Monday 31 October 2016

Reviewed: Moondance by Diane Chandler

TITLE: Moondance
AUTHOR: Diane Chandler
PUBLISHER: Blackbird

PUBLICATION DATE: November 1, 2016

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How can you long for someone who doesn't exist?

Cat has always been in control of her life. Happily married to Dom, but flying high as a political lobbyist, she dismisses his desire to start a family ... until she herself is ready.

But what if it is then too late?

Complex and selfish, intelligent and open, if she is to succeed in having that elusive child, Cat must battle through gruelling fertility treatment and the emotional strain it places on her marriage. By her side, Dom, easygoing and ever the optimist, finds that he too risks being run ragged by their journey.

Both are forced to come to terms with their longing for a baby against the blitz on a relationship tested like never before.

Moondance is very absorbing as it powerfully explores the emotions of a couple through their infertility. Desperate to conceive, now the time is right, Cat and Dom are putting themselves through the gruelling and upsetting process of IVF, and I really felt it for them and what they were going through. As the book switches in time between when Cat and Dom first met to present day when they are hoping for a baby, I was absolutely captivated by the author’s enchanting writing as she showed such honesty in a brave and moving story, whilst combining it with a level of humour that helped the story be enjoyable and not simply sad. Although be warned – there were tears!

Cat is one of those characters that, though not obviously likeable, somehow manages to draw the reader in and has you rooting for her and caring for her. I felt like that friend who was bemused and frustrated by her and shouted at her – a lot – but really just had her best interests at heart. I love it when an author can make you care for a character without really feeling that you like them. I found I could connect with Cat despite her self-centred attitude and being able to understand and empathise with her helped me immerse myself in the story more. As the reader, we really get such a strong emotional insight into a couple going through the process of IVF, that to me it is virtually impossible not to feel some form of attachment to Cat and Dom.

Moondance is a really thought-provoking book and one that I have found myself talking about a lot whilst reading it and after I’d finished. It has a really fascinating outlook on the idea of becoming a parent and the reasons why a couple may want a child. It’s not always about really wanting a child. Sometimes women are expected to become mothers and there is a lot of pressure that way. Other times, maybe only one person in the couple wants a child and the other feels a bit forced into it. There are many different ideas behind becoming a parent, but when you can’t conceive naturally a lot of that control is taken away from a person and I found this both interesting and heart-breaking to read.

The author has written an intelligent, touching and mind-opening story and one that well represents the process of IVF for one couple, whilst at the same time giving the true impression that each couple who has been through IVF would have a different story to tell. It’s a very emotional book that moved me to tears at times and also had me frustrated both at and for Cat and Dom with each “failure” to conceive. The main theme to Moondance is raw but the author does it justice with incredible, emotive writing that pulls you into the story and tugs on your heart-strings.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Reviewed: The Devil's Feast by M.J. Carter

TITLE: The Devil's Feasr
AUTHOR: M.J. Carter

PUBLICATION DATE: October 27, 2016

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London, 1842. There has been a mysterious and horrible death at the Reform, London's newest and grandest gentleman's club. A death the club is desperate to hush up.

Captain William Avery is persuaded to investigate, and soon discovers a web of rivalries and hatreds, both personal and political, simmering behind the club's handsome façade-and in particular concerning its resident genius, Alexis Soyer, 'the Napoleon of food', a chef whose culinary brilliance is matched only by his talent for self-publicity.

But Avery is distracted, for where his mentor and partner-in-crime Jeremiah Blake? And what if this first death was only a dress rehearsal for something far more sinister?

The Devil’s Feast is book three in M.J. Carter’s Avery and Blake series. I haven’t read the first two – but I really wish I had! Not because these books can’t be read as standalones, as they can, but because I found the third book in the series to be highly entertaining and engaging, a treat of a book with a compelling mystery and a vivid, intriguing Victorian London setting and timeframe.

Since this was my first introduction to the characters of William Avery and Jeremiah Blake, I was glad to say I loved them. Avery is a little naïve whilst Blake is the more shrewd and suspicious one. Together, they work brilliantly. The dynamics and dialogue between them were vibrant and amusing. At the beginning of the book, Avery is visiting Blake in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison where he has been imprisoned, wrongly. As Blake is then unavailable, it is Avery who attends dinner at a much-talked about place, The Refom Club. Shortly following the dinner, a guest dies. They’ve been poisoned.

The author had me engrossed straight away with an unusual and slightly creepy prologue which piqued my interest and turned reading “just a few pages” into reading half the book in one sitting. There were times when I found the writing veered on the bit too detailed side where I would have liked to have seen a bit more action instead – as the author had already described enough to engage me, although this was simply because I was eager to discover the culprit, not because I found the descriptive pieces uninteresting.

