Saturday 31 January 2015

Colette McBeth's Favourite Fictional Characters, Dead or Alive...

Favourite Fictional Characters, Dead or Alive 

by Colette McBeth

I’ve blogged in the past about my favourite books and it’s hardly a surprise that those books contain some of my favourite characters. Instead of repeating myself here I’ve tried think about what makes a character compelling. This is what I’ve come up with;

They’re flawed and you wouldn’t necessarily want them in your life.
I know a lot of readers don’t enjoy a book if they don’t like the characters but come on, bad people are fabulously interesting (and by the way I believe most people have a bit of good and bad in them). It helps if you are inside their head, or at the very least see things from point of view. Think Barbara in Notes on a Scandal, odious, needy, obsessive and oh so compelling.

They’re different and either intentionally or unintentionally funny as a result; a character that pushes against the norm is always going to get my vote. Bernadette in Where’d You Go Bernadette was a stand out character for me in 2013.

They’re brave, resourceful and do the things that the rule abiding person within me wouldn’t dare to in their situation;
I adored Minny’s character in The Help and still can’t get the image of her presenting her chocolate pie with the ‘special’ ingredient to Miss Hilly.

Their situation is often hopeless. I’m thinking of Emma Bovary (Madame Bovary) and Lily Bart (House of Mirth) here. Two characters who really got inside my head. The sense of their suffocating in the life that had been set out for them was overwhelming. Whatever they did to escape or break up the monotony was ultimately futile.

There’s an innocence about them; Jack in Emma Donoghue’s Room, Christopher in the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Rachel Joyce’s Harold Fry. All three characters were in wildly different situations but they had a unique, beguiling and innocent way of looking at life.


Title: The Life I Left Behind.
Author: Colette McBeth.
Publisher: Headline.
Genre: Psychological Thriller.
Publication Date: January 1, 2015.

Purchase: Amazon UK

I’m the only one who knows the secrets her friends have hidden, the mistakes the police have made.

I’m the only one who can warn her she’s still in danger.

I know exactly who attacked her.

He’s the same man who killed me.

Friday 30 January 2015

Review ~ The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E. Hardisty.

Title: The Abrupt Physics of Dying.
Author: Paul E. Hardisty.
Publisher: Orenda Books.
Genre: Eco-Thriller.
Ebook Publication Date: December 15, 2014.
Print Publication Date: March 8, 2015.
Source: Review copy.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase: Amazon UK

Claymore Straker is trying to forget a violent past. Working as an oil company engineer in the wilds of Yemen, he is hijacked at gunpoint by Islamic terrorists. Clay has a choice: help uncover the cause of a mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company’s oil-processing facility, or watch Abdulkader, his driver and close friend, die.

As the country descends into civil war and village children start dying, Clay finds himself caught up in a ruthless struggle between opposing armies, controllers of the country’s oil wealth, Yemen’s shadowy secret service, and rival terrorist factions. As Clay scrambles to keep his friend alive, he meets Rania, a troubled journalist. Together, they try to uncover the truth about Al Urush. But nothing in this ancient, unforgiving place is as it seems. Accused of a murder he did not commit, put on the CIA’s most-wanted list, Clay must come to terms with his past and confront the powerful forces that want him dead.

A stunning debut eco-thriller, The Abrupt Physics of Dying is largely based on true events – the horrific destruction of fresh water and lives by oil giants. Gritty, gripping and shocking, this book will not only open your eyes but keep them glued to the page until the final, stunning denouement is reached.

With its wonderful title, cover and tagline, enhanced by its stunning opening, The Abrupt Physics of Dying was one of those books that nothing could make me put down. It’s an eco-thriller, which in my eyes was a pretty epic thriller made different and perhaps more relevant, with its focus on the politics of oil. This book definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone having not read anything similar before, but in a good way. It was tense, gripping and strongly written.

