Friday, 31 October 2014

Dark Tides - Chris Ewan

Published 16 October 2014 by Faber & Faber

From Amazon:

From the number one bestselling author of Safe House comes a story about friendship, family, secrets, lies, and the things we do for love.

When Claire Cooper was eight, her mother disappeared during Hop-tu-naa, the Manx Halloween.

When Claire was eighteen, she and her friends took part in a Hop-tu-naa dare that went terribly wrong.

Now in her early twenties and a police officer, what happened that Hop-tu-naa night has come back to haunt them all, and Claire must confront her deepest fears in order to stop a killer from striking again.

* * * * 

My mother’s gone away,
And she won’t be back until the morning,
Jinny the witch flew over the house,
To fetch the stick,
To lather the mouse ,
My mother’s gone away, 
And she won’t be back until the morning.”

This is one of those books that begin near the end and teases you with just enough information to make you want to turn the pages to find out how it all started. The prologue is our first introduction to Claire Cooper - on the night of 31 October 2014 – the night of Hop-tu-naa, the Manx equivalent of Halloween. This night, 31 October, has particular significance throughout the book as events occur on this same date over a period of nearly 20 years. We then jump back several years to where the real story begins.

Claire Cooper’s life changed on 31 October 1995 when she was 8 years old. That was the night that her mother disappeared after taking Claire and their flickering turnip lantern for the door to door Hop-tu-naa activities. Her father was left broken and every aspect of Claire’s life has been deeply affected by the loss of her mother. Claire has always had her suspicions as to who she believes is responsible for her mother’s disappearance but has never been able to prove it. As a teenager, she gets involved with a group of friends who take it in turns each Hop-tu-naa to choose a dare, however one time things go horribly wrong and the consequences affect them all – year upon year.

This was the first book I have read by Chris Ewan but it certainly won’t be the last. The story has an original timeline – mostly being set on one recurring day and night, and this combined with the details of Hop-tu-naa folklore work perfectly.  Claire, the main character, was extremely well written and convincing – she wasn’t perfect and made her share of mistakes but this added to the believability factor. The plot twists and twisted characters make this an engrossing read and I now don’t have any fingernails left! I loved the author's easy to read style and even though the timeline changes from year to year this doesn’t spoil the pace or flow of the story. The narration is from Claire’s point of view which allows her the opportunity to keep her own secrets about events, however adding the killer’s chilling and anonymous voice to the story brings an extra element of suspense. I have never been to the Isle of Man but the author’s detailed knowledge and description of the landscape brought it to life and I had a vivid image in my mind of its bleak headlands and misty woodlands.

Having checked on my Kindle I do have Safe House to read which I bought some time ago. I shall certainly be bumping that one up the reading list and if Safe House is as good as this one, I will be adding Mr Ewan to my list of ‘must read’ crime authors.

As part of the blog tour for this book, Chris Ewan has written a post for this blog (30 October) on ‘8 Fascinating Facts about the Isle of Man’. Do check out his post to find out more about this interesting island. The publisher is being very generous and has kindly allowed me to give away 5 signed copies of Dark Tides so please do enter the Rafflecopter competition. 

My thanks to Sophie of Faber & Faber for the copy to review and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

About the author:

Chris Ewan is an award-winning British author of eight novels as well as the Kindle Single short story, Scarlett Point. His popular series of mysteries about globetrotting thief-for-hire, Charlie Howard, include The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, The Good Thief's Guide to Paris, The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas, The Good Thief's Guide to Venice and The Good Thief's Guide to Berlin. Chris has also written the standalone thrillers, Safe House and Dead Line 

Born in Taunton in 1976, Chris graduated from the University of Nottingham with 1st Class Honours in American Studies with a minor in Canadian Literature, and later trained as a lawyer. He now lives on the Isle of Man with his wife, daughter and labrador, where he writes full time.

