Monthly Archives: July 2015

Coming Up Roses by Rachael Lucas – Review

Published by – Pan Macmillan

Publication date – 21 May 2015

Source – review copy

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“A charming novel from the bestselling author of Sealed with a Kiss, blooming with humour and romance! Perfect for fans of Carole Matthews and Katie Fforde

Country air, cowslips and a charismatic rogue . . .

Would-be gardener Daisy can’t believe her luck when her parents announce they’re off on a midlife-crisis gap year, leaving her in charge of their gorgeous garden. After a turbulent few months, a spell of quiet in the countryside is just what she needs.

A shoulder to cry on wouldn’t go amiss either – so when Daisy comes across Elaine and Jo, she breathes a sigh of relief. But her new friends are dealing with dramas of their own . . .

As Daisy wrestles the garden into something resembling order, her feelings for handsome Irishman George, begin to take root. But Daisy’s heart’s desire – her parent’s garden – is under threat, and she is forced to confront nosey neighbours and fight greedy developers. Village life is turning out to be far from peaceful.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest review.

Daisy has moved to her parents house, ostensibly house sitting whilst they go travelling on their ‘gap year’. Having retrained in horticulture she sets about tackling the overgrown garden. Nursing a broken heart, all she wants to do is tend the flowerbeds and dead head the roses. She isn’t there to make friends, especially not with perfectly manicured Elaine who intimidates Daisy no end. However she gets to know Elaine, and her other new friend Jo, establishing roots in the village. The emergence of gorgeous Irishman George and worn at the edges vet Ned also potentially scupper the ‘no men’ policy she has set in place. Who will be the one to push that rule aside?

This book had been sitting on my TBR for a while so I thought it was high time to read it. A trip overseas beckoned so I popped this into my suitcase and I am glad I did.

The saying ‘curling up with a good book’ can become a bit of a cliche but that’s exactly what you can do with this book, curl up with it and get lost in the pages. It has a lovely warm feel to it. It is the book equivalent of a cuddle. I was easily transported to the village of Steeple St John. I could picture the cottages, allotments, village fetes and nights at Elaine’s house, The Old Vicarage. Yes I could see from the outset where the story was headed but I didn’t care. I just enjoyed the journey.

I loved the characters in the book, each one could easily be visualised. Daisy is understandably reluctant to create new relationships, romantic or otherwise, given she believes her stay in the village will be temporary. It is heart-warming to see her develop a friendship with George, Elaine and Jo and slowly fall in love with the village. Elaine is obviously not as unruffled as she appears and Jo’s down to earth, counselor persona lends a balance to the group of friends.

This is the first book by Rachael Lucas I have read and won’t be the last. I love her writing style and will be on the look out for more books from her in the future.

If you are looking for a sweet romantic comedy with a lovely setting and fantastic characters then this is the book for you.

 

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Oi, Frog by Kes Gray and Jim Field – Review

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

Publication date – 5 February 2015

Source – own copy

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“A wonderfully funny rhyming story with laugh-out-loud illustrations from an award-winning team.

From the award-winning Kes Gray and the winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, Jim Field, comes an hilarious rhyming tale about a frog who discovers that all animals have their special places to sit!

Cats sit on mats, hares sit on chairs, mules sit on stools and gofers sit on sofas, but Frog does not want to sit on a log! Jam-packed with animals and silliness, this original rhyming story will have young children in fits of laughter.”

5 of 5 stars

One of the key things I look for when I’m buying new children’s books is that its a story I won’t mind reading repeatedly. As anyone who has ever read to a child will tell you, its very rare that you get away with reading a story only once. So its lucky I came across Oi, Frog, having seen it mentioned on Twitter.

This is a story of a frog learning exactly where he’s allowed to sit. Poor Frog wants to sit down but Cat tells him he can only sit on a log. Cat then proceeds to tell him where different types of animals must sit.

This is an extremely entertaining book. It had us laughing out loud, and by us I mean three generations; my daughter, myself and her grandparents were soon chuckling away. Each time we read it she giggled away to the story and shouted out the ending with glee.  It is full of lovely rhymes that lend it a musical lilt and mean that the flow of the story is pitch perfect. My daughter soon picked the book up and was ‘reading’ the story to herself, following the illustrations. And Jim Field has done a fantastic job illustrating this tale. The pictures jump off the page. The haughtiness of Cat and the confusion of Frog is obvious and each animal and their ‘seat’ is a joy to look at.