Claymore Straker is an engineer for an oil company, which leads him into a world full of lies and corruption. Clay’s no stranger to violence and as much as he tries to escape from it, a terrorist attack right at the beginning of this novel is only a glimpse of the shocking route things are about take. We’re thrown right into the deep end in the opening of The Abrupt Physics of Dying, and the action and events to follow are ruthless and fast-paced. Clay’s character is brought into question straight away, as held at gun points by terrorists, he’s challenged to look into the illness a lot of children are suffering from, likely to be due to the oil company, or risk the life of his friend Abdulkader. What follows is a surge of lies, deceit and attempts to work out who can and can’t be trusted. The story is fresh and unpredictable, captivating and delivered astutely.

The author’s knowledge and experience of some of the politics faced in his novel contributed to the strong delivery and engaging writing style, without overtaking the plot with being too factual and over-opinionated. The way the author sets the scene and allows you to picture with ease everything that’s taking place is enthralling and I loved his descriptive writing, which had me hanging off every word. The plot is compelling enough anyway but the style of writing lifts each page and transforms this novel into something a bit special. I felt like I came out of this novel with a greater impression and more knowledge on Yemen, along with more of a clue about an oil company’s work, something I knew little, if anything about. As the story unfolded, I was completely transfixed and eager to read more and mightily impressed with what I’d read.

For The Abrupt Physics of Dying to be a debut novel, a brilliant debut novel, there’s surely only exciting things to come from Paul E. Hardisty, starting with next year’s sequel The Evolution of Fear. I half-expected The Abrupt Physics of Dying to be a little cautious, a little held-back but the author writes like you’d expect from an established thriller writer – a protagonist blessed with fantastic characterisation, a detailed setting and twists to boot. A sensational first novel for author and publisher.

Review also posted on Goodreads | Amazon UK

Thursday 29 January 2015

Review ~ The Ship by Antonia Honeywell.

Title: The Ship.
Author: Antonia Honeywell.
Publisher: W&N.
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian.
Publication Date: February 19, 2015.
Source: Curtis Brown Book Group review copy.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase: Amazon UK

Children of Men meets The Handmaiden's Tale: a dystopian epic about love, friendship and what it means to be free.

Welcome to London, but not as you know it.

Oxford Street burned for three weeks
The British Museum is squatted by ragtag survivors
The Regent's Park camps have been bombed

The Nazareth Act has come into force. If you can't produce your identity card, you will be shot.

Lalla, 16, has grown up sheltered from the new reality by her visionary father, Michael Paul. But now the chaos has reached their doorstep. Michael has promised Lalla and her mother that they will escape. Escape is a ship big enough to save 500 people.

But only the worthy will be chosen.

Once on board, as day follows identical day, Lalla's unease grows.
Where are they going?
What does her father really want?

The Ship was the novel I’d most been looking forward to in 2015. It sounded like an immense, captivating story and something completely unlike anything I’d read before. Antonia Honeywell has written a wonderfully enchanting novel, with a theme I found as thought-provoking as they come.

When London as it is known is torn apart, no longer simply under threat but burned, bombed and destroyed, Michael and Anna, along with daughter Lalla, decide to escape. There is no life to be lived in London and so they board the ship, which is there to take 500 people away from the tragic life they once knew, into a happier, more fulfilling future. The ship theoretically contains everything needed to survive, and those on board feel thankful for the salvation they’ve been provided with. The Ship is one of those mind-blowing stories that I could not stop thinking about. It was an unforgettable look at the future, with characters that get under your skin and a style of writing I could not get enough of.

The world building throughout this novel was fascinating. It wasn’t overdone or over-detailed but it did paint a pretty startling picture and leave me considering how far into the future it was set and comparing it with the world we live in now. Each person on the ship, except maybe for Michael and Anna’s daughter, had their own story to tell, their own kind of horror story. There were some shocking stories that have a sense of realism to them, which then in turn gave this book a haunting feel. Everything led to more questions, the craving for more and more detail. Everybody, once on the ship, seemed so happy and question-free, but why?

