Movies I loved in 2016 by G X Todd – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome G X Todd to the blog. Her debut novel, Defender, was published by Headline on 12th January 2016.

Today she is talking about the films she loved last year and those she is looking forward to this year.

Movies I Loved in 2016 (and what I’m pants-wettingly excited about seeing in 2017)

I’ve watched a lot of films in 2016—I watch a lot of films most years (I always call myself a movie buff whenever anyone asks me about hobbies)—but I’m going to try and keep this list from turning into War and Peace and pick what I believe is the best film in each genre. If possible. Let’s see how we go.

 

Drama

Spotlight

Every so often a film comes along that makes such an impact it leaves you thinking for days afterwards. There have been two films this year that have done that and this is the first. I won’t go into plot details (that’s what IMDb is for), but suffice to say this film tackles some very disturbing allegations surrounding the child molestation cases brought up in Boston about the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. The fact this story is based on real events is what makes it so hard to watch. It also makes it an extremely important piece of filmmaking that everyone should see. I remember reading the information that appeared on the screen at the close of the film, and just feeling tears run down my face. Powerful stuff. There’s a reason it won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

 

Horror

10 Cloverfield Lane

I watched this again recently and was able to sit back on the second viewing and really appreciate everything first-time director Dan Trachtenberg achieved with this film. It could be argued it’s the best piece of claustrophobic, single-location film-making of recent years. Amiable John Goodman, who most of us associate with his comedy roles, plays Howard (an ambiguous saviour figure who see-saws from bad guy to good every ten minutes) with such skill you never know whether to trust him or not.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the perfect heroine here. She’s real and raw and totally believable as the everyday woman (albeit an everyday woman who remains gorgeous to look at even after being locked in a bunker for weeks on end without a beauty regimen). She’s scared, and rightly so, but she’s resilient with it. She doesn’t have overly much dialogue, but she emotes so much with her eyes it doesn’t even matter. And that ending. Wow. It splits audiences, I know, but I freaking loved it.

Honourable mention: The Conjuring 2.

 

Comedy

Deadpool

Come on, this movie is hilarious! And beings I haven’t seen that many films over the past twelve months that can be classed as comedy, this is all you’re gonna get. Ryan Reynolds was made to be Deadpool. His superhero’s bawdy humour might not be for everyone—and it does miss its mark a time or two—but when it hits home, oh man, it’s glorious. I did find the general story and the character’s arc to be wholly uninspired in the grand scheme of things, but the originality of the character and how Reynolds brings him to the big screen is what makes this a winner. As long as you’re not easily offended by crudeness and graphic violence, this really is a must-see.

 

Animated/Children’s

The Little Prince

I was going put Zootropolis here, because I did really enjoy it. I think Disney nailed it on the head with choosing to spotlight a strong, hard-working female character in Judy Hopps. But I just didn’t love it. You know?

What I did love was The Little Prince on Netflix, despite its arguably weaker ending. It was so beautiful! It was the second animated feature I’d seen that utilised stop-motion action (the other being Kubo and the Two Strings). The Little Prince is a mix of both stop-motion and standard animation, but it’s the stop-motion that really blew me away, and it was the fantastical story told in those segments which really resonated. The story of the Little Prince and his fox sidekick was wonderful. It’s making me want to watch it again simply from writing about it…

With stellar voice acting by the likes of Jeff Bridges and Rachel McAdams, this is a top class production, which not only treats the eyes to its visual splendour but tugs at the heartstrings with its message about acceptance, family and how to find our place in the world.

Adventure/Action

Tarzan

Tarzan?!” I hear some of you cry in derision. Yes! Tarzan! Hush, I liked it. I also bought it on Blu-ray, and not solely to pause the footage when Alexander Skarsgård takes his shirt off for the first time. No, it’s a fun romp, with excellent action set-pieces and a central love story that transcends all time and space! Margot Robbie is suitably feisty and pugnacious as Jane, too. What’s not to like?

Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Arrival

I’ve won you back after picking Tarzan, haven’t I? How can I like Tarzan and then pick Arrival, you ask? Because I’m a complex individual with hidden depths, that’s why.

Arrival is a cerebral, slow-paced discovery of a movie, and it’s that second film I mentioned (see Spotlight above) which impacted on me so much I’m still thinking about it now. The way it plays with time, and how it then reveals how it played with time, is majestic. Amy Adams is also majestic in how understated and multi-layered her performance is. She really is on top of her game here (although she is in most everything she’s in). And all that linguistic stuff! Man. So clever.

Arrival isn’t showy and it’s not action-packed, but what it is is complex with many hidden depths. Just like me.

 

Movies hitting in 2017 to be excited about

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Chris Pratt. That is all.) 

Bladerunner 2049 (Ryan Gosling. That is all.)

