Monday, July 21, 2014

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 - J B Morrison

Published 5 June 2014 by Pan/Pan McMillan

From Amazon:

The story of the pensioner, the milk float and the miracle worker Frank Derrick is eighty-one. And he’s just been run over by a milk float.

It was tough enough to fill the hours of the day when he was active. But now he’s broken his arm and fractured his foot, it looks set to be a very long few weeks ahead. Frank lives with his cat Bill (which made more sense before Ben died) in the typically British town of Fullwind-on-Sea. The Villages in Bloom competition is the topic of conversation amongst his neighbours but Frank has no interest in that. He watches DVDs, spends his money frivolously at the local charity shop and desperately tries to avoid the cold callers continuously knocking on his door. Emailing his daughter in America on the library computer and visiting his friend Smelly John used to be the highlights of his week. Now he can’t even do that.

Then a breath of fresh air comes into his life in the form of Kelly Christmas, home help. With her little blue car and appalling parking, her cheerful resilience and ability to laugh at his jokes, Kelly changes Frank’s life. She reminds him that there is a big wide-world beyond the four walls of his flat and that adventures, however small, come to people of all ages.

Frank and Kelly’s story is sad and funny, moving, familiar, uplifting. It is a small and perfect look at a life neither remarkable nor disastrous, but completely extraordinary nonetheless. 

For fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry this is a quirky, life affirming story that has enormous appeal. And it’s guaranteed to make you laugh.

My thoughts:

The story begins on the day of Frank’s 81st birthday and he was given the most unexpected and unwanted of presents – a broken arm and a fractured foot after being run over by a milk float.  

I didn’t know quite what to expect from this book, I enjoy funny but I don’t like farce, however I was pleased to discover that the book had plenty of the first but none of the second and I was hooked into Frank’s life from the first page.

Frank’s days are so very ordinary – in fact they are EXTRA ordinary.  He is a magnet for junk mail, cold callers and people trying to sell him stair lifts. Suspect workmen constantly want to repair his roof and guttering.  His days are spent getting the bus to the local charity shop where he spends his time and the little money he has on worthless tat and duplicates of DVDs he already owns, along with visiting his friend Smelly John in the local care home.  However when young care worker Kelly Christmas comes into his life, courtesy of his daughter Beth, his life changes and to say he looks forward to her weekly visits would be an understatement.  

Frank is lonely.  He wife died some years before, his daughter Beth and her family live in America and all he has for company are his remaining cat Bill (Ben having died previously) and the odd visit to Smelly John.  Kelly’s visits bring some meaning and purpose into his life and he begins to have ideas of completing his long forgotten project of turning his old garden shed into a cinema, he wants to talk with her about films and show her his photograph albums – just little companionable things that would mean so much to him and that the rest of us possibly take for granted.

What particularly struck me about the book, apart from Kelly’s compassion towards Frank (given the hour or so a week that she was allocated to him) was how we were reminded of how lonely people can be, how the elderly can be side lined as being unimportant and, well, too old to understand. Frank was not a doddery old man sitting in God’s waiting room; he had an independence and willfulness to him. He kept his white hair long, he learnt how to use email and message his daughter, he took joy in riding a girl’s pink scooter and annoying his pretentious neighbours who were trying to win the Village in Bloom Competition - he just needed someone to show a bit of interest in him and give him some of their time.  

This was a lovely funny read with plenty of one liners to make you chuckle but had moments of sadness and poignancy too.  I enjoyed spending time with Frank and Kelly and, if you like your books well written with slightly quirky characters, then I’m sure you would enjoy this one.

My thanks to Natasha at Pan McMillan for the paperback copy to review.  

At the time of writing this review the Kindle price for this is only £1.59 - a bargain! 

About the author:

Born in London ages ago to his two parents, Frank and Jenny, J.B. Morrison is a musician and already the author of two novels - Storage Stories and Driving Jarvis Ham. Goodnight Jim Bob is an autobiographical account of his ten years as singer with punk-pop band Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine.

With Carter USM J. B. Morrison had 14 top 40 singles and a number one album. He played all over the world, headlined Glastonbury and was sued by The Rolling Stones. He's also made a ton of solo albums and written the screenplay for a film. Plus he was in a musical, in 2010 at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Is there no end to his talents? Yes. Everything not mentioned here. Don't ask him to put up a shelf or cook you dinner. The shelf will fall off the wall and you won't like the food.

