Sunday, August 31, 2014

Remember Me This Way - Sabine Durrant

Published 17 July 2014 by Mulholland Books/Hodder

From Amazon:

Everyone keeps telling me I have to move on. And so here I am, walking down the road where he died, trying to remember him the right way.

A year after her husband Zach's death, Lizzie goes to lay flowers where his fatal accident took place.

As she makes her way along the motorway, she thinks about their life together. She wonders whether she has changed since Zach died. She wonders if she will ever feel whole again.

At last she reaches the spot. And there, tied to a tree, is a bunch of lilies. The flowers are addressed to her husband. Someone has been there before her.

Lizzie loved Zach. She really did.

But she's starting to realise she didn't really know him.

Or what he was capable of . . .

My thoughts:

The story starts with a rather chilling prologue in Zach’s voice.  It then continues on Valentine’s Day, one year exactly after Zach’s death, with Lizzie making her first visit to the site of the crash, which is where she finds the flowers with a note for her husband…”For Zach”, and the name Xenia, drawn in a large heart.  Who is Xenia and why is there a SUV parked up tightly against the bumper of her car in the layby?  When she then arrives at his remote cottage in Cornwall, she has the strangest feeling that all is not right.

I do love a suspense filled thriller and this one has different themes running through it – psychopathic behaviour and domestic abuse being just two. We are told at the outset that Zach has been killed in a car crash however things keep happening which concern Lizzie - her flat door being open when she thought she had locked it and also items missing from their flat.   Is Zach really dead…or was the accident an elaborate charade and he is actually still alive, tormenting Lizzie in a macabre act of revenge.

The chapters alternate between Lizzie and Zach.  Zach’s voice is recalling events from the past and it is through his narrative that we learn the real Zach, or we think we do.  His twisted thoughts and actions are quite chilling.  He appears to be a very insecure, possessive and controlling person and we must surely have sympathy with Lizzie for bearing the brunt of his abusive behaviour. However Lizzie has a secret of her own – and which gives rise to her increasing belief that Zach is still alive and is following her.  As Lizzie delves into Zach’s past for the truth, the more deceit she uncovers.  Did she ever know Zach at all?

Zach and Lizzie are complex characters and both are very well written.  Zach is good looking, very confident and capable of great charm however his moods can turn on the spin of a coin whereas Lizzie is dowdy and has very little self-confidence. She has a passive character and rather than confront, she prefers to take the easy way out which can make her seem rather weak.  However she is not completely in the dark about Zach’s behaviour and a little part of her quietly enjoys the thought of him being jealous and possessive – this surely means that her loves her….

All the way through there are twists and turns and little hints which make you think “hmm, I wonder if….?”.  The story is cleverly plotted with structure and pace and there is plenty of tension throughout with no loose ends left hanging.  I rarely guess the ending correctly, and I didn’t in this case although I had part of it figured out.  This was a book that kept me up late at night just to get to the truth - but it was worth it.

My thanks to Bookbridgr and the publisher for the copy to review.

If I have tempted you at all with this review, I currently have a giveaway for two copies of this book ending at midnight on 2 September 2014 - please see the previous post. 

About the author:

Sabine Durrant's first psychological thriller Under Your Skin was published in 2013. Her previous novels are Having It and Eating It and The Great Indoors, and two books for teenage girls, Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles and Ooh La La! Connie Pickles. She is a former features editor of the Guardian and a former literary editor at the Sunday Times, and her writing has appeared in many national newspapers and magazines. She lives in south London with her partner and their three children.

You can follow the author on Twitter

Saturday, August 30, 2014

One Year Blogoversary Giveaway

It's a whole year ago this week since I published my first blog post (26 August) and I still love posting my thoughts of books that I have enjoyed and which I want to recommend and to share with others.  I've always been a bookworm and when I first started my blog, it was only ever intended to be as a hobby and have to somewhere to have my reviews in one place.  I never dreamt that in just one year my blog would have over 18,000 views from all over the world and I'm still amazed that people actually follow my blog and take the time to look at my reviews.   
I would like to say a huge thank you to fellow book bloggers, publishers and authors - and of course those reading this blog, for your support over the last 12 months.   I have received so many fabulous books from publishers and authors, who ask for nothing in return but a review - how great is that.   The support from fellow bloggers has been tremendous - it really is such a nice community to be part of; we all have one thing in common - to share our love of books. 