Logan (I’m really liking the direction this is going in with an old, gnarly-looking Wolverine.)

Alien: Convenant (ALIENS IS MY FAVOURITE FILM OF ALL-TIME.)

Wonder Woman (Oh my god, I’m scared they’re gonna mess this one up.)

Beauty and the Beast (My childhood literally coming to life.)

The Ghost in the Shell (I’m excited even with Scarlett Johansson being top billing.)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (I’m hoping Luc Besson is back on Fifth Element form with this one.)

Split (James McAvoy playing a man with twenty-four distinct split personalities. Colour me intrigued, Mr Shyamalan. You have another chance here to redeem yourself.)

IT (It’s Stephen King.)

The Dark Tower (IT’S STEPHEN KING.)

God Particle (The third, and possibly final, part in the Cloverfield Anthology movies.)

Annihiliation (Based on the first book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. The screenplay is written by Alex Garland and stars Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac. One to watch out for.)

Okja (the second American produced film by Joon-ho Bong, the guy who brought us The Host and the crazy brilliant Snowpiercer. Joy of joys, Tilda Swinton, is starring, too.)

 

 About the book:

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On the cusp of sleep, have we not all heard a voice call out our name?’

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

The moment locks them together.

Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.

These voices have purpose.

And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Defender pulls you on a wild ride to a place where the voices in your head will save or slaughter you.

#HearTheVoices

 

 

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Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner – Extract

Today author Helen Cox and publisher Avon have kindly given me permission to share with you an extract from Helen’s latest novel, Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner, the second book in the Starlight Diner series. Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner was published in ebook format on 16 December 2016.

Funny how you can interact with some people your whole life and never truly know them, while others make you feel as though you’ve always known them after five minutes. That’s how it was for me with the staff at the Starlight Diner. They let me in on their jokes, told me their life stories and listened to mine. Though I’d only been working there for one week, I didn’t want to remember a time when I’d lived without them.

            Whether I was laughing at one of Mona’s stories about her son, Donnell, trying to convince Bernie to eat eggs on wholewheat toast rather than greasy bacon for his breakfast, or watching Lucia sing Roxette into her spatula, I found myself more at ease than I’d ever been. And Esther, well, I had a sister back in Detroit and I loved her, but Esther was an only child and had spent most of the last week doling out all of her pent-up sisterly love to me. She’d barely left my side.

‘Thanks for walking with me to the store,’ I said. ‘I know it must seem a little pathetic. Not like anything is that far away from anything else in the East Village.’

‘Not at all,’ Esther smiled. ‘I speak from experience when I say that New York is a pretty scary place to be sometimes. Especially after dark.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’ I shrugged. ‘But growing up on the outskirts of Detroit I never thought I’d find myself going all wobbly on the mild-mannered East Coast, you know?’

‘Well, you’ve been through a lot,’ Esther said, putting her arm through mine. It’d be enough to put anyone on edge.’ ‘You’re right, I know you’re right, it’s just sometimes I think I’m going nuts.’ I cleared my throat, which felt drier than usual, even though I’d had some water before leaving the diner. Was now the time to bring up the way I’d been feeling the last few days? And how sore my stomach muscles were from tensing up over the things I didn’t know if I was seeing for real or dreaming up in my head?

‘I’m sure you’re not going nuts, it just feels that way,’ Esther said, patting my arm.

I stopped walking. She stopped too and looked at me, waiting.

‘I don’t know anymore. I’m probably just imagining things, but the past few days I kept thinking I could see someone standing just out of sight. Like I was catching glimpses of them in the corner of my eyes or something.’

Esther stiffened. ‘A man or a woman?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know.’ I pressed my lips together and shook my head. ‘It might not be either. Whenever I turn around nobody’s there. Or certainly not anybody who looks in the least bit menacing.’

‘Sometimes our minds can play tricks on us, but I wouldn’t dismiss your concerns outright,’ said Esther, her eyes flitting up and down the length of Suffolk Street. Paranoia, it seemed, was contagious.

‘I don’t know. Like you say, I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been having nightmares since… Well, since I saw what I saw. Damn near screamed the place down that first night at Jimmy’s.’ I put my sleeves around myself, rubbing the arms of my leather jacket. ‘I never thought I’d ever see anything like that – a life ended. And the way Frankie did it, too, as easy as snuffing out a candle.’ I put a hand to my mouth, remembering.

‘It’s not the kind of thing a person gets over quickly,’ said Esther. ‘Seeing death, really seeing it…’ She shook her head and kept her eyes on the ground. Did she know what it meant to see the wide-eyed stare of a corpse, one that wasn’t on TV or in a movie? Then I remembered what Jimmy had said about the ‘timely death’ of Esther’s husband. Was Esther there when he died? Is that how she knew what it felt like to stare into the eyes of death?

