Monthly Archives: February 2014

Road to Rouen – Ben Hatch

Headline

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4 of 5 stars

“Ben Hatch is on the road again. Commissioned to write a guidebook about France (despite not speaking any French) he sets off with visions of relaxing chateaux and refined dining. Ten thousand miles later his family’s been attacked by a donkey, had a run-in with a death-cult and, after a near drowning and a calamitous wedding experience involving a British spy, his own marriage is in jeopardy. A combination of obsessions about mosquitoes, French gravel and vegetable theme parks mean it’s a bumpy ride as Ben takes a stand against tyrannical French pool attendants, finds himself running with the bulls in Pamplona and almost starring in a snuff movie after a near fatal decision to climb into a millionaire’s Chevrolet Blazer.

Funny and poignant, Road to Rouen asks important questions about life, marriage and whether it’s ever acceptable to tape baguette to your children’s legs to smuggle lunch into Disneyland Paris.”

I was provided with a free copy of this book as part of a Twitter travel book club.

 

Ben Hatch has the task of writing a guide book about France. Packing his family into the family car and letting out the house, the Hatch family set off on what they think will be a dignified and pleasant family trip around the French countryside. The scrapes, adventures and misadventures that Ben, his wife Dinah and children get up to on the Road to Rouen are perhaps not all that they envisaged…

I enjoy a good travelogue. I find it a brilliant way of finding out about other countries and about the people taking those trips. Sometimes it’s about living vicariously through others. We may have all dreamed of giving it all up for a small house in a sunny climate or taking a few months off work to travel but how many of us would actually do it? The Road to Rouen introduces you to places that you would probably never knew existed in France. Some you may want to visit, others, the vegetable theme park for example, you may want to skip. I found this a great introduction to the little known areas of France.

However it was also more than just a story about a road trip. In fact is was more about the Hatch family, how Ben and Dinah’s relationship fared under the stresses and strains of a long road trip in the confined space of a smelly Passat. It was also interesting to see how the trip brought the family together, how major decisions were made and how the journey allowed the children to flourish.

What I can’t fail to mention is how funny this book is. I could often be heard laughing out loud to some passage or other, in fact more often than not. I would try to explain a funny excerpt to my husband, this becoming more difficult as I started to laugh even more and usually the situation would just end with me in tears of laughter and him shaking his head at me. A few highlights were the donkey ride, the canoe trip and the one that has me laughing even now as I remember it, the infamous trip to Disneyland.

If you are looking for a funny, moving, light-hearted read then this  book could be right up your road!

 

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Zenith Hotel – Oscar Coop-Phane

Arcadia

Publicatation date – 15 March

Translated by Ros Schwartz

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4.5 of 5 stars

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

“‘I’m a street prostitute. Not a call girl or anything, no a real street whore, with stiletto heels and menthol cigarettes.’

Nanou gives a detailed account of her day, from the moment she wakes up with a foul taste in her mouth, in her sordid rented room, until the minute she crawls into her bed at night to sleep. Interwoven with her story are stark portraits of her clients” 

This is the tale of Nanou, a street prostitute, writing down the details of her day. It is interspersed with pages detailing the background of the clients she encounters on that day, each with his own story to tell. Nanou doesn’t seek sympathy, she has come to accept her lot in life, believing herself to be worth nothing more and resigned to the fact that this is her lot in life until the end.

This is a short novel, one easily read in a spare hour or two but one which will stay with you for much longer. It may be short on word count but each word used is perfectly placed and utilised to its full potential. This is not a light-hearted read. It’s gritty, dark and bittersweet. Whilst we as readers can feel some pity or sorry for Nanou and her clients there is also some ray of hope – at least for the men in the story in that Nanou brings some form of comfort to their otherwise lonely or sad lives.

This is, at it’s simplest, a beautifully written tale, giving a brief glimpse into lives we normally try to forget exist. Brutal, explicit and honest, Zenith Hotel goes beyond the glamour of Paris to show an unseen society, hidden from view by our own blindness to it.

Comments have been made and praise has been given about how young Oscar Coop-Phane was when he wrote this Prix de Flore winning novel (he was in his early 20s). However I think it should simply be applauded that anyone, at any age, can write with such sensitivity, insight and feeling.

Highly recommended.

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Cold Mourning – Brenda Chapman

Dundern Press

Publication date  – 1 March 2014

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3.5 of 5 stars

I was provided with a copy of this book by the publishers via Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review.

“It’s a week before Christmas when wealthy businessman Tom Underwood disappears into thin air — with more than enough people wanting him dead.

