Review – The Shogun’s Queen by Lesley Downer

The Blurb

The year is 1853, and a young Japanese girl’s world is about to be turned upside down.

When black ships carrying barbarians arrive on the shores of Japan, the Satsuma clan’s way of life is threatened. But it’s not just the samurai who must come together to fight: the beautiful, headstrong Okatsu is also given a new destiny by her feudal lord – to save the realm.

Armed only with a new name, Princess Atsu, as she is now known, journeys to the women’s palace of Edo Castle, a place so secret it cannot be marked on any map. Behind the palace’s immaculate façade, amid rumours of murder and whispers of ghosts, Atsu must uncover the secret of the man whose fate, it seems, is irrevocably linked to hers – the shogun himself – if she is to rescue her people . . .

My Thoughts

I’ve been intrigued by Geisha’s and Japanese culture for a while – I loved Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha and adore Madame Butterfly – but my knowledge of Japan’s history is extremely limited. When I was asked if I would like to read and review Lesley Downer’s The Shogun’s Queen I didn’t hesitate to agree. It has taken me a while to get around to reading it and now I have I will definitely be reading Downer’s other books in The Shogun Quartet of which this is the first. Downer has opened up my curiosity about Japanese culture and I want to know more, always a good sign in historical fiction.

Based on historical fact, The Shogun’s Queen is set in Japan in 1853 and follows the life of Okatsu from the Satsuma clan. A turbulent time in the country’s existence, Japan finds itself being opened up to the Western world when ships begin to appear from America, Britain and Russia. Okatsu finds herself thrust into a position in which her influence can directly impact and influence Japan’s ability to maintain its tradition and culture and whether or not the country becomes embroiled in war.

Okatsu is incredibly well portrayed and she is immensely likeable. This courageous, selfless young woman who gives up everything for her country is an amazing character and is made even more amazing as she actually existed. As pointed out in the Afterword, Downer advises that the women of Japanese history are largely ignored and yet Okatsu was an integral part of that history.

Downer has written a captivating account of an elusive and secretive world. Her prose is such that she fully draws you into this society and every part of The Shogun’s Queen is meticulously portrayed. From the thoughts and feelings unique to their culture to the descriptions of the surroundings, you are completely immersed in the book. It had me considering viewpoints that I wouldn’t have thought about without reading it. It is sumptuous and beautiful and yet also captures the underlying disadvantages of those women living in, what is essentially, a luxurious prison.

Downer clearly knows a lot about Japanese culture and history and her careful and considered research comes through to create an accessible, fascinating, insightful book. As I stated earlier, The Shogun’s Queen has whet my appetite to find out more about this era in Japan.

The intrigue had me completely gripped and enthralled. Okatsu has an impossible task and I was desperately hoping that she would be successful in her task. I didn’t want The Shogun’s Queen to end and when it did I was left feeling bereft. It is one of those books that leaves an indelible mark on you and has you thinking about it for days afterwards.

A wonderfully written, fascinating, all absorbing account of a critical turning point in Japanese history. Full of political intrigue and yet emotionally charged, The Shogun’s Queen is an epic tale that I have no doubt those who enjoy historical fiction will love as much as I did.

Published in ebook on 3 November 2016 by Transworld Digital and paperback on 27 July 2017 by Corgi.

A huge thank you to Lesley Downer and Transworld (Bantam Press) for my copy in exchange for my review. 

Blog Tour – House of Spines by Michael J Malone *Review*

I am super excited to be on the House of Spines by Michael J Malone blog tour today with the fabulous Blue Book Balloon, and to finally be able to share my review of this bloomin’ brilliant book. I loved it! To find out why, read on…

The Blurb

Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who appears to have been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, he finds that Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman …

A terrifying psychological thriller with more than a hint of the Gothic, House of Spines is a love letter to the power of books, and an exploration of how lust and betrayal can be deadly…

My Thoughts

I have been eagerly anticipating this book, however, there is always a worry that a book you are desperate to read won’t live up to expectations especially when you have loved an author’s previous work as much as I loved Malone’s A Suitable Lie. I am pleased to say I had nothing to worry about as House of Spines is amazing and I adored it!

I do have one problem though, and that is how on earth to write this review and do House of Spines justice. Malone has combined so many things I love in one book and while I want to talk about it, I want readers to have the same experience I did in reading it for the first time. Talking about it is, therefore, difficult. I wish I was a member of a reading group that currently had House of Spines as their current read as there is so much to discuss.

House of Spines has everything you could want in a novel – the uncovering of closely held family secrets, a complex and damaged main character, a web of deceit and enough left to the reader’s interpretation to make you continue thinking about it long after you have closed the book for the final time. It also has the gothic elements I have loved since first discovering Wuthering Heights and Du Maurier as a teenager.