‘But the dreams aren’t real.’ I figured if I said that sentence with enough confidence, I might feel a little less jittery about it all. ‘And this feeling about somebody hovering around probably isn’t real either. The whole thing is probably just a hangover from the time I spent on the run from Frankie Ray.’

‘Maybe.’ Esther started walking again and I followed her lead. ‘Thing is, if you’re wrong, if there isn’t anyone watching you, the worst thing that can happen is that you look a little bit silly. If you’re right, whoever it is following you could be dangerous.’

‘Somebody sent by Frankie.’ I shuddered. ‘I can’t believe what that man’s put me through, and there may be more to come.’

‘Try not to think that way.’ Esther linked her arm through mine again. ‘Regardless of what I think of Boyle as a person, there’s one thing I can’t deny: when he puts his mind to something he’s pretty much unstoppable.’

‘Yeah, I get that impression.’ I raised both eyebrows.

‘Haven’t seen him in the diner lately,’ Esther said, looking at me out the corner of her eye.

‘No… I told you, he’s out in Atlantic City gathering evidence for the defence case. He’s being weirdly secretive about it all too. You’d think he might let me in on it given it might decide whether or not I go to jail for the rest of my life.’

Esther tilted her head to one side. ‘He must have his reasons for keeping things hush-hush. And I did remember he’s in Atlantic City, I just meant I thought we’d be seeing more of him, in general,’ Esther pushed. She had the cheekiest look on her face I’d ever seen.

I sighed and shook my head at her. ‘And you say Mona is the meddler of the diner gang.’

‘What?’ Her smirk lapsed into a smile. ‘I’m just noting my surprise.’

‘Our relationship, if you can call it that, is purely professional. He says that’s the way it’s gotta be.’ I’d almost got used to the idea. Almost. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have other things to worry about.

‘Can’t believe he has the audacity to utter the word “professional” after some of the things I’ve seen him do. Wait a minute, what am I talking about? Yes, I can. That’s just Jimmy Boyle.’

‘Who can say what his reasons are? I guess I’ve just gotta be grateful he’s still willing to work my case. My list of allies is short.’

‘The list might be longer than you think. Once the Starlight Diner staff take you in, they don’t let go.’ Esther paused as we reached Sullivan’s grocery. ‘You want me to come around with you?’ She was doing all she could to sound enthusiastic about this idea but we were both tired as dogs after an eight-hour shift at the diner and it was obvious to anyone, by the way she was slouching on one leg, that all she really wanted was to get home and put her feet up.

About the Book:

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“What brings Bonnie Brooks to The Starlight Diner? And why is she on the run?

As the front-woman in a band, Bonnie is used to being in the spotlight, but now she must hide in the shadows.

Bonnie only has one person who she can turn to: her friend Esther Knight, who waitresses at the Fifties-themed diner. There, retro songs play on the jukebox as fries and sundaes are served to satisfied customers. But where has Esther gone?

Alone in New York City, Bonnie breaks down in front of arrogant news reporter, and diner regular, Jimmy Boyle. Jimmy offers to help her. Can she trust him?

When the kindly owner of the Starlight Diner offers Bonnie work, and she meets charming security officer Nick Moloney, she dares to hope that her luck has changed. Is there a blossoming romance on the cards? And can Bonnie rebuild her life with the help of her Starlight Diner friends?”

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Erica Ferencik – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Erica Ferencik to the blog. Erica’s debut novel, The River at Night is published by Bloomsbury Raven, today, the 12th January 2017.

You can read my review of The River at Night here. Erica kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The River at Night.

The River at Night is a novel about four women friends who fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident in the wilderness of Northern Maine.

2. What inspired the book? 

Two events in the summer of 2012 were my inspiration for this book.

One:

I read and fell in love with James Dickey’s 1970 novel Deliverance. Most people have seen the movie – cue the banjos! – but I’m not sure the book has gotten the love it deserves. 

Dickey was a poet, but he also wrote this propulsive, visceral, first-person novel about four male friends who go white-water rafting in the Georgia wilderness. The story was utterly terrifying to me; I was struck by this story of a series of bad decisions that led to disaster.

Two:

The summer before I started the book I was hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with a few friends and we got lost. We had all depended on – let’s call her Lucy – to map out the day; she was the one who had the most hiking experience after all, the one who knew what she was doing. Turned out, Lucy had done some did pretty shabby planning. 

