Thursday, 16 October 2014

No Safe House - Linwood Barclay

Published 25 September 2014 by Orion

From Amazon:

The sequel to the Sunday Times No.1 Bestseller No Time for Goodbye

Seven years ago, Terry Archer and his family experienced a horrific ordeal that nearly cost them their lives. Today, the echoes of that fateful night are still audible. Terry's wife, Cynthia, is living separate from her husband and daughter after her own personal demons threatened to ruin her relationship with them permanently. Their daughter, Grace, is rebelling against her parents' seemingly needless overprotection. Terry is just trying to keep his family together. And the entire town is reeling from the senseless murder of two elderly locals.

But when Grace foolishly follows her delinquent boyfriend into a strange house, the Archers must do more than stay together. They must stay alive. Because now they have all been unwillingly drawn into the shadowy depths of their seemingly idyllic hometown.

For there, they will be reconnected with the man who saved their lives seven years ago, but who still remains a ruthless, unrepentant criminal. They will encounter killers for hire working all sides. And they will learn that there are some things people value much more than money, and will do anything to get it.

Caught in a labyrinth between family loyalty and ultimate betrayal, Terry must find a way to extricate his family from a lethal situation he still doesn't fully comprehend. All he knows is that to live, he may have to do the unthinkable....

* * * * *

No Time for Goodbye was my very first Linwood Barclay book back in 2008 and I loved it – so much so that I have read every single book of his ever since.  No Safe House catches up the Archer family 7 years later and I couldn’t wait to read it.

You don’t need to have read No Time for Goodbye as there is enough back story here to give you the gist of the previous story without going into too much detail, however I would recommend that you do read it as not only is it such a good book, but you get to know the characters.  If I’d had time, I would have re-read it before reading this, as I had forgotten some of the finer plot details and minor characters which re-appear here. 

The Archer family are still trying to deal with the fallout from their ordeal 7 years before.   Daughter Grace is now 14 years old and is trying to be a normal independent teenager however her mother Cynthia, still fearful of past events, is over protective and Grace feels suffocated and frustrated. When feelings reach boiling point, Cynthia decides to put some distance between them for a while and moves out to a rented apartment, where she becomes re-acquainted with Vince Fleming, a career criminal from her past.  Grace then makes a bad decision which puts her family in danger and sees her father Terry having to deal with the consequences. Running alongside is a separate thread of murder and a hunt for something or someone unknown. This side of the story seemed rather disjointed at first and although the threads do come together, there were some parts, particularly the telephone conversations, that I found annoying.   

I was so looking forward to this sequel but was left feeling disappointed. So, where did it all go wrong?  I’m all for escapism but I felt I was being asked to suspend belief just a little too far with this story.  Terry Archer was an ordinary law abiding teacher and one of Barclay’s typical ‘normal family guy’ types who can get into bad situations by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was my favourite character in the previous book but I didn’t feel the same this time.  With this story, I can accept that Terry was trying to protect his family but even so, some of his decisions (and Cynthia’s too at times) were just too stupid and seemed totally out of character.     

Although there were plenty of the trademark Barclay twists and turns, there was too much of a comedic feel and the nail-biting tension and skilful plotting that I am used to with his previous books was missing for me.  

It’s certainly not a bad book (I felt the second half had more pace than the first) but it’s not one of my favourites. I normally race through his books as I can’t put them down but I struggled with this one and it was rather a lacklustre read for me. Having said that, he still remains one of my favourite authors and I still want to read whatever he writes but please Mr Barclay, go back to the thrills and tension of your earlier novels.

My thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for the e-copy to review. 

About the author:

After writing four comic thrillers featuring the character Zack Walker, Linwood turned to darker, standalone novels, starting with No Time for Goodbye, which became an international hit. The novel has been translated into nearly forty languages, was the single bestselling novel in the UK in 2008, and has been optioned for film by Eric McCormack. Since then, all of Linwood’s novels have appeared on bestseller lists, and more his books have been optioned.

You can find out more about the author via Website, Twitter or Facebook

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Q&A with Vanessa Greene - author of 'The Seafront Tea Rooms'

I am delighted to welcome Vanessa to My Reading Corner as part of the Tea Time Tour for The Seafront Tea Rooms.

What would your choice of tea and cake/s be for a sumptuous afternoon tea and do you have anywhere special that you like to go to?