Find out more at You can also get in touch with Chris on Twitter 

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Guest Post & Competition: Chris Ewan - author of 'Dark Tides'

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for 'Dark Tides' and am very pleased to welcome Chris Ewan to My Reading Corner

Eight Fascinating Facts about the Isle of Man

In 2012, Faber published my first standalone thriller, Safe House, which was set on the Isle of Man, where I've lived for the past eleven years. The Isle of Man probably wasn't the most obvious location for a high-octane thriller, and I like to think that was part of the book's appeal. When I'd finished working on Safe House, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be writing another novel set on the island for a very long time. In fact, I went right ahead and wrote Dead Line, which was set in Marseilles. But intentions are funny things, and so are book ideas, and it wasn't long before I discovered that I'd been mistaken. I had another story I wanted to tell – a story that could only be set on the Isle of Man – and so I began work on my latest thriller, Dark Tides. As I write this, I'm about halfway through my next book, which also begins on the island I call home. Shows what I know.

So why has the Isle of Man inspired me? The truth is there are a whole bunch of reasons. It's stunningly beautiful. It's geographically isolated. It has a distinct and rich cultural history. Oh, and it's also a pretty strange and quirky place – which leads me to my list of Eight Fascinating Facts about the Isle of Man you maybe didn't know... 

1. Just to get us started, let’s begin with the basics: the Isle of Man is located in the middle of the Irish Sea, roughly halfway between Liverpool and Dublin. The island is a Crown Dependency, which means it's affiliated with the UK but has its own parliament, makes its own laws and has its own police force. 80,000 people live on the Isle of Man, which is thirty-two miles long by fourteen miles wide. If you want to drive for thirty-three miles in a straight line, prepare to get wet.

2. Moving on … The Isle of Man has been voted the fifth most likely nation (after the USA, Russia, China and India) to return to the moon. No, really. The island has its own space industry and one island-based company owns two former Soviet space stations. I’m assuming the Soviets know about this.

3. The Isle of Man’s parliament, Tynwald, has been in continuous existence since 979AD, making it the oldest continuously governing body in the world. The Isle of Man was also the first nation in the world to give women the vote. New Zealand often claims this honour – but they’re as wrong as wrong can be. The island first gave women the vote on 5 January 1881.

4. All hedgehogs on the island are descended from ancestors who made it ashore following a shipwreck at Jurby in 1805. There are also wallabies roaming wild in the north, following a daredevil prison break from the island's wildlife park.

5. Talking of prison breaks, the Isle of Man only has one prison, which I visited during my research for Dark Tides. For many years, the prison was located in an old Victorian building in Douglas, but in 2008 a modern facility was opened on the site of a disused airfield in the north of the island. Male and female prisoners, as well as young offenders, are housed in separate wings.

Only having one prison creates a pretty unique environment for offenders in the Isle of Man, because aside from those individuals convicted of very serious crimes, like murder, who can sometimes elect to serve time in an English prison, every offender must be locked up together. Understandably, this can create a lot of tension for prison authorities to deal with – imagine, for example, if an offender ends up locked up alongside a fellow inmate who has wronged his or her family in some way.

6. Manx people are highly superstitious about a particular type of rodent. No self-respecting Manxie will say the word r*ts, for fear of being struck down with bad luck. Instead, they refer to r*ts as “long tails” or they might say the word "star" (no doubt the quick witted among you will have cracked this complex code). Such talk of superstition and fear leads us neatly on to …

7. Hop-tu-naa, which is the Manx equivalent of Halloween, celebrated on the 31 October every year. Although the two festivals share many similarities, there are differences, too. For example, kids go from door-to-door on Hop-tu-naa singing nonsense songs, which vary across the island, but sound like especially sinister Christmas carols when you hear them for the first time as a naive "come over" (which is what the Manx call somebody like me who wasn't born on the island). Manx people carve turnip lanterns instead of pumpkins, and the island also has some pretty dark Hop-tu-naa customs related to divination, which play a key role in Dark Tides. 