The idea was to get to the hut (the White Mountains have a system of huts hikers can stay in) by around five to get cleaned up and grab a bunk before a 5:30 call for dinner. But we were still hiking at 7:30; thank God it was summer so it was still light, but we had some older people with us, specifically a very tall, teetery gentleman in his seventies lugging this ginormous pack, and I thought we are going to have to carry this guy…we ran out of water and food, and one of the women had such bad cramps in her calves and hamstrings we had to stop and massage her muscles just so she could unbend her legs. The wind had picked up and the temperature dropped like a stone, and we were up past the tree line scrambling over huge boulders, completely exhausted and scared…finally we made it to the hut just past nine, barely able to see our hands in front of our faces. A search party was being organized. They were all suited up. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when we stumbled in the door…talk about food tasting good, talk about a cot feeling like the Four Seasons…we had been so close to spending the night on the mountain, alone and lost. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel? 

After many half-written I’ll just let the words take me where they will novels shoved in the drawer in frustration, I am an outliner and, as you say, a planner. Creating a book is no less complex than building a house – I would argue it’s usually a hell of a lot more complex – and so for me anyway, I need a blueprint. 

A novel for me starts with an idea. Not just any idea, but one that has the depth and complexity novels demand, and one that I feel I can actually pull off. But even this stage is tricky. So many times I’ll come up with some brilliant idea, and I get so excited, and I go to bed some kind of freaking genius. I wake up an idiot, however, when I realize what a lame idea it is. But every now and then an idea sticks with me, stands the test of several nights sleep, and still feels like it has legs. 

Then I bang out a rough outline that I can take months to flesh out. I refuse to actually start writing the book until I am clear on most of the elements: what happens, characters, subplots, the ending. 

The shortest to write and complete rewrites for a book for me has been a year, the longest is four.

4. What would your ideal girls holiday be – an adventure like Pia or relaxing on the beach as Win dreamt of?

Something inbetween would be perfect…

I would love to go someplace exotic and lovely with lots of natural beauty, but safeJ, a place where we could each do our own thing and enjoy it, then get together later in the day for dinner and talking and drinking. I have found that a girlfriend getaway has to work for the group as well as everyone individually; part of a vacation is as we call it finding your bliss: for one of us that might mean sitting on the beach reading all day, for another it could mean shopping the local markets, for another it could be an invigorating hike. The best way to have fun is to not have expectations of each other, or to have minimal expectations. For many years we’ve all gone to Cape Cod which I love, but I wish we could all afford to do something crazy like rent a place in the south of France, or go to a Greek Isle…hey, now I’m getting ideas…

5. What did you discover about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

This my sixth novel, first published one, so you would think there wouldn’t be a lot of surprises but there were. The truth is, no matter how many books I write, I am still learning how to write books. Why? Every book is different – plot, complexity, point of view, characters, tone; so there’s that. Also, in every book there’s so much to remember, to keep in mind, all at once as you write. And each time I’m always surprised at how much work it is. Duh. 

6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I LOVE being outside in any way, shape or form: I love to be in nature, be around animals, travel, explore this amazing world of ours, see friends and make new ones, and I love movies and of course, books. I love sleep. I love staring into space. Some pampering, a massage. A double feature. A day to do nothing!:)

7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

Stoner, by John Williams. 

8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Q: What advice would you give a young writer?

Know that learning to write is a lifelong process. Consider the giver in every piece of criticism you receive. Not everyone is going to love your writing, and that’s okay. You need to find, love, and cultivate your audience.

Don’t ever give up. It took me thirty years, seven novels, countless screenplays and essays, and five agents to get my first novel published. I’m not saying it will take you a fraction of that time and effort, but persistence is your friend. Stay organized. Keep track of how you spend your time. 

Remember that really difficult, big, lovely things are often made slowly, and in pain. The more compelling the path, the more lonely it is. And we all have that inner voice that says, this is a waste of time. It’s the worst thing I ever did. 

And you need to answer, I’m going to do it anyway.

About the book:

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“‘A thought came to me that I couldn’t force away: What we are wearing is how we’ll be identified out in the wilderness.’

Win Allen doesn’t want an adventure. After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans. Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air. No phone coverage. No people. No help…

To celebrate publication day the ebook is currently on offer for £1.49 on Amazon, ITunes and other ebook retailers. https://www.amazon.co.uk/River-at-Night-Erica-Ferencik-ebook/dp/B01MAVRUGF/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1484218502&sr=8-1

 

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Under the Reader’s Radar – celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

Today’s first suggestion is from Susmita Bhattacharya, author of The Normal State of Mind. Her suggestion is The Village by the Sea by Anita Desai, published by Puffin.

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“A story of survival set in a small fishing villlage near Bombay. Lila and Hari, aged 13 and 12, struggle to keep the family, including two young sisters, going when their mother is ill and their father usually the worse for drink. When Hari goes to Bombay to find work, Lila seems to be responsible for everything. Although the book paints a picture of extreme poverty, it demonstrates the strength of the family even in the most extreme circumstances and offers a powerful picture of another culture.”
Read more on the Puffin website.