New police recruit Kala Stonechild, who has left her northern Ontario detachment to join a specialized Ottawa crime unit, is tasked with returning Underwood home in time for the holidays.  Stonechild, who is from a First Nations reserve, is a lone wolf who is used to surviving on her wits.  Her new boss, Detective Jacques Rouleau, has his hands full controlling her, his team, and an investigation that keeps threatening to go off track.

Old betrayals and complicated family relationships brutally collide when love turns to hate and murder stalks a family.”

Tom Underwood is unhappy with his life. He has come to loath his beautiful younger wife, finding his young daughter the  only thing worth anything from the relationship. He’s also dissatisfied with work, feigning interest he no longer has in the company he helped build from scratch. But is all this unhappiness enough to cause him to vanish from everyone and everything he knows?

Officer Kala Stonechild, newly arrived in Ottawa is given the task of finding out what has happened to Underwood. She’s used to working alone so feels uncomfortable working with others in her team. She has come to Ottawa to escape on aspect of her past, and to track down an equally as painful other part of her history. Together with her boss Jacques Rouleau, who is dealing with his own demons, they find out what has become of Tom Underwood, uncovering a tale of betrayal, heartbreak and murder.

This is the first book by Brenda Chapman I have read and is set to be the first in a series of Stonechild and Rouleau mysteries. I found this to be an enjoyable read. Having been lucky enough to visit Ottawa in the past I found the descriptions of the various locations easily conjured up memories of the lovely city. The depiction of winter also made it easy to envisage the deep snow drifts and people using skis and ice skates to get about.

The mystery itself was engaging, there were enough suspects to keep you guessing and the right level of rapport between the two detectives to pull the story along. I found this an easy to read novel, in fact I read the last 80% in one day.

I look forward to read the next installment in the series.

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Candra’s Freedom and Caedmon’s Curse – A J Nuest

Harper Impulse

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3.5 of 5 stars each

 

On Thursday last week I was lucky enough to guest review Candra’s Freedom on Mrsbbooks2011.blogspot.co.uk

I’m back again today reviewing Caedmon’s Curse so pop on over to take a look at both!

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Hannah Beckerman – Q&A

Today on the blog I am very honoured to have Hannah Beckerman, author of The Dead Wife’s Handbook answering a few questions.

 

Tell us a little about The Dead Wife’s Handbook

The Dead Wife’s Handbook is the story of 36-year old Rachel, who’s died unexpectedly and is now watching the lives of her loved ones as they come to terms with her death. It’s a story about love, loss and how you measure a life well-lived.

What inspired you to write The Dead Wife’s Handbook?

 The story evolved from a conversation with a friend about her ex-husband and how she felt uncomfortable about the possibility of him telling his new partner her secrets. I started thinking about how that probably makes many of us feel uncomfortable and that the most extreme version of that would be if you were dead. Suddenly there was this dead woman – Rachel – in my head, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how she felt.

 Are you a plan it all first or a sit down and write as it comes kind of writer?

I’m a huge planner. To the point of mild OCD. I write a synopsis, then a broad outline. Then I do a ton of research and make a mountain of notes (as though I’m back at university), and then I copy ALL of my notes into the outline so that I have a c.25k word plan of the book, all divided into chapters and every idea / conversation / thought bullet pointed. And then I finally start writing. The research and planning often takes longer than writing draft one of the book.

Which is more nerve-wracking, submitting your manuscript to an agent/publisher or it actually being published?

I think whichever stage you’re at feels like the most anxiety-inducing! But when I look back, I think I was possibly most nervous after my agent had submitted it to publishers and we were waiting to see if anyone wanted it. Although publication week is stressful at least the book’s out there and it’s down to readers now to decide whether they like it!

Any tips for would be authors?

Write, write and write some more. There’s simply no quick way to becoming a good writer (or, at least, one you’re happy being). You just have to write a lot of rubbish until you find a voice that feels authentic. Oh, and read everything you can get your hands on.

What are your favourite reads?

Some favourite all-time reads: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, Grace Paley’s Collected Short Stories, Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead. Also pretty much anything by Nicole Krauss, Sarah Waters, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Paul Auster and Philip Roth.

You must have answered a few of these Q&As. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Would you like a glass of fizz now? 

I think you can probably guess the answer…

 

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The Dead Wife’s Handbook is in shops now or available on line http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dead-Wifes-Handbook-Hannah-Beckerman/dp/0718178149/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392973218&sr=8-1&keywords=the+dead+wife%27s+handbook

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The Last Kiss – Brigid Coady

Harper Impulse

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“First kisses are the ones that every one celebrates, the ones you remember. The ones you hope to treasure as it happened, storing up your memories to take out and relive.