I’d go for Florentines, macaroons and lemon drizzle cake. With a slice of Battenberg thrown in too. Then Earl Grey or Jasmine tea. In terms of tea rooms, I really like Drink, Shop, Do in Caledonian Road, where I had the launch party for my previous novel, The Vintage Teacup Club. It’s a converted Victorian bathhouse and there’s a good dose of old-fashioned glamour but with quirky modern touches. For a more traditional tea, you can’t beat Betty’s tearooms in York, which is featured in the book.

I enjoyed your previous books, The Vintage Teacup Club and the follow up short e-story Tuesdays at the Teacup Club. What inspired you to write these books? Do you enjoy baking?

Thank you. So you’ve noticed that tea and cake are a common theme! They are what bring the women together, but actually it’s friendship itself that’s inspired me to write the stories. Good friends are there through everything – break ups, work changes, family crises – and somehow, often armed with just a warm cup of tea and a hug, they have the power to make everything OK. They can also drive you forward in life, to achieve ambitions you might have thought were out of reach – and that’s what I’ve enjoyed exploring in The Seafront Tea Rooms.

With each new book do you already have the characters planned in your mind before you begin writing or do they come to you as the story progresses?

With this novel, the characters were all really clear in my mind before I started. I had my baby son last June, and while I was keen to start writing, I also wanted to take time out for maternity leave. I’m glad I did, because in those six months, in the times when he napped, or when we were walking endlessly around the local park, I got to know Kat, Seraphine and Charlie really well! So when I started writing I already had a good idea of what they were going to get up to.

What is the most useful piece of advice you have received as a writer?

That’s an interesting question. I think it was to write the first draft for you. Sharing your work with people whose opinions you value can be brilliant, but you need to see what’s there and work with it yourself first.

What are the most difficult and the most enjoyable aspects of writing?

I love that every day I get to escape into an imaginative world and stay there with people I like/am interested in enough to have created them! For instance today I’m in a cold house with a broken boiler, with unwashed hair and a cardigan that belongs in a charity shop, but for two thousand words this morning I was on a picturesque beach in Greece drinking a gin and tonic. It was bliss.

The thing I find most challenging is working alone so much. I write very often in cafes and the library, and chat with fellow writers, which all helps. But ultimately, whether it’s hitting a deadline, beating a bout of writer’s block or figuring out your ending – it’s down to you. I love it when a book comes out because my role changes and I get to be sociable again!

What do you do to relax?

The truth? Collapse on the sofa with a glass of wine and watch a DVD. Grab five minutes on Twitter while eating biscuits with one hand and steering my toddler away from the power cables with the other. As you can see, a writer’s life is all glamour!

Finally, what are you working on at the moment and are you able to share any of the story with us?

I’m currently writing my next novel for Sphere, The Beachside Guesthouse. As teens, Bee, Rosa and Joanne went to a Greek island and had the holiday of their lives – now in their late twenties, they’ve fallen out of touch. But when the converted windmill they once stayed in comes onto the market, Rosa is tempted, and she and Bee fly out to start reliving that dream. But is anything that easy? And can they ever forgive themselves for letting Joanne go?

The Seafront Tea Rooms is published by Sphere and you can read my review here.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Competition - Win an exclusive 'Saving Grace' scented candle

Published by Macmillan on 25th September 2014.  

From the number one bestselling author of Tempting Fate and The Accidental Husband comes Jane Green's stunning new novel about a shattered marriage and a devastating betrayal

A perfect stranger wants her perfect life.

Grace Chapman has the perfect life, living comfortably with her husband, bestselling author Ted, in a picture-perfect farmhouse on the Hudson River in New York State.

Then Ted advertises for a new assistant, and Beth walks into their lives. Organized, passionate and eager to learn, Beth quickly makes herself indispensable to Ted and his family. But Grace soon begins to feel side-lined in her home - and her marriage - by this ambitious younger woman.

Is Grace just paranoid, as her husband tells her, or is there more to Beth than first thought?

To celebrate the publication of Saving Grace, the publisher, Macmillan are giving away 1 'Saving Grace' scented candles. The perfume was personally created by Jane Green. 

To be in with a chance of winning, just leave a comment below before 20 October 2014.  A winner will be selected at random. 

The publisher will despatch the prize direct and takes full responsibility for delivery.   Competition is open to UK/Ireland entrants.  