8. The Isle of Man has its own language, Manx Gaelic. While only a minority of current islanders speak Manx fluently, and the last native Manx speaker, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974, concerted efforts are being made to revive the language, with a number of books being translated into Manx Gaelic in recent times (including Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo and Allan Guthrie’s Bye Bye Baby).

Just in case you were wondering, the English translation of Hop-tu-naa (pronounced Hop Chew Neigh) means “This is the Night”, which is one reason why all the action in Dark Tides takes place on the recurring date of 31 October, moving backwards and forwards in time to chart the unsettling experiences that Claire Cooper and her friends endure during a succession of Hop-tu-naas over a period of almost twenty years.

I could go on. There are plenty more quirky and little-known facts to share. But why give them all away now? After all, if the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m likely to write more novels set on the Isle of Man in the years to come.

DARK TIDES by Chris Ewan is out now (Faber & Faber)

When Claire Cooper was eight, her mother disappeared during Hop-tu-naa, the Manx Halloween.
When Claire was eighteen, she and her friends took part in a Hop-tu-naa dare that went terribly wrong.
Now in her early twenties and a police officer, what happened that Hop-tu-naa night has come back to haunt them all, and Claire must confront her deepest fears in order to stop a killer from striking again

The publisher, Faber & Faber, are very kindly offering 5 signed copies (sorry but this is restricted to UK entrants only)  -  Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

Published 15 January 2015 by Doubleday

From Goodreads:

To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I’m doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists. 

Just goes to show.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every evening. Every day she passes the same Victorian terraces, stops at the same signal, and sees the same couple, breakfasting on their roof terrace. Jason and Jess seem so happy together. 

Then one day Rachel sees something she shouldn't have seen, and soon after, Jess disappears. Suddenly Rachel is chasing the truth and unable to trust anyone. Not even herself.

Tense, taut, twisty and surprising . . . The Girl on the Train creeps right under your skin and stays there.

* * * * 

When I first started reading this, I could immediately identify with Rachel, the eponymous girl on the train.  Much of my daily commute is spent looking out of train windows however Rachel goes one step further than me.  She actually makes up a life for one of the couples in the houses that she passes each day.  She sees ‘Jess and Jason’ (who are actually Megan and Scott) as having the perfect life – far different from the reality of hers.  Appearances, however, can be deceiving and when Rachel deliberately involves herself in their lives, she opens up a whole can of worms and puts herself in danger.

I love these twisty tales full of intrigue with unreliable narrators and flawed and dysfunctional characters.  Rachel is in her thirties, divorced and lonely.  Her ex-husband Tom lives with his new wife Anna and their young child in the house that he and Rachel used to live in and Rachel just can’t let go. She is also an alcoholic and her life is something of a car crash.   When she thinks she sees something from the train that doesn’t look right, she just has to get involved but because of her alcohol induced blackouts, she only has a very hazy recollection of events and is unsure whether what she does remember is fact or fantasy.  

The narration is shared by three women, Rachel, Megan and Anna and the timeline jumps from past to present, depending on who is narrating, so to keep up, you need to keep an eye on the dateline at the beginning of each chapter, although it is easy to follow.  None of the main characters, the men included, seemed particularly likeable or trustworthy and my allegiances and sympathies shifted throughout the book.  The story starts off slowly, introducing the characters and their backstory and then the pace and tension escalates.  Piece by piece we are fed information and have to decide who to believe.  Secrets are gradually exposed - but which of them would do anything to keep their secret hidden? 

To go into any more detail about the story would spoil it.  Paula Hawkins has created a cleverly structured storyline with a cast of such convincing characters and the intrigue and plot twists will really mess with your mind. This is a cracker of a read and if, like me, you are a keen fan of psychological thrillers and mysteries then I can highly recommend this one.  I certainly will be eagerly awaiting this author’s next book.

This was the cover of my proof copy - a brilliant idea and I actually prefer this to the real cover above. 

