Monthly Archives: July 2016

Monthly Round Up – July 2016

July Overview

Wow! what a month July has been.  Have read some really brilliant books this month and featured Q&A’s with the lovely Louise Jensen and Susan Gandar and a guest post on why reviews are important by Tracey Sinclair.

I laughed my socks off at Melody Bittersweet and the Girl’s Ghostbusting Agency, was chilled and thrilled by The Sister, The Step Mother, Lying in Wait and The Madam.  I have also travelled back in time and to some exotic locations with some stunning historical fiction in The Sugar Planter’s Daughter, Mata Hari and We’ve Come to Take You Home.

FB_IMG_1467541425203FB_IMG_1463587225903The Stepmother Claire SeeberIMG_20160709_083131The MadamThe Sugar Planters Daughter Sharon Maas

Blog Tours

I popped my blog tour cherry this month, taking part in tours for Now and Then Friends, Mata Hari and We’ve Come to Take You Home.  I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of them and have more coming up next month.

nowandthenfriends_CV.inddMata Hari CoverWe've Come to Take You Home

I was mega chuffed this month to see part of my review used on a banner for Simon Booker’s Without Trace and by Claire Seeber’s response on Twitter to my review of The Step Mother – especially so, as I was not overly happy with the review I had written and was doubting it!

Without Trace bannerFeedback - Claire Seeber

10 Books of Summer Challenge

I’m not doing particularly well with the challenge, mainly due to the fact that I can’t resist the books that I’m being asked to read for review or keep my mits off Netgalley.  I did manage to read Skin and Bones, The Things We Never Said and Unravelling Oliver.  I have wanted to get round to reading them for a while, so chuffed that I finally managed to.

FB_IMG_1466576274168 [68284]Things We Never SaidUnravelling Oliver

Coming up in August

I’m very excited to be kicking August off with a Q&A with Tom Bale and sharing the blurb and cover for his new book which is published on 1 September 2016.  I will be taking part in two blog tours for The Unravelling by Thorne Moore on the 4 August and Good Girl Bad Girl by Ann Girdharry on 22 August.  Other books I’m planning to read include –

The Museum of You by Carys Bray

Dear Mother by Angela Marsons

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

Coffee, Tea, the Caribbean and Me by Caroline James.

As always I send a huge thank you to the authors and publishers for letting me read their books in exchange for a review, the other fantastic bloggers I have met and everyone who takes time to read my reviews.  It’s greatly appreciated!

Quote of the Month

This month’s quote comes from Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent.  It’s one hell of an opening line and really sets the tone for the whole of the novel.  How can you not read on after this? –

‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’

#10 Books of Summer – Book #5 Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Unravelling Oliver

The Blurb

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story.  He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion.  Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story.  So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades.  What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled.  But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

My Thoughts

I have had this book sitting on my kindle for a while, however, ended up reading Liz’s second novel, Lying In Wait, first in order to hit publication date (you can read that review here). The 10 books of summer challenge gave me the perfect impetus to get it read.

Liz is the queen of the opening line! How can you not be drawn into a book immediately when it opens with this;

‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’

Narrated by various characters, the story of Oliver and what led him to his current actions towards his wife, Alice, slowly come to life. I have always had an interest in what makes people tick and the fact that this is a why-dunnit rather than a who-dunnit really appealed to me.

Liz has a way of writing that makes you feel as though you are involved in a direct conversation with each of the characters. This serves to connect you with the characters and at points I even found myself feeling some sympathy with Oliver, despite his despicable behaviour and thought processes.

In my previous life as a social worker, I came across a lot of men who physically and emotionally abused their partners. The attitudes and lack of accountability they have towards their behaviour comes through perfectly in Unravelling Oliver ;

The words that come to mind are ’circumstances beyond our control’. I emphasise the word ’our’, because, although I should not have done it, she really should not have provoked me.’

Paced perfectly to, as the title states, unravel the nature of Oliver and what has made him the person he is, this is a compelling read. It would be great for reading groups as it focuses on human nature and the reasons behind our actions. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Published on 6 March 2014 by Penguin Ireland.

Blog Tour – We’ve Come to Take You Home by Susan Gandar

We've Come to Take You Home Banner

The final stop on the We’ve Come to Take You Home blog tour, I am thrilled to bring you an insightful Q&A session with the author, Susan Gandar.  I am extremely pleased to be hosting this as I adore this book!  You can also read my review and a bio of Susan.

So first up here is my Q&A session with Susan –

We’ve Come to Take You Home is such a unique novel, what inspired the stories of Sam and Jess and the relationship between the two of them?