But what about the last kiss?

The first in The Kiss Collection, an exciting new series of short stories from Brigid Coady & HarperImpulse.

*Please note this is a short story, approx. 1000 words in length designed for reading on your mobile phone or tablet.*”

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this short story from the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a short story, easily read in a spare 10 or 15 minutes and has an interesting concept. We often remember our first kiss with someone important, but do we remember our last kiss? Maybe you don’t realise it will be your last, or maybe it was a wistful farewell or a chaste kiss on the cheek. Last kisses are often more poignant and important than that first kiss.

Because it is such a short story I don’t want to go into anymore detail about it here. However it is safe to say that the author manages to convey the emotional turmoil of the narrator and the whole story behind the last kiss very well in the short word count she has.

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Guest Post – Nick Alexander

Today Nick Alexander, author of ten novels including The French House and The Half-life of Hannah, has kindly shared his inspiration behind Other Halves, his latest novel.

The inspiration for Other Halves came to me in the middle of the messiest of divorces. Luckily for me, it was someone else’s divorce.  I was caught in the middle, and it was an uncomfortable place to be. A couple I knew were falling apart, and both parties were phoning me to bitch and gain information about the other (but mainly just to bitch). That’s when it struck me just how much truth each of the two entirely opposed realities of their breakup story were. And how compelling it was to be in a position
where I knew both sides of that story.

In the end, of course, I had to choose one side over the other. I had to opt for the oldest, closest friend, and wave goodbye to his ex. The alternative  was to lose contact with both friends.
But the memory of being stuck in the middle remained with me: conflicting realities was something I wanted to explore further.

A sequel for my novel The Half-Life of Hannah seemed the perfect place to do this, because it ends, precisely, in the breakup of a fifteen year marriage. In The Half-Life of Hannah, the reader sees things almost exclusively from Hannah’s point of view. The reader discovers, with horror, her husband’s fifteen years of deceit, and has little choice but to pray that she will flee. How exciting it could be, for a reader, I figured, if we took them into Cliff’s mind as well, and showed that from his, entirely different vision of the world, he had never done anything other than offer his very best. For no matter how bad their best, who out there really sets out to do their worst?

How interesting and unusual an experience for a reader it would be, I reckoned, to be dragged back and forth from Hannah’s point of view, to Cliff’s; to be forced to see Hannah’s behaviour, outrageous through Cliff’s eyes, and then to see it again, so utterly reasonable through her own.  So, like Cliff, I did my best. And as far as I can tell from the first reviews, which all seem mention the reader’s allegiances being dragged back and forth, I managed it!

Readers can get both The Half-Life of Hannah and Other Halves for less than a pound at the moment, so see what you think!
The Half-Life of Hannah and Other Halves are available from Amazon.co.uk <http://www.amazon.co.uk/Other-Halves-Nick-Alexander-ebook/dp/B00GL9R6MO/
and Apple <https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/other-halves/id741565635> and all major ebook retailers.

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The Dead Lake – Hamid Ismailov

Peirene Press

Publication date – 27 February

Translated by Andrew Bromfield

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“A haunting Russian tale about the environmental legacy of the Cold War.

Yerzhan grows up in a remote part of Kazakhstan where the Soviets tests atomic weapons. As a young boy he falls in love with the neighbour’s daughter and one evening, to impress her, he dives into a forbidden lake. The radio-active water changes Yerzhan. He will never grow into a man. While the girl he loves becomes a beautiful woman.”

4 of 5 stars

I was provided with a copy of this novella by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Yerzhan lives with his grandparents, mother and uncle in a remote outpost in Kazakhstan with only one set of neighbours and the odd passing train. He is surrounded by the Steppe, a huge swath of land that is virtually deserted. He has been in love since a child with his neighbour’s daughter, growing up knowing that one day they will marry. The first part of the story tells of the early stages of Yerzhan’s life. Yerzhan is a gifted child, learning to play the violin with an almost prodigious quality, a talent that he cannot unfortunately utilise.

Yerzhan’s uncle works at a nearby nuclear facility. Explosions and testing is carried out in the area and Yerzhan’s home is in the fallout area. There is a child like naiveté in the descriptions of these explosions. As the reader we are aware of the dangers but to Yerzhan and his family they are almost a way of life, little can they imagine or anticipate the effect the testing would have on their lives. However as the years progress Yerzhan becomes aware of the effect the testing facility has and witnesses the devestation first hand.

