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Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A French Pirouette by Jennifer Bohnet

A French Pirouette

This is a delightful romantic story which follows three women as they embark on new chapters in their lives.

Libby is a widow and finds herself hankering for a new start in France, where she has memories of happy times with her late husband. But has she got the courage to go it alone?

Suzette is a top ballerina, but she's been brought low by injury and she now doesn't know what the future will hold for her.

Libby and Suzette both find themselves at the Auberge du Canal in Brittany, Libby as the new owner and Suzette as a guest. The third woman whose story we follow is Brigitte - outgoing owner of the auberge - who with her husband Bruno is moving on to a new, and hopefully more relaxed, way of life.

We see the three women as they find their feet in their new lives and try to cope with everything life has to throw at them whilst carving out their future paths.

Libby has to come to terms with the reality and responsibility of running the auberge single-handed. Suzette has to nurse her injury and make some huge decisions about her future. And Brigitte has to cope with the changing circumstances of her family.

I loved the French setting of the book - vibrant and authentic feeling. It really added to the story, and the auberge itself played an important part in the action. The love of food and its centrality to the world of the auberge shines through, and the book closes with a charming postscript in the form of some of Libby's recipes.

As the story plays out there is the possibility of romance for both Libby and Suzette. But is Libby ready? And can Suzette trust a man with her biggest secret?

This is a really enjoyable romance with great characters and plenty going on. You'll find yourself rooting for all three women as the story unfolds and as they get closer to fulfilling their dreams. A book to lose yourself in for a few hours!

Thanks very much to the author for a review copy of this book.

Friday, 2 January 2015

A look at Pixel Hall Press ...

I was recently contacted by Pixel Hall Press to see if I'd like to review any of their publications. I was quite intrigued as they seem to be publishing some interesting things.

This is what they have to say about themselves:

Pixel Hall Press is a relatively new, old-fashioned small publishing house whose focus is on discovering literary gems and great stories that might have otherwise been overlooked.

Our mission is to publish books and short stories that energize the imagination and intrigue the mind, and to be a conduit between readers and provocative, stimulating, talented authors.

You can find out more at their website http://www.pixelhallpress.com

They kindly sent me one of their short stories to review, La Belle Femme by 
Áine Greaney.

Told in the present tense, the story is that of Moira Walsh and Alan Power. Moira and Alan are having an affair, but neither of them are really sure they want to any more.

The story was immediate and well-painted, full of vivid descriptive detail. The story is in many ways an anti-romance and this gave it an interesting edge and bite. It invites you deep into two people's lives and for a brief time shows you all  that is most important about them.

It creates a diverting little picture of human relationships in the raw, and feels very authentic for that. And it leaves some questions open at the end, which again felt very real.

It was a great short read and it's good to see publishers getting behind short stories like this.

If you want to find out more about Pixel Hall Press do have a look at their website.  You'll find individual short stories, collections of stories, and novels.

You can find out more about Áine Greaney here.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Being Brooke Simmons by Karen Clarke

Being Brooke Simmons

This novel has a great, unusual premise which is also executed really well.

Brooke Simmons is in a coma, but somehow due to her sheer strength of will she manages to inhabit Abby Archer's body. It turns out that Brooke has lots of unfinished business and she doesn't want the mere fact that she's in a coma to stop her from resolving it.

At Brooke's insistence, Abby keeps an eye on Nick - the man Brooke is hoping to marry. What secrets was he keeping from Brooke just before the accident that caused her coma? Was he being unfaithful to her, or was there a deeper and darker secret to hide?

Along the way, the irrepressible Brooke encourages Abby to face up to her own problems. Abby has a dysfunctional family who all rely on her far too much and her love life is going nowhere. Brooke's interventions in Abby's love life give the book some of its greatest comic moments.

This is a romantic comedy that positively zings along, but it's also a bit more than that. The device of having Brooke inhabit Abby's body gives a unique twist to the story, but the other thing that lifted it out of the ordinary is the relationship between Brooke and Abby. Both women have a romantic interest to pursue in the course of the story, but it is the development of their relationship with each other which is, in the end, the most touching.