When I was in my early teens, the time in your life when you think you know everything, when in fact you know nothing, I was in the car, with my father and mother, and my mother was talking about something that had happened, in the past. And I said, ‘The past! What’s the past? It’s only the future that matters.’

My parents, particularly my mother, were furious. But it took many years for me to understand the clumsiness of my comment and why it angered, and upset, my mother so much.

My grandfather, on my father’s side, fought in France during the First World War. He was badly wounded and shipped back to England. It was on a hospital train, rattling its way through France, he met my grandmother, Bertha – it was she who nursed him. After the war ended, they married – theirs was a happy ending.

My mother’s father, my maternal grandfather, also left home and went away to fight in the First World War. But he came back a shadow of himself. He was someone, and I have a very dim memory of him, who you weren’t allowed to touch or talk to – because if you did, he would explode, physically and verbally.

It has taken me years and years to understand and appreciate all this. So, I wanted to write a book which showed the link between now, the present, Sam in the book, and the past, Jess in the book – which tried to explain, show, that we wouldn’t be living the lives we have now without the sacrifices our parents, grandparents and, perhaps, even great grandparents made for us during their lives.

Jess’ storyline evolved out of all the research I did on the Home Front during the First World War. Sam’s story, though, is rooted, very firmly, in my own reality. My mother, very suddenly, without any warning, had a brain haemorrhage. And everything that Sam goes through, I went through – waiting for the ambulance, sitting in the family room, the Intensive Care Unit, all of it. The sister in the Intensive Care Unit asked me to hold my mother’s hand, said that it would help if she knew I was there – and, like Sam, I couldn’t do it. Sam gets a second chance. Sadly, I didn’t.

It’s the old skeleton, the one we, and the society we live in, hide in a cupboard. We lock it in and throw away the key in the hope that it will never get out. But, of course it will. Because the day we are born, is the day we die. And that’s the one thing, whoever we are, wherever we live, man, woman, rich and poor, we all share – death.

In We’ve Come to Take You Home, Sam can only conquer death if she overcomes her fear. I wanted to write a book which would, even in just a small way, get that skeleton out of that cupboard and shake it around a bit. Try and make it into something we could actually accept, even talk about, be just a little less afraid of, rather than something we run away from.

What and who encouraged you to take the plunge and write
your first novel?

We have two wonderful god-daughters, Livvy and Alice. Livvy adored Harry Potter. She read every book, however long. But Alice, the other god-daughter, hated Harry Potter. The characters were pretty much all male and she was less than impressed with the wizards. She pronounced it silly. And asked me one day, if I might write a book, specifically for girls, with female protagonists, which didn’t have any wizards, and wasn’t ‘silly’.

So I started to write a novel aimed at 8 – 12 year olds with two girls, loosely based around Livvy and Alice, and storylines set in the present and in the First World War. But it became increasingly clear that I couldn’t write the First World War, the way I wanted to, if I stayed within that age group. So I decided to go for an adult/YA crossover, replacing a present day plot line focused around a dolls house with the brain haemorrhage story, and making the past storyline, running from 1914 through to 1918, much, much tougher.

Was it easy to get We’ve Come to Take You Home published?

Not at all easy. It had been rejected by so many agents that I was at the point of giving up. And approaching traditional publishers, the larger ones, without an agent on board is impossible. And it was the same with the majority of the smaller, independent publishers although, thankfully, that’s beginning to change. So ‘We’ve Come to Take You Home’ was partner published with Matador. But, I’m really hoping, given the really great reviews it’s getting, from both UK and from across the world, it will now catch the eye of an agent.

What is your writing process? Was the novel carefully plotted or did you write and see where the story took you?

I do an outline, plotting the basic contents of each individual chapter, from the first all the way through to the last. Some might say that to write that way is restrictive. Personally, I find it liberating – when I start on the actual putting down of words, I pretty much know where I’m going and so can relax into it. And, I honestly think, given ‘We’ve Come to Take You Home’ has such a complicated and ambitious structure, there was no other way of doing it. Although, saying that, I’m always open to new ideas, even if that does mean making some hefty changes. For example, right at the very, very last minute, Chapter Thirty became Chapter One!

I’m also a very visual writer – something I’ve inherited from my film and TV background. So I will see each chapter or sequence visually inside my head, a bit like film being projected onto a screen. And then the task, and it’s a hard and a slow one for me, is to take those images and turn them into words on the page.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Luckily, I’ve never had writer’s block, the really serious kind which stops you from writing for weeks, months, if not years. Yes, some days, even weeks, go better than others. But I find when nothing is coming, there’s no energy there at all, it’s better to go and do something else. Walking the dog, doing some gardening, cooking supper, doing something physical rather than sitting there at your desk staring at the computer, is often when you have your best ideas. I’ve also learnt that if something really isn’t happening, that a paragraph or chapter, really isn’t flowing, even though you’ve tried and tried again, it’s usually for a very good reason – it shouldn’t be there.