The prologue captured my attention immediately and literally begged me to read on. Simultaneously intriguing and moving, Malone has created the perfect introduction to main character Ranald. You just know there are going to be several layers to this man due to his experiences. I was with Ranald for every step of his journey – from him inheriting a house from the great uncle he never knew existed, to his unravelling and the position he ultimately finds himself in in the end. While there were moments I doubted him, I desperately wanted him to be okay.

My other favourite ‘character’ in House of Spines was Newton Hall – the property in which the book is named after. While Newton Hall cannot be classed as a character in the normal sense of the word, its importance to the book cannot be ignored. It has an omnipresence that is both disturbing and delightful. I found myself both loving Newton Hall and being repelled by it. I was in awe of it and yet nervous in its presence and about the impact it had on Ranald. I wanted the best for Ranald yet I also wanted the best for Newton Hall and being unsure if the two could go hand in hand, I wasn’t sure, if push came to shove, which of the two I would support. The energy Newton Hall emits, the secrets it harbours and Malone’s writing and conveyance of the two caused a mix of emotions within me. Newton Hall caused me much trepidation and yet I was enthralled by it.

House of Spines is a story of mistruths, mistrust and generational discord in which the most harmful aspects of being human are passed down from one relative to another. Whose version of events are to be believed continues to be a question I am mulling over days after reading. Malone incorporates the right amount of red herrings in order for the reader to be caught off guard and the distrust that lies amongst the characters of the book becomes a state the reader also finds themselves in.

Malone touches on mental health issues throughout House of Spines and deals with this with sensitivity and insight. It is a credit to Malone’s skills as a writer that he has managed to combine a current issue with a gripping psychological thriller while maintaining an otherworldly element and feel. Malone’s prose at times hit me right in the heart and you can clearly see the poet within him.

House of Spines will send shivers down your spine, leave you questioning, take you by surprise and mess with your emotions. Read it, it’s fantastic and will undoubtedly be included as one of my books of 2017.

Published on 15 September 2017 by Orenda Books.

About the Author

Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In-Residence for an adult gift shop. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage and The Bad Samaritan. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number one bestseller. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller.

A massive thank you to Michael J Malone, Orenda Books and Anne Cater for the advance copy and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Follow the rest of the tour…

 

Author Influences with KA Richardson

It’s Wednesday which means it’s time for another Author Influences and today I’m delighted to welcome crime and thriller writer KA Richardson to the blog. So let’s find out about the books and authors that have inspired her and her work.

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
Pretty much anything I could devour – I loved Enid Blyton, and moved rapidly onto Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys – also the Willard Price adventures. When I turned double figures I enjoyed Point Horror books and in my early teens moved onto adult crime novels.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
English was one of my top subjects at school – I always got good grades and enjoyed the reading material – even Shakespeare! My favourite book I read whilst at school was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It was the first book I remember reading that made me cry.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I enjoy a wide diversity of genres however tend to read more crime and romantic suspense than anything else. They probably have impacted on my writing in some ways – but so has the jobs I’ve had – I worked as a CSI for years and still work for the police albeit in an alternate role now. Due to these jobs, I find it easy to focus on the forensic side of an investigation.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
I’ve started a supernatural trilogy which I’m loving writing – it frees you of restraints and lets you write what you like without having to be too influenced by ‘is this procedure right’ or ‘would a cop really do that’.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
So many!! I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing and it was honestly one of the best and most refreshing books about writing I’ve ever read. It’s inspiring and from the king of horror and much of it resonated with me. Other’s that have inspired me though are Karen Rose – she’s a fantastic author who writes romantic suspense and I love how her characters bring the book to life. She’s also been disadvantaged through life in some ways with her disability which makes her writing even better and deeper as she often focuses on people with some form of disability.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
Karen Rose for sure – and Mo Hayder.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
Mo Hayder’s book The Treatment. I absolutely love the wandering man character and would have loved to have written him! Also it’s so deliciously dark and terrifying that it had me checking the doors and windows before I went to bed!

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
I think all characters have some elements taken from people you know – or people you see in the street etc. None of my characters are based on actual people but definitely a little of certain people may feature in many of them.

A huge thank you for taking part. I totally agree with you on Mo Hayder, she is fantastic!

KA Richardson’s latest book Watch You Burn is out now and here is what it’s about:

Someone is breaking into Fire Investigator, Edina Blaze’s, home and leaving deadly messages. When Glen Peacock is burned alive, she has to put her own problems aside and attend the location with Crime Scene Manager, Kevin Lang.
As the body count rises, Edina’s sister Heather becomes involved. Is it her setting these gruesome fires? Or is she a target too?
Kevin has seen it all in his years on the force, but when a young girl is found burnt to death, even he is shocked.
Who is taking pleasure in watching people burn? Why are they doing it? And will they be caught?