Rarely I come across a book I wish I’d written. This one of them. You can see what fun Kes Gray and Jim Field must have had when creating this gem.

I said at the beginning of this review that one of the keys to a good children’s book is not minding the need to re-read. Well this one I had to re-read four times on the day it arrived in the house and I wish I could have got away with reading it again. I had to stop my daughter taking it to nursery for fear it would be lost. It’s been here one day at the time of writing this review and it’s already a firm favourite. Luckily I’ve two younger children so I get to read it for a while longer yet.

I’m on the hunt for more books by Kes Gray and Jim Field. Until then I’ll just have to read Oi, Frog again. ‘Oi, Frog!’ ‘Sit on a Log’….

 

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A little thank you

I am lucky to receive a number of books through the post. Some I request from publishers, others I received unsolicited. Sometimes I win competitions. Every book that lands through the letterbox is gratefully received. I don’t expect them and don’t take them for granted.

A little while ago I was lucky enough to win a Twitter competition run by Penguin Schools UK. They were offering a selection of ten books for a school or library to three lucky winners and I happened to be one of those winners. I had entered the competition with little expectation of winning and had fleetingly thought of who I could give the prize to, given I don’t work in a school or library.

On hearing I had won I had to give more thought to who the books could go to. I could donate them to my children’s nursery, or perhaps the local school. Then I remembered the new Children’s Hospice opened recently in my home town. Forget-Me-Not Trust is a charity that cares for families who have a child with a life shortening illness. Currently they help 100 families and have 700 other families in the local area that need their help. Each year they need to raise at least £3.2 million pounds to carry out their vital role to these families. The majority of this has to be raised by fundraising as the Government provide only 4% of the funds needed to continue.

Whilst I can do little myself to help in raising these funds I thought a donation of a few books may mean freeing up some cash to spend in other areas of the charity.

So I asked Penguin if it would be ok to donate to Forget Me Not who of course said this was more than fine. I called Forget Me Not to ensure they would want the books and to see which age ranges they would prefer. They were delighted and confirmed that they helped children from newborn to 18. A short while later the books arrived, and a long while later I managed to pop down and deliver the books.

Penguin kindly sent a lovely selection of books that included titles from Malorie Blackman, Bear Grylls and Jacqueline Wilson. Hopefully the residents at Forget Me Not will get much enjoyment from them.

I avoided having my picture taken but Ryan at Forget Me Not kindly sent me this picture of their fundraiser Sammie.

 

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So to the children at Forget Me Not, I hope you enjoy the books. And to Penguin and all other publishers, thanks as always for the titles an for allowing me to pass the gift of receiving pleasure from reading on to others.

If you’d like to find out more about the Forget Me Not Trust you can visit their website here http://www.forgetmenotchild.co.uk/

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Lisa Ballantyne – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Lisa Ballantyne to the blog. Lisa’s book Redemption Road was published on 16 July 2015 by Piatkus. Lisa kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.

1.    Tell us a little about Redemption Road.

My second novel is a little like a fable or a fairy-tale, with big symbols, heroes and villains, but it is also an investigation into the mechanism of memory and how the past impacts on the present. It is a novel about fathers and daughters and asks if we really can escape our pasts.

2.    What inspired the book?

When I first began to work on REDEMPTION ROAD, I was interested in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first scene of the book – involving the car crash and the strange saviour – came to me quite quickly and I knew that the burned man who rescues Margaret would be the key to her past. In writing the 1980s scenes, I knew I wanted to write about a man who steals his daughter and for the journey they took to be a redemptive one, spanning the whole country. I wanted the relationship between father and daughter to gradually soften as the road trip progresses, from one of captor and captive, to one of genuine affection and love. 

3.    Your first novel was The Guilty One. Did the publication process surprise you in any way?

Everything about the strange new world of publishing surprised me, and I am continuing to learn about it, but am grateful to be able to experience this great new adventure.

4.    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?

Most novels take me about a year. I always start with character – just imagine my main characters and who they are. I believe that characters give heart and soul to books (and films for that matter) and truly understanding a person or character helps me to understand what motivates them to act… and that is the basis of plot. If I understand the people in my book, then they will take me where I want to go. So I am not a plan, plan, planer, but I feel my way through it.