Lalla is the teenage protagonist who though at times isn’t the easiest character to get along with, I was supporting her all the way through her journey of discovery and it felt to me like her heart was always in the right place, even if through her naivety, her choices sometimes left a lot to be desired. Under her parents care, Lalla has lived a bit of a sheltered life and there’s a lot she has to learn about life. Understandably, after she’s faced with some devastating trauma, she’s left with a lot of questions. At times she reminded me of a young child - asking a question but too busy thinking of the next question to hear the answer, firing out question after question. She repeated herself a bit at times, in a way which made me question why she didn’t receive a straight answer and think about how things may be been hidden from her. How much protecting does a sixteen year old really need from a world everybody else seems to be perfectly content with anyway.

I liked watching her grow throughout this novel though as she came to have more knowledge on life and learn to ask more intelligent questions. She didn’t take things as they came – she always wanted to know more and I liked this aspect to her, how she wouldn’t let things go when she was fobbed off and how she wouldn’t go along with the majority just because she was meant to. When everybody else on the Ship seemed to be happy and grateful, she wouldn’t just accept that, not even when she was told that’s how she should feel too, that she was lucky. Her mentality to want to understand things for herself was appealing to me and led to some of the more interesting aspects of the novel.

Other things I loved about The Ship, briefly, else I’d be here all day. Lalla and Anna’s connection through the British Museum, where Lalla is educated, where she watches as item after item disappears. The brief suggestion of what’s to come, under each chapter heading. This piqued my interest every time, a few small words and my mind was working, trying to predict how each chapter would turn out. The evocative imagery that the author so beautifully used, leaving a lasting impression on me each time. The author’s writing in general I found stunning and I’m excited for anything else she may write in the future.

There were parts of this novel I would have loved to learn more about, parts that I would have loved to see explained more. Not, for me, because the story is under-developed but more because the author’s beautiful writing is so compelling and so interesting, I was always thinking about it and always wanting to learn more about the dystopian world in The Ship. Much like Lalla, I was left with questions every time I put this book down. Questions that may remain unanswered, questions which are left for me to decide the answers to and questions that each reader may find a different answer to. Lots of questions – but aren’t the best books the ones that make you think long after you’ve turned the final page?

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Review ~ Withering Hope by Layla Hagen.

Title: Withering Hope.
Author: Layla Hagen.
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publication Date: January 19, 2015.
Source: Review copy.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase: Amazon UK | Amazon US | B&N | iBooks | Kobo

Aimee’s wedding is supposed to turn out perfect. Her dress, her fiancé and the location—the idyllic holiday ranch in Brazil—are perfect.

But all Aimee’s plans come crashing down when the private jet that’s taking her from the U.S. to the ranch—where her fiancé awaits her—defects mid-flight and the pilot is forced to perform an emergency landing in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.

With no way to reach civilisation, being rescued is Aimee and Tristan’s—the pilot—only hope. A slim one that slowly withers away, desperation taking its place. Because death wanders in the jungle under many forms: starvation, diseases. Beasts. As Aimee and Tristan fight to find ways to survive, they grow closer. Together they discover that facing old, inner agonies carved by painful pasts takes just as much courage, if not even more, than facing the rainforest.

Despite her devotion to her fiancé, Aimee can’t hide her feelings for Tristan—the man for whom she’s slowly becoming everything. You can hide many things in the rainforest. But not lies. Or love.

Withering Hope is the story of a man who desperately needs forgiveness and the woman who brings him hope. It is a story in which hope births wings and blooms into a love that is as beautiful and intense as it is forbidden.

I’ve not read a novel quite like Withering Hope before – it’s bursting with originality and unpredictability. There were occasions when I was sure of how things were going to turn out but instead there were lots of twists to keep on proving me wrong and making me quickly turn the page to see what was coming next. Aimee is on a private jet to the ranch where she will wed her fiancé Chris but a defect during her flight forces the pilot Tristan to execute an emergency landing, right in the Amazon rainforest. The fight is on for both characters to survive as they hope to be rescued, but there’s a lot more to the story then that.