You can follow J B Morrison on Twitter

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer at the Lake - Erica James

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Published 27 February 2014 by Orion

From Goodreads:

It was a wedding invitation that changed everything for Floriana...

If she hadn't been so distracted at the thought of having to witness the one true love of her life get married, she would have seen the car coming.

If she'd seen the car coming, there would have been no need for elderly spinster Esme Silcox and local property developer Adam Strong to rush to her aid.

And if Floriana hadn't met Adam and Esme she would never have had the courage to agree to attend Seb's wedding in beautiful Lake Como.

For Esme, Lake Como awakens memories of when she stayed at the lake as a nineteen-year-old girl and fell in love for the first time. So often she's wondered what happened to the man who stole her heart all those years ago, a man who changed the course of her life.

Now it's time for both Esme and Floriana to face the past - and the future - on the shores of this most romantic and enchanting of lakes.

My thoughts:

I’ve read all of Erica’s books over the years (with the exception of The Hidden Cottage, which I have waiting patiently on my Kindle) and have always enjoyed them – and this current book (her 18th!) was no exception.

The story is set partly in Oxford and also the beautiful Italian Lakes.  I’ve spent a couple of lovely holidays by Lake Como and have stayed at the very pretty lakeside town of Bellagio, also mentioned in the book so in some ways this was a trip down memory lane for me.  

When Oxford tour guide Floriana is knocked down by a car, she can have no idea that such a traumatic event would lead to her finding two new friends.  Property developer Adam, nursing a newly broken heart and elderly spinster Esme go to her aid, and despite all three being very different people from diverse backgrounds, they find a connection in each other and, following  Floriana’s recovery,  vow to keep in touch.  I loved all three main characters, they each had something different to bring to the story – the quirkiness of Floriana, Adam, the serious natured problem solver and the wise and perceptive Esme.  I became so completely engrossed in their lives that I couldn’t put the book down.    

The part of the story that particularly stood out for me was Esme’s.  She never married and lived alone with her cat Euridice however back in the 1950’s when she was a young woman, she and her father did their own version of ‘the Grand Tour’ and spent some time at the idyllic sounding Hotel Margherita at Lake Como.  This trip was to have life changing consequences for Esme and when, many decades later, she returns to Lake Como accompanied by Floriana and Adam, it is a chance for her to lay to rest old ghosts.  However it is not only Esme who has to come to terms with the past  – Floriana also faces the heartache of seeing her former love Seb marry someone else. 

Each character’s story is superbly woven together to create a really lovely read.  With such excellent descriptions of the Italian scenery and well developed and engaging characters, there was so much to enjoy that I was quite sad to come to the end.   

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the digitial copy to review.  I also bought a copy for my bookshelf. 

About the author:

With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. The author of numerous bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, winner of the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award , Erica now divides her time between Cheshire and Lake Como in Italy. Visit her website, Twitter page, or Facebook page

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Kill (Maeve Kerrigan #5) - Jane Casey

Published 5 June 2014 by Ebury Press

From Goodreads:

Maeve Kerrigan is used to investigating murders.But this time a killer has struck far too close to home...

When a police officer is found shot dead in his car, DC Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent take on the investigation. But nothing about the case prepares them for what happens next: a second policeman dies . . . and then another . . .

The Metropolitan Police struggle to carry out their usual duties, but no one knows where or how this cop killer will strike again. While London disintegrates into lawlessness Maeve's world starts to fall apart too. For if the police can't keep themselves safe, how can they protect anyone else?

My thoughts:

When DC Maeve Kerrigan and her fellow detectives are recalled from a colleague's wedding to investigate the shooting of a police officer, they have little idea that this would be start of a killing campaign against the police. What follows is a tightly plotted story with twists and turns and with excellent characterisation. 

There are many different strands to the plot, some of which began life previously in the series. I don't want to give away any spoilers so I'm not going to go into detail.  I'm out of sync with this series, having read an earlier book and now this one and although you can enjoy this as a standalone, to get the best out of it it is clear that the series needs to be read in order. The scenes with the sometimes obnoxiously sexist DI Josh Derwent and the stubborn and independent Maeve Kerrigan were one of the highlights for me and I hope their working relationship continues. 

Although this could be described as a `police procedural' it is more character based than many others in this genre which sets it apart. I did feel that the story started to flag a little in the middle but this didn't spoil the overall enjoyment and I now look forward to catching up with the rest of the series before the next book.