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

I always seem to be very busy running around the place, and look forward to writing as my escape from real life, but I also enjoy running, playing guitar, gardening and going to concerts. For real relaxation and getting away from it all, I love to actually get away. I adore travelling and there is no greater thrill than setting foot somewhere I have never been before.

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

Definitely, the atheist’s bible, Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre… it is wonderfully dense yet inspiring and I feel it could keep me busy if I was restricted to only one book.

7.    I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Most writers prefer the role of observer to observed, and I am one of those. Writing is an act of questioning and finding answers and I suppose that is where I feel most comfortable… However, I am really grateful for your interest, and am delighted to be a part of your blog.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

About the Book:

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“The second novel by the international bestselling author of The Guilty One

The crash is the unravelling of Margaret Holloway. Trapped inside a car about to explode, she is rescued by a scarred stranger who then disappears. Margaret remembers little, but she’s spent her life remembering little – her childhood is full of holes and forgotten memories. Now she has a burning desire to discover who she is and why her life has been shrouded in secrets. What really happened to her when she was a child? Could it have anything to do with the mysterious man who saved her life?

Flitting effortlessly between past and present, this is a suspenseful, gritty and emotionally charged journey of an estranged father and daughter, exploring the strength of family ties and our huge capacity for forgiveness.

‘An emotionally compelling tale of old sins and lingering ghosts’ Chris Brookmyre”

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On Reading Neil White by Liz Barnsley – Guest Post

Today I have a guest post from book blogging royalty – Liz Barnsley. Liz blogs at LizLovesBooks and is one of the many bloggers I admire. Liz has kindly written a piece explaining about Neil White’s books breathed life into her reading habits and reignited an old love.

 

On Reading Neil White.

 

There was a time in my reading life, going back a few years now, where I fell out of love with Crime fiction. A staple genre for me ever since I was a teenager, I found myself bored by the endlessly repetitive plots, the detectives with the same old issues, for a while it was almost like reading the same novel over and over and over again. Oh there were a few favourites who still kind of held my attention – but I had stopped reading it avidly and moved on to, frankly, rather more lightweight fiction.

For a time I thought I would probably not return to reading every new crime novel I could get my hands on, but then Fallen Idols happened. Couldn’t tell you why I picked it up now (to be honest I rather think it was because it was in an offer that I needed a third book for and thought it would do) but whatever the reason there it was, on my shelf, ignored for a while but eventually picked up.

Well I read THAT one in a single breathless sitting and fell in love with Crime fiction all over again. Just like that, rather as if I’d walked into a cool breeze on the hottest of days, main protagonists Jack and Laura restored my faith in all that is fantastic about murder. And mayhem. They were a perfect pairing, involved in a truly intriguing mystery that managed to avoid all the clichés and at last here was a book that could simply be it’s own thing.

Every book since has had enough difference to be better than the last, whilst having that comforting feeling of knowing you are going to get a stonking good read. Jack and Laura retired now (perhaps not forever, let’s hope) there have been standalone books and most recently the Parker Brothers trilogy which will conclude when the Domino Killer is released on the 30th July. Never disappointing and ever compelling, I have loved every one.

Neil White simply writes great Crime fiction. His characters are always full of depth, the mystery elements always spot on, he DEFINITELY writes the greatest death scenes and overall I would put him in the top 5 British Crime writers who are actively publishing today. No I won’t say who the other four are but Mark Billingham is one…

So on reading Neil White the only thing left to say is – go do it. Because I sure will be reading them for as long as he’s writing them.

 

About the Book:

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“Brothers Joe and Sam Parker return in the breathtaking follow-up to Next to Die.

Joe Parker is Manchester’s top criminal defence lawyer and Sam Parker – his brother – is a brilliant detective with the Greater Manchester Police force. Together they must solve a puzzling case that is chilling Manchester to the bone…

The Death Collector is charming, sophisticated and intelligent, but he likes to dominate women, to make them give themselves to him completely; to surrender their dignity and their lives. He’s a collector of beautiful things, so once he traps them he’ll never let them go.

Joe is drawn into the Death Collector’s world and when the case becomes dangerous, Sam is the first person he turns to. In this gripping thriller, danger lurks for not only the Parker brothers, but also those closest to them.”

GetAttachment (8)

The Death Collector is published by Sphere on 16 July 2015

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The journey from idea to published book by Rob Boffard – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Rob Boffard, author of Tracer to the blog. Here Rob discusses the journey from idea to published book.