DI Alistair McKay and the team from North East Police have to work quickly to stop the killer, before they all end up in flames.

About KA Richardson

KA Richardson is the author of the North East Police series – there are four out in the series so far, the most recent of which is Watch You Burn. This was published in May 2017 and features the Fire Investigation Team. KA Richardson finished her Ma Creative Writing in 2011 and has been focusing on publication ever since. She is privileged to have had two publishers – Caffeine Nights (for her first novel) and now Bloodhound Books for the rest in the series.
Website: www.kerryannrichardson.com
Twitter: @kerryann77 or @karichardson77
Facebook: KA Richardson
Instagram: @kerryann77

Blog Tour – The Kindred Killers by Graham Smith *Review*

Hurrah, I’m really pleased to be one of the turns on The Kindred Killers by Graham Smith blog tour today alongside Have Book Will Read. I couldn’t wait to read the second Jake Boulder book after thoroughly enjoying the first (read my review of Watching the Bodies HERE). Before I share my thoughts here is the all-important blurb:

The Blurb

Jake Boulder’s help is requested by his best friend, Alfonse, when his cousin is crucified and burned alive along with his wife and children.
As Boulder tries to track the heinous killer, a young woman is abducted. Soon her body is discovered and Boulder realises both murders have something unusual in common.
With virtually no leads for Boulder to follow, he strives to find a way to get a clue as to the killer’s identity. But is he hunting for one killer or more?
After a young couple are snatched in the middle of the night the case takes a brutal turn. When the FBI is invited to help with the case, Boulder finds himself warned of the investigation.
When gruesome, and incendiary, footage from a mobile phone is sent to all the major US News outlets and the pressure to find those responsible for the crimes mounts.  But with the authorities against him can Boulder catch the killer before it’s too late?

My Thoughts

I was lucky enough to read and review the first in Graham Smith’s Jake Boulder series, Watching the Bodies, and knew that I would definitely be following the rest of the series. We haven’t had to wait too long for the next instalment and, I’m pleased to say, The Kindred Killers lived up to expectation, firmly placing Boulder on the ‘must-read series’ list. If you haven’t yet read Watching the Bodies I suggest you do, however, The Kindred Killers works equally well as a standalone.

Private investigator and doorman Jake Boulder is back … and back with a bang! The first chapter introduces/re-introduces the reader to the character of Jake brilliantly and it quickly progresses into, what may turn out to be, possibly the most personal case he and his partner Alfonse ever face. I can’t help but like Jake – he is a tough Glaswegian who finds it difficult to maintain relationships – and The Kindred Killers hints that there is more to find out about him in the next books. I look forward to learning more about him. The combination of his ability to handle himself in almost any situation and his detective skills alongside Alfonse’s tech skills make the duo a great team.

Following the gruesome murder of Alfonse’s cousin and his family, the pair set out to find who is responsible. While looking for the motivation for the killings Jake and Alfonse uncover something more sinister and threatening than they imagined. In The Kindred Killers Smith has written a gripping thriller that is incredibly topical and, quite frankly, a scary look at the extremes that certain factions of society will go to in the name of their beliefs. The gruesome way in which the murders are committed show that Smith has researched many aspects of the issues raised in the book. I don’t want to say anything more on this as I don’t want to spoil anything!

The pace doesn’t let up and I found myself racing through The Kindred Killers in no time at all. Smith ensures that each chapter is essential and has you having to read more. Again, Smith pulls off the setting of America perfectly making you forget that this is written by a British author.

A fantastic follow-up to what always promised to be a great series, The Kindred Killers is a cracking crime thriller and is a must for your bookshelf if you enjoy this genre.

Published on 12 September 2017 by Bloodhound Books.

A huge thank you to Graham Smith and Sarah Hardy at Bloodhound Books for the advance copy and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Follow the rest of the tour…

Blog Tour – The Mother by Jaime Raven *Excerpt*

I’m really pleased to be on The Mother by Jaime Raven blog tour today. I loved Jaime Raven’s other books and I was gutted that I didn’t have time to read and review The Mother in time for the tour. I have, however, something even better for you today … an excerpt from the book! So, grab yourself a cuppa, relax and enjoy.

The Blurb

Prepare to be gripped by the heart-stopping new thriller from the author of The Madam.

South London detective Sarah Mason is a single mother. It’s a tough life, but Sarah gets by. She and her ex-husband, fellow detective Adam Boyd, adore their 15-month-old daughter Molly.

Until Sarah’s world falls apart when she receives a devastating threat: Her daughter has been taken, and the abductor plans to raise Molly as their own, as punishment for something Sarah did.

