from the pen of Ms. Barton.

ISBN: 978 1912550036

Publisher: Ruby Fiction

About the Author:

Angela Barton was born in London and grew up in Nottingham. She is married with three grown up children. 
Passionate about writing both contemporary and historical fiction, Angela loves researching for her books and is an avid reader. 

Having signed publishing contracts for three of her completed novels with Ruby Fiction, Angela is excited to be working alongside such a friendly and supportive publishing team. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

Having recently moved to France, Angela (alongside her husband, Paul) is now a lavender farmer, creating products from the oil that’s distilled. Angela says she’s looking forward to spending more time writing in the company of her two spaniels while sitting on her veranda overlooking the breath-taking countryside of Charente.

Giveaway – Win a beautiful notebook (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.I was gifted a #Netgalley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson

"The object I drew out was dusty and mildewed, and blotched with dark rust-coloured stains. It smelt of time and decay, sour, like old books and parchments.. The light from the chapel's stained-glass window blushed red upon it, and upon my hands, as if the thing itself radiated a bloody glow."

Ramshakle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour's Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors, the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes actross these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary's old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past - with fatal consequences.

Whilst this has clearly been written for a twenty-first century audience there are some definite echoes of Charles Dickens in this delightful historical crime novel. For instance, there is Mrs Roseplucker, the brothel keeper and Joe Silks, the handkerchief thief; all names worthy of the great man himself.

The first in a series of  three books (and I am hoping there will be more) featuring Jem Flockhart, these books ooze with the sights, sounds and smell of nineteenth century London. The author's descriptive prose has the ability to transport the reader to the time and place in which the book is set.

Ms Thomson skillfully builds the tension in her plot with indicatory sentences being woven throughout the text. This created a tension and excitement and made this book a real page turner. I read this while I was on holiday and there was more than one night that I sat up reading well past the time when the rest of my holidaying companions were asleep in their beds.

I am very much looking forward to reading Dark Asylum which is the next book in the series and I hope you will join me.

ISBN: 978 1472122292

Publisher: Constable

About the Author:

E. S. Thomson was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire. She has a PhD in the history of medicine and works as a university lecturer in Edinburgh. She was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book Award and the Scottish Arts Council First Book Award. Elaine lives in Edinburgh with her two sons.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim - #Blog Tour

I am thrilled that the Blog Tour for An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim is stopping at my blog today.

"Polly flipped the photo over. And then she tore it up. She would regret this always. It would sit like a bubble in her lungs. She would wish she still owned the piece of paper that housed the outline of his face, with the ruts his writing made in the back, where he had written his message without signing his name."

Their story begins with a goodbye.

Polly and Frank are young and in love, a lifetime together before them. But one evening in 1981, as the Texas sun sets over their shoulders, the world is suddenly pulled apart by a deadly virus. Within months, Frank is dying. Polly can save him, but only if she agrees to a radical plan: to time travel to 1993 for a corporation who can fund his life-saving treatment. She can only go forward, she cannot go back. And she must leave everything she loves behind, including Frank.

All they have is the promise of a future together: they will find each other again in twelve years' time, in Galveston, Texas, where the sea begins.

But when something goes wrong and Polly arrives late, Frank is nowhere to be found. Completely alone, Polly must navigate a terrifying new world to find him, and to discover if their love has endured.

An Ocean of Minutes is an absorbing and timely novel about courage, yearning, the cost of holding onto the past - and the price of letting it go.

I very much enjoyed reading this book. It mainly focuses on Polly and her experiences upon her arrival in the future. The society into which she arrives is not what she had expected and there was a real sense of shadowing her through this minefield of the unknown.

It was this connection with the characters that held my attention firmly to the page. I felt as anxious for Polly all through the book as I would have done for a friend. I think Polly was a completely different person by the conclusion of the novel to which she had been at the beginning and the author dealt extremely well with depicting Polly's realisation of this whole new society she has stepped into and the impact that has upon the relationships that she forms with the people around her and also with those that she left behind.