Reading as much as I can, surrounding myself with words, really helps. And I have done meditation but always in a group as I’m hopelessly ill-disciplined when left to practice on my own. Because, for me, writing is a sort of meditation – it’s only when my mind is completely clear that the words start flowing.

Life during World War 1 is told so vividly throughout the book, did you have to do a lot of research and if so how did you research it?

Yes, I researched, for something like two years. Reading everything and anything I could get hold of, whether fiction or non-fiction, watching films, visiting museums, looking at paintings, reading or going to plays written at that time. Everything. But it was the letters, written from wives, girlfriends or sisters to their husbands, boyfriends or brothers fighting out in France, and vice versa, that had the most profound effect on me. And reading their diaries. I really, really didn’t want to let those people down. But there also comes a time when you have to say I’ve read so many, many books, one more is not going to make much of a difference, I must get on with the actual writing, plotting the outline, because if I don’t it will never every happen.

How did you go about developing the characters of Sam and Jess?

I always knew I wanted the two girls, one in the past and one in the present. Jess partly evolved out of all the research into the Home Front during the First World War. Sam from the present day girls I had met and talked to, including our two god-daughters. That’s the ‘shallow’ side of them – their ages, where they live, their education, their family, their friends etc. But their ‘deep’ emotional character, what they are prepared to fight for, even die for, was developed from the situations they found themselves in, how they reacted, what they felt, and the decisions they made.

Sam and Jess are separated by time, life and death, however, despite never meeting they have a connection. Do you believe in, for use of a better term, supernatural forces?

Yes, I do, definitely believe that there is something else beyond the here and now although I prefer to describe it as spiritual rather than supernatural. I think it would have been very difficult to write this book, the way it is, without that belief. It certainly wouldn’t have had the same conviction or depth of emotion.

It’s such an emotional and moving book, was it difficult to say goodbye to Sam and Jess once you had finished writing the book?

Very difficult. They’ve both been with me for so very long. And I’m also very, very fond of Tom and, of course, Ellie. I have thought about doing a sequel but, right now, I really not sure that it will work. ‘We’ve Come to Take You Home’ is so rooted in emotion and I’m concerned that any sequel would tend to be more plot led, less moving, which could be a disappointing read after the emotional depth of the first book. So, maybe, it’s time to say good-bye to Jess and Sam, let them move on and let them live their own lives, in other people’s imaginations, without me?

What authors inspire you and what are your all time favourite books?

I read so much, so many different genres, by so many different authors, so it’s almost impossible to select any one, two or three or four. I’m a member of a brilliant reading group. Last month’s book was Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See which I, and the rest of group, rated as one of our all-time favourite reads. But the following have also been my most recent really enjoyable reads :

A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD by Anne Tyler
BLOOD AND BEAUTY by Sarah Dunant
Richard Flanagan’s THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH

And I will read anything by Susan Hill. Her First World War novel – STRANGE MEETING – is a particular favourite. If you had to read one novel about that particular time, that particular war, then that would be the one I would recommend.

THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman

But it was Meg Rossoff’s HOW I LIVE NOW, a young adult/adult crossover, which I picked out on an adult shelf, which really opened my eyes to young adult writing. It was so true, so keenly honest, I found it quite shocking, even upsetting.

And, of course, young adult and children’s writer, David Almond, author of SKELLIG, KIT’S WILDERNESS and THE FIRE EATERS. Such beautiful, visual, almost poetic writing.
But it was Marghanita Laski’s THE VICTORIAN CHAISE-LONGUE, a book given to me many, many years ago by my mother, which really helped when I was writing the slips, from one life to another, in We’ve Come to Take You Home.
As the blurb on the back of my Penguin 1962 edition says ‘In this short, eerie novel by the author of Little Boy Lost, a young mother who is recovering from tuberculosis falls asleep on a Victorian chaise-longue and is ushered into a waking nightmare of death amongst strangers.’

Is there a second book planned?

Yes, the working title is ‘Cremated Before Teatime’. It’s based on a true story, set in Sussex and India, during and after the First World War. And that is as far as I’m prepared to go!