Here’s what she had to say about it:

“I love Anita Desai’s The Village by the Sea. It was part of our school syllabus 25 years ago, but even now, it draws me in. The story, about two young children surviving in the big, bad city of Bombay (as it was called then) still has a charm that has not quite diminished. It is a pleasure to read it with my children, as the themes cross continents and cultures. And Anita Desai is one of my favourite writers.” 

The second suggestion is by Kate Frost, author of The Butterfly Storm. Her suggestion is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, published by Black Swan.

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“When Israel Finch and Tommy Basca, the town bullies, break into the home of school caretaker Jeremiah Land, wielding a baseball bat and looking for trouble, they find more of it than even they expected. For seventeen-year-old Davey is sitting up in bed waiting for them with a Winchester rifle. His younger brother Reuben has seen their father perform miracles, but Jeremiah now seems as powerless to prevent Davey from being arrested for manslaughter, as he has always been to ease Reuben’s daily spungy struggle to breathe. Nor does brave and brilliant nine-year-old Swede, obsessed as she is with the legends of the wild west, have the strength to spring Davey from jail. Yet Davey does manage to break out. He steals a horse, and disappears. His family feels his absence so sorely, the three of them just pile into their old Plymouth, towing a brand new 1963 Airstream trailer, and set out on a quest to find him. And they follow the outlaw west, right into the cold, wild and empty Dakota Badlands. Set in the 1960s on the edge of the Great Plains, PEACE LIKE A RIVER is that rare thing, a contemporary novel with an epic dimension. Told in the touching voice of an asthmatic eleven-year-old boy, it revels in the legends of the West, resonates with a soul-expanding sense of place, and vibrates with the possibility of magic in the everyday world. Above all, it shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, the most tragic of fates” (Image and synopsis from Amazon)

Here’s what she had to say about it:

“He’s only written two books and this was his debut and a stunning one it is. Set in Minnesota and North Dakota in the 1960s and told from the perspective of Reuben, an asthmatic nine year-old boy, it’s in turn evocative, heartbreaking and uplifting and the characters simply ooze off the page, particularly Reuben’s nine year-old sister, Swede. It was one of those rare books that I kept thinking about when I wasn’t reading it and the characters and story haunted me long after finishing the last page.” 

So there we have it, two more books that may have passed you by, but which could find a home on your bookshelf. Do let me know if you’ve uncovered any hidden gems that you think should be more widely read.

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Oi, Dog! by Kes Grey and Jim Field – review

Published by Hodder Children’s

Publication date 6 October 2016

Source – own copy

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“The absurdly funny sequel to the award-winning Oi Frog! from vibrant pairing Kes Gray and Jim Field.

The hilarious sequel to the bestselling Oi Frog! will have children rolling around with laughter. Shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award 2016.

Frog’s had enough, he’s the changing the status quo! Cat insists that there are rules – only mules sit on stools, no one but hares should sit on chairs and however irritating, dogs MUST sit on frogs.

‘Well, I’m changing the rules,’ said the frog.
‘From now on, dogs sit on logs, not frogs!’

And everyone else is going to have to sit somewhere else too. Will Cat want to sit on gnats instead of cushy mats? Will spiders like sitting on gliders? Will whales be happy to sit on nails? And, most importantly, where is FROG going to sit?”

Frog is fed up with where dog’s seating arrangements and turning the tables on bossy Cat, devises a new seating plan for the animals. Having given up his place on the log for Dog, Frog has to find new seats for everyone, and Cat for one is not happy with his new resting place.

This is wonderful sequel to Oi, Frog! with a whole host of new animals who are having to comply with the hilarious new seating plan devised by a rather fed up Frog. The rhyming couplets lend a lovely flow to the book, making it easy to read and easy to follow, and allowing for suggestions of where other animals might sit, to be discussed with active and imaginative young minds. My children were soon joining in with ‘reading’ after only a couple of readings of the book. And it is a book that elicits calls of ‘read it again’ straight after the last lines.

The illustrations perfectly match the text, with the expression of a put upon Cat and a rather perplexed Whale, adding to the story, eliciting giggles when seen in junction with the story being read.

A wonderful addition to any child’s haul of books, I for one can’t wait for Oi, Cat. I mean, the kids can’t wait, obviously…

 

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Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan – review

Published by Harvill Secker

Publication date – 26 January 2017

Source – review copy

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“YOU CAN RUN FROM YOUR PAST. BUT YOU CAN’T RUN FROM MURDER.

The body is found by the river, near a spot popular with runners.

With a serial rapist at work in the area, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are initially confused when the Hate Crimes Unit is summoned to the scene. Until they discover that the victim, Corinne Sawyer, was born Colin Sawyer.

Police records reveal there have been violent attacks on trans women in the local area. Was Corinne a victim of mistaken identity? Or has the person who has been targeting trans women stepped up their campaign of violence? With tensions running high, and the force coming under national scrutiny, this is a complex case and any mistake made could be fatal…”
Read more on the Penguin website.