I received my advance reading copy from the Amazon Vine review programme.

About the author:

"All my criminal elements have some basis in reality, no matter how awful they may be. Nothing is completely farfetched." Jane Casey

Crime is a family affair for Jane Casey. Married to a criminal barrister, she has a unique insight into the brutal underbelly of urban life, from the smell of a police cell to the darkest motives of a serial killer.

This gritty realism has made her books international bestsellers and critical successes; while D.C. Maeve Kerrigan has quickly become one of the most popular characters in crime fiction.

Twice shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award as well as the Mary Higgins Clark Award, Jane has been recently longlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award. 

You can follow Jane Casey via Twitter or via her website

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Dark and Twisted Tide - Sharon Bolton

Published 8 May 2014 by Bantam Press

Paperback published 25 September 2014 by Corgi

From Amazon:

Former detective Lacey Flint quit the force for a safer, quieter life. Or that's what she thought.

Now living alone on her houseboat, she is trying to get over the man she loves, undercover detective Mark Joesbury. But Mark is missing in action and impossible to forget. And danger won't leave Lacey alone.

When she finds a body floating in the river near her home, wrapped in burial cloths, she can't resist asking questions. Who is this woman, and why was she hidden in the fast-flowing depths? And who has been delivering unwanted gifts to Lacey?

Someone is watching Lacey Flint closely.

Someone who knows exactly what makes her tick . . .

My thoughts:

Sharon Bolton is fast becoming one of my favourite crime writers.  The Lacy Flint series goes from strength to strength with each story becoming darker and the tension sometimes unbearable.  In particular, one of the things I love about this author is her ability to set the scene and describe it so perfectly that you can visualise yourself as a bystander. Part of this story involves the traversing of tunnels and drains and it feels so realistically claustrophobic. 

Not for the first time in this series the River Thames features heavily and provides the perfect backdrop to the story. Not only has Lacey has moved onto a houseboat on the Thames but she has given up her previous role with the Met police and joined the Marine Unit intending to have a quieter life.   However someone has other plans for Lacey and soon she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation and yet again facing danger.

The first corpse surfaces whilst Lacey is wild swimming in the Thames – her new morning ritual and not to be recommended!  It appears that someone knows her routine and she soon realises that the body was deliberately left for her to find.   She finds herself caught up in a story involving missing women and people trafficking and when further bodies are found she is sure that the same killer is responsible, however she has a battle on her hands to persuade her superiors and once again Lacey, regarded as something of a loose cannon, has to prove her case.  

Lacey Flint has to be one of the most complex fictional detectives I have come across.  She still remains an enigma but in this outing, the layers are being very slowly peeled away and we learn just a little more about her past.  Her on/off relationship with fellow detective Mark Joesbury is ongoing, however he is currently working undercover and having to face problems of his own.   

In this story, Lacey joins forces with her former boss Dana Tulloch and the two women have to put aside their differences and pull together to find a killer.  Dana’s personal life with her partner Helen feature heavily in this story which for me made her seem a little more human.  

There were parts of the book that made me squirm – particularly the Litten crabs – urrgh those crabs…and then the rats! There are some sinister but very interesting characters featured and at one stage I thought I had the killer sussed but yet again, I was wrong!   

This is another brilliant dark and perfectly plotted twisty read from Sharon Bolton and definitely one I would recommend. 

My thanks to Alison Barrow of Transworld for the copy to review.

About the author:

Sharon Bolton (previously S. J. Bolton) is the author of six critically acclaimed novels. This is her seventh novel and features the popular DC Lacey Flint and DI Mark Joesbury. She has been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year, the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA Dagger in the Library.

Sharon lives near Oxford with her husband and young son. For more information about her books, visit You can also join her on Facebook  and Twitter 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Broken - Tamar Cohen

Published 22 May 2014 by Transworld/Doubleday

From Goodreads:

Best friends tell you everything; about their kitchen renovation; about their little girl's schooling. How one of them is leaving the other for a younger model.

Best friends don't tell lies. They don't take up residence on your couch for weeks. They don't call lawyers. They don't make you choose sides.

Best friends don't keep secrets about their past. They don't put you in danger.

Best friends don't always stay best friends.