About the Book

We've Come to Take You Home

‘Powerful, intelligent and moving …’
Graeme Simsion, author The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect
‘We’ve Come to Take You Home’ is an unusual and compelling story of love, loss and the importance of family.
Samantha Foster and Jessica Brown are destined to meet. One lives in the twentieth century, the other in the twenty-first century
April 1916 and thousands of men have left home to fight in the war to end all wars. Jessica Brown’s father is about to be one of those men. A year later, he is still alive but Jess has to steal to keep her family from starving. And then a telegram arrives – her father has been killed in action.
Four generations later, Sam Foster’s father is admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit with a suspected brain haemorrhage. A nurse asks if she would like to take her father’s hand. Sam refuses. All she wants is to get out of this place, stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a place with no hope and no future, as quickly as possible.
As Sam’s father’s condition worsens, her dreams become more frequent – and more frightening. She realises that what she is experiencing is not a dream, but someone else’s living nightmare…
We’ve Come to Take You Home is an emotionally-charged story of a friendship forged 100 years apart.

My Review

Every now and again I read a book that makes me feel so deeply it takes me a few days to move on from it, and it stays in my head (and my heart) for a long time. This is one of those books. For me, We’ve Come to Take You Home is an evocative and poignant portrayal of life during World War 1 and the links we have with our past and our ancestry.

I was immediately drawn to the book by the title and the cover. I can’t fully explain why, but something about them made me want to read this book.

Throughout the book we follow the lives of Sam, a teenager in present day and Jess, a teenager during World War 1. Told through third person narrative with chapters concentrating on one character, the reader is drawn in to the lives of both girls. You know that the two girls are inextricably linked despite being separated by life, death and time and this pulled me into the story further as I wanted to know what the connection was. As the book progressed I had an idea, however, the ending did not in any way disappoint. The parallels between Jess and Sam’s lives, while experienced differently, show us that our experiences are age old and transcend time.

Susan writes beautifully, with rich, vivid descriptions and touching prose. The horrors of World War 1, in particular for those left at home, jump out from the page;

‘The cottage was no longer a home: it was a tomb.’

It is written with great insight and it is clear that a lot of research was undertaken during the execution of this book. The emotions of those living through these experiences are felt by the reader intensely. The futility of their situation is heartrending. This is an extremely powerful read and during it I felt immense sadness. Susan writes in such a way that you cannot help but be affected by what is on the page. Jess’s tale is tragic and heart-breaking and throughout I was rooting for her.

Sam’s situation is also moving, just in a very different way. Her family are going through their own, more modern day difficulties. Sam’s is a story of self-discovery, learning to navigate through life, and the problems that can arise through the course of it and how the past actions of our forefathers impacts on the way we live today.

We’ve Come to Take You Home moved me profoundly. Beautifully written, heartbreaking and totally absorbing. I loved it. A perfect piece of historical fiction that will make you think and feel deeply.  An accomplished debut novel, Susan is an author to look out for in the future.  Very highly recommended.

Published 28 March 2016 by Troubador Publishing. 

About Susan

Susan Gandar Author Picture

My father, John Box, was a film production designer, working on ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Dr. Zhivago’, ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘A Man For All Seasons’ and the musical ‘Oliver’.  Our house was always filled with people, usually eccentric, always talented, invariably stroppy, discussing stories. My mother put my father’s four Oscars to good use as toilet roll holders, doorstops and hat stands.
A major chunk of my childhood was spent loitering around on film sets. Who needs an ‘English education’ when you have the polystyrene-coated streets of downtown Moscow, ten miles outside of Madrid, to explore?
But then the years of ‘Who Will Buy My Sweet Red Roses’ came to a rather abrupt end. Reality knocked on the door in the guise of the Metropolitan Line to Shepherds Bush and the BBC. Working in television as a script editor and story consultant, I was part of the creative team responsible for setting up ‘Casualty’. I became known for going after the more ‘difficult’ stories at the same time successfully racking up viewing figures from 7 to 14 million.
I went on to develop various projects for both the BBC and the independent sector. The period I enjoyed most was working with Jack Rosenthal, a wonderful writer, on the series ‘Moving Story’ – ‘That’s a situation, a good situation, but now you need to make it into a story.’
Martin, my husband, was made an offer he couldn’t refuse and we left England to live in Amsterdam. ‘Ik wil een kilo kabeljauw, alstublieft’ will, if all goes well, buy you a piece of cod – I decided to concentrate on my writing rather than my Dutch pronunciation.
My debut novel, ‘We’ve Come to Take You Home’, set in the present and in 1918, a crossover aimed at the adult and young adult women’s popular fiction market, was published on 28th March by Matador.

www.susangandar.com
Twitter @Susan_Gandar
https://www.facebook.com/susangandarauthor

You can purchase a copy by clicking the following links.  As a blog tour special, We’ve Come To Take You Home can be bought for 99p/99c on Amazon until the end of Monday 1st August.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Troubador.co.uk

A huge thank you to Susan for allowing Bloomin’ Brilliant Books to be a part of the blog tour and for taking part in the Q&A and to the host, Neverland Blog Tours.