Corinne Sawyer sets off for a run one morning and never returns. She is found murdered, strangled and viciously beaten. What would have been a case for CID is passed to the Hate Crimes team when it emerges that Corinne was born Colin Sawyer. Is Corinne’s death related to a series of violent attacks on members of the trans community? Or could the rapist who has been attacking young joggers finally progressed to murder? Zigic and Ferreira must find out before anyone else dies.

The novel is a commentary on how society accepts transgender people and depicts the fallout and differing responses that occur after a dramatic change occurs in a family . When a husband and a father suddenly becomes a wife and mother. The gambit of emotions are shown in the Sawyer family, from heartbreak and anger, acceptance and love, to violence and shame.

The mystery itself is one with enough suspects, twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. There are three different threads to the story that run along side each other, merging to create a wonderfully rounded and engaging story. I had guessed the culprit before the reveal but this did not spoil my enjoyment of this entertaining novel.

There is a brilliant dynamic between the team depicted in the story, not just between Zigic and Ferreira but also with other colleagues within Hate Crimes and in the larger force. There are touches of reality that help shape the novel, making it feel more authentic for the reader.

Zigic is coming to terms with the reality of having three children, the baby taking a toll on his life, aware he needs to exercise more. This could be mundane under the wrong hands but Eva Dolan uses these aspects of life to round out her character, making him more accessible and relatable, and all the more enjoyable to read about. Ferreira is more introspective in this novel, looking back at a past relationship which has shaped her to this day. The reader finds out why Mel is distant, less inclined for relationships and a new side to the detective is revealed.

Eva Dolan deals with emotive, and often complex, issues with gripping prose that is the perfect balance. By that I mean it is informative, entertaining, rightly judgmental in places yet far from self righteous. It allows the reader to create their own impression of the characters and motive for murder, of the ridicule and trauma the transgender and transvestite community face and therefore the level of anger and sadness that this creates will be different and particular to each reader.

Moving, thought-provoking and emotive, this is a gripping novel focusing on a sadly neglected area of crime, those motivated by hate. If you love crime novels then this book is for you. If you love crime novels but are looking for a book that deals with societal issues and victims who are often viewed, quite wrongly, as the outcasts of society then this book is for you.

Eva Dolan is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I was late coming to her Hate Crimes series. Luckily I have her first two books to read whilst I await her next novel, which can’t come soon enough.

 

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Death in Profile by Guy Fraser-Sampson – review

Published by Urbane Publications

Publication date – 18 March 2016

Source – review copy

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“The genteel façade of London’s Hampstead is shattered by a series of terrifying murders, and the ensuing police hunt is threatened by internal politics, and a burgeoning love triangle within the investigative team. Pressurised by senior officers desperate for a result a new initiative is clearly needed, but what?
Intellectual analysis and police procedure vie with the gut instinct of ‘copper’s nose’, and help appears to offer itself from a very unlikely source – a famous fictional detective. A psychological profile of the murderer allows the police to narrow down their search, but will Scotland Yard lose patience with the team before they can crack the case?
Praised by fellow authors and readers alike, this is a truly original crime story, speaking to a contemporary audience yet harking back to the Golden Age of detective fiction. Intelligent, quirky and mannered, it has been described as ‘a love letter to the detective novel’. Above it all hovers Hampstead, a magical village evoking the elegance of an earlier time, and the spirit of mystery-solving detectives.”

A series of vicious rapes and murders have been occurring in Hampstead and police fear a serial killer is on the loose. The old lead detective has been replaced by a younger fast track officer. Can the case be kick-started before another victim emerges?

This is a gentle read, by which I mean there are murders, though they are not described in a gruesome way, there isn’t any swearing, though the dialogue doesn’t seem any less real for the lack of it and there are no great chases or violent scenes. The narrative focuses on the police, which is not unexpected for a police procedural, but what is perhaps more apparent is that they seem to be the sole focus, the victims and the suspects are a much lesser presence on the page. It is set in the modern age but conversely has the feel that it is from a bygone time.

The plot is strong enough to drive the story, there is apparent solving of the case obviously not as watertight as expected as it comes part way through the novel. I did get the twist and work out the killer before the reveal but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story.

There were a couple of things that didn’t work as well for me one of these being the story involving the appearance of Peter Wimsey. I’ll admit I’ve never read any Dorothy L. Sayers so I’ve no idea if the references and Wimsey character were true to the original. For me, this part of the storyline seemed to set the story slightly off course as it emerged quite suddenly. Another aspect that jarred for me was the references to Karen’s looks. The police officer was frequently mentioned in references to her appearance and her legs and it lent an overtly sexist bent to the story. Had it only been mentioned once I think it probably would have washed over me but as it was the repetition made the matter stand out.