The first third of Withering Hope, I was a bit disappointed with. Aimee and Tristan have seen the plane crash-landing in the Amazon rainforest. Nobody knows where they are and so they need to be looking for a way to be rescued, looking to survive. I thought we were immediately going to be thrown in with a sense of anticipation but what should have been tense and gripping to me felt a little flat and dull. I wasn’t really interested in either Aimee or Tristan at this point and since they were the only two characters, I struggled to want to keep on reading. It didn’t help me that it felt so slow to get going, although that did make it feel more realistic and believable I guess since it would be unfair to expect either character to have much clue on how to be rescued from the depths of the rainforest. I did consider giving up on this book but I’m a big fan of Layla Hagen’s writing so I persevered, and I was glad it got a lot better.

As the book continues, we finally get to see more from the characters than Aimee thinking about and mentioning her wedding at every opportunity and Tristan trying to avoid talking about it. The book is told mostly from Aimee’s perspective, with short chapters from Tristan’s POV. I really grew to like both of them as we learn more about them, the pasts they’re trying to escape from and the things that really make them tick. I loved how their stories were told, the little snippets they’d learn about each other since what else is there to do when you’re stranded with someone you don’t know very well with nowhere else to go? Both Tristan and Aimee proved themselves to be selfless and caring and there’s a bond between them which is slow-building and technically wrong, but one that feels right for both of them. The pacing of this is so beautiful to read. What could have been built purely with desperation was instead surging with hope and their connection was plain to see.

Towards the end, this book became absolutely breath-taking – Layla’s writing at her finest. At this point I could not stop reading as an incredible turn of events left me feeling all the emotions. Any time I thought there was a glimmer of hope, that feeling got torn to shreds seconds later and I was left trying to work out what would happen next as the story became more gut-wrenching as the pages ran out. This book has one of those wonderful endings that I could talk about all day.

Withering Hope is not told in three parts like my review might make it seem but that’s how I saw the book because if I was reviewing each part separately, they’d each get a different rating and a completely different opinion. I had such mixed feelings on this book but ultimately, it’s the emotional, stunning finale which is left in my mind and I will remember this book in that way for the way it made me feel and the way I’m still going to be thinking about this ending for days to come. Withering Hope is a book you might need to push yourself through at first but it will provide you with a powerful ending that makes it all worthwhile.

Review also posted on Goodreads | Amazon UK | Amazon US

My name is Layla Hagen and I am a New Adult Contemporary Romance author.
I fell in love with books when I was nine years old, and my love affair with stories continues even now, many years later.
I write romantic stories and can’t wait to share them with the world.
And I drink coffee. Lots of it, in case the photo didn’t make it obvious enough.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Tuesday 27 January 2015

Review ~ Eclipse by Dirk Strasser.

Title: Eclipse (Ascension #3).
Author: Dirk Strasser.
Genre: Fantasy.
Publication Date: November 1, 2013.
Source: Review copy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Purchase: Amazon UK | Amazon US

Can you see the story breathing?

What happens if the days keep getting shorter?
And shorter?
Until there is an eternal night?

What happens as the darkness grows?
And the creatures of dusk take control of the Mountain?
And the quest for the third Book is the only hope?

The Mountain is in its death throes as the Nazir send their wraiths to finish what the dusk-rats and grale had begun. Soon there will be no daylight to protect the Maelir and Faemir, and with each twilight there are fewer places to hide. Will the Mountain finally collapse under its own instability or will Atreu and Verlinden’s descent find the words of salvation in the Lost Book of Ascension?

Chapter Sixteen

The wind hit him like a wave of raw fear. Before him stood a pale man with shredded clothes flailing wildly behind him. The left side of his face had been clawed away. ‘Help me,’ the man cried in a voice that no human lungs could produce.

As the man reached out for him with knotted fingers, the shrieking filled Atreu’s head and he froze, unable to move even the smallest muscle. He felt himself being pulled back into the cabin, and before he knew it, he was lying on the floorboards and Verlinden had closed and bolted the cabin door again.

‘Did you see him?’ cried Atreu.

‘You’re still trying to tell me Riell was out there?’

‘No, the man with half a face.’