Sarah is forced to stand back while her team try to track down the kidnapper. But her colleagues aren’t working fast enough to find Molly. To save her daughter, Sarah must take matters into her own hands, in a desperate hunt that will take her to the very depths of London’s underworld.

Published on 7 September 2017 by Avon.

Excerpt

His words registered, but only just, and they failed to provide any comfort. How could they? My precious daughter had been kidnapped. My mind was still reeling and I felt weighted down by a crushing despair.

I was on the verge of losing control so I lowered myself onto one of chairs around the kitchen table. There I sat, my head spinning, my stomach churning, as Brennan gently prised more information out of my mother.

She revealed that the man had rung the bell at just before nine – an hour or so after I had dropped Molly off. My father had just left the house to go to his allotment and she was giving Molly her breakfast before taking her to the park.

She remembered very little about her attacker. His face had been covered and he’d been wearing what she thought was a dark T-shirt and jeans.

‘He was average height but strong,’ she said. ‘I tried to struggle free when he attacked me but I couldn’t.’

She started crying again and this time it set me off. I broke down in a flood of tears and heard myself calling Molly’s name.

I was only vaguely aware of the commotion that suddenly ensued, and of being led out of the kitchen and along the hallway.

Raised voices, more people entering the house, some of them in uniform. Molly’s face loomed large in my mind’s eye, obscuring much of what was going on around me. I wondered if I would ever hold her in my arms again. It was a sickening, painful thought and one that I never thought I would have to experience.

I’d witnessed the suffering of parents who had lost children, seen the agony in their eyes. But as a copper I had always been one step removed, professionally detached and oblivious to the real extent of their plight.

Now I had a different perspective. I was in that horrendous position myself. The grieving, desperate mother wondering why fate had delivered such a crushing blow.

‘We’re taking you next door,’ Brennan was saying as we stepped outside, to be greeted by the flashing blue light on top of a police patrol car. ‘This house is now a crime scene and the forensics team needs to get to work. Mrs Lloyd, the neighbour to the right, has kindly agreed to make some tea for you and your mother.’

‘I don’t want tea,’ I wailed. ‘I want Molly.’

‘I’ll do whatever it takes to find her, Sarah,’ Brennan said. ‘We all will. But look, I really think it’s time that Molly’s father was informed about what’s happened. Do you want to call him or shall I?’

The prospect of breaking the news to Adam that his daughter had been abducted filled me with dread. I knew I couldn’t do it, that as soon as I heard his voice I would fall apart.

‘You ring him,’ I said. ‘Tell him to get here as soon as he can.’

That has certainly whet my appetite and I can’t wait to read The Mother. A huge thank you to Jaime Raven and Sabah at Avon for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and for the excerpt. Follow the rest of the tour…

Author Influences with Alex Walters

For this week’s Author Influences I’m delighted to be joined by crime and thriller writer Alex Walters.

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Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
A lot of Enid Blyton – still think she’s a brilliant writer for children. Then, as a teenager, people like Alan Garner, a lot of science fiction, then discovered Agatha Christie and crime fiction…

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
It was my best and favourite subject – went on to study English Literature at university.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I read anything and everything, really, though probably more crime fiction than anything else. There are a few writers I’d cite as direct influences but I think the impact is mostly about trying to learn from the best.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
I’ve mainly written various forms of police procedural to date (though often with a twist or two), so I think I’d be most likely to explore other areas of crime fiction or thrillers. I’ve also written some supernatural fiction and would quite like to do more in the area.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
As a teenager, the writers who made me want to write myself were people like Alan Garner and various science fiction writers, like Samuel R Delany. They made me excited about what it was possible to do with words.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
It used to be Reginald Hill, author of the Dalziel and Pascoe series, who’s sadly no longer with us. Now I’m struggling to keep up with the books I’ve already bought!

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
Reginald Hill’s The Wood Beyond (and various others) – ingenious plotting, three-dimensional characters, witty writing, and addressing important issues. Various Ruth Rendells for the same reasons.

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
The influence is usually indirect – some real life event which sits in the back of my brain until it sprouts into something rather different in a story. One of my books starts with a real life event which I shifted from Stockport to Mongolia. And my current series set in the Scottish Black Isle uses mainly real locations, with the first book, Candles and Roses, featuring a walk-on part from a real person (with his permission!).

A huge thank you Alex for taking part.

Alex’s latest book Dark Corners was published on 9 December 2016 and is the second in the DCI Kenny Murrain novel. Check out all of Alex’s books on his Amazon page HERE.