Its been a while since I've run a giveaway and I thought now would be an ideal time for another one.  I have TWO copies to give away of this great book.  

The prizes are one brand new copy (I received a duplicate copy and this giveaway is with the publisher's permission) plus my own reading copy (which is also in 'as new' condition). Both books are hardbacks. 

If I can tempt you at all, you can read my review here
Everyone keeps telling me I have to move on. And so here I am, walking down the road where he died, trying to remember him the right way. 

A year after her husband Zach's death, Lizzie goes to lay flowers where his fatal accident took place. 

As she makes her way along the motorway, she thinks about their life together. She wonders whether she has changed since Zach died. She wonders if she will ever feel whole again. 

At last she reaches the spot. And there, tied to a tree, is a bunch of lilies. The flowers are addressed to her husband. Someone has been there before her.

Lizzie loved Zach. She really did. 

But she's starting to realise she didn't really know him. 

Or what he was capable of . . .

Published 17 July 2014 by Mulholland Books/Hodder

                              * * * 

In addition, each winner will receive two little notebooks and a magnetic bookmark.

Unfortunately because of postage costs, this giveaway is limited to the UK only. 

Good luck and happy reading! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Way You Look Tonight - Richard Madeley

Published 31 July 2014 by Simon & Schuster UK

From Amazon: 

The thrilling new novel from bestselling author Richard Madeley takes us into the glamorous world of the Kennedys and the steamy, sinister Florida Keys.

Not until she was 16 did Stella Arnold learn the full truth about her father. Knowing now what her father was capable of, she decides to study psychology and the criminal mind, and to further her education in America.

In the spring of 1962 she flies to Boston where, being beautiful, bright and fashionably English, she becomes someone of huge fascination and on every invitation list. Then comes an invitation one summer weekend to the home of the Kennedys. Stella quickly becomes part of the inner Kennedy circle as they party through the hot summer nights. Both brothers, JFK and Bobby, make their moves on her but she firmly, charmingly, repels them. 

Further south, on the Florida Keys, a killer is on the loose. The case, unsolved, begins to rock America, and with her specialist knowledge of psychopaths, Stella is co-opted by the police investigation and prepares to fly south...

My thoughts: 

Having enjoyed Richard Madeley’s previous novel Someday I’ll Find You (reviewed here), I was very much looking forward to reading this.  As nice as it is, the cover picture doesn't quite match the story within and I think gives the impression of being a light-hearted read however this is far from the case. 

Although this book features characters from the previous novel, it can easily be read and enjoyed as a standalone – although beware, if you do have Someday I’ll Find You, or you intend to read it, then I would recommend that you read that one first, otherwise that story will be spoilt.

We meet Stella Arnold again when she is 22 years old.  It is 1962, set in Florida during the Kennedy presidency.  Stella has been offered a place at the prestigious Smith College to take her PhD.  Before starting her studies, she flies to Boston to stay with some acquaintances of her mother Diana, Jeb and Dorothy Rockfair.  The Rockfairs are well connected and are friends with the Kennedys, which is how Stella’s connection with the Kennedy brothers begins.

Running alongside the main investigative part of the story is a separate narrative from the killer’s point of view – we can see him making his preparations and are privy to his thoughts which makes for a chilling addition to the story.

I have to admit I didn’t really warm to Stella for much of the book.  She was very young but very self-assured with a very high opinion of her own abilities and despite having no practical experience, considered herself an expert on psychopathic behaviour.  She was very clever, but also quite naïve at times.  I would like to see her return in future stories, but preferably it would be a more mature Stella next time. 

The story was well plotted and paced with a wonderful sense of place. I’ve never been to the Florida Keys but  it is clear that the author knows it well and the depth of research shines through.  Although the murders were not gratuitously gruesome or explicit, there were some parts that made me wince and the thought processes and actions of the killer were quite chilling. 

I really enjoyed this thriller - so, yes, there were times when the dialogue was a little cheesy and if you were a diehard fan of serial killer stories you might find this rather lightweight, particularly with the love story element but it’s an extremely good, entertaining, suspense filled read and I certainly will be looking forward to reading more.