One day during a school field trip to the testing facility Yerzhan dives into a forbidden pool of water – The Dead Lake. The effects of this are unnoticable at first but as the year progresses it becomes more noticable that Yerzhan is not ageing. Tests and old wife’s remedies fail to correct the issue and Yerzhan remains trapped inside the body of a 12 year old whilst his family, and the love of his life, age.

It is the tale of a boy who never grew up, beautifully told, moving and almost mythical. The backdrop of the Steppe is a perfect metaphor for Yerzhan’s tale, lonely and bleak It is a short but compelling read, a haunting story that has an almost fairytale like quality to it, but the fairy tale is more Grimm than Anderson.

This is book number 13, falling under the ‘Coming of Age’ titles from Peirene Press, but in this case 13 is a lucky number. This is the first Peirene Press book I have read but if they are all of this standard it will certainly not be the last.

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The Guestbook – Holly Martin – Blog Tour

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Today it’s my stop on The Guestbook blog tour.

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Welcome to Willow Cottage – throw open the shutters, let in the sea breeze and make yourself completely at home. Oh, and please do leave a comment in the Guestbook.

As landlady of Willow Cottage, the young widow Annie Butterworth is always on hand with tea, sympathy or strong Norfolk cider – whatever her colourful array of guests require.  A flick through the messages in the leather-bound cottage guestbook gives a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of everyone who passes through her doors.

This includes Annie herself – especially now celebrity crime writer Oliver Black, is back in town. He might grace the covers of gossip magazines with a different glamorous supermodel draped on his arm every week, but to Annie, he’s always just been Olly, the man who Annie shared her first kiss with.

Through the pages of the Guestbook Annie and Olly, along with all the guests that arrive at the seaside retreat, struggle with love, loss, mystery, joy, happiness, guilt…and the odd spot of naked rambling!

Forget sending postcards saying ‘wish you were here’ – one visit to Willow Cottage and you’ll wish you could stay forever.

There is a review today on http://theloveofagoodbook.wordpress.com/

The Guestbook is a unique way of telling a story through the messages in a guestbook of a holiday cottage, but where did the inspiration come from to write the story in this way?

Well, I’ve been writing for about four years, mainly chicklit and although my novels were getting some good attention with comments like ‘great characters, well written and funny situations’ I couldn’t seem to get that coveted publishing deal.  I was told that publishers were looking for something completely different.  On my way down to a hotel in Clacton on Sea I started thinking about what it was that I could do that was different. A hotel held all sorts of possibilities with the array of guests that stay but I wanted something a bit more personal.  A holiday cottage came to mind.  When I checked in to the hotel there was a guestbook for people to sign and quite a few of the guests had wrote long elaborate comments about what they had done and where was good to go to.  The hotel guestbook held a tiny snapshot of people’s lives at that exact moment they had written in it.  And that’s what I wanted to create in my story, a fleeting glimpse into my characters’ lives.  By the time I had climbed up the winding stairs to my room an idea was already fully formed in my head.   I wrote for several hours that night, without even venturing from my room for dinner.

I love the characters in The Guestbook, the colourful mix of guests that stay in Willow Cottage, the couples, families, singletons, the loveable, the moaning, the slightly eccentric, the downright crazy.

But I also love that it’s Annie’s story, the owner of Willow Cottage, that comes to life through her interactions with her guests.  Little pieces of her life, her history, the things that make her tick, are revealed through the pages of The Guestbook.  And what struck me about The Guestbook was how much of the story could be told with the minimum of information.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to get a sense of place, the descriptions in a story help it to come alive but the story can be told equally as well without knowing what the people look like or what they are wearing.

The one criticism I faced when I sent this out to publishers and agents was that it wasn’t realistic for people to write these messages to each other in the book, when they can talk directly to that person, but I think it is.