About Alex Walters

Alex Walters has worked in the oil industry, broadcasting and banking and now works as a consultant mainly in the criminal justice sector including police, prisons and probation. As Michael Walters, he published three crime thrillers set in modern-day Mongolia, which are now being re-published as Alex Walters in new, re-edited versions. As Alex Walters he has written two thrillers set in and around Manchester and featuring the undercover officer, Marie Donovan, Trust No-One and Nowhere to Hide, and two books Late Checkout and Dark Corners featuring, alongside Marie Donovan, the distinctive DCI Kenny Murrain. Alex is also the author of Candles and Roses, the first in a new crime series set in Scotland’s Black Isle. The second in the series will be published in September 2017.

Alex currently lives in Manchester with his wife, occasional sons and too many cats.

He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mikewalters60
Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexwaltersauthor/

Author Influences with H.A. Leuschel

Welcome to another edition of Author Influences. This week I am delighted to be joined by H.A. Leuschel whose book Manipulated Lives I reviewed earlier this year.

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
I grew up in a multi-lingual environment, so I’d have to name three main authors that I enjoyed reading as a child. Enid Blyton’s books were at the top of the list. The Famous Five was my favourite series. I loved the idea of being fearless, going on adventures without adults’ supervision, boys and girls equally capable of fending for themselves.

Being an identical twin myself, I was also a keen reader of the The Twins at St. Clare’s, called Hanni und Nanni in the German translation. My sister and I could totally relate to the girls and the stories always made us laugh. We usually got two books at birthdays, so that we’d not squabble over who got to read a new book first!

As a third book series, I’d have to mention the Martine picture books by the Belgian author and illustrator Marcel Marlier & Gilbert Delahaye. The main character gets to go places, learns to swim, cook and dance and most of all, she learns to conquer her fears. As much as I find the series a bit stereotypical now, Martine conveyed a curiosity and an eagerness to learn which are universal traits in children I’d say.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
As a toddler, I went to French kindergarten, then went to a German primary and secondary school where I was taught French and English as well as a spattering of Dutch. I love languages and was always keen to scribble, read and write in any of them.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I would say that I enjoy a wide variety of genres, it really depends on my mood but my favourite fiction genres are literary fiction and psychological thrillers. I also read nonfiction, especially related to philosophy, psychology or the natural sciences. It’s the thought-provoking idea in a text that will catch my attention and maybe spark a new idea for my writing.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
I’m hugely intrigued by the studies of the mind and often find myself perusing articles about the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence. I think writing a novel with a Sci-Fi angle would be tempting.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
Simone de Beauvoir has had a huge impact on me as a teenager and well into my twenties and thirties. She’s the only author whose books I can read again and again. I’ve read all of her writings – fiction and non-fiction alike but if there is one of them that I’d highly recommend to every reader, it would have to be A Very Easy Death. In this short book, she tenderly and with shocking clarity recounts the last phase in her mother’s life. It’s so simple yet poignant, moving and very powerful in its message. The author shows with great honesty that when facing the death of a parent, emotions can not only take you by surprise but over-ride the urge to rationalize the process of dying.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
That’s a difficult one. I think a book needs to fit with my current mood, so anything can attract my attention for different reasons. Having said that, I’d always be keen to read another of Margaret Atwood’s novels, the next Isabel Dalhousie instalment in Alexander Smith McCall’s series or check out the latest book by Ian McEwan.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
The books I most enjoy offer a mix of suspense, mystery, depth of character and a setting that mirrors the psychology of its protagonists. To name just a few, I had a big ‘wow’ moment with The Bird Tribunal (Agnes Ravatn), The Fifth Child (Doris Lessing), The Road (Cormac McCarthy), The Mandarins (Simone de Beauvoir), Burial Rites (Hannah Kent), The Bastard of Istanbul (Elif Shafak) … but to be honest the list is so much longer than this!

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
Manipulated Lives is my first published work of fiction and it is a collection of five novellas where I explore the core theme of psychological manipulation from five different perspectives. Each story aims to highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten a person’s feeling of self-worth.

Personal tragic circumstances and the completion of a couple of creative writing courses with the OU and Oxford University had made me pick up the pen, then transfer my ideas into the writing of this collection of novellas as well as fulfil my long-term dream of becoming an author.

A huge thank you for taking part and for the wonderful responses.

Manipulated Lives is out now (you can read my review HERE). Here is what it is about:

Five stories – Five Lives
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?

Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself, followed by a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Lastly, there is Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

About H.A Leuschel

Helene grew up in Belgium where she gained a Licentiate in Journalism & Communication, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh.
She now lives with her husband and two children in Portugal and recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind.
When she is not writing, Helene works as a freelance journalist and teaches Yoga.