Good luck! 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Malcolm D Welshman - Author of 'Pets Aplenty'

I'm delighted to welcome Malcolm to My Reading Corner as part of the Pets Aplenty blog tour with SilverWood Books.

They say you should write about what you know. And that certainly applies to me. Having been a vet for forty years, I had accumulated a mass of animal anecdotes which served me well when it came to writing my three novels. 

However in all those encounters with animals the most affecting and poignant was the relationship I had with an African Grey parrot called Polly. Yes, I know, not the most original of names, but nevertheless a most unique bird. So I’d like to tell you a bit about our life together.

I first met Polly in 1958 when she was a sleek bundle of grey in the confines of a rusty cage in Ibadan, Nigeria. After much bartering with the trader, the cage exchanged hands and the African Grey parrot became ours.

Polly and I soon became firm friends and that friendship endured over 20 years. After my Dad's tour of duty in the army, Polly came back to the UK with us.  She was forever seeking me out. Once I found her waddled up the road as I was coming home from school.

‘Wotcha mate,' she said as I leant down to allow her to scramble onto my arm. Polly was swiftly carried back into the bungalow and returned to her cage in the kitchen.

It was here she picked up and imitated the sounds of daily life.  Only deafeningly magnified.  Cutlery into a drawer was like scaffolding collapsing.  Filling the kettle, Niagara Falls.   We acquired a dog, a Maltese.  He was a constant source of delight for Polly.  She’d imitate the back door bell.  Yambo would come trotting through barking.  ‘Go in your box, Yambo,’ she’d command.  The little fellow meekly obliged.  ‘Sit Yambo,’ she’d order. The dog sat.  Then she’d burst out laughing.

Polly learnt the African word for food – chop.  A portion of buttered toast was always on offer at breakfast time. She’d waddle up and down her perch saying ‘Chop ... chop,’ sweetly in my tone of voice. If ignored, her tone of voice changed.  ‘A gruff , demanding ‘Chop ... chop,’ in my father’s military voice.  And once when the buttered toast was still not forthcoming, she uttered a loud emphatic ‘What’s the ruddy matter with you?’ 

For twenty years, Polly had been a wonderful, witty companion.  

Then, as an inexperienced, newly qualified vet, I found I was going to have to operate on her, wondering whether she would ever survive to talk again. An ugly cancerous mass had grown on her neck. The local vet had said it as inoperable. But I couldn't lose twenty years of wonderful companionship without trying to remove the growth myself.

With the lump removed and her neck stitched up, I laid Polly gently on a pad of cotton wool.   As the anaesthetic wore off, she tried to clamber back on to her perch.  At her fifth attempt she made it and sat, huddled, her beak clamped to a bar to stop herself from toppling off.  

There followed a desperate time.  Daily I caught her up to give her an antibiotic injection.  There was no struggle.  No squawk.  She ate nothing for three days.  On the third evening I tried with a tiny portion of banana smeared on my finger.  Polly tottered across her perch, looked at me with eyes devoid of sparkle, but raised her head, opened her beak with difficulty and tweaked my finger.  A little of the mashed banana slid on to her tongue.

‘Go on, swallow it girl,’ I cajoled.  There was a gulp as her beak closed and the banana disappeared.  I felt a flicker of hope.  Maybe she’d pull through.   The next morning as I approached her cage, Polly slowly waddled across her perch, pressed her head down against the bars of the cage and in a croaky voice, my voice, said ‘Wotcha mate!’

I knew then she was on the road to recovery.

Many other tricky operations have appeared through the surgery door over the ensuing years. But I only have to hear that chirpy ‘Wotcha mate! in my head to have doubts about my ability to cope fly from my mind. 

 All thanks to Polly.  My ever loving friend.

So you see how special she was.

And she’s certainly been instrumental in my writing. If you’ve a good idea or story, then you should reuse it whenever possible. I wrote about Polly from my point of view for the magazine, My Weekly – I was their vet columnist for 15 years. I then wrote the tale from my father’s point of view for Parrots Magazine and from my mother’s for a WI magazine. Ten years on I rehashed it for the Lady magazine when I was writing occasional features for them.  Then three years back, The Daily Mail took the story. A year later there was a study on how African Grey parrots are the most intelligent birds in the world. The Daily Mail asked me to write a piece around that topic. And… surprise… surprise… Polly was prominent in that feature. Is she mentioned in any of my three books? Uhm… ‘fraid so. So you see, a good story can run and run. Hope you can run your eye over Pets Aplenty, my latest novel. No Polly this time but there are a few parrot tales in it. There’s one particular bizarre encounter with a Quaker parakeet belonging to a fireman called Julian, who when dressed up preferred to be called Julianne. Intrigued? You’ll have to read the book to discover what happens.