Guest Post With Tracey Sinclair – Why Are Reviews Important?

Feed an author

So you have just finished reading a book, why go to all the bother of writing a review? Personally, I began writing reviews as I love reading and love discussing books. I guess it became a way for me initially to share what I thought of a book I had just read and a kind of creative outlet. When I first started I didn’t really understand just what a difference writing a review made to authors, however, it can have a huge impact on the success of a book.

I am really pleased to have Tracey Sinclair, author of the Dark Dates series joining me today to give you an independent author’s perspective as to why reviews are so important.

Tracey Sinclair author pic

Tracey is an author and editor. She writes for a range of magazines and websites and her latest books are the Dark Dates series. The most recent of these are Angel Falls and A Vampire in New York and Other Stories. She has this to say about reviews –

Reviews fulfil a number of functions for indie/small press authors, mainly around visibility and credibility. In a crowded marketplace and without a major publisher’s marketing budget behind you, it can be hard to stand out. And, as there is little to no quality control in the indie sector, people can be wary of buying these books: independent reviews can assure them the book they’re buying is, at the very least, readable and formatted properly. Amazon has certain algorithms over when it adds books to ‘you might like’ recommendations that are dependent on number of reviews (though I don’t have accurate information as to how many) and Goodreads, similarly, only recommends books that already have a certain number of reviews.

But reviews can also help in a more holistic, and perhaps unexpected ways: for instance, if you review a book on Goodreads, it shows up in your friend’s feeds – which might make them more interested to read it. Certain bloggers have fair sized followings, as do some on Twitter, YouTube or Instagram users: it all helps. It can also directly assist with an author’s own marketing – there’s little less interesting than an author constantly tweeting just the title and buy link for a book, so a good review gives them a valid reason to tweet/post on Facebook/whatever (and, ideally, something more interesting to say than ‘please buy my book’!).

Another often overlooked function of reviews for the indie author is getting genuinely objective feedback. The indie production process generally lacks the professional quality filter mainstream published books have (agent, editor, publisher, etc.) and most indie authors will have a support team that consists, at least initially, of friends giving feedback or people whose services you’ve paid for – so people unlikely tell you you’re wasting your time. This can make for both a crisis of confidence (‘how do I know it’s REALLY any good?’) or, at the other end of the scale, blind overconfidence. Objective reviews balance this out: if a whole bunch of strangers really like what you’ve written, it’s unlikely you’re a complete incompetent, and sometimes you’ll be surprised by the bits that reviewers single out as liking (I recently saw someone tweet a bunch of their favourite lines from Dark Dates and I’d forgotten writing most of them!). Whereas, painful as poor reviews can be, it’s worth rereading them when the hurt dies down and asking: ‘Do they have a point? Is this something I can fix?’. Obviously you’ll never publish something everyone likes, but if you get the same criticism time and time again, that might be something you want to work on – especially if it’s around practical matters like proofing, editing or formatting.

Dark Dates CoverWolf Night coverPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00027]

 

A massive thank you to Tracey for contributing to Bloomin’ Brilliant Books.  Check out her website on the following link –

Welcome to Dark Dates

And for a week, starting today, her Newcastle based rom-com The Bridesmaid Blues is on offer for 99p over at Amazon.

Bridesmaid Blues Final High res [29060]

Blog Tour – Mata Hari by Michelle Moran

Mata Hari 220116

Today I am really pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Mata Hari by Michelle Moran.  Carry on reading to find out more about the book and my thoughts on it.

The Blurb

Mata Hari Cover

From the International bestselling author of Nerfatiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari: exotic dancer, adored courtesan…infamous spy.

Paris, 1917.  The notorious Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death.  She has been charged with a terrible crime.  Alone and despondent, she relays the story of her life to a reporter – her only visitor.  Beginning with her carefree childhood, she recounts her father’s cruel abandonment followed by a calamitous marriage to a military officer.  Refusing to be ruled by her abusive husband, Mata Hari learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous exotic dancer.

From lush Indian temples to glamorous Parisian theatres, Moran brings to vibrant life the famed world of this real-life woman of mystery.

My Review

I have to admit that I did not know a lot about Mata Hari prior to reading this book, however I was intrigued by the tagline ‘Dancer. Lover. Spy’ and knew I had to read it. I am so glad I did!