A gentle paced, interesting modern age novel with echoes of the golden age.

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Book Bingo

So I’d seen Book Bingo posts from the fabulous bloggers Cleo over at CleopatraLovesBooks and Marina at Finding Time to Write. I thought it seemed like a fun way of looking at the books I had read over the year so thought I’d give it a go myself.

 

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Book with more than 500 pages

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Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. A tongue in cheek re-write of Pride and Prejudice, this novel certainly didn’t feel like it was 502 pages long.

A forgotten classic

This is one I’ll have to skip this year, but I’ve made a note to read more classics, forgotten or otherwise, next year

A Book that Became a Movie

Bit of a cheat because the author is also making a film of this book but I’ll say Fever at Dawn by Peter Gardos.

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A book published this year

Bit of an easy one in that most of the books I’ve read were published this year. The hard part is choosing just one. I’ll go with When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen, my first of her books but which won’t be my last.

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A book with a number in the title

Just managed to fill this square with The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

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A book written by someone under thirty

Given I have no idea how old an author is when I pick up a book I’ll have to leave this one blank.

A book with a non human character

Turns out I’ve read three such books this year, and I had been inclined to say none. The one I’ll use for this square is the thought-provoking The Man I Became by Peter Verhelst

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A funny book

Possibly a bit of a cheat but I’ll pick Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay by Jill Mansell, a warm novel shot through with humour.

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A book by a female author

Again lots to choose from here, though again I don’t tend to look to see if the author is male or female. I’ll go for The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders.

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A book with a mystery

Turns out the majority of my reading is in the crime/thriller category so lots of titles could fit this square on the board. I’ll choose The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh for this square, an engaging novel about kidnap and ransom.

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A book with a one word title

Again a couple to choose from but I’ll have to go One of the stand out mystery/crime books for me this year (though it isn’t published until next year) was Ragdoll by Daniel Cole.

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A book of short stories

Since blogging I’ve discovered a love for short stories and I’ve read two collections this year. The one I’m choosing for this square is Sweet Home by Carys Bray, a lovely collection of stories.

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Free square

This is one of my stand out books for this year. It was a joy to read and I’d urge anyone to give it a go. I’m choosing The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace.

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A book set on a different continent

I like to read books from a variety of locations so I’ve a few to choose from including books set in North America and Africa. But I’ll go for The Dry by Jane Harper which is set in Australia.

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A book of non fiction

Initially I thought I wouldn’t be able to complete this square then realised I’ve actually read three non fiction books. I’ll definitely be making room for more on the to read pile next year but my choice for this square is Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

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The first book by a favourite author

I have lots of favourite authors and its often difficult to decide if a new author is going to become a favourite. That said I read both books by Liz Nugent this year and have to say she fits the bill as a new favourite author. Her first novel, Unravelling Oliver was a great read.

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A book you heard about online

As literally 100% of my reads now come from online recommendations this is list could basically be all of the books I’ve read this year. I’ll pick Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher for this square as it’s a book I don’t think I would have read if I’d not seen it online and it’s one I loved.

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A best selling book

I don’t really follow the best seller charts, so unless a book sells so many it is all over the media then I’ve not really a clue. But if I had to guess I’d say that R&J Bookclub pick The Ballroom by Anna Hope would have been a bestseller.

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A book based on a true story

Turns out I have a few that could cover this square too. I’ll go for The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola, a wonderfully atmospheric and well researched novel about a woman accused of murder in Victorian England.

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A book at the bottom of your to read pile

I have long since lost sight of my to read pile, and have decided to no longer attempt to tame it or try to read in order of receiving the books but I guess one of the books I’d had the longest out of the ones I’d read was The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer.

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A book your friend loves

This one has to be filled by In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings, much loved by the blogging community.

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A book that scares you

I don’t really read scary books, or I should say that books rarely scare me. The Last Days of Jack Sparks was however found to be creepy by many readers.

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A book that is more than 10 years old

Can’t fill this one this year. All the books I’ve read are far younger than a decade old.

The second book in a series

I love a good series and since blogging I’ve found loads to satisfy my series craving. One of my new favourites features Oswald De Lacy and I read the second book in the series – The Butcher Bird by S.D. Sykes, this year.

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A book with a blue cover

A couple of choices for this square but I’ll go with The Museum of You by Carys Bray, a lovely story of growing up and moving on.

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So I managed to fill 22/25 squares. How many would you fill?

 

 

 

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Wildflower Bay by Rachael Lucas – review

Published by Pan

Publication date 11 August 2016

Source – review copy

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This little island has some big secrets…

Isla’s got her dream job as head stylist at the most exclusive salon in Edinburgh. The fact that she’s been so single-minded in her career that she’s forgotten to have a life has completely passed her by – until disaster strikes.