My thanks to Rik and the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for the paperback copy for review.

At the time of writing this review, the Kindle version is available on Amazon for just £1.99

About the author:

Richard Madeley was born in 1956. He worked on local newspapers before moving to the BBC. He met Judy Finnigan when they both presented a news programme on Granada TV. Their eponymous TV show ran for seven years and was an enormous success. Richard Madeley has four children and lives in London and Cornwall. 

You can follow Richard Madeley on Twitter. The link for the Richard & Judy Bookclub is here

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Salinger Year - Joanna Rakoff

Published on 5 June 2014 by Bloomsbury Circus

From Amazon:

At twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in the plush, wood-panelled agency, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches, and at night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Brooklyn apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities and struggling to trust her own artistic sense, Joanna is given the task of answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the agency’s decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger’s devotees, she abandons the template and begins writing back…

My thoughts:

I was initially attracted to this memoir, not because of the Salinger connection (whose books I have never read) but because it was set in a literary agency and I am always interested in what goes on the behind the scenes of book publishing.  Actually it doesn’t matter at all if you’ve never read any Salinger, I still enjoyed this even though I had never heard of Holden Caulfield or Franny Glass. 

The story starts in 1996 when Joanna is 23.  She takes a job as an assistant at the Agency in New York (we are never told which one although a quick search on Google will tell you), working for the president of the Agency, who we are led to believe was a brusque, non-communicative harridan, who couldn’t keep any assistant for long.  The Boss, as she is merely known, still lives in the dark ages where technology is concerned and eventually, very reluctantly, only allows ONE computer to be installed, for use by everybody for Agency business only (no personal email or “other activities” allowed).  Joanna has to use an electric typewriter, with carbons and an ancient dictaphone.  The old fashioned dark wood panelled offices and low lighting paint a gloomy picture of a place of work, albeit one containing numerous bookshelves containing first editions. 

One of Joanna’s first conversations with her Boss is to be instructed on what happens when “Jerry” rings – at this stage Joanna had no idea who Jerry was.  She was not to engage him in conversation, but merely put him through to the Boss and no account was she to pass on any information about him. Joanna’s first conversation with JS was quite surreal – it appears that he was quite deaf and although he initially always called her Suzanne, he appears to have been a very polite and gentle man, which conflicted with his reputation of being awkward and morose. We do learn that once he became famous, he gave strict instructions on how his book covers were to be designed, how the type should appear on the spine etc - anyone who fell foul of these instructions were immediately cast aside.

One of Joanna’s jobs was to reply to the many fan letters forwarded on to the Agency by his publishers.  JS had insisted that he did not want to see any letters from his fans and so Joanna had to give a short cursory reply, which had been used by the Agency for decades.  Once she started to read the letters however, she began to feel a connection with some of the writers and it didn’t feel right to just reply back with a 2 line curt note.

This is a very gentle and charming story of Joanna’s coming of age and of learning who she is and what she wants to achieve.  We know that she has left her college boyfriend who she seemed to care for deeply to live with slimeball Don in a grotty apartment with no heating and no sink. Over the course of the year, due in part to the Agency life and her relationship with Don, she learns much about herself and what she actually wants from life.  The narrative is written in an extremely engaging way with little gossipy nuggets about other clients such as Judy Blume. 

I really enjoyed this 250 page memoir and became completely engrossed in Joanna’s life over that 12 month period. The content is varied enough to be interesting and it doesn't dwell on minutiae which could make it boring. I am sure this would appeal to any readers of Salinger, and even if you are not, I would recommend it.  

I received my copy from the Amazon Vine review programme.

After reading the book and finding out more about the author, there is an article written by her in 2010 which gives some details about the literary agency she worked for and the Salinger letters.  

About the author:

Joanna Rakoff’s novel A Fortunate Age won the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers and the Elle Readers’ Prize, and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and a San Francisco Chronicle best seller. She has written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, and other publications. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The BBC produced a radio documentary following her as she tracked down the writer of her favourite Salinger fan letter. 

You can follow Joanna via her website, Twitter or Facebook 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Visitors - Rebecca Mascull

Published 2 January 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton

Paperback published 17 July 2014

From Goodreads:

Imagine if you couldn't see
couldn't hear
couldn't speak...