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

About the author: 

Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. 

Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. The Girl on the Train is her first thriller.

You can find out more by following on Twitter

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Atlas of Us - Tracy Buchanan

Published 3 July 2014 by Avon

From Goodreads:

How far would you go for the one you love the most?

When Louise Fenton flies to Thailand to find her mother after the Boxing Day tsunami, she fears the worst when the only trace she can find is her mother's distinctive bag. In the bag is a beautifully crafted atlas owned by travel journalist Claire Shreve, the mementos slipped in-between the pages charting her struggle to find her place in the world following a life-altering revelation, and a tumultuous love affair.

Louise treks across Thailand's scarred landscape, exploring Claire's atlas to try to make sense of the connection between this woman and the mother she is so desperate to find.

As devastated people are beginning to put their lives back together, Louise uncovers the secrets that nearly destroyed Claire and the man she loved – the same secrets her mother has been guarding all these years …

The Atlas of Us will take you on a moving and enthralling journey across the globe, and into the most intimate spaces in a relationship. And it will find its way into your heart.

* * * * 

The Atlas of Us is Tracy Buchanan’s debut novel and my, what a debut it is.  The story begins with Louise Fenton arriving in Thailand following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami to look for her estranged mother Nora.  One of the first things she finds is her mother’s bag containing her passport plus an inscribed journal, the ‘Atlas of Us’, with notes and photographs belonging to another woman, a journalist called Claire Shreve.   Whilst Louise continues her search for her mother and tries to work out why she would have such a treasured possession belonging to someone else, Claire’s story begins and the reader is taken on a journey travelling the world until eventually the link between Claire and Nora is revealed.

By the time I had finished this book, I felt as though I had been with Claire on her travels.  From Exmoor to Australia, the author’s former career as a travel journalist certainly shone through and bought the story and places to life.

I remember watching the media coverage of the 2004 tsunami disaster and the images of the aftermath still haunt me to this day; I simply can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been.  Although most of the story centres on Claire, the times spent with Louise and her young guide Sam, describe in detail the heartbreak and devastation of lives lost and the wreckage left behind.  

This is very much a story of love, loss, regret…and also secrets.  Claire Shreve was a complex character and the man she fell in love with, Milo James, even more so.  If you believe that we all have a soul mate then Milo must surely be Claire’s true love.  However their lives and their relationship are complicated and nothing can be taken for granted.

The main characters are believable and compelling.  As the story centres so much on Claire and her life, I did feel that Louise was partly on the side-lines and I would have liked to have known more about her and her mother Nora.  Louise’s continuing search appears briefly throughout, interrupting Claire’s story, and whilst her character too is very well written, she didn't appear enough to make much of an impact.  We know that she had a difficult relationship with her mother and I felt that both characters were interesting enough to deserve a bigger part of the story.   Louise’s husband Will also makes (thankfully) brief appearances – he was just horrible and if I had been Louise he would certainly have been shown the exit door very quickly.

I really enjoyed this story; I found it difficult to put down and I look forward to hopefully reading more by Ms Buchanan. The drama and plot twists make this more than just a love story and the excellent characterisation and skilful plotting pull all the threads together to make for an engrossing read.  There are themes and experiences in the book that are personal to the author and it is clearly written from the heart.   I loved the gorgeous book cover – it suits the story perfectly.

Source:  I purchased this book from Amazon.  At the time of writing this review the Kindle version is currently only £1.49 - an absolute bargain for such an excellent book.

About the author:

Tracy Buchanan is a web journalist and producer who lives in Milton Keynes with her husband, their little girl and their one-eyed Jack Russell. Tracy travelled extensively while working as a travel magazine editor, sating the wanderlust she developed while listening to her Sri Lankan grandparents’ childhood stories – the same wanderlust that now inspires her writing.

You can find out more about the author from her website, Twitter and Facebook

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.

SĂ©raphine 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