My thoughts:

Dan and Sasha, Josh and Hannah are two happily married couples and best friends – or so they thought.  When Dan announces that he has met someone else and is leaving Sasha after 8 years of marriage, Josh and Hannah are left reeling.  They have always been such close friends; they holiday together, chill out together, their young daughters September and Lily play together – in fact they are closer than family – or so they think!

Tamar Cohen has written a powerful and compelling story of how the breakdown of a marriage affects others.  Josh and Hannah are determined not to take sides but when the situation between the warring couple becomes increasingly acrimonious and toxic, they find it impossible to stay impartial.  With both Dan and Sasha fighting a war and making allegations, including that of violence against the other, who would you believe?

Despite their pledge to remain neutral, the split affects the dynamics of Josh and Hannah’s marriage  and cracks start to appear in their own relationship.  They begin to be suspicious of each other and both keep secrets - will they end up in the same situation as Dan and Sasha? 

There were many times when I wanted to bang all their heads together, especially Hannah for being such a wuss and also, to some extent, Josh. Sasha was Hannah’s only real friend and definitely the more dominant personality. Hannah’s default position seemed to be that of feeling guilty and constantly apologising, even when Sasha’s behaviour began to spiral dangerously out of control.  I just wanted Hannah to stand up to her and tell her where to go. Josh kept secrets from Hannah – important things which he really should have told her but his excuse was that the timing was never right.  

Dan initially lived in a world of delusion, thinking that Sasha was going to bow out gracefully and let him start a new life with his younger lover. However Sasha was not going to make things so easy for him and her behaviour becomes increasingly unstable and erratic.  Their young daughter September (who I initially had down as a spoilt brat) is caught in the middle and I ended up feeling quite sorry for her.

Interspersed throughout the story by way of short chapters, is the voice of a young girl, Lucie, who is clearly a very unhappy person.  Her real identity and her relevance to the story kept me wondering and although at one stage I thought I had this sussed, I was wrong.  Her sinister voice adds to the suspense and fear that something really bad has already happened or is about to. 

Cleverly structured, with excellent characterisations, this is a story that will make you question how you would react in this situation - it is so scarily realistic.  Each character is flawed and appears unreliable and I was constantly changing my allegiance and sympathies. Add in to the mix the ever constant fear that worse may be yet to come and you have the ingredients for a fabulously dark and chilling read.   The story finishes with a wonderful twisty revelation which I certainly didn’t see coming.  This was a top read for me and well deserved a 5* rating. 

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the digital copy to review. 

About the author:

Tamar Cohen is a freelance journalist who has written for countless publications including The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. A late starter to fiction (and to other things besides) she has written four novels - The Mistress's Revenge, The War of the Wives, and Someone Else's Wedding, all published by Doubleday. The Broken is her fourth novel.  She is a Writer in Residence at Kingston University and lives in North London with her partner and three (nearly) grown children, plus one very badly behaved dog.

You can follow Tamar via Twitter or Facebook

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Woman's Choice - Annie Thomas

From Amazon:

It is 1901. Queen Victoria is dead; a new era has begun. And on a cold April morning a young girl stands uncertainly on Liverpool Docks ready to board an emigrant ship that will take her to America and an unknown future. Michael, Luke, and Meg are amongst her fellow travellers, with the common bond that only determination and self-belief will sustain them in their new lives.

Set in the vibrancy of early twentieth century New York, the story follows Clara and the people she meets on the way, through tenement living and sweatshop labour to success in musical theatre.

But she discovers that she needs more than wealth and security to make her happy; when the past returns, she makes another choice which changes her life. Then, as the horror of World War One in Europe threatens to engulf America, Clara learns that personal lives cannot be lived apart from public events, and finds that the people she has loved, and who love her, are not always what they seem. 

A Woman’s Choice is a compelling saga of friendship, love and ambition.

My thoughts:

We first meet Clara Foley in 1901, when she is 12 years old and boarding a ship at Liverpool, with her mother Jenny to start a new life in America. Her mother has become very fragile following the death of her husband and Clara finds herself increasingly having to make decisions for both of them.  Clara has a very old head on young shoulders and it is this strength of character that will sustain her for the future, where, unbeknown to her at the time, some of her fellow passengers will have a huge impact on her future life in America. 

Even at a very young age Clara is determined to make something of her life and give herself and her mother a better standard of living.  She may have to start off in the sweatshops of early twentieth century New York but has no intention of staying there.  Using every ounce of determination and talent, she attempts to forge a career for herself in musical theatre and make a better life. 