Mata Hari led an extremely interesting life! Michelle admits at the end of the book that the truth about her is questionable as she told so many tales, Mata Hari appeared to be an accomplished liar and a fantastic story teller. This makes the tale more fascinating. Written in first person narrative I love the way that Michelle, at the beginning of the book, gives us snippets as to the realities of her life. While we hear her telling people the things she wants them to hear, as an aside we get glimpses of the truth. How she hoodwinked people is truly amazing.

I started out not knowing if I would feel sympathetic towards Mata Hari – was she grasping and merely out for what she could get or a woman simply doing what she could to survive? Michelle evoked understanding and a degree of empathy from me and I would like to think it was the latter. Her naiveté comes through at the outbreak of World War One and I felt that she was not the calculating woman I initially believed her to be.

I was pulled further into the book by Michelle’s descriptions of the various different European cities Mata Hari visited. Her prose evokes a strong sense of time and place, and I enjoyed being transported away while reading this book.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat and a huge sense of sadness, this ends up being a truly tragic tale. Without giving anything away for those who are not familiar with Mata Hari, I was gob smacked by how she was used and treated.

A great book about an incredibly interesting woman, this book makes for an absorbing read and is really brought to life by Michelle’s writing. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Michelle Moran and Quercus for the copy in exchange for my honest opinion and for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Published on 28 July 2016 by Quercus.

Review – The Madam by Jaime Raven

The Madam

The Blurb

Three years and eleven months.

That’s how long Lizzie Wells has been banged up inside Holloway prison, serving time for a crime she didn’t commit.

Six months.

That’s how long it’s taken Lizzie to fall in love with her fellow inmate, Scar.

Now they are both finally free and, together, they are about to embark on a vengeful search to find those who framed Lizzie.  It’s time to make them pay…

My Review

As the saying goes ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, and Lizzie Wells has certainly been scorned! Imprisoned for almost four years for a murder she didn’t commit, Lizzie is determined to seek revenge on those responsible for her incarceration.

Admittedly, I was not keen on the cover of this book and would have been slightly put off reading it, however, I really enjoyed it and it goes to show that I should not judge a book by it’s cover! Gripped from the very start, I devoured The Madam within a couple of days.

Lizzie, the main character and narrator, is a tenacious young woman with real grit and determination. I warmed to her instantly and really felt for her as she also has a softer side to her character which makes her easy to empathise with. I really liked the character of her partner, Scar, who is the voice of reason to Lizzie’s hell-bent single-mindedness. Throughout the book I was really rooting for the pair of them and hoped that everything would work out.

The relationship between Lizzie and Scar is written well and with sensitivity. Lizzie, prior to being in prison, is heterosexual, however, fell in love with Scar and grew close to her while inside. I could understand the parts in the book where she found men attractive and her initial doubts as to whether or not the relationship would continue on the outside. There are intimate moments in the book between the characters, however they are not gratuitous and add to the sense of the relationship between Lizzie and Scar. I forgot while reading that The Madam was written by a man, and I give credit to Jaime for handling this topic well.

There were parts of the storyline that I did work out, however, this did not take any enjoyment away from me. It is fast paced from the outset and does not let up until the end. If you want a engrossing thriller that will hold your attention, definitely check The Madam out. I look forward to Jaime’s next novel.

Thank you to Jaime Raven for the copy in exchange for my opinion.

Published 19 May 2016 by Avon.

#10 Books of Summer – Book #4 The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

Things We Never Said

The Blurb

In 1964 Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward, not knowing who she is or why she has been committed.  She slowly begins to have memories of a storm and a man called Jack and slowly the pieces of the past begin to come together…

In 2008 Jonathan is struggling to put his differences with his parents aside to tell them he and his wife are expecting a baby, when a detective arrives to question him about crimes committed long ago…

And as these two tales interweave, the secrets of the past, long kept hidden, start to come to light in unexpected and sometimes startling ways.

The Things We Never Said is a powerful novel about fatherhood and motherhood; nature and nurture; cruelty and kindness; and mental breakdown.  Written in beautiful, compelling prose, it is by turns revealing, witty and moving.

 

My Thoughts

Told during two different times, we follow the main characters, Maggie from 1964 and Jonathan from 2008. The prologue drew me in immediately with enough unanswered questions to keep me intrigued.

Maggie’s story is really moving. The reader first meets her in 1964 when she is a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Susan has written these parts of the book wonderfully, horrifying yet with glimpses of humour, it has the perfect balance. I really liked Maggie, she has an inner strength and courage that I admired greatly.