The mystery of who poisoned the guest had me fascinated, and through the author’s descriptive prose, the theme of the novel was never forgotten with foodie references and mouth-watering details aplenty. Someone may have been poisoned but The Devil’s Feast was still a true belly-rumbler of a book! I loved the insight into the chef’s kitchen. There were lies, deceit, jealousy, hate and an atmosphere that made me squirm at the intensity of it all. The author paints a very vibrant picture of the setting and the dynamics between the characters who were all sharply written – each one of them, even the minor characters, had something about them that was interesting and I can honestly say there wasn’t a character I didn’t enjoy reading about.

The Victorian mystery was thrilling to read, cleverly plotted and dark in both its theme and the twists and turns throughout. There appeared to be quite a strong focus on characterisation and the London setting, but this only enhanced the whole reading experience to me as I could really buy into the plot and the various, animated characters had me eager to keep turning the pages. The story of life in the kitchen was a riveting one, with all the in-house politics and principles and all this had me in anticipation of the reveal of the poisoner, intrigued by any possible motive and reward. I enjoyed the author’s delectable style of writing and her development of the characters and the mystery in The Devil’s Feast, and I look forward to catching up on the other books in the Avery and Blake series.

Friday 28 October 2016

Guest Post: ‘A Deadman’s Hand will Open any Lock’ by Karen Maitland

TITLE: The Plague Charmer
AUTHOR: Karen Maitland

PUBLICATION DATE: October 20, 2016

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Riddle me this: I have a price, but it cannot be paid in gold or silver.

1361. Porlock Weir, Exmoor. Thirteen years after the Great Pestilence, plague strikes England for the second time. Sara, a packhorse man's wife, remembers the horror all too well and fears for safety of her children. Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price that no one will pay.

Fear gives way to hysteria in the village and, when the sickness spreads to her family, Sara finds herself locked away by neighbours she has trusted for years. And, as her husband - and then others - begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable.

The price that I ask, from one willing to pay... A human life.

‘A Deadman’s Hand will open any Lock’ 
by Karen Maitland

In my new medieval thriller, The Plague Charmer, one of the characters fears that a severed hand is about to be put to criminal use as a Hand of Glory. A hand of glory could be used to open any lock, render a thief invisible and put the occupants of a house into a deep sleep so that the house could be burgled or a woman raped.

To create an object with such power, you needed the hand of an executed felon, cut off while he was still dangling on the gallows. Medieval people reasoned that if the relic of a saint’s hand could work miracles, then the hand of a murderer must be able to work evil.

Hangmen often supplemented their income by selling sections of gallows’ rope to apothecaries who bound it around the heads of patients to cure headaches. Executioners also sold body parts of felons to be mummified and ground up to use as medicine. Even as late as the 18th century, ‘mummy’ was an essential part of the medicine chest and was thought to cure anything from abscesses to heart disease. The trouble was by the 12th century the supply of genuine mummies from Egypt was almost exhausted and very expensive, so some apothecaries started making fake Egyptian mummies from bodies obtained from executioners. If a burglar wanted to buy a dead-man’s hand, the hangmen would not ask what the buyer wanted it for, provided he was offered a good price.

The blood was squeezed out of the felon’s hand and it was embalmed using salt, herbs and saltpetre scraped from the walls of damp cellars or crypts. Sometimes a candle made from the hanged man’s fat was pushed between the fingers, or the fingertips themselves could be lit and used as the candle. Once lit, the room would be filled with an unearthly blue light and those asleep would be unable to wake, and those awake unable to move. The flames could only be extinguished using milk or blood. The belief in the hand of glory was so enduring that there was a report in the Observer newspaper of 16th January 1831 of a burglar being arrested with the tools of his trade which include a hand of glory.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Guest Post: Meet Joanna and Jack from Searching for a Silver Lining by Miranda Dickinson

TITLE: Searching for a Silver Lining
AUTHOR: Miranda Dickinson
PUBLISHER: Pan Macmillan

PUBLICATION DATE: October 20, 2016

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It began with a promise . . .

Matilda Bell is left heartbroken when she falls out with her beloved grandfather just before he dies. Haunted by regret, she makes a promise that will soon change everything . . .

When spirited former singing star Reenie Silver enters her life, Mattie seizes the opportunity to make amends. Together, Mattie and Reenie embark on an incredible journey that will find lost friends, uncover secrets from the glamorous 1950s and put right a sixty-year wrong.