For more information about the author and her upcoming books, please visit
Website: www.heleneleuschel.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/HALeuschel
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HALeuschel
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15337013.H_A_Leuschel

 

Blog Tour – Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech *Review*

I am delighted to be taking part in the Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech blog tour today with the lovely Hayley at RatherTooFondOfBooks. Bloomin’ heck did this book cause me some review-writing difficulties! Orenda seem to have the knack of causing me, what I call, ‘review-stutter’ in which I can’t get my words out! 

The Blurb

‘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…

My Thoughts

Ah, Louise Beech … I adore your books but you make review writing so incredibly difficult for me! Maria in the Moon is stunning and has so many qualities that any review I write will never fully convey the beauty within its pages. I could simply just say ‘read it, you won’t regret it’ but that wouldn’t be enough.

Maria in the Moon is the story of Catherine who used to be called by her full christian name Catherine-Maria. Catherine cannot remember why her family stopped calling her this name and, in fact, can’t remember anything about her ninth year full stop. When she volunteers at Flood Crisis following her home being wrecked in the 2007 floods in Hull the memories she has kept hidden begin to come back to her.

Maria in the Moon had a personal edge for me as Hull is my hometown and I clearly remember the devastation caused to my friend’s home by the 2007 floods. Beech has perfectly captured this situation and the distress it caused and I found it quite difficult and emotional to read. Little did I know that these emotions would be nothing compared to the ones I would feel as the book progressed.

Quite often I race through books but every now and again a book comes along that requires you to take your time over it in order to savour every word. Beech writes those kinds of books. Beech manages to convey those private thoughts you have but would never share with anyone else and the, often, mundanities of life with beautifully lyrical prose. Her use of imagery is beguiling and the beauty that she sees in the everyday make her a writer with extraordinary talent. I was wooed by the first chapter and as the book progressed I came to consider Catherine a friend.

Beech always displays great insight into the human condition and the impact that life events have, and she is a writer with great emotional intelligence. Always believable, her characters come across as authentic and the characters within Maria in the Moon are no exception.

Maria in the Moon is a heart rending read and covers some difficult issues, however, Beech incorporates humour which results in you both laughing and crying. This adds to the credibility of the book as life is often a mixture of both. She accurately portrays the struggle that Catherine has to bring those memories she has subconsciously hidden to the fore and also the aftermath when those memories finally re-surface. Despite the depths of sadness I went through reading this book it finally left me feeling uplifted.

A novel about the lengths our psyche goes to to protect us, what happens when those defences come down, the impact of traumatic events on our behaviour and identity, and ultimately redemption and hope, Maria in the Moon is a book that needs to be on your bookshelf. When reading take the time to read it slowly in order to fully appreciate its exquisiteness and for the emotions to take hold but, when all said and done, just make sure you read it.

Published on ebook on 15 August 2017 and paperback on 30 September 2017 by Orenda Books.

About the Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The sequel, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.  She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show.

A huge thank you to Louise Beech, Orenda Books and Anne Cater for the advance copy and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Follow the rest of the tour…

Blog Tour – Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell *Author Guest Post and Review*

I am beyond excited to be kick starting the blog tour for Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell today. I loved A Man With One of Those Faces and The Day That Never Comes and could not wait to get my hands on this, the prequel. I’m delighted that Caimh joins me today with a brilliant guest post on the inspiration behind Angels in the Moonlight so, without further ado, I will tell you about the book, then hand you over to Caimh and finally share my thoughts. Enjoy!

The Blurb

For Detective Bunny McGarry, life is complicated, and it is about to get more so.

It’s 1999 and his hard-won reputation amongst Dublin’s criminal fraternity, for being a massive pain in the backside, is unfortunately shared by his bosses. His partner has a career-threatening gambling problem and, oh yeah, Bunny’s finally been given a crack at the big time. He is set the task of bringing down the most skilled and ruthless armed robbers in Irish history. So, the last thing he needs in his life is yet another complication.

Her name is Simone. She is smart, funny, talented and, well, complicated. When her shocking past turns up to threaten her and Bunny’s chance at a future, things get very complicated indeed. If the choice is upholding the law or protecting those he loves, which way will the big fella turn?

Angels in the Moonlight is the standalone prequel to Caimh McDonnell’s critically acclaimed Dublin Trilogy, and it is complicated.

Inspiration by Caimh McDonnell

It is one of the great truths of life that nobody has ever asked an accountant where they get their ideas from. People should start doing that, because it would take a lot of the heat off us authors. I’ve been asked that question a few times and, generally, I give some variation of a funny response that doesn’t answer the question. Nobody likes to answer that question, not least because there really is no satisfying answer. In all honesty, most of the time the ideas are just there in my head when I jump into the shower in the morning. Perhaps my subconscious has worked them out overnight, perhaps my brain reacts well to water, perhaps I do all my best thinking naked. Certainly, I seem to think more clearly when naked, even if the thought is ‘I should very definitely not have taken my clothes off here’.