‘I saw nothing, Atreu. There was no one there.’

Atreu started trembling uncontrollably.

Verlinden led him back to the bunk and pulled the blanket over them.

Atreu immediately felt the pain in his head ease. ‘You didn’t see anyone, Verlinden?’


‘Then I am going mad.’

‘You can’t be if you think you are – hold on to that.’

Slowly, Atreu’s tremors subsided. ‘I’m sorry, Verlinden. How could I have endangered you like that?’

‘Don’t concern yourself, Atreu. Let’s just see if we can survive this.’

Atreu fought the painful shriek still keening inside his head. He closed his eyes and felt Verlinden pulling him closer so that her face touched his. He reached up to stroke her other cheek. With a shock he realised it had the pits and troughs of a furrowed field. He screamed and jumped back to see he had been embracing the half-faced man. He scrambled to the bunk on the other side of the cabin and felt someone jump on top of him with a blanket, pinning him to the bunk.

‘Atreu, stay calm. Just stay under the blanket.’ Verlinden’s voice cut through the maddening shriek.

Atreu’s breaths gradually eased. ‘Did you see him?’

‘No, there is no one here but the two of us.’

‘Can I see your face?’

‘Please, Atreu, I don’t want to lose you.’

Atreu tried to shake her off, but couldn’t. ‘I need to see your face.’

‘All right, Atreu. I have a blanket over me as well, so I’ll have to lift it off.

Let’s do this quickly.’

Atreu felt the weight shift from him, and he raised a corner of his blanket.

Verlinden’s eyes were wild and her expression grim, but it was her. As the shriek inside him started to grow again he pulled the blanket back over his head.

‘Verlinden, please keep talking to me. It helps,’ he said, taking comfort from the weight of her body on his.

There was no response.

‘Verlinden, did you hear me?’

Nothing – except she seemed to shift subtly.

‘Please …’ his plea trailed away as a chill shuddered through him.

When Verlinden finally spoke, he lost consciousness before she finished the last word.

‘Atreu, there’s someone on top of me.’

Eclipse is the third and final book in a fantasy trilogy which got much better as it went on. Equinox improved on a good first book but Eclipse provided an even more satisfying instalment to a creative, epic journey. The narrative in Eclipse has come full circle from where it began in Zenith, and the development of the main character Atreu is strong and plain to see. No longer is he naïve or lacking in knowledge. He’s braver and wiser and as he’s set to culminate his journey by travelling down the Mountain, he’s also ready to confront his biggest challenge yet. I finally began to believe in Atreu’s character and that made me connect with Eclipse a lot more than I had anticipated. This was an impressive way to end the series.

I’m repeating myself a bit here from my reviews of the first and second book, but the level of detail the author uses in his world building is so enthralling. He really knows how to bring life to a fictional setting and so when Atreu and Verlinden are battling to save the Mountain, I can picture every vivid little element of their surroundings and what they’re facing. Eclipse really allows you to sit back and think and imagine this fantasy world until it feels almost real. It doesn’t seem to be hit with some of the weaknesses common in end-of-the-series books, where you sometimes have to suspend belief a little just to accept the way things turn out. The writing here feels accomplished, as the author combines his creativity with some believable character development and a strong story, but with that added something special to make this book feel like a ‘proper’ fantasy novel, a really, really good one.

What I loved about Eclipse was that nothing was left forgotten and everything was combined and drawn out to make the trilogy feel complete, to make me appreciate every moment in each of the three books and how they all merged together to build a solid and entrancing finale. The role of Atreu working his way down the Mountain rather than up it, like in Zenith, was clever and delivered in a fascinating, tense manner. The world as it is desired was in his hands and the question of whether he could succeed in saving it was a wonderful motivator to keep me reading, to discover if Dirk Strasser had any more tricks up his sleeve and if he could make this ending top the rest. Strasser worked his magic and I was left one happy reader indeed, after the absorbing series finished on a high.