The journey from idea to published book

Deep on my hard drive, there’s a file called ‘In 2070’. It’s the first thing about my novel TRACER that I ever wrote down. 

I even remember where I was when I started writing it. In 2011, I was working at a recording studio in London, and it was a slow day. I don’t know why I started writing about a space station that held the last of humanity, but I do remember that by the time my lunch break rolled around, I’d written down its entire fictional history (skipping a lot of the details of course).

That afternoon, as I edited vocals and hit the record button on a steady parade of voice-overs, I couldn’t get the station out of my mind. What would life be like up there? The thing was old – over a century – so stuff would be broken down and falling apart. What kind of people lived there? What stories did they have to tell?

Most Serious Authors will tell you never to write an outline for a novel. It’s a poisonous, pernicious thing, they say, which strangles creativity. But in 2011, I didn’t have the faintest clue about how to write a novel, so an outline it was. A couple of weeks later, I had the barest bones of a story: a tale about a high-speed package courier, and what happens when she discovers she is transporting something very dodgy indeed… 

I started writing in October. I aimed for around five thousand words a week, finishing in April 2012, and I can honestly say that those six months were a total blast. I hit the halfway mark while I was in South Africa over Christmas, and drove through Johannesburg with the windows open and the music blasting out – as loud as it could go.

Of course, a first draft is a first draft. By the time I figured out that I could actually do something with this 100,000 word monster I’d cobbled together, I knew enough to understand that would take a lot of work. So I went back and rewrote it. Then I sent it out to agents, and got rejected by every single one of them. I rewrote it further, and toyed with the idea of self publishing – even going so far as to have a cover designed. Then a friend told me to stick with traditional publishing, and I figured one last go couldn’t hurt.

In October 2013, two years after I first started the book, I rewrote it one final time, and sent it out. A week later, I was at the pub with an old friend from the studio when an e-mail came on my phone. An agent wanted to represent me. Two days later, I received a second e-mail, and then a third. Suddenly, I had three agents fighting over me. It was…weird.

All the agents were fantastic, but I could only pick one. And I will give him his due: he earned every cent of his commission. He and I reworked the book, sharpening it up, and then he went to war for it. Ed Wilson is a tenacious, majorly tough dude (as well as being a really great guy), and he found a potential suitor in Orbit Books.

While he was closing the deal, I was in South Africa at a friend’s wedding. On the day I was due to take a call from Anna Jackson, Orbit’s commissioning editor, my fiancee and I had driven eight hours back to her home city of East London. The call was scheduled for 6pm, and there was only one place in her parents’ house to take it: her father’s office, next to the garage.

It was baking hot, and I couldn’t find the damn light switch. The call with Anna lasted forty minutes, and while she was amazingly friendly, I was sweating buckets in the dark. But whatever I said must have done the trick: Orbit signed me to a three-book deal. All we had to do was edit the book, copy-edit it, decide on a cover, start marketing it, print it…

I’m writing this with a month to go. By the time you read this, the thing I started on that slow day at the studio will be available to read. I hope you like it.

About the book:

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“Imagine The Bourne Identity meets Gravity and you’ll get TRACER, the most exciting action thriller set in space you’ll ever read.

Sarah Lotz, author of The Three calls it “fast, exhilarating and unforgettable”.

A huge space station orbits the Earth, holding the last of humanity. It’s broken, rusted, falling apart. We’ve wrecked our planet, and now we have to live with the consequences: a new home that’s dirty, overcrowded and inescapable.

What’s more, there’s a madman hiding on the station. He’s about to unleash chaos. And when he does, there’ll be nowhere left to run.

In space, every second counts. Who said nobody could hear you scream?”

Tracer is published by Orbit on 2 July 2015

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Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

Published by Virago

Publication date – 16 July 2015

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“The Restoration Court knows Lady Dona St Columb to be ripe for any folly, any outrage that will alter the tedium of her days. But there is another, secret Dona who longs for freedom, honest love – and sweetness, even if it is spiced with danger.

To escape the shallowness of court life, Dona retreats to Navron, her husband’s remote Cornish estate. There, she seeks peace in its solitary woods and hidden creeks. But she finds instead a daring pirate, hunted by all Cornwall, a Frenchman who, like Dona, would gamble his life for a moment’s joy. Together, they embark upon a quest rife with danger and glory, one which bestows upon Dona the ultimate choice: sacrifice her lover to certain death or risk her own life to save him.”