The Kindle version of Pets Aplenty is currently only 97p on Amazon.  You can read my review here

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Seafront Tea Rooms - Vanessa Greene

Paperback Published 9 October 2014 by Sphere

From Goodreads: 

The Seafront Tea Rooms is a peaceful hideaway, away from the bustle of the seaside, and in this quiet place a group of women find exactly what they've been searching for.

Charismatic journalist Charlotte is on a mission to scope out Britain's best tea rooms. She knows she's found something special in the Seafront Tea Rooms but is it a secret she should share? Kathryn, a single mother whose only sanctuary is the 'Seafront', convinces Charlie to keep the place out of her article by agreeing to join her on her search. Together with another regular, Seraphine, a culture-shocked French au pair with a passion for pastry-making, they travel around the country discovering quaint hideaways and hidden gems. But what none of them expect is for their journey to surprise them with discoveries of a different kind . . .

* * * *

The Seafront Tea Rooms is Vanessa Greene’s second full length novel and once again as with the previous books, I was drawn to the pretty teacup featured cover.  

I liked the first novel, The Vintage Teacup Club and was keen to read this latest one.  Just like the previous book, it features characters that first meet as strangers but whose live are enriched by their friendship and support for each other.   

This story is set in Scarborough where Kat is now adjusting to life as a single mother to Leo.  She has split from Leo’s father, Jake, following a difficult relationship; however on her own, and with Jake unable to contribute, finances are tight and her attempts at finding a suitable job are not going well.  The Seafront Tea Room is her place of refuge and her only treat to herself. 

Charlie, a magazine journalist, has had her heart broken and is having to deal with a difficult boss.   She needs to prove herself to further her career so comes up with the idea of a feature on the best tea rooms however an unexpected family crisis means that she needs some help with the research if she is to keep her job.

Séraphine lives with her family in France.  She wants to experience more of life and also to get away from a difficult situation at home.  When a family acquaintance gives her the name of a friend in Scarborough looking for an au pair, it seems as she has been the perfect opportunity to find a solution to her problems.  

The common link in all three women’s stories is Letty.  Letty is the owner of The Seafront Tea Room and both her, and her delicious cakes, are much loved by her regular visitors who are keen to keep the Seafront a local secret. She has created a very special tea room and a sanctuary from the stresses of daily life and when the three women strike up a friendship at the Tea Room, their lives become intertwined.  There is a back story to Letty which the reader gradually discovers.  She is quite secretive about her past and although very kind and caring, she doesn't give much away.  

With likeable and engaging characters, the lives - and loves, of these three women are woven together in a charming and warm hearted story. Initially brought together by their love of tea and cake, they are all seeking to change their lives for the better and when they each have their own family troubles to deal with, it’s to each other they turn. 

The short chapters make this a very ‘moreish’ read and I had many of those ‘just one more chapter…..’ moments before putting the light out.   There were one or two surprises but even if I did predict how much of the story would end it didn’t matter at all.   I enjoyed my time spent at The Seafront Tea Rooms  - this is a perfect book to curl up with on a cold day with several cups of tea and plenty of cake.   For the keen bakers, there are some cake recipes contained at the back of the book which sound irresistible.

My thanks to Stephie at Little, Brown for the paperback copy to review. 

About the author: 

Vanessa Greene grew up in north London, and has a passion for car boot sales, chocolate muffins and travelling. She's an aspiring dog-owner, so when she's not writing, she might well be following golden retrievers round her local park trying to make friends with them.

Vanessa's first novel, The Vintage Teacup Club, published to rave reader reviews and won an instant place in their hearts. She lives in Crouch End with her fiancé and is currently working on her next novel.

If you would like to get in touch with Vanessa you can contact her on Twitter and Facebook 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Pets Aplenty by Malcolm D Welshman

Published 1st September 2014 

Genre: Fiction (Humour / Animals)

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Pets Aplenty.  My review is posted below but do check back on Saturday 11 October when I will be be hosting a guest post written by Malcolm. 