Aside from the character of Clara, what I loved about this book was the depth and detail of description - from the clothing sweatshops where workers were at the mercy of ruthless bosses and the poorest parts of the city where people struggled to survive to the glamorous parties of the rich and famous and the prejudices and tragedy arising from America’s involvement in WW1.  We follow Clara through good times and bad – and all the time I was rooting for her to find happiness and have the life that she dreamt of.   

There are some great characters  that come into Clara’s life throughout the book – most I loved and one or two I didn’t quite take to; from the brash but kind Bertha Ramsey on the ship to America, cheeky young Irishman Michael O’Halloran and the ambitious Luke Rutherford and, later on, her devoted friend Noreen and the loud but loyal Margo. Whether likeable or not, the characters are all so well written and believable. Clara, of course, is the star of the story.   She may have had a rough start in life but her father taught her well and she remains true to those important values of basic goodness and integrity.  There were times when I felt she may have been a little too perfect, but then we see her weaknesses and vulnerabilities and her sadness at the choices she has to make.    

This is a beautifully written historical saga that you can immerse yourself in and I was hooked from the first page.  It is an excellent debut novel and I can highly recommend it.  I certainly look forward to reading more by Annie Thomas.  

My thanks to the author for providing an e-book for review.

At the time of writing this review, A Woman's Choice  is currently available on Amazon for 99p for Kindle  

About the author:

Annie Thomas lives in rural England, in a 19thc converted pub with her husband and son.

She studied English and History at University, combining her love of reading with the broad canvas of public events and the human stories of the people who lived through them.

"The fascination of writing for me is that you can create an alternative world that you inhabit for as long as you are writing the novel. You sit down to write, and the film begins to play in your mind, like one of the old black and white movies I used to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon..."

You can follow on Twitter or contact Annie via her website

Thursday, July 3, 2014

BOOK BREAK - the new online book show series - Episode 6

Log on during your lunch hour for the sixth of ten monthly shows where author Alexandra Heminsley is joined by Jessie Burton and Jonathan Harvey who will be talking about their new books and we’ll be talking all things summer reads with industry insiders.

Broadcast date: Friday 4th July

Broadcast time: 12:30pm 

In episode six of BOOK BREAK, anchored by author Alexandra Heminsley (Running Like a Girl), we are joined by Jessie Burton, an actress and debut novelist and Jonathan Harvey, the creator of Gimme Gimme Gimme, one of the star writers on Coronation Street and already an award-winning novelist.  

Jonathan Harvey’s The Girl Who Just Appeared is a poignant, funny read which follows Holly (who was adopted as an infant) in the present day and Darren (who is negotiating life with his errant mother and the younger brother he is bringing up) in 1981. Flitting between the present and the past we gradually discover how Darren and Holly’s lives become intertwined.

Jessie Burton’s debut, The Miniaturist, is a story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth set in 1686 in the home of the illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, told through the eyes of his new bride Nella.

We’ll also hear from Ellen Feldman in our writer’s room segment where we’ll delve into her writing rituals. Finishing off being transported to an industry party, we’ll hear from publishing insiders on their recommendations for summer reading- from those already on the shelves to books that haven’t even been published yet.

Follow #bookbreak on Twitter, subscribe to the Pan Macmillan’s YouTube channel or watch the broadcast right here at 12:30pm on Friday 4th July. 

Alexandra Heminsley is joined by Jessie Burton and Jonathan Harvey for Book Break which will be broadcast on Friday 4th July 12:30pm at 

For more information 

Hashtag: #bookbreak

Friday, June 20, 2014

One Night in Italy - Lucy Diamond

Published 5 June 2014 by Pan McMillan

From Amazon:

If journalist Anna had to write up the story of her own life, it wouldn’t make for a great headline: Dull Journo Has Dull Boyfriend! The only mystery in Anna’s life is that she’s never known who her dad is but with her mum refusing to tell her more she’s at a dead end. When she accidentally comes across a clue that her father is Italian, it opens up a burning curiosity in Anna. Soon she’s cooking Italian food, signing up for an Italian class and even considering dusting off her passport to go and find her dad in person… Sophie is serving gelato to tourists in Italy when she gets the call that her father has had a serious heart attack. In a rush, she grabs her well-worn backpack and heads back to the one place she’s been avoiding for so long – home. Living with her mum again while her dad recuperates, and taking a job teaching Italian to make ends meet, Sophie has to face up to the secrets she’s kept buried in the past. Catherine has no idea what the future holds. Her children have left for university, her husband has left her for another woman and her bank account is left empty after dedicating her life to raising her family. She needs a job and an identity all of a sudden. At an Italian evening class she makes a start in finding new friends Anna and Sophie. And she’s going to need good friends when she discovers her husband’s lies run even deeper than his infidelity… As Anna embarks on the trip to Italy that could answer all of her questions, will the truth live up to her dreams?