Still though, for the first and probably last time ever, I have gone through latest novel, Angels in the Moonlight, and tried to identify, where possible, how I arrived at certain conclusions. What this has resulted in is a weird scrapbook of ideas that may make little or no sense, but if nothing else, it’ll make you think twice before asking that dreaded question of anyone, even your accountant.

Getting annoyed at Lethal Weapon
You know the famous scene in Lethal Weapon where Mel Gibson’s character is dealing with a man trying to jump off a building? He handcuffs himself to him and then they both jump. Here’s the thing – it is a great scene that makes absolutely no sense. There’s a big inflatable bouncy castle type thing below that they land on – how did the jumper not know that was there? I’ve never jumped off a building but I’m pretty sure that if I was going to, I’d be incredibly focused on the ground. That has bugged me for thirty years, the whole first scene of my book is essentially me doing a distinctly Dublin version of that scene, with no invisible bouncy castles anywhere to be seen or indeed not seen.

A benign cyst
Speaking of romance … I was once the proud owner of a benign cyst. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, the human body will occasionally grow these entirely harmless lumps that, though slightly alarming, have zero medical repercussions. It’s one of the ways that life reminds us that while the human body is a miracle, God could still have probably asked for a bit of help on the finishing touches or maybe done some beta testing. I had one on my back that my long-suffering wife was not a big fan of. She eventually talked me into getting it removed because it was bothering her she was concerned about it. Long story short, I then had an operation and a severely unpleasant reaction to anesthetic. There’s an instance in the book where one of the characters is about to go through that same operation. Essentially, I wrote that so I could bring it up again without my wife being allowed to roll her eyes and tell me to get over it.

Y2K
Some of you young’uns might not remember but back in the good old days (1999), we all thought the world was going to end due to a thing called the Millennium Bug – a very real and serious problem created by IT people that was going to cause planes to fall from the sky, all computers to stop working and my ma’s microwave to blow up so she had to unplug it and put it outside in the garden for safety. The only possible way to fix this was to pay IT people an awful lot of money – funny that. The best thing about it was if nothing happened they had done a brilliant job. This meant on January 1st 2000 the entire world felt a tremendous sense of anticlimax and started noticing the suspicious amount of IT consultants who now owned sports cars. I was working in IT at the time and while my compatriots were making out like bandits, I was spending my time reading endless articles on the internet about cults and predictions about how the world was going to end. Understand, I didn’t think it was going to end, I just developed an unhealthy fascination with those that did. I think I may’ve essentially set my book in 1999 just so I could share my obsession with one of my characters. Nothing is wasted – well, apart from if you gave away all your earthly possessions in the firm belief that the world was about to end, that is a bit of a waste.

Having re-read this, I think it is fair to say you could read the book (which I strongly suggest you do) and not have any idea what effect any of the above had on its creation. There’s an old saying in American politics, that laws are like sausages; it’s better if people don’t see how they’re made. I think we can now add novels to that list.

Thanks Caimh for the great post. Angels in the Moonlight certainly brought back fond memories of my mis-spent early adulthood in 1999 (and now I feel old!).

My Thoughts

Bunny is back! And I am bloomin’ glad he is! Angels in the Moonlight is the prequel to the brilliant Dublin Trilogy and it takes us back to 1999 when Bunny is still working as a detective. If you haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy Angels in the Moonlight is a great place to start (obviously … it’s a prequel!) and it is equally great for those who are familiar with and, let’s face it, love Bunny.

The first chapter is perfectly set. It incorporates drama and that all important acerbic Bunny wit. Angels in the Moonlight continues in this vein and, as you would expect from McDonnell, it has you doubled over with laughter while clinging to the edge of your seat. McDonnell continues to totally nail the crime/comedy aspect getting the blend of genres absolutely spot on. We see another layer, however, in Angels in the Moonlight as this is Bunny’s story and McDonnell answers the questions readers of the initial two books had about Bunny. We finally learn about – and meet – Simone; the woman who is often in Bunny’s thoughts in books one and two. Here McDonnell really demonstrates his writing skills as we see a softer side to Bunny, and McDonnell captures the emotions between him and Simone perfectly.

The characters throughout the book are fantastic. McDonnell’s descriptions of them are vivid and he really brings each one to life. I adored the nuns who appear in Angels in the Moonlight they are hilarious. There are always characters you want to see more of in the future in McDonnell’s books and this time, for me, it is definitely the nuns. The dynamics between the characters work wonderfully and ensures that you are completely engaged in the story.