Join novice vet, Paul Mitchell, in a further six months of hilarious escapades he experiences while working at Prospect House Veterinary Hospital. He's confronted by a ravenous pig while sunbathing naked in a cornfield. He locks jaws with a caiman with scale rot and battles with Doug, a vicious miniature donkey that's always sinking his teeth into him. It ends with a Christmas pet blessing which erupts into pandemonium as frightened pets and owners scatter through the pews. Throughout his adventures, Paul is loyally supported by the team at the hospital - in particular Beryl, the elderly one-eyed receptionist, and, Lucy the junior nurse - together with whom he shares this merry-go-round of mayhem. It's a gripping, fast page-turner that's guaranteed to keep animal lovers entranced.

* * * * 

Dear Mr Vet

Thank you for saving Furry.  I was very worried he might have died or something worse might have happened. 

Lots of love from Emma. 

Pets Aplenty is the third book by Malcolm Welshman (the first being Pets in a Pickle and Pets on Parade, the second).  I hadn’t read either of these before I started Pets Aplenty but it didn’t matter at all – this can easily be read as a standalone.

Having been a huge fan of the James Herriot books in my teenage years, I always enjoy reading about animals and their escapades and this book was very enjoyable indeed.  From the very first chapter where Paul has been coerced by his colleagues to dress up as a huge rabbit in the name of fundraising and hop around the local shopping precinct whilst being photographed by the local paper, I was hooked.

There are many entertaining and humorous tales to enjoy – as well as some sad ones.  Paul Mitchell may be a young vet still finding his feet but he is a very likeable character and deals with his patients, even the most difficult ones, with respect and humour – we meet Jimmy, the transgender confused parrot; Miss Piggy, the Houdini of the porcine world, Emily the springer spaniel (who stole my heart – when you read her story you will see why).  Having read the story of the escaped python, I’m so glad I that don’t live next door to a vet who takes his work home!

Paul’s colleagues at Prospect House, the veterinary surgery, have their own distinct characters – from beady eyed Beryl the receptionist who rules with a sharp tongue, to Lucy, the young nurse from Paul’s past. They each play a part in this story and it’s the human interactions, as well as the animal ones, that make for such an enjoyable read.

Pets Aplenty is very entertaining and has been written with warmth and humour.  It may not be suitable for younger children (there are some adult themes) but if you’re looking for a well written, witty read (with plenty of puns) then I’m sure you would enjoy this.

My thanks to SilverWood Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for providing the e-book for review.

About the author:

Malcolm Welshman is a retired vet who has worked at London Zoo, in a small animal hospital and as a consultant dealing with exotics. He has written for newspapers such as The Sunday Times and The Daily Mail and national magazines including The Lady, Yours, Cat World and Dogs Today and was the My Weekly vet for fifteen years. He is a BBC Radio panellist and a guest speaker worldwide on cruise ships.

You contact Malcolm via his WebsiteBlog: Facebook or Twitter

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A Cornish Affair - Liz Fenwick

Published May 2014 by Orion

From Amazon:

Running out on your wedding day never goes down well. When the pressure of her forthcoming marriage becomes too much, Jude bolts from the church, leaving a good man at the altar, her mother in a fury, and the guests with enough gossip to last a year.

Guilty and ashamed, Jude flees to Pengarrock, a crumbling cliff-top mansion in Cornwall, where she takes a job cataloguing the Trevillion family's extensive library. The house is a welcome escape for Jude, full of history and secrets, but when its new owner arrives, it's clear that Pengarrock is not beloved by everyone. 

As Jude falls under the spell of the house, she learns of a family riddle stemming from a terrible tragedy centuries before, hinting at a lost treasure. And when Pengarrock is put up for sale, it seems that time is running out for the house and for Jude.

* * * 

When young American Jude Warren leaves her fiancé John standing at the altar in Cape Cod, she faces the wrath of her family and disappointment of friends who can’t understand why she couldn't go through with the wedding to her handsome fiancé.  Jude couldn't explain that she felt she was marrying John more to please her parents (especially her mother) than herself. Ever since her sister Rose died, Jude had felt second best and finally, she wanted to lead her own life.

So now jobless and homeless, she flees to Oxford and to Barbara, an old family friend.  Barbara arranges a job for her with Petroc Trevillion at his estate in Pengarrock, Cornwall.   Petroc has a lifetime's worth of research papers that need cataloguing and as an archivist, Jude seems perfect for the job and does her best to bring some order to his chaotic ways. However Jude's feelings are bought into conflict when Petroc's estranged son Tristan appears on the scene.  What follows is a story of historical family intrigue and riddles concerning lost jewellery together with a little touch of will they/won’t they romance.