I used to work in an office where emailing or messaging the person sitting opposite you was considered the norm.  Silly little messages, moans, or just to say hello because you were bored were commonplace in our office.  My friend, a Facebook widow, will often message her husband sitting in the same room with her, and then he’ll write back.  It’s a funny, sweet representation of their relationship for all their friends and family to see.  I’ve been with friends when something stupid was said, normally by me, and then suddenly it goes on Facebook, the next thing everyone else in the room is fighting to put their comments on Facebook too, to defend themselves or to join in with the joke.  Public humiliation is much funnier than keeping it private.  Once on a camping holiday in the Lake District with friends, the weather was lousy with wind, rain and snow and we found ourselves taking shelter in the pub every day waiting for a chink of sunlight that never came.  A group diary was started with each of us writing messages in the book about our adventures so far, all our little anecdotes recorded for prosperity.  With little else to do, the diary became our pivotal entertainment for the week.  I would write a message in it, my friends, sitting next to me, would read it, laugh and write a message back and then pass it to me to read. The book is filled with our inane ramblings and I like that in places The Guestbook represents this kind of silly communication and the affectionate relationships between friends and family.  At the beginning of the story with the newlyweds Jake and Rosie, he makes a comment that she snores and I can imagine her being there reading that as he writes it, perhaps even sitting on his lap at the breakfast table.  I can imagine her snatching the pen off him and writing that she doesn’t. I hope that comes across.

I love that The Guestbook is used sometimes where the people don’t feel they can communicate with each other.  One of my favourite guests are Seth and Gaby who are going through a rough patch in their marriage and they end up talking it through using The Guestbook.  He writes ‘You’ve written more in this guestbook over the last few days than you’ve said to me in the last few months.’ Gaby writes back ‘The guestbook doesn’t hate me.’ And I think it’s this freedom of not having to see the person you’re talking to that allows them to be more honest in their messages.

The Guestbook is not always used honestly and later on in the story, the comments are lies as the characters try to cover up what they are doing and I love that the reader is left trying to piece together what is really happening from the vague messages left in the book.

The Guestbook captures it all, the silly affectionate relationships, the strained ones, what the guests want us to believe and what they don’t want us to know.

Is it credible that people would write their deepest darkest secrets in the book for other people to see?  Probably not, but remember this is fiction.  It’s meant to be taken with a pinch of salt.  The chicklit genre I love so much is filled with ridiculous story lines.  Women inherit cake/sweet/chocolate/dress shops all the time from their nearest and dearest and set about making them a success.  It doesn’t happen in real life but we love the stories all the same. So enjoy the story for what it is, a bit of escapism into the lives of some wonderful guests told in slightly different way.  Experience their guilt, joy, happiness and sorrow and imagine what you would write on the pages of The Guestbook.

You can buy The Guestbook now here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00HVD8VX2?ie=UTF8&at=aw-iphone-pc-uk-21&force-full-site=1&ref_=aw_bottom_links

The blog tour continues tomorrow on http://compellingreads.co.uk/ with a review on http://readinginthesunshine.wordpress.com/

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The Escape – Lynda LaPlante

Simon & Schuster

The Escape

 

Is a change of identity all it takes to leave prison?

Colin Burrows is desperate. Recently sent to prison for burglary, he knows that his four year sentence means he will miss the birth of his first child. With his wife’s due date fast approaching, he had hoped that the prison authorities would allow him to be present at the birth, but they have said no.

Sharing a cell with Colin is Barry Marsden. Unlike most of the inmates, Barry actually likes prison life. He has come from a very difficult family and been in and out of a series of foster homes. In prison, he has three meals a day and he has discovered a talent for drawing. So he is upset that he will have to leave on parole soon.

Sad to see his cellmate looking depressed, Barry hatches a plan to get Colin out of jail for the birth. It’s a plan so crazy that either it will fail and get both men in deeper trouble, or it might just work.

Bestselling author Lynda LaPlante’s exciting tale of one man’s escape from jail is based on a true story.

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from Quickreads in exchange for an honest review.

The Escape is one of 6 new Quick Reads titles released last week. Quick Reads aims to bring reading to all, encouraging those who don’t normally read to give it a go. The Quick Reads books are all short stories of around 100 pages written by well known authors.

In The Escape Colin is desperate to be released from prison for the day so that he can be with his wife as she gives birth to their first child. Depressed because his request for day release has been rejected Colin soon confides in his new cell mate, Barry. Barry, who enjoys the stability prison life gives him suggests that Colin takes his place, as Barry is only on remand and  is soon to be released to attend court. The first half of the story tells of the pairs plans for the prison escape with the second half telling of the consequences of it.

On the surface this is a simple prison break tale. However as the story develops it becomes a story of friendship, family, love and how decisions can effect our lives in so many unforeseen ways. Even if Colin and Barry’s actions are wrong, the sentiment behind them are genuine.

The book is easy to read, with short, snappy chapters and I found myself whizzing through it. Of course the beauty of a Quick Read story is that you can go at your own pace so this is also a book that you can easily dip in and out of.

This book would appeal to new readers as an introduction to the crime thriller and also to the more experienced reader wanting a quick, light read.

 

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