This is a book about love, idealism and, above all, realism. However, this is a multi-layered book and  I think that it will mean different things to different readers. For some, this will be about the lengths people go to for those they love, for others it will be about time travel but for me it was about the way we learn about ourselves. It was impossible to read this and not wonder how I would have reacted in those circumstances.

It is beautifully written and was a joy to read. The chapters alternate between Polly's past and present and we learn much about how far she has come through this.

Published tomorrow, I would encourage you to read this book for yourself. I am confident that you will enjoy it every bit as much as I did.

ISBN: 978 1786487919

Publisher: Quercus

About the Author:

Thea Lim's writing has been published by the Southampton Review, the Guardian, Salon and others, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships for her work, including artists' grants from the Canada Council for the Arts. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and she previously served as nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast.

Thea grew up in Singapore and lives in Toronto with her family.

I was given a proof copy of this book by the publisher in order to provide an honest review.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Blog Tour Tomorrow

Tomorrow is my stop on the Blog Tour for An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim. I hope you will stop by and read my thoughts on this lovely book.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The story begins in 1962. Somewhere on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and views an apparition: a beautiful woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an American starlet, he soon learns, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away in Hollywood, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot searching for the woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

I have so enjoyed reading this book. Set in southern Italy I had the thrill of reading it whilst sitting on a sun soaked terrace overlooking Lake Garda in Italy. Although I was further north than the novel is set, it provided my reading experience with a certain degree of authenticity.

That said, this is a wonderful book to read and I would have enjoyed it just as much on a grey rainy day in England because this book has the ability to transport the reader to warmer climes through it's pages of atmospheric descriptions. I am certain that I would have believed myself to be in Italy even if I had not physically been there.

The book is also partly set in America and it moves seamlessly between place, past and present being set partly in the Italy of 1962 and present day America.

Pasquale and Dee are two of the most delightful fictional characters I have had the pleasure of reading about. However, factual characters also play a part in this book with the actor, Richard Burton, having a significant role.

In fact, the authors sense of character development is first class and I remained engaged by the characters over a sixty year development; no small task for an author but was deftly handled by Mr. Walter.

This book would appeal to anyone who enjoys characterization in their reading along with a perfect setting and some romance to boot. I would love to hear your thoughts on this lovely book.

ISBN: 978 0670922659

Publisher: Penguin

About the Author:

Jess Walter is the author of five novels and one nonfiction book. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his essays, short fiction, criticism and journalism have been widely published, in DetailsPlayboyNewsweekThe Washington Post, the Los Angeles TimesThe Boston Globe among many others.

Walter also writes screenplays and was the co-author of Christopher Darden’s 1996 bestseller In Contempt. He lives with his wife Anne and children, Brooklyn, Ava and Alec in his childhood home of Spokane, Washington.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Library Lowdown - 16th June 2018

I got three books from the library this week and they are all titles that I have wanted to read for some time. Have you read any of them?

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the power and limitations of family bonds. Rich with Ward's distinctive lyrical language, it brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America.

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey 

Outside a London theatre, a throng of people wait expectantly for the last performance of a popular musical.

But as the door open at last, something spoils all thought of entertainment: a man in the queue is found murdered by the deadly thrust of a stiletto....

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh

Wealthy Sir Hubert Handesley's original and lively weekend house-parties were deservedly famous, but the one planned for this weekend was to prove unique.

To amuse his guests, Sir Hubert had devised a new form of the fashionable Murder Game. A guest was secretly selected to commit a 'murder', the victim to be of his own choosing. At an appropriate moment he would tap the victim on the shoulder, say 'You're the corpse,' the lights would go out, a gong would boom, and everyone would assemble to figure out who did it.

But when the lights went up this time there was a real corpse, with a real dagger in the back, all seven suspects had had time to concoct skilful alibis - and it was Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn who had to try and figure out the murderer.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

An Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Sophie's husband, James, is a loving father and a successful public figure. Yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to engulf him. She's kept his darkest secret ever since they were first lovers, at Oxford. And if she stood by him then, she can do it now.