I’m a sucker for a lovely cover and the gorgeous cover of this first attracted me.  I adore Cornwall and the chance to read a story set in one of my favourite places was irresistible.  It was clear that the author knows the area well and the descriptions of the old house and surrounding Helford River were beautifully and lovingly written.  For me, the crumbling Pengarrock was the real star of the book.  It sounded idyllic and it’s no wonder that Jude fell in love with the house.  

The main characters were well defined although it took me a while to warm to Jude.  She was feisty and didn't hold back in speaking her mind but there was just something about her character that stopped me fully engaging with her. There were occasions when when I felt the storyline was a little weak and I kept waiting for something to happen to move the story along, but it was an easy and pleasant read, made even more enjoyable by the sense of place.   I now have Liz's first book, The Cornish House and the latest, A Cornish Stranger on my Kindle waiting to be read.      

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

About the author:

Writer, ex-pat expert, wife, mother of three, and dreamer turned doer....

I was born in Massachusetts, and after nine international moves I now live in Dubai with my husband and two mad cats - Snowy and Sooty. I made my first trip to Cornwall in 1989, bought my home there 7 years later and although I live in Dubai, my heart is forever in Cornwall, creating new stories.

You can follow Liz Fenwick via her website, Twitter and Facebook

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me - Lucy Robinson

Published 19 June 2014 by Penguin

From Amazon:

Sally is an incredible singer but she sings only in her wardrobe where nobody can hear her. She'd rather join a nudist colony than sing in public.

That is until she ventures to New York where a wild and heady summer of love and loss changes her forever. No longer able to hide in the shadows, Sally must return home to London to fulfill a promise she cannot break - to share her voice.

But just as she's about to embark on her new life, a beautiful man turns up on Sally's doorstep bearing a sheepish smile and a mysterious hand-written message.

How did he find her? Why is he here? Does he hold the truth to what happened back in New York? And, with him back on the scene, will she still have the courage to step into the spotlight?

My thoughts:

The story begins with an Overture and an introduction to Sally and her current life.  Sally Howlett is in her wardrobe, terrified and about to start her post-graduate diploma in opera at the Royal College of Music.  Apart from a disastrous experience on stage as a child, the only singing she had done was in her wardrobe, with her teddy bear Carrot.   The wardrobe is her sanctuary, where she can sing and feel safe.   She is just an ordinary girl from a council estate in the Midlands who has an extraordinary talent for singing opera – however she has no self-confidence and despite others telling her how good she is, she refuses to sing in public. Sally lives with her flatmate Barry, a fabulously camp ballet dancer from Barry Island.  The Overture ends with a mysterious man from Sally’s past appearing at her door and having an M&S pork belly dinner slung at him. With an introduction like that how can you not be hooked!

I very much enjoyed Lucy Robinson’s latest story.  Sally is a very likeable, quirky character with insecurities and vulnerabilities that are familiar to all of us. The story jumps back and forth in time, starting with the back story to Sally’s childhood and family, focusing in particular on her relationship with her troubled cousin Fiona.  Sally starts her opera career as a dresser with the Royal Opera House and Fiona was a soloist with the Royal Ballet.  When all three - Barry, Sally and Fiona, are included on a Royal Ballet tour to America the story of their time there gradually emerges and we learn why Sally’s life changed so drastically.

There are some wonderful characters here that come into Sally’s life, some I loved and others I wanted to slap. Besides Barry and Fiona, there is the wonderful Jan Borsos – a Hungarian who walks his way across Europe to get to his place at the RCM; the two faced, spiteful Violet and the lovely Helen who becomes a great friend to Sally. Finally, the mysterious Julian Jefferson – who is he really and how does he fit into Sally’s life?

Despite the jumping timescale, the story is not at all difficult to follow and is very well structured.  Part way through the book there was an “oh” moment, when suddenly everything fell into place.  This took me completely by surprise and was very cleverly written. 

I don’t want to give away any of the story as its best discovered through reading. The cover on my proof copy said “prepare for public-transport belly laughs” – I didn’t find the book hilariously funny but I did have many snort and chuckle moments - the writing is witty and enjoyable with depth and substance to the story and so much more than ‘fluffy chick lit’.  