I loved this book and would recommend it to all lovers of romantic comedy. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Love and Fallout by Kathryn Simmonds

Love and Fallout

This book has a great premise. We first meet Tessa in the present. She's struggling with her life on a number of fronts. Things aren't going well in her marriage, her relationship with her daughter is distant and she's not sure that she can keep the charity she works for afloat.

A combination of events, starting with a chance meeting in a swimming pool, start Tessa off on a trip down memory lane to  a very different time in her life. Because, when Tessa was a young woman she lived as part of a very different family - a group of women at one of the camps at Greenham Common.

The story alternates between the two times and we follow Tessa in the present as she tries to save her marriage and her job, and in the past as she tries to save the world.

I didn't know a huge amount about Greenham Common when I started to read this book, but I found the story very vivid and informative. Kathryn Simmonds has obviously done her research, but it is written with a gentle touch and never feels like the historical facts are being forced into the story in any way.

The story is beautifully written in both strands with believable characters and events. The fact that the reader can see the young Tessa reflected in the older one adds to the richness of the story.

Eventually the two strands collide when present day Tessa is contacted by a face from the past. Angela was the person at the camp who she got on with the least well, so does she really want to meet up with her again? In the end, Angela's reappearance in her life affects Tessa in more ways than she could possibly have expected.

I really enjoyed this book, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys women's fiction with an additional dimension to it. So skilful is the recreation of the Greenham Common experience that towards the end of the book I found myself thinking that next time I saw footage of Greenham Common on the television I'd have to look out and see if I could spot Tessa, or Angela, or Jean or one of the other residents of Amber gate.

I think this book will stay with me, not least because the final paragraph is so poignant it made me catch my breath and hold back tears.

Thanks very much to the author for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Discern by Andrea Pearson


by Andrea Pearson

A guest review from Lady Techie.

I took my time with this one because I knew as soon as I started it that I would like the protagonist and love the story. Discern is the first book in a new series about Nicole Williams who is a fourth child in her family which makes her what is called an Arete or magical. I found that premise very interesting as the family dynamics and relationships were displayed for multiple students in Nicole's school in Seattle, Katon University. It has to be a strain on parents that want to fit in knowing that having a fourth child would allow them to produce a magical child, as well as a strain on the children that come before that fourth child knowing that they missed out on something special due to not being the fourth child. Sibling relationships are difficult enough but this seems like it would create a sibling rivalry that would be hard to manage, especially for the one child that is different. Also, what if the parents are not fourth children? Nicole was a product of just a family. I picked up on her having brothers and so far we only meet her mother so I am looking forward to meeting her entire family. After we meet Nicole's mother we are left with a huge desire to know the history of her family.

Katon University is a specialized university designed for Arete students. It teaches not only traditional subjects like math, science, but also subjects that relate to magic like magical objects. Each Arete's gifts typically are related to one of the elements, earth, air, fire or water, but there are so many things in between that makes this story exciting. Nicole starts at Katon with her best friend Lizzie, who is also her roommate at an apartment that leaves a lot to be desired. There are some interesting neighbors and their apartment can be truly weird and horrifying but it just adds to action in this story. Nicole applies to go on an expedition in the desert to try and help determine why people are disappearing when they visit that part of the desert. It is suspected that it is magic related so her professor is one of two professors hosting the expedition and boy is that trip action-packed. Nicole learns a lot about herself, her classmates that also are on the expedition, and other Aretes that are part of the expedition. 

Discern is a strong, exciting, action-packed start to the Katon University series. The world building was really well done. The character development gives the readers some really great characters to love, dislike and also some that leave us on the fence waiting to see who they become as the series unfolds. I am really looking forward to see where it goes next and I really look forward to hopefully a book dedicated to Nicole's life before Katon University.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Blood Dimmed Tide by Anthony Quinn

The Blood Dimmed Tide

This is what the publishers have to say about the book:
London at the dawn of 1918 and Ireland’s most famous literary figure, WB Yeats, is immersed in supernatural investigations at his Bloomsbury rooms.
Haunted by the restless spirit of an Irish girl whose body is mysteriously washed ashore in a coffin, Yeats undertakes a perilous journey back to Ireland with his apprentice ghost-catcher Charles Adams to piece together the killer’s identity.
Surrounded by spies, occultists and Irish rebels, the two are led on a gripping journey along Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast, through the ruins of its abandoned estates, and into its darkest, most haunted corners.
Falling under the spell of dark forces, Yeats and his ghost-catcher come dangerously close to crossing the invisible line that divides the living from the dead.