Kate is the barrister prosecuting his case. She is certain that James is guilty and determined he should pay. No stranger to suffering herself, she doesn't flinch from posing the questions few want to hear. About what happens between a man and a woman when they're alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in a lift....

Is James the victim of an unfortunate misunderstanding or the perpetrator of something sinister? This scandal - which forces Sophie to appraise her marriage and Kate her demons - will have far-reaching consequences for them all.

Part courtroom drama; part a portrait of a marriage; part an exploration of the extent to which our memories still haunt us, Anatomy of a Scandal is a disarming and provocative psychological thriller.

This was a gripping read which I read very quickly as I was keen to see the way in which the plot would develop. It has a very current feel to it and I think it portrayed very well a view of parliament and the upper classes that ordinary people like myself have of these institutions.

It is a character driven book and told from the perspectives of the three main characters, Kate, Sophie and James. This made it very easy to engage with them even whilst not necessarily liking them. In addition to these three perspectives the book also moves between past and present which allows the reader to understand the background of these three characters and, therefore, how they have evolved into the people they are in the present day narrative.

A thoughtful, sensitive and engrossing read that kept me up way past my bedtime. This is the first book I have read by Sarah Vaughan and I really enjoyed it. It has been a while since I read a courtroom drama and it has made me want to read more. Do you have any suggestions?

ISBN: 978 1471164996

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

About the Author:

Anatomy of a Scandal combines Sarah Vaughan's experiences as a news reporter and a political correspondent with her time as a student reading English at a historic Oxford college in the mid Nineties. She is married with two children and lives just outside Cambridge.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Brondesbury Tapestry by Helen Harris

"Telling your life story is not just wallowing in nostaligia ... It gives people the opportunity to pass on the version of their life they want. It gives them a chance to right wrongs, to set down burdens they've been carrying around for years: secrets, horrisble things ....."

Six women and one man gather in a rundown community centre in North London for a life writing class run by Dorothy, their uniquely unqualified teacher. They have urgent stories to tell and, as they recount them, they discover they are connected in unexpected ways.

Illustrated with sharp line drawings by illustrator Beatrice Baumgartner-Cohen, The Brondesbury Tapestry is a quirky, perceptive look at a group of people who feel the modern world has left them behind but who have decided that they will still have the last word.

Confession time - I had never heard of Helen Harris before I read this book but I have every intention of becoming more familiar with her work as this is a book that is very well worth reading. Initially, I was attracted by the cover with its very pretty needlework design, as well as the word 'tapestry' in it's title. As a needlewoman myself, I am sure you can appreciate my original interest and surprise, as when I started reading I realised that both of these descriptors are the perfect metaphor for this story as they represent the coming together of stories that the characters in this book bring to the narrative.

And what a wonderful cast of characters they are. Each a little quirky in their own way and all entirely different personalities which make this book thoroughly enjoyable to read. It is very clear that the author has a keen eye for what goes on around her and, therefore, she creates her characters with a realism that makes them all very easy to engage with. Even those who were not so nice she deals with sensitively and arouses empathy in her readers for the individual characters.

It is the voices of the characters that really make this book something special. Each very different from the next and as they read their writing to one another it is very clear who we are hearing even without the character's name as the chapter title. For instance, I loved the way spelling mistakes were included in the writing of one of the women as it provided a real sense of authenticity to her voice. I think it is a very skilled author indeed, who is able to adapt her writing so well to the individual nuances of her characters.

Additionally, one of the ladies tells her story through drawings which are also included throughout . 

Essentially, this is about how we view ourselves and others and the persona that we each present to the world. I absolutely loved this book and encourage you to discover this delightful novel for yourself. 

ISBN: 978 905556609

Publisher: Halban Publishers

About the Author:

Helen Harris is the prize-winning author of five novels and many short stories, published in a wide range of magazines and anthologies. She teaches creative writing at Birkbeck College at the University of London.