My thoughts:

I've enjoyed Lucy’s previous books and was really looking forward to this one.  I wasn't disappointed – it was a lovely story about three very different women and their route to a happier life; also I love anything Italian (even though the story was primarily set in Sheffield!) so this was a double win for me.   

When three women meet as strangers at an Italian language evening class, they would have no idea how much their lives would change.  We have Anna, a journalist (with a despicable boyfriend and his spreadsheets!). Anna has never known her father but has just discovered his first name and that he is Italian.  She has hopes of going to Italy to try and find him but wants to learn some of the language first.  Then there is Catherine; she has been treated so badly by her awful husband and not only needs a job but a boost to her confidence.  Finally there is Sophie; she has a fractured relationship with her parents and had fled abroad to live a nomadic lifestyle but upon hearing her father was ill, returned home although she then had no idea what to do with her life.  By chance, she ended up teaching an Italian evening class at a local college.   There are other characters from the class who feature in a meaningful way throughout the story – from bossy Geraldine and her adoring husband Roy to sparky hairdresser Phoebe and their friendship and support made a great addition to the story. 

Each character has their own story to tell and the threads were neatly interwoven. Often, there is one character that I engage with more than others but here I felt empathy with all three - they were all so believable and I was rooting for all of them to live their dreams.  Of course nothing runs smoothly and all three women have problems to contend with before they can start to move on with their lives.   

There was so much in this book to love – humour, romance, heartache and of course scrumptious Italian food.  I really enjoyed it and look forward to the next book!

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the digital copy to review

Author info:

You can follow Lucy Diamond on Twitter or Facebook

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Before the Fall - Juliet West

Published 22 May 2014 by Mantle

From Amazon:

A great war.
A powerful love.
An impossible choice.

I think the war is everywhere: in the rain, in the river, in the grey air that we breathe. It is a current that runs through all of us. You can't escape the current; either you swim with it, or you go under. 

1916. Across the channel, the Great War rages; in London's East End, with her husband away fighting, Hannah Loxwood struggles to hold everything together. But when Hannah takes a job in a café, she discovers a glimpse of freedom away from her needy young children, her spiteful sister and desperately ill father.

While the conflict drags on, Hannah battles with the overwhelming burden of 'duty'. She has sacrificed so much for a husband who left her behind, a husband who may never come home. Then, when she meets Daniel - thoughtful, intelligent, quietly captivating - Hannah finds herself faced with the most dangerous of temptations . . .

As the war grips tighter and bombs fall down upon the streets, the stakes for the couple grow ever higher. Soon Hannah and Daniel will realise just how precarious their happiness is, as their destiny rushes towards them...

Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a twist that will leave you breathless, Before The Fall, inspired by a true story, hurls you into a London torn apart by the First World War and paints a vivid and haunting portrait of one woman's struggle.

My thoughts:

Based on a true story, this is a beautifully written and powerful story of a love affair against the backdrop of the Great War. 

Hannah Loxwood’s husband has gone to war and she is left with their two children.  She has had to give up her home and move in with her not so nice sister and lecherous husband.  In order to bring some money in and to find some freedom from the stifling, miserable atmosphere, Hannah takes a job in a café.  It is there that she first meets Daniel Blake, a widower, who as a ship worker, is exempt from being sent to fight.  Daniel is a loner, he is intelligent, cultured and like Hannah, has dreams of a better life. They must keep their love secret or face a backlash of opinion for Hannah having an affair whilst her husband fights for his country. 

Set around the East End of London, the story perfectly conveys the poverty, the rationing and food shortages and the danger of living in London with the threat of bombing raids from the German Zeppelins at any moment.  Hannah feels different from her working class friends and family and when she meets Daniel there is a chance of something better. Her dilemma of having to choose between her unhappy marriage and her love for Daniel is so beautifully articulated. Once she crosses the line there is no going back.  