Then one day somebody took your hand and opened up the world to you.

Adeliza Golding is a deaf-blind girl, born in late Victorian England on her father's hop farm. Unable to interact with her loving family, she exists in a world of darkness and confusion; her only communication is with the ghosts she speaks to in her head, who she has christened the Visitors. One day she runs out into the fields and a young hop-picker, Lottie, grabs her hand and starts drawing shapes in it. Finally Liza can communicate.

Her friendship with her teacher and with Lottie's beloved brother Caleb leads her from the hop gardens and oyster beds of Kent to the dusty veldt of South Africa and the Boer War, and ultimately to the truth about the Visitors.

My thoughts:

Adeliza (Liza) Golding was born with little sight and when she is 3 years old, scarlet fever takes away her hearing and cataracts remove her remaining sight. She is now deafblind and mute and lives in a world of confusion and frustration. As a result, she begins to run wild and the only way to control her is to physically restrain her by tying her to a chair. Her fragile mother retires to her bedroom and has very little contact with her daughter so initially Liza’s main carers are her brutish nanny and her devoted father.  Her salvation arrives in the form of Charlotte (Lottie) Crowe, a young woman staying with her family on Liza’s father’s hop farm for the hop picking season.  Lottie has experience of deaf blindness and with time and infinite patience brings to an end Liza’s lonely and isolated existence by teaching her to communicate and giving her the confidence to live a normal life. 

This debut novel from Rebecca Mascull could be described as historical fiction/a love story/a ghost story as it encompasses all three genres.  I sometimes find that historical fiction can be a bit dry however this is a beautifully written account of Liza’s transition from a dark and lonely childhood to experiencing her first love and finding her place in the world.  

The characters are expertly drawn and it is clear that detailed research has been undertaken.  I had heard of the Boer War, although I knew very little about it.  When Lottie’s brother Caleb enlists as a soldier to fight for his country, his letters home bring to life the reality of war – the initial excitement of action giving way to the weary resignation of the death and destruction endured.  I thought this was a very effective way of including the war in the story without making the narrative feel like a history lesson. 

As a child, Liza’s lack of sight had given her an extra sense – she could see and communicate with ghosts – the Visitors.  At first she doesn’t understand these visions and why she alone can see and hear them. However, as the story progresses, this gift of hers comes to the fore and she learns how to use this gift to its full advantage.  I have to admit, this was the weakest part of the story for me and although I could see how they were relevant to the story, I wasn't totally convinced by the paranormal aspect.

I loved both the characters of Liza and Lottie.  Despite the obstacles to be overcome, Liza’s enthusiasm for learning and experiencing new things in life were superbly written, as was the friendship and devotion between her and Lottie.  

I really enjoyed this original and thoughtful debut novel and look forward to reading more by this very talented author.

I received my paperback copy through the Amazon Vine review programme. 

About the author:

Rebecca Mascull lives by the sea in the east of England with her partner Simon and their daughter Poppy. She has previously worked in education and has a Masters in Writing. The Visitors is her first novel.

You can follow Rebecca via her website, Twitter or Facebook 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Guest Post by Nicola Griffith, author of 'Hild' - 10 things about Hild, the woman

I'm delighted to be part of the blog tour for Hild and welcome to Nicola, with thanks for her guest post below.  


Published 24 July 2014, Blackfriars 

A literary triumph - an epic historical novel that brings the Dark Ages into the light

'You are a prophet and seer with the brightest mind in an age. Your blood is that of the man who should have been king ...That's what the king and his lords see. And they will kill you, one day.'

Hild is born into a world in transition. In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, often and violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief.

Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She has the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world—of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing human nature and predicting what will happen next—that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. She establishes herself as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable—until she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, her family, her loved ones, and the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.

Hild brings a beautiful, brutal world—and one of its most fascinating, pivotal figures, the girl who would become St. Hilda of Whitby—to mesmerising, unforgettable life.

10 Things about Hild, the woman

 - by Nicola Griffith

My novel follows the early life of Hild, also known as St. Hilda of Whitby. She was born at the beginning of the seventh century, fourteen hundred years ago. What little we know about this fascinating woman is from the Venerable Bede—a monk writing fifty years after Hild's death. So he might have talked to people who had memories of Hild but he himself would not have known her. 