I was gifted a copy of this book by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

“I am beginning to realize that freedom means you can be who you are meant to be, whatever that is. . . . That breathing without any thought to it is a gift. Now, I think about breathing all the time. What is it like to take your last breath? What if the sound of it gave you away?”

Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler's army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in "free of Jews." Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dyes decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele--and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. 

Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna's father disappears, suddenly it's up to Hanna to find him - and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive. 

Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Generally speaking, once I have read a book I usually get straight on with the review while it is still fresh in my mind. However, every now and again I read a book that affects me so profoundly that I have to take a day or two to process what I have read. This was one such book and it completely took my breath away.

I have heard it said that the world really does not need anymore Holocaust/World War II stories but I would have to disagree. When writing is of this standard it is a welcome addition to the canon and I would strongly encourage you to read this book as it really does have something to add. The author's ability as a storyteller is unquestionable and although the story is about difficult issues, it is ultimately one of survival and hope, and as such, is inspiraring to read.

Aimed at a young adults, it would be a huge loss to literature if this superb book were to be confined to this audience only. Having said that, this book is very well written and I could see it fitting quite neatly within the academic syllabus as there is so much to be gained from reading it.

Ms. Masih writes with sensitivity and empathy and, thus, evokes the thoughts and feelings of her characters extremely well. I could sense the darkness and feelings of claustrophobia experienced by the characters hiding in the caves which the author has depicted so well.

It is rare for me to say that I felt privileged to read a book but as I turned the last page in this book I did indeed feel that way. I had not realised until I read the author's Afterword that she had based this book on true events; those of Esther Stermer and her extended family who survived the war. I have the utmost respect for the bravery of this family, and other survivors like them, that endured and survived these horrific circumstances. Also, for an exceptional author who brought  her fictional characters so vividly to life in order to impart their story.

Due to be published in September 2018, I would strongly encourage you to pre-order this book. As a debut novel it is outstanding and I really hope that Ms. Masih will be writing many more novels.

ISBN:  978 19422134510

Publisher: Mandel Vilar Press

About the Author:

Tara Lynn Masih is editor of the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year), The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (winner of a Skipping Stones Honor Award; a New England Book Festival award; a Benjamin Franklin silver medal award; and a ForeWord Book of the Year Award), and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows, a National Best Books Award finalist in the short story category. She is the founding series editor of The Best Small Fictions, and My Real Name Is Hanna, her debut novel for young readers and adults set in WW II Ukraine, is due out Sept. 2018.

Tara received an MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, and has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines, and her essays have been read on NPR and translated to dance. Several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction, along with poet's farthing cards, have been published by The Feral Press.

Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest, a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, The Lou P. Bunce Creative Writing Award, multiple Pushcart Prize nominations, and Best New American Voices and Best of the Web nominations. 

Tara was the assistant editor for STORIES literary magazine, and a regular contributor to The Indian-American and Masala magazines. She divides her time between Andover, MA, and St. Augustine, FL.

I was gifted a copy of this book by the author in return for an unbiased review.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Library Low Down - 26th May 2018

I found three lovely books at the library this week. Now, I just have to decide which to read first. Any suggestions?

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

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 Along 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.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

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 1950's.

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 real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

March Violets by Philip Kerr

Bernard Gunther is a private eye, specializing in missing persons. And in Hitler's Berlin, he's never short of work....

Winter, 1936. A man and his wife have been shot dead in their bed. The woman's father, a millionaire industrialist, wants justice - and the priceless diamonds that disappeared along with his daughter's life. As Bernie follows the trail into the cesspit that is Nazi Germany, he's forced to confront a horrifying conspiracy. One that takes him to the very heart of government, and eventually, to Dachau...

The first in the iconic Berlin Noir series, March Violets takes readers to the rotten heart of Nazi Berlin, and introduces a private eye in the great tradition of Hammett and Chandler.