There is a wonderful setting of time and place.  Trying to survive in war ravaged London, with those working in the munitions factory facing their own health risks from contamination.  Public opinion is such that any healthy young man not in uniform is viewed with suspicion and white feathers as a sign of cowardice are freely distributed.  

I found myself totally drawn into this story of forbidden love and duty.  The twist at the end was a total shock and I had to go back and re-read.  This is the author’s debut novel and hopefully the first of many more to come. 

My thanks to the Publisher for the advance reading copy. 

About the author:

Juliet West grew up in Worthing and studied history at Cambridge University. She trained as a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s and went on to work for newspapers and magazines in Dorset, Hampshire and London.

In 2009 she took an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she graduated with distinction and won the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize.

The opening chapters of her debut novel, Before the Fall, were shortlisted for the Myriad Editions/West Dean novel writing competition in 2012. The novel is published in hardback and ebook by Mantle at Pan Macmillan in May 2014 and by Pan in August 2014 (paperback).

Juliet lives with her husband and three children in West Sussex. She is currently working on her second novel.

You can follow Juliet via her Website or Twitter

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home - Hazel Gaynor

Published 1 May 2014 by HarperCollins 360

From Amazon:

Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home is the poignant story of a group of Irish emigrants aboard RMS Titanic—a seamless blend of fact and fiction that explores the tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants.

Ireland, 1912. Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the lucky few passengers in steerage who survives. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that terrible night ever again.

Chicago, 1982. Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her Great Nana Maggie shares the painful secret she harbored for almost a lifetime about the Titanic, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.

My thoughts:

I’ve always been fascinated by anything to do with the Titanic – not in a ghoulish way but it was such an immense and, depending on your view, unnecessary tragedy.  Several years ago I visited the exhibition in London where artefacts that had been recovered from the ship were displayed – it was so incredibly moving to see personal possessions belonging to people who sadly were not to survive.
Hazel Gaynor has written a very moving fictional account of that fateful journey of April 1912.  The book was inspired by the true events of a group of 14 Irish villagers who left their homes in County Mayo to travel to relatives in America on the Titanic, known as the Addergoole Fourteen.  Sadly 11 of these passengers were never to reach their destination.  

We first meet the villagers and the main narrator of the story, young Maggie Murphy, when they are preparing to leave Ballysheen and make their way to the port to board the ship.  Through Maggie’s daily journal we learn of their time on board and get a glimpse of the differences between their lowly status and the passengers in the sumptuous first class accommodation. We are also introduced to 23 year old Harry Walsh from Southampton who would be responsible for the steerage cabins.  Harry was to prove instrumental to Maggie’s survival and the friendship which developed between Harry and the girls from Ballysheen was a lovely addition to the story.

Of course, we don’t just see the story from the point of view of the passengers – we also meet the people waiting for them in America – both before and after that fateful night and the suffering they endured whilst waiting for news of survivors, which when it finally came was confusing and contradictory.  

This is a dual time story and in between the Titanic chapters, we jump forward to 1982 and follow Grace Butler, Maggie’s great-grand-daughter in America.  It is through Grace that we learn the rest of Maggie’s story and what happened from when the rescue ship The Carpathia picked up the Titanic’s lifeboats. 

It is clear that the story has been lovingly researched and is rich with detail.  The story doesn’t focus exclusively on the sinking of the ship but shows another side to the tragedy which is equally important – that of the people involved.  I really enjoyed spending time with Maggie and learning of her life, both before and after the tragedy and although I can understand why Grace was part of the story, I wasn’t quite so interested in her life however that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story.  

I have to admit to being a bit wet-eyed by the end. This was an excellent debut novel and well deserving of a 5* rating.

The book contains a very interesting section at the end detailing how the book was researched and of the true event that inspired it.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the Addergoole 14 here is the website link.

My thanks to Helena of HarperCollins 360 for the advance reading copy. 

About the author:

Born in North Yorkshire, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband, two children and an accident-prone cat.  Hazel has been writing ever since 2009 when she swapped her life in corporate training and development to become a full time writer. Since then she has written a guest blog 'Carry on Writing' for Irish writing website and also interviewed many authors for the blog. Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and appeared as a panel speaker at the Waterford Writer's Festival in 2011 and 2012.  'The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel' is Hazel's first novel. 

You can follow Hazel via her website, on Twitter