Jonathan is having a difficult time as events seem to conspire against him. Expecting his first child with his wife, he is finding it difficult to tell his parents due to the difficult relationship he has with them. I was rooting for him throughout the book, desperately hoping things would work out for him.

Without giving the plot away, the two stories come together perfectly. Mental health and parenting feature in this book and Susan has written sensitively and beautifully about difficult issues. The book is not depressing, however, and I felt uplifted by the ending.

A compelling read that is written beautifully, I would definitely recommend this book. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it as part of my 10 books of summer.

Published 23 May 2013 by Simon and Schuster UK.

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Review – The Sugar Planter’s Daughter by Sharon Maas

The Sugar Planters Daughter Sharon Maas

The Blurb

A breathtaking and unforgettable story of a woman torn between her family and the man she loves.

1912, British Guiana, South America: Winnie Cox is about to marry George Quint, the love of her life.  Born into a life of luxury and privilege on her father’s sugar plantation, Winnie has turned her back on her family by choosing to be with George – a poor black postman from the slums. 

Winnie may be living in poverty, but she’s got what her sister Johanna doesn’t have: a loving husband and a beautiful family.  And despite Johanna running her family’s sugar plantation, Winnie will always be their mother’s favourite daughter, a bitter pill for Johanna to swallow.

Then Winnie’s son falls ill and she must travel to Venezuela desperate for a cure.  With her sister away, Johanna finds herself increasingly drawn to George.  But he only has eyes for Winnie.  Johanna, stung by the rejection and the fragile state of her own marriage, is out for revenge – no matter how devastating the consequences.  

My Review

The Sugar Planter’s Daughter is breathtakingly beautiful and I was completely absorbed in this epic family saga.

We are taken back to another era as the story takes place in British Guiana during 1912, 1918 and then eighteen months later. Told in first person narrative by different family members, George, Winnie, Yoyo (Johanna) and Ruth, the different narratives work well in giving all the perspectives and feelings of those involved.

The characterisation is fantastic with Sharon giving each their unique tone. As you follow them on their personal journey you get to know each one individually and become totally absorbed in their emotions. I adored Winnie and George. At times a heartbreaking story, I went through a whole realm of emotions reading their tale.

Yoyo’s character, while difficult to like, I found understandable. She is clearly a product of her class and upbringing and the political situation of the time has impacted on her behaviour. I could appreciate where it was coming from and felt a degree of empathy for her.

Full of rich, vivid descriptions, I could smell, taste and see Promised Land, the family’s sugar plantation. Every time I opened this book I was totally transported to a different time and place. Sharon encapsulates the setting and time wonderfully and this is a testament to her writing skills.

This is a sublime work of historical fiction, Sharon has clearly done a lot of research. All of the, quite frankly horrifying, attitudes towards black people that were held during colonial Britain and the time of slavery are there, and give the reader a sense of the differences between race and class that prevailed during this time period. Although you know these attitudes existed, it is still shocking to read about and makes you think about our history. I found it incredibly moving. There is the perfect mix of politics and engaging family drama which make this book so enjoyable.

This is the second book in Sharon’s Quint Trilogy, however, it works perfectly as a standalone novel if you have not read the first one, The Secret Life of Winnie Cox.

A sweeping story about family, class and race, I was totally enthralled by this book. Fans of historical fiction and family sagas will love it. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Sharon Maas, Bookouture and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Published by Bookouture on 22 July 2016.

#10BooksOfSummer Book #3 Skin and Bones by Tom Bale

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The Blurb

On a cold January morning, a nightmare awaits in a small Sussex village.  A deranged young man goes on the rampage, shooting everyone in his path before taking his own life.  It is a senseless, tragic event, but sadly not an unfamiliar one.

At least that’s what everyone thinks.

Only Julia Trent – believed to be the sole survivor – knows that there was a second man involved.  But after being shot and badly injured, her account of the massacre is ignored.

But she cannot let it rest there.  Together with Craig Walker, the journalist son of one of the victims, Julia sets out to find the truth.  As they peel back the layers of a dark and dangerous conspiracy, they discover the slaughter did not begin on that bitter day in January.  And worst of all, it won’t end there…  

My Thoughts

After reading and loving See How They Run I had added more Tom Bale books to my TBR list. I decided to read Skin and Bones as part of my 10 books of summer as I liked the fact that it started with a massacre.

Tom has rapidly become one of my favourite thriller writers. I love his descriptions and his use of similes really set my imagination on fire. He makes the mundane incredibly chilling;

‘She’d been shot in the back of the head. The resulting debris lay around her like old porridge.’