McDonnell manages to make the more tedious aspects of detective work side-splittingly funny ensuring the plot moves along at speed while adding that realistic edge. Once you start Angels in the Moonlight you will find it difficult to drag yourself away from it.

Basically, Angels in the Moonlight is bloody brilliant. McDonnell doesn’t put a foot wrong and I urge everyone to read this (and the other two books if they haven’t already) as it is fantastic. Perfection on a page!

Published on 30 August 2017 by McFori Ink.

You can get your copy here:

Amazon UK
Amazon US

About the Author

Caimh McDonnell is an award-winning stand-up comedian, author and writer of televisual treats. Born in Limerick and raised in Dublin, he has taken the hop across the water and now calls Manchester his home.

He is a man who wears many hats. As well as being an author, he is an award-winning writer for TV, a stand-up comedian and ‘the voice’ of London Irish rugby club. His debut novel, A Man with One of Those Faces was released in 2016 and it is the first book of the Dublin Trilogy series. The follow-up, The Day That Never Comes was published in 2017. Both books are fast-paced crime thrillers set in Caimh’s home town of Dublin and they are laced with distinctly Irish acerbic wit.
Caimh’s TV writing credits include The Sarah Millican Television Programme, A League of Their Own, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You. He also works as a children’s TV writer and was BAFTA nominated for the animated series Pet Squad which he created.

During his time on the British stand-up circuit, Caimh has firmly established himself as the white-haired Irishman whose name nobody can pronounce. He has brought the funny worldwide, doing stand-up tours of the Far East, the Middle East and Near East (Norwich).

Follow Caimh’s witterings on @Caimh
Facebook: @CaimhMcD

A huge thank you to Caimh McDonnell and Elaine Ofori at McFori Ink for the advance copy and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Follow the rest of the tour…

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour – Dan Knew by FJ Curlew *Review*

I am delighted to be kick starting the blog tour for Dan Knew by FJ Curlew today and sharing my review on this story about a little dog with a big personality. Before I share my thoughts, here is what the book is about…

The Blurb

A puppy born to the dangers of street life. A woman in trouble. An unbreakable bond.
A Ukrainian street dog is rescued from certain death by an expat family. As he travels to new countries with them a darkness grows and he finds himself narrating more than just his story. More than a dog story. Ultimately it’s a story of escape and survival but maybe not his.
The world through Wee Dan’s eyes in a voice that will stay with you long after you turn that last page.

My Thoughts

I absolutely adore dogs to the extent that in a film or book I am always more upset by the death or injury of a dog than I am about the humans. Knowing that Curlew is as mad about dogs as I am, I was thrilled to be able to read and review Dan Knew.

Dan Knew is a very personal book about the life of Curlew’s best canine friend, wee Dan, who she sadly recently lost. It is told from the perspective of Dan from his brief time as a stray on the streets of the Ukraine to the life he has with the family who rescue him. It is a book that follows him on his journey around Europe as he learns all about what it is to be a canine and the nature of humans.

I couldn’t help but fall in love with Dan and I felt as though I actually knew him by the end of the book. Dan’s voice comes across as being truly canine and a lot of his thoughts and behaviour really resonated with me as I could see him in the dogs I have owned. Curlew really captures the individual personalities of Dan and his canine family members. From Dan who is quite serious in nature and very much sees himself as the protector of his family, Ceilidh the wiser, older dog who Dan learns so much from, Lada the laid back, gentle bear of a Newfoundland to Jake the crazy Labrador with boundless energy. I adored the way we saw each of the dogs through Dan’s eyes as I often wonder about what my own dogs think of each other and I found myself laughing at Dan’s observations of his family members. Dan Knew brought back so many wonderful memories of my own dogs.

Dan Knew is also the story of the lives of the human members of his family and, as is often the way with humans, this does not always run smoothly. There is a serious thread to this book as Dan learns that human beings are complicated creatures and often behave in ways that hurt those they are supposed to love. Seeing the unfathomable behaviour of human nature from the perspective of a different species is a unique take on what is, sadly, an all too familiar story. Dan Knew touches a real emotional cord within the reader as they follow the difficulties Dan’s mum goes through and it had me smiling and crying in equal measure. I warn you now, you will need tissues for the ending!

Curlew captures the essence of the canine while intertwining this with a tale about human relationships and adversity. She takes us on a real journey through interesting countries, life and friendship. Whether you are a dog lover or not, you will not fail to be moved by this story of the bond that can exist between different species. There is now a Dan-shaped space in my heart and Curlew has written a fitting tribute to a very special friend.

Dan Knew is out now and can be purchased HERE.

A huge thank you to FJ Curlew for the advance copy and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Want to find out about Fiona’s favourite books and authors? Read her Author Influences HERE.

Follow the rest of the tour for more reviews and author guest posts…