Review also posted on Goodreads | Amazon UK | Amazon US

Dirk Strasser has won multiple Australian Publisher Association Awards and a Ditmar for Best Professional Achievement. His short story, “The Doppelgänger Effect”, appeared in the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology, Dreaming Down Under. His fiction has been translated into a number of languages. His acclaimed fantasy trilogy, The Books of Ascension – Zenith, Equinox and Eclipse – has been published in English (Pan Macmillan / Momentum) and German (Heyne). A collection of his short stories, Stories of the Sand, will be published in November. His most recent short story publications have been “The Mandelbrot Bet” in the Tor anthology Carbide Tipped Pens, “At Dawn’s Speed” in Dimension6 #2, and “2084” in the international anthology The World to Come. He founded the Aurealis Awards and has co-published and co-edited Aurealis magazine over 20 years.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook

Monday 26 January 2015

Review ~ That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay.

Title: That Part Was True.
Author: Deborah McKinlay.
Publisher: Orion.
Publication Date: January 15, 2015.
Source: Review copy.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase: Amazon UK

Reminiscent of ONE DAY meets 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, THAT PART WAS TRUE is a bittersweet story about falling in love and risking it all.

When Eve Petworth writes to Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cookery and food. As their letters criss-cross the ocean that lies between them, friendship and then romance blossoms despite Jackson's colourful love life and Eve's tense relationship with her soon-to-be-married daughter. Little by little, Eve and Jack begin to believe that they may have a chance to change their lives and possibly get a second chance at happiness. They just need to actually meet...

A gorgeous, escapist read about food, friendship and falling in love from afar...

That Part Was True is a charming little story, one which delicately explores the feeling of loneliness and how companionship and understanding can be found in the most unexpected of places. It all starts when Eve sends a letter to author Jackson, but they soon discover that they have much more to talk about than simply a scene in his book. They quickly connect, corresponding mostly about food and the art of cooking, veering gently into the more hidden parts of their personality. The art of their writing is moving but how would things turn out if they ever chose to meet? That Part Was True was told at quite a slow pace and as for actual events taking place, there wasn’t much that really happened in that aspect. But the progression in Eve and Jackson’s psychological states was where this book was really developed and part of its charm, delivered in a thought-provoking and engaging way.

I loved the communication through letters, mostly between Eve and Jack, and would have liked to have seen more of them. Whether they were brief or more lengthy and personal, they were alluring and gorgeous to read. The written form of communication in letters is not used enough in fiction but I feel like, in this case especially, they’re so expressive and powerful to read – my favourite part of the novel. I was fascinated in the stories of both Eve and Jack, if not all that taken with either of them. I didn’t dislike them, not at all, but I also didn’t feel like I had much of an understanding as to why they were both in such a bad place. They were both facing challenges but nothing seemed that drastic to have caused them to feel so downbeat. Still, I did feel like I figured them out a bit more as the book went on and hoped for some newfound happiness for them individually.

That Part Was True focuses a lot on love and relationships. There’s the familial love between Eve and her daughter Izzy, which seems to provide anything but the easy unconditional love expected of a typical mother and daughter relationship. Parenthood is explored through Izzy’s father Simon too, who has not lived up to the responsibility of being a dad at all, in the past. There’s a look at marriage, as Izzy and Ollie are engaged and planning for their future, but not without difficulty. Other than the connection between Eve and Jack, my favourite relationship was the friendship between Jack and Dex. Though not a major part in the novel, I loved Dex’s involvement. He brought a lighter, more humorous outlook to Jack’s life and in turn the story of this novel, making me smile when other characters were immersed in their own issues.

I had an idea from the synopsis where this book would be taken but instead, I found the way things played out to be unpredictable. Towards the end, I was so interested in the lives of Jack and Eve that I didn’t even really consider that this book might finish on a completely different note to what I had thought. But I love it when an author can surprise you. I actually adored the ending. It was gorgeous to read and made me wonder about how far both characters had or hadn’t come throughout the novel. That Part Was True is a real reminder that life is not easy, but through your troubles, there’s always somebody out there who understands and who you can connect with, however close or far apart you may be.

Review also posted on Goodreads | Amazon UK

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