The book starts with a bang when we are transported to a sleepy, middle class village in Sussex in the midst of a massacre. Brilliantly written, Tom conveys a silence and a stillness in the village that gives the reader a real sense of foreboding. I thought to myself “yes this it what it would probably be like” and you really feel as though you are there and experiencing the situation along with the character, Julia. His pace is perfect, ending paragraphs and chapters at just the right moment to keep you on the edge of your seat. Tom is a master at building tension!

This is no ordinary massacre, however, and what transpires is a host of secrets, bitterness and despicable business men. The middle part of the book did slow down a little bit, however, it was ratcheted up again towards the latter half. Full of twists and turns and questions over who can and cannot be trusted it kept me turning the pages.

There are a lot of characters within the book, however, I was able to keep up with them all. I particularly liked Julia Trent, a strong woman despite, or maybe because of, all she has been through.

I really enjoyed this book, the writing is excellent and it took me on a journey I did not expect. I am waiting with baited breath for Tom’s next novel and will be reading my way through his previous books.

Published on 1 January 2009 by Preface Digital.

Blog Tour – Now and Then Friends by Kate Hewitt

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Today I am really pleased to be taking part in the Blog Tour for Kate Hewitt’s Now and Then Friends.

The Blurb

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The USA Today bestselling author of Rainy Day Sisters returns to Hartley-by-the-Sea…

Childhood best friends Rachel Campbell and Claire West have not only grown up, but after fifteen years, they’ve also grown apart…

After her father left, Rachel had to dedicate her life to managing her household: her two younger sisters, her disabled mother, and her three-year-old nephew. When Rachel’s not struggling to look after all of them, she makes her living cleaning the houses of wealthy families—inclulding the Wests, where a surprise now awaits her. . . .

A lifetime of drifting in other people’s currents has finally left Claire high and dry. First it was her parents, then the popular crowd in school, and finally her fiancé. Now she’s returned to Hartley-by-the-Sea to recover. But running into Rachel brings back memories of past mistakes, and Claire wonders if she now has the courage to make them right.

Soon Claire’s brother, Andrew, asks Rachel to keep an eye on Claire, which is the last thing either woman wants. But as their lives threaten to fall apart, both Claire and Rachel begin to realize what they need most is a friend. The kind of friend they once were to each other, and perhaps can be again. . . .

My Review

Now and then Friends takes you on an emotional journey about friendship, family and self-discovery.

Told in third person narrative with each alternating chapter unfolding the story of the two main characters, Rachel and Claire, I felt I go to know both women really well. It highlights how both women feel and that there are always two sides to a story, as both women have different views as to why their friendship ended.

The characterisation in the book is fantastic. Two very different women with very different lives and upbringings, yet the way their stories are told effectively highlights to the reader that, despite their differences, their experiences have had a similar impact on both of them – something that neither Rachel nor Claire can initially see. Kate hasn’t forgotten the wider characters either, and the effects of their lives and upbringings on Rachel and Claire’s family members are realistically told and make the story whole.

Rachel’s story really moved me. I felt quite tearful at times reading this book as Rachel’s feeling of being totally overwhelmed by her life really comes through. Kate writes about Rachel’s circumstances and her feelings with great insight, empathy and acute sensitivity.

I adored the setting of Cumbria and Hartley-By-The-Sea. Kate has perfectly described life in a small village, the difficulties that can be faced and the positive aspects. The descriptions and mix of characters really brought Hartley-By-The-Sea to life and served to totally involve me in the book.

Now and Then Friends is a beautifully written tale about the endurance of friendship and finding yourself.

Thank you to Kate Hewitt for the ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Published on 12 July 2016 by New American Library.

Available from –

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

 

About Kate Hewitt

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Kate is the USA Today-bestselling author of over 40 books of women’s fiction and romance. She is the author of the Hartley-by-the-Sea series, set in England’s Lake District and published by Penguin. She is also, under the name Katharine Swartz, the author of the Tales from Goswell books, a series of time-slip novels set in the village of Goswell. Other series include the Emigrants Trilogy, the Amherst Island Trilogy, and the Falling For The Freemans series.

She likes to read romance, mystery, the occasional straight historical and angsty women’s fiction; she particularly enjoys reading about well-drawn characters and avoids high-concept plots.

Having lived in both New York City and a tiny village on the windswept northwest coast of England, she now resides in the English Cotswolds with her husband, five children, and an overly affectionate Golden Retriever. You can read about her life at http://www.acumbrianlife.blogspot.co.uk.

Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/katehewitt1
Website: http://www.kate-hewitt.com/