My thanks to Real Readers and Penguin for the paperback copy to review.

At the time of writing this review, the Kindle version is available from Amazon for just £1.99.   An ebook version is also currently available from Penguin for £1.99.  

About the author:

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me will be Lucy Robinson’s third book and follows on from the tremendous success of The Greatest Love Story of All Time and A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger. 

Prior to writing Lucy earned her crust in theatre production and then factual television, working on documentaries for all of the UK’s major broadcasters. Her writing career began when she started a dating blog for Marie Claire about her fairly pathetic attempts at Internet dating.

Lucy was brought up in Gloucestershire surrounded by various stupid animals. She studied at Birmingham University and lived in London for many years before disappearing off to South America to write her first two novels. 

She now lives in Bristol with her partner, The Man. She likes dogs and cheese and horses and seals and cake and baths and she blogs daily about funny things that have made her smile today. 

You can follow Lucy Robinson via her website, Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Sunrise - Victoria Hislop

Published 25 September 2014 by Headline

From Amazon:

In the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island's most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city's façade of glamour and success, tension is building. 

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

My thoughts:

“Famagusta was once a thriving city of forty thousand people.  In 1974 its entire population fled when Cyprus was invaded by Turkey.  Forty years on, Varosha, as the modern city is known, remains empty, sealed off behind the barbed wire put up by the Turkish  army.  It is a ghost town”.  

Our first introduction to Famagusta is in 1972, before the invasion, when visitors flocked to this thriving resort for its golden beaches, smart cafés and expensive shops. Taking advantage of the influx of visitors are husband and wife hotel owners Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta.   Savvas always has an eye for profit and so with the money invested by his wife’s wealthy parents, he has built a new hotel – the most opulent so far.  They already own the Paradise Beach Hotel, but the new hotel, The Sunrise, is far bigger and more luxurious than its neighbours.  They are not to know but The Sunrise will eventually become a place of sanctuary once the invasion takes place. 

Savvas and Aphrodite live in their own bubble.  They are so preoccupied with expanding their hotel empire - no sooner has The Sunrise opened for business they (or, more specifically, Savvas) are busy planning a new and bigger hotel – the New Paradise Beach.  They are seemingly unaware of the tensions forming around them between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots and take their wealth and status for granted. 

The other main character is Markos Georgiou.  He is the manager of the night club at The Sunrise and becomes so indispensable to Savvas that he becomes his right hand man.  However Markos feels much resentment towards his employers.  They have so much and take him for granted.   

I loved Victoria Hislop’s first book The Island and was looking forward to this new release. It was clearly extremely well researched and laid bare the devastation caused to both communities of Greek and Turkish Cypriots who had previously lived and worked side by side.  Their lives – and their land were torn apart by the invasion and the trust between them destroyed.  I can’t imagine how devastating it would have been for those fleeing the invasion to have been forced to leave their home and businesses in just the clothes they were wearing and to not know whether they would see their family or home again. 

For me, the stars of the story were not the Papacostas or the greedy and resentful Markos but those characters who initially played a small part in the story.  Following the invasion, the lives of two families were at the fore - the Özkans and the Georgious, one family being Greek Cypriots and the other Turkish Cypriots, but both connected in some way with The Sunrise hotel and it was these characters that I enjoyed reading about the most, in particular, a young worker called Hűseyin and his mother, hotel hairdresser Emine Özkan.  Both families had their own fight for survival amidst the continuing bloodshed in the aftermath of the invasion.

I have to be honest and say that I did struggle initially with this book and I was probably nearly halfway through before beginning to engage with the story and the characters.   I can't put my finger on exactly why because the characters were well defined and the research and knowledge were faultless but something about the narration didn’t feel right.  The story and dialogue didn't seem to have that natural flow and left me feeling disconnected and uninterested.  It also didn’t help that I found the political background quite confusing.  For me, the second half of the book was far more enjoyable than the first half. This is just my opinion and I am sure that others reading the book will love it. 

My thanks to Lovereading for the advance reading copy. 