Here’s what he tells us about the first half of her life (my speculation in brackets).

Hild was born c. 614 CE, after her mother had had a dream about unborn child bringing light to the land (this sounds like a good ploy from a homeless, widowed pregnant woman: don't hurt me, what I carry is important!). Father: Hereric, of the royal house of Deira (possibly son of Æthelric, king of Deira 599-604), killed at the court of Ceredig, king of Elmet just before Hild's birth. Mother: Breguswith, family unknown. (But if she married someone important enough to be assassinated she would have been royal. And clearly she was clever.) Older sister: Hereswith, who married Æthelric, son of Eni—who was brother of King Rædwald of East Anglia—and brother to King Anna. (Æthelric, perhaps also known as Egric, was briefly co-king, with Sigiberht, before Anna took the throne.) Hild, along with many of her uncle's household—Edwin, King of Northumbria—was converted to Christianity and baptised by Paulinus c. 627 in York. She then disappears from the record until 647 when she is 33.

That's it. That's all we know about her first 33 years. There are no book-length biographies, no extant Life, not even a juicy novel about her. But the more I thought about Hild the more I wanted to know.

The only was to find out was to recreate the seventh century, put Hild inside, and watch her grow. To grow her properly I had to get her world right. So I spent fifteen years researching everything I can find about the early seventh century—language, poetry, the politics of conversion, food, arms and armour, textile production, flora and fauna, metalworking, health, even the weather. 

Here are ten basic things Bede doesn't tell us but I determined on my own.

1. What Hild looked like. I made her tall for the simple reason that tall people get more respect. Also, the better fed one's family is, the taller you tend to grow. 

2. Her real name. Hild is half a name. Her full name could have been almost anything, but I think the two most likely are Hildeburh and Hildeswith. They follow the alliterative H (Hereric, Hereswith). The -with suffix is extremely likely, given Breguswith and Hereswith, but in the end I just went with the half name. It means 'battle’. Seems appropriate.

3. The languages she spoke. Hild was probably an accomplished linguist, speaking British (a Celtic tongue; the language from which Welsh is descended), Anglisc (a Northumbrian dialect of Old English), Irish (a different Celtic tongue), and Latin (ecclesiastical Latin). To become a saint she must have been held in high regard by many. Why? She talked to them. She listened. She let them know they had been heard.

4. Who killed Hild's father. Bede doesn't tell us but I decided Edwin did it. He wanted to be king, and was busy forming alliances all over the country (they all went wrong, with a vengeance; clearly, he wasn't a likeable man). So Edwin made it look as though Ceredig king of Elmet poisoned him, and then used the murder as an excuse to drive Ceredig from the forest and annexe Elmet.

5. The name of Hild's husband. All elite women married. And Bede never refers to her as 'virgin'. The fact that Bede doesn't mention Hild's husband means she married someone beyond the pale--a pagan, or a British or Irish royal, or someone equally unsuitable for as-yet undisclosed reasons. When you get to the end of the book you’ll see how I solved this dilemma.

6. How well she got on with her family. Hereric died and that death left Hild and her mother and her sister at the mercy of the world. I imagine there was a bit of irrational blame there: you bastard, you left us alone! And then the three women would have to had to stick together to face the world. But mothers and daughters don't often get along so well after puberty. And Hereswith got the good marriage (at least insofar as we know). There again, Hild was the one who got the prophecy about being a light of the world. 

7. Her essential personality. Bede tells us that once Hild joined the church she ran her abbeys in orderly fashion, and that everyone called her mother. It makes sense, then, that this was possible because she was reasonable, calm, competent, flexible, able to adjust to the evidence i.e. like a disciplined scientist who sees an odd result and thinks, Huh, that's odd, let's find out why... I bet she loved the the inherent mathematics (though she wouldn't have know that what it was) of the soaring music James the Deacon brought north. I bet she loved Isidore's attempt to explain and codify the known world in his etymologies (though it's pretty unlikely she had access to this book; but it's not impossible, so I think I'll take some licence in future books). I bet she encountered an abacus at Gipswīc when she accompanied Edwin to East Anglia to sort out Hereswith's marriage. She lived in constant danger: one slip, one wrong prediction, and she was dead. She must have thrived on risk.