This book has a lot going on and certainly made for a roller coaster read. It's an intriguing idea. Part detective story, part supernatural and part historical it has a number of layers and threads which have been woven together by the author into a very unusual whole.

It starts with a tableau that introduces many of the themes that will run through the book. A body of a young woman has been washed up by the sea into a cove off an Irish beach. But who is she, and why is she in a years old coffin?

Dead bodies, ghosts, rebels, smugglers and the sea all loom large throughout the narrative, drawing the different strands of the story together and creating an overarching atmosphere. It is the atmosphere that lingers more than anything when you put the book down.

The story is in part a detective story, but with a difference. Our detective, Charles Adams, has been tasked with the job of finding out who killed Rosemary O'Grady by the poet W B Yeats. The presence of Yeats and other historical figures - Maud Gonne and Winston Churchill, to name but two - gives the story an added depth and I found this aspect of it very interesting.

The story is set during the First World War and just after the Easter Rising, and it makes the most of its historical setting, using wider world events as a backdrop to the action of the story. Because of all the other things going on - Irish rebellion, smuggling, occultism - the solving of the murder is never going to be easy. Charles Adams is led on a series of adventures before he gets anywhere near the truth, and encounters all sort of perils on the way.

I enjoyed the glimpses into the home life of Yeats and his wife that are threaded through the book, and his depiction by the author is very effective. I also found the threading together of this strand with the occult, and with the death of Rosemary O' Grady intriguing. In addition to the strong characters and intriguing plot, The sea, and Ireland itself, are also stars of this book.

Overall an entertaining read for anyone who wants a detective story with a difference.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a copy of this book. You can find out more here

Author bio:

Anthony Quinn is an Irish writer and journalist whose first novel Disappeared was acclaimed by the Daily Mail as 'unquestionably one of the crime novels of the year, written in peerless prose.’ It was shortlisted for a Strand Literary Award by the book critics of the Guardian, LA Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and other US newspapers. It was also listed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the top ten thrillers of 2012. His short stories have twice been shortlisted for a Hennessy/New Irish Writing award.
The Blood-Dimmed Tide is the first in a series of three historical novels set in Ireland during WWI and the War of Independence. He lives in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Sail Upon The Land by Josa Young

Sail Upon The Land

Sail Upon The Land gives us a story that starts in India, travels back to England, then revisits India before ending once more in a quintessentially English setting. The narrative also travels back in time from the beginning and then forward again.

Although the structure is complex, it doesn’t detract from the story. In fact, the handling of the timescale means that we are able to read back into the past and really got to know the significant characters at all the important moments in their lives.

I loved Josa Young’s first novel, One Apple Tasted, (you can read my review here), but if anything I loved Sail Upon The Land even more. I think the main reason was that intense familiarity with the characters, that feeling that you know everything about them – that holds the reader’s interest so tightly. How can you not love a character when you’ve seen them being born, or gone to school with them, or watched them fall in love for the first time?

There’s a richness to the writing that runs through all the strands of the story. Pitch perfect descriptive writing, authentic dialogue and sensitive characterisation.

Although the cast of characters is large, and the author has written the book in such a way that the reader identifies with all of them, Damson Hayes is the star of the show.

It is with Damson that the book starts – as she suffers a hideous ordeal – and it is with her that we finish, and it is Damson’s journey more than that of any other character that holds the novel together. I really don’t want to give too much away, but her story is full of drama, pain, suffering, steadfastness and ultimately redemption.

Though the story is full of romance, it isn’t just a romance, and though it tells the story of a family it is also much more than a family story.

It deals unflinchingly with the themes of motherhood and birth, love, death, duty and finally hope.

I really urge you to read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks very much to the author for a copy of this book.

You can find out more here and buy a copy here.