About the author:

Inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, Victoria Hislop wrote The Island in 2005. It became an international bestseller, published in thirty languages with over 3 million copies sold worldwide, and was turned into a 26 part Greek TV series. She was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards and is now an ambassador for Lepra. Her affection for the Mediterranean then took her to Spain, and in The Return (also a number one bestseller) she wrote about the painful secrets of its civil war. In her third novel, The Thread, Victoria returned to Greece to tell the extraordinary, turbulent tale of Thessaloniki and its people across the 20th century. Published in 2011 to widespread acclaim, it confirmed her reputation as an inspirational storyteller and was shortlisted for a British Book Award. It was followed by her much-admired collection of Greek-set short stories, The Last Dance and Other Stories.

You can follow the author via her website or Twitter or Facebook

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Hidden Girl - Louise Millar

Hardcover published 22 May 2014 by Macmillan

Paperback published 28 August 2014 by Pan

From Amazon:

Hannah Riley and her musician husband, Will, hope that a move to the Suffolk countryside will promise a fresh start.

Hannah, a human rights worker, is desperate for a child and she hopes that this new life will realise her dream.

Yet when the snow comes, Will is working in London and Hannah is cut off in their remote village. Life in Tornley turns out to be far from idyllic, who are the threatening figures who lurk near their property at night? And why is her neighbour so keen to see them leave? Plus Will's behaviour is severely testing the bonds of trust.

Hannah has spent her professional life doing the right thing for other people. But as she starts to unbury a terrible crime, she realises she can no longer do that without putting everything she's ever wanted at risk.

But if she does nothing, the next victim could be her . . .

My thoughts:

When Hannah and Will finally move into Tornley Hall, a dilapidated old house that has been empty for a few years, their relationship appears to be stretched to breaking point.  It is not only the remoteness of the house in the Suffolk countryside that is a factor, but the tension between Hannah and Will.  Hannah’s longing for a child has divided them and whilst she is sure that this will be the perfect family home, Will is not so sure about the huge commitment they have made in the house.  

Hannah puts them both under intense pressure by insisting on having the house decorated from top to bottom within two weeks and ready for inspection by someone initially only known as “Barbara”.  To begin with I thought that Barbara was the mother-in-law from hell who must be shown a perfect house but no, apparently she is the person who potentially holds Hannah’s future happiness in her hands. When a heavy snowfall keeps Will in London and Hannah stranded at the house on her own, strange things start to happen, for example items being moved around in various rooms and a feeling of being watched.  At this stage, I wasn’t quite sure where the story was heading – was it a psychological thriller or a ghost story?  With sinister neighbours, no heating, no landline, an unreliable mobile phone signal and signs that someone unseen is also living at the house, it’s not surprising that Hannah starts to feel scared. 

I have to admit when I first started reading, I did take me a while to feel anything for Hannah and Will.  Hannah’s relentless decorating schedule was exhausting and I could understand why Will did a runner back to London.  Hannah had previously had a challenging and responsible career and she was used to dealing with difficult situations however her all consuming desire for a child conflicted at times with common sense decisions. Will seemed quite immature and rather than stay and discuss their problems, he ran way.
Despite my initial reservations and after a bit of a slow start, this did turn into a gripping and suspenseful read with the author skilfully racking up the sense of fear and the sinister atmosphere.  The neighbours were truly creepy and were desperate to keep their secrets hidden at any cost, giving rise to an ever present feeling of danger.  Hannah’s increasing isolation, both in terms of location and in her marriage added to the tension. The ensuing storyline was original and it certainly didn’t pan out in the way that I had envisaged.  

I did spot a couple of instances of minor inaccuracies with regard to the trains and I don’t know if these have since been corrected. Having travelled the London to Essex/Suffolk line for over 15 years from London Liverpool Street, I am not aware that you can get a train direct to Suffolk from Paddington Station.   

There are plenty of plot twists to make this an interesting and addictive read.  I will certainly read more by Louise and do have The Playdate and Accidents Happen on my bookshelf awaiting their turn.  

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy

About the author:

Louise Millar grew up in Scotland, and now lives in London with her husband and two children. Before turning to fiction, she spent 20 years working in magazines and newspapers, starting as a freelance sub-editor on entertainment titles such as the NME, Kerrang!, Empire and Smash Hits, before crossing over into women's magazines and becoming a senior commissioning editor at Marie Claire. In 2006, she left Marie Claire to start a business writing 'ordinary people's memoirs while writing freelance features for magazines and newspapers, and starting work on her debut novel, The Playdate. Her second novel, Accidents Happen was published in April 2013.

Find out more about Louise via her website, Facebook or Twitter