8. Her favourite colour. It might sound trivial but it's not. Women of those times would spend about 65% of their days on textile production, and when you're that intimately involved in your own clothes, colour choice is a big deal. Plus there would have been rules--at least customs--about who was allowed to wear what. So what does the granddaughter of a deposed king get to wear? And what colours were possible? (Did they trade for exotic dyes or make it all themselves?)

9. What time of year she was born. I think autumn. Old English poetry reeks of elegy, and autumn is the most elegaic season. I like the notion of making October her particular time.

10. Her hopes and fears. Hild liked being on her own at the edges of things but her whole life was aimed at making a place for herself, literally and figuratively. She wanted to belong.

Nicola Griffith has won a Nebula Award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the World Fantasy Award and six Lambda Literary Awards. A native of Yorkshire - now a dual US/UK citizen - Nicola is a onetime self-defence instructor who turned to writing full-time upon being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993. She lives with her wife in Seattle.

You can contact Nicola on FacebookTwitter or Goodreads

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Husband, Missing - Polly Williams

Published by Headline Review  - January 2013

From Goodreads:

 'The number you are calling is unavailable. Please try again later.' 

Gina has only been married six months when her husband Rex goes on holiday to Spain and vanishes without a trace, tipping her dream new marriage into nightmare. As a frantic search gets nowhere, Gina is adamant that he's alive and vows never to give up hope. Speculation is rife: he's drowned at sea, lost his memory...or just walked away. Troubling stories start to emerge about Rex's past that are hard to square with the man she married. How well does she really know her handsome, charismatic husband? They'd fallen in love so quickly, so passionately, that the past had seemed barely relevant to either of them. Now an explosive secret threatens to rewrite the story of their love affair. As the mystery of Rex's whereabouts deepens, Gina begins to wonder whether you only ever truly know the person you love once they've gone.

My thoughts:

This is a book that I reviewed last year before I started my blog. 

Gina and Rex embark on a whirlwind relationship and marry within a few months. The marriage is only 6 months old when Rex disappears whilst on a surfing holiday in Spain with his half brother Jake and some friends. As the search continues and there is still no sign of Rex, Gina has to hold on to her belief that Rex is still alive despite advice from her friends and family to accept his death, to move on with her life and find some resolution. 

The synopsis for this book sounded so intriguing and I was gripped by the story from the very start. Gina was such a well written character, with doubts and vulnerabilities that the reader could identify with. Gina was 13 years younger than Rex and there is a naivety in her character which is unusual for someone of her age (nearly 30). For example, when confronted with the financial realities of Rex’s disappearance, she flounders, knowing nothing at all of their financial affairs. To find out that your husband is missing, presumed dead, would be a nightmare for anyone to cope with but then when secrets and devastating revelations come to light, you wonder whether you even knew the person you had married. Rex comes across as a very controlling character and good at keeping secrets - something which Gina and his family have to come to terms with. As the story progresses, it appears that Rex is not the only secretive one in the relationship - Gina has a secret of her own to deal with.

There is a very strong cast of supporting characters, including Jake - Rex’s half brother and the person who informs Gina of Rex’s disappearance. He is sympathetic to Gina’s plight and does what he can to help, even letting her have a room in his house which doesn’t go down too well with his partner, Fran. Fran is a delightfully hard faced bitchy character and whilst she appears to be sympathetic to Gina, she has her own reasons for trying to be friendly. Gina’s sister Dawn and friends Lucy and Femi, whilst being supportive try to instil some normality into Gina’s life with humour and straight talking. 

I thought this was a very enjoyable read - it wasn’t an edge of your seat suspense story but it definitely kept my interest and I was keen to find out how the story would end for Gina and Rex. However I was left slightly disappointed by the ending. Compared to the slower pace of the rest of the story, it appeared to be rushed as if the author had decided to bring it to a sudden end and for this reason I would rate at 4 out of 5.

My paperback copy was received via the Amazon Vine review programme.

About the author:

I’m a writer and journalist who turned everything I didn’t know about motherhood into my debut novel - The Rise and Fall of a Yummy Mummy was my bestselling debut - and whose latest (seventh) novel, is Husband, Missing, published by Headline.

You can follow Polly Williams via her website, Twitter, or Facebook page

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

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
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