Out of options, she heads to the remote island of Auchenmor to help out her aunt who is in desperate need of an extra pair of scissors at her salon.

A native to the island, Finn is thirty-five and reality has just hit him hard. His best friends are about to have a baby and everything is changing. When into his life walks Isla . . .”

Isla has been so focussed on her career that the rest of her life has left her behind. Suddenly finding herself with nothing to do after a disaster at work she is dragged into helping her aunt in her hair salon on Auchenmor. Reluctantly roped in, and counting the days until she can leave Isla finds that the island and its inhabitants have started to work their magic on her, with possibly one resident having more effect than others…

I was soon absorbed in Isla’s tale and found myself nearly half way through the book before I put it down for the first time. Rachael Lucas has a wonderful writing style that draws the reader in, immediately making them feel at home and amongst friends.

This was a charming story set in a lovely location and filled with wonderful characters. Isla was a considerate person, kind to her friends but could also come across as brittle and distant. As the story develops we see her change as she makes friends and lets go of the past. Finn was funny and charming and it was lovely to see him change over the course of the story as his relationship with Isla developed. I loved the surrounding cast of characters, who all added warmth and humour to the story including Shannon and Jinny in the salon, Isla’s dad and Ruth, the independent 80 year old Isla befriends.

Rachael Lucas has set a previous novel in Auchenmor, Sealed With a Kiss which I have not read. This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Wildflower Bay and I’ll certainly be reading Sealed With a Kiss soon.

This is a warm-hearted, humorous and entertaining book and I spent a lovely few hours lost in its pages.

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White Lies and Wishes by Cathy Bramley – review

Published by Corgi

Publication date 26 January 2016

Source – review copy

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What happens when what you wish for is only half the story…?

Flirtatious, straight-talking Jo Gold says she’s got no time for love; she’s determined to save her family’s failing footwear business.

New mother Sarah Hudson has cut short her maternity leave to return to work. She says she’ll do whatever it takes to make partner at the accountancy firm.

Bored, over-eating housewife Carrie Radley says she just wants to shift the pounds – she’d love to finally wear a bikini in public.

The unlikely trio meet by chance one winter’s day, and in a moment of ‘Carpe Diem’ madness, embark on a mission to make their wishes come true by September.

Easy. At least it would be, if they hadn’t been just the teensiest bit stingy with the truth…

With hidden issues, hidden talents, and hidden demons to overcome, new friends Jo, Carrie and Sarah must admit to what they really, really want, if they are ever to get their happy endings.”
Read more on the Penguin website.

Jo, Carrie and Sarah meet at a friend’s funeral and are struck by the fact that time could run out for any of them at a moment’s notice. Driven by the idea to seize the day, and helped somewhat by the fact that they don’t really know each other, they decide to make a ‘wish list’ of aims to be completed by September. But what they’ve said they want to do, and what they actually want to happen might not be the same thing after all…

This is a very easy to read book, in that I soon found myself a third of the way through it after trying to decide which book to read between two choices. The storyline involves the trials and tribulations of three women who all have different aims in life, who want to support each other to get those aims, but who might not have been completely truthful with the others. There are mishaps and misunderstandings along the way. But also there was a lot of self-denial, each of the protagonists were misleading themselves as to what they wanted, and as to how they had got in the position they found themselves before they made friends. Carrie used self-deprecating humour as a defence mechanism but also failed to see her role in why she felt so sad and alone in her marriage. Sarah’s determination made her quite selfish when she was trying to please everyone and Jo failed to see what was in front of her, so driven was she to run the family business well.

I did like the characters in the book. Carrie who’s shyness hides someone who does not love herself at all, blossoms as her friendship with Sarah and Jo develops. She begins to gain confidence, self-awareness that allows her bubbly demeanour and caring nature to emerge. Sarah likes to be the one to organise, to control aspects of her life. She is desperately trying to juggle life so she can do best by her family. As she gets to know the others it becomes apparent that she in not in control and learning to let go sometimes. Jo is determined and driven, putting her own life on the backburner as she contends with keeping her staff happy and employed and believing she doesn’t need close friends but learning that there are benefits to having them after all. All three women before meeting were somewhat loners, with seemingly few friends to rely on they all blossomed as their relationships developed. There were some parts of me I recognised in each of them, Jo’s romantic side, Sarah’s guilt at returning to work after having a baby and Carrie’s lack of self-confidence. I did feel however that sometimes it seemed that there was too much guilt and too much lack of self-esteem from the characters. I sometimes wanted to shake Sarah and Carrie and tell them to look properly at their situations, tell them to talk to their husbands, though that of course would have cut the story very short!

This is an enjoyable, gentle read, perfect for a spot of escapism. I like Cathy Bramley’s novels and her writing style and luckily I have a couple of her earlier books to keep me going before her next one is published.

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