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Dona, Lady St Columb, being bored with life at court, has escaped London, travelling to her Cornish estate, Navron. Here she enjoys lazy days and solitary evenings. Until she discovers her house has been used by a pirate. After a rather rude introduction to this pirate, known locally as ‘The Frenchman’ she realises she has found a kindred spirit and found love in the process.

Virago Modern Classics has reissued Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek, along with Jamaica Inn and Rebecca in beautiful new editions, with YA editions also available for the first time. Having not read any of Du Maurier’s work before I jumped at the chance to read one of these new editions.

Frenchman’s Creek reminded me of a grown up adventure story, a grown up Blyton. There was a fantastical quality to it. Whilst it didn’t grab me initially I did want to read it to see what happened to The Frenchman and his crew, hoping that they escaped the hangman’s noose.

I have to admit I didn’t warm to Dona. She came across as spoiled and selfish, putting her children at risk for her own happiness. Granted the story was set in a different era but she had chosen to marry her husband, on a whim almost, and so had to live with her decision. Her actions with The Frenchman, were also taken on a whim, a form of entertainment initially, that led to more.

However I did like The Frenchman. Open in his actions, he came across as charming, erudite and determined. The character of William was also a joy to read and I loved the interactions between him and Dona. I even liked Harry, Dona’s husband. Yes he was a drunk and enjoyed his role as man of leisure a little too much, but he loved Dona and was genuinely trying to make her happy.

Frenchman’s Creek is perhaps not what I had expected from Daphne Du Maurier, but this was based on my little knowledge of her work. If you are looking for a tall adventure, with swash-buckling action and a dash of romance then Frenchman’s Creek may be for you.

 

 

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The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton – Review

Published by Little, Brown

Publication date – 2 July 2015

Source – review copy

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“On 24th November Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska.

Within hours they are driving alone across a frozen wilderness

Where nothing grows

Where no one lives

Where tears freeze

And night will last for another fifty-four days.

They are looking for Ruby’s father.

Travelling deeper into a silent land.

They still cannot find him.

And someone is watching them in the dark.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Yasmin and her daughter Ruby have made the long journey from London to Alaska. On a whim Yasmin has travelled to confront her husband, Matt. He has ostensibly travelled to Alaska to film a wildlife documentary, a reason Yasmin has come to doubt. After their last telephone conversation ended in a row, she sets off to find him. However when she lands she is told that he has died, a victim in a horrible accident that took the lives of an entire village. Fuelled by something other than shock and grief, Yasmin refuses to believe that Matt is dead. She sets off with Ruby into the permanent night to seek Matt at the top of the world.

For me the main story in this book was that of the internal journey each main character took. Yasmin, determined to make life as easy as possible for her daughter had always been keen on Ruby to ‘use her words’. As the journey progressed she comes to realise Ruby is using her words. Her voice comes from her hands. It sets her free and allows her to be who she wants to be. For Ruby the journey opens her up to the world outside, its cruelty as well as its beauty.

There is some beautiful prose in this book. I easily found myself transported to Alaska. The desperate monotony of a landscape where colour has almost vanished. Where snow and ice is all that can be seen and where the danger is the nothingness. “Worse than the dangers of the road and the cold and the isolation was the absence of colours; just the white snow in his headlights and then the dark. In the monochromatic landscape he felt a craving for colours like a need for warmth.” The lack of colour and the perpetual night that conversely highlight dangers, both from nature and man-made.

The language used in Ruby’s sections of the book is also effective. She has the innocence of a child with the awareness of someone on the cusp of adulthood. The incongruity of things being ‘super-coolio’ and the life-threatening situation of her journey and the things she sees are reflected in her monologues.

There is a sense of tension but the thriller aspect of the story almost takes a back seat to the personal journeys taken. There is a sense of danger. Who is following them and do they mean harm? It is also a love story. Yasmin is driven by her love of Matt to race across the tundra to find him. But she is also driven by her love of Ruby, desperate to ensure she does not loose her father and suffer through the early loss of a parent as she did.

This is the first of Rosamund Lupton’s novels I have read. I’ll be seeking out her others to read in the future.

My thanks to Susan de Soissons at Little, Brown for the review copy.

 

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