Meet The Cast - #5: Joanna and Jack 

Every protagonist needs a support network. In Searching for a Silver Lining, Mattie Bell has her older sister, Joanna Bell-Jones and much loved cousin Jack. When I first began writing the book, Joanna was a much smaller character than she became. I worked to build her relationship with Mattie and now I think what they share is one of the loveliest sibling pairings I’ve ever written. Joanna seems to have the perfect life, but a twist in her life leads to Mattie coming to her rescue. She’s a mother of two who is also unofficial coper for the Bell family. Through the book, we see more of her story and I think readers will love her!

Jack is a cheeky chap! Good-looking and gifted, he adores his cousins and provides support and advice for Mattie. I had so much more of his story appear than could fit in this book, so I think I might have to return to him at some time in the future.

My dream casting for Joanna in the film of Searching for a Silver Lining (which, you know, has to happen…) would be Katy Carmichael (best known for roles in Coronation Street and Spaced) – she is brilliant and is actually narrating the audiobook of Searching for a Silver Lining, which I’m over the moon about! For Jack, my dream casting would be Arthur Darvill (from Broadchurch and Doctor Who) – handsome, witty and rather lovely!

Thanks so much for reading this blog exclusive! For more, follow my Searching for a Silver Lining blog tour. I really hope you enjoy reading the story!

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Reviewed: Christmas Under a Starlit Sky by Holly Martin

TITLE: Christmas Under a Starlit Sky
AUTHOR: Holly Martin
PUBLISHER: Bookouture

PUBLICATION DATE: October 19, 2016

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Neve Whitaker loves managing the Stardust Lake hotel. She gets to work alongside her wonderful family and she’s spending Christmas on the most enchanting, snow-covered island in Scotland. So why is her heart so heavy this festive season?

It might have something to do with the gorgeous actor Oakley Rey, the man she finished with before he left for California and the man she loves more than anything. With Oakley’s career in Hollywood soaring, Neve is convinced she’d only hold him back. She had to end it with him – at least that’s what she keeps telling herself.

But now she has a secret she’s struggling to keep, and when Oakley arrives on Juniper Island determined to win her back, Neve is thrown off balance. Will Neve’s fear of having her heart broken again push Oakley away for good, or is it time for her to take a leap of faith?

Christmas Under a Starlit Sky brings us back to a town called Christmas and Juniper Island, which we initially discover in the first book of the series, Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky. We get to say hello to Pip and Gabe again, and see their romance progress even further, but the main focus is on Gabe’s sister, Neve, and her filmstar on/off boyfriend Oakley.

I loved that Holly Martin didn’t keep us waiting forever for Oakley to come into the book. When I read the blurb, I was expecting us to be kept hanging until Oakley arrives back in Neve’s life, but I was so glad it didn’t play out like that. This gives us more chance to get to know him as well as we know Neve, which was a bit of a treat since he came across as one of Holly’s sexier heroes with his charm, heart and movie star persona. The cynical part of me felt like he and Neve could have sorted their issues out by the end of chapter two, but then later on there were more secrets to be revealed and many misunderstanding for them to be put through. It took me a while before I could really understand what was keeping them apart as it felt like they just needed to communicate with each other better, although there was definitely plenty of chemistry between them from the beginning of the book too.

I really enjoyed learning more about Neve and Oakley’s relationship and they were both interesting characters and there were plenty of sparks between them. As usual with Holly’s books, there were many other lovely characters involved and the secondary characters are just as easy to warm to as Neve and Oakley were. Adam and Ivy’s story intertwines beautifully throughout the book and another character I also loved was Luke, though I wish we’d had the chance to learn more about him. You know what you’re getting with a Holly Martin book, which isn’t a bad thing, but for me with each book I need to feel a connection with the characters and that they offer something different from the author’s other books. I found that easy in Christmas Under a Starlit Sky as the characters are interesting people and very memorable characters.

Christmas Under a Starlit Sky is a heart-warmingly romantic, festive story – the perfect book to read snuggled up on a cold winter’s day. It’s cute and cosy with humour, touching moments and chemistry throughout. The setting is magical and Holly’s warm and descriptive writing brings it to life and turns Juniper Island into the dreamiest of locations where many readers would love to spend their Christmas there – and their Autumn, Spring and Summer too! Dramatic and romantic, Christmas Under a Starlit Sky is a riveting second book in the series that I enjoyed just as much as book one. I’m holding out for a third book with a further visit to a town called Christmas…

Sunday 23 October 2016

Reviewed: Never Again by Nicky Clifford

TITLE: Never Again
AUTHOR: Nicky Clifford
PUBLICATION DATE: October 21, 2016

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Mountains, Mystery, Romance: Can you run from your past?

Harriet Anderson’s life is spiralling out of control. Unused to such mayhem, she ditches her high-powered job to take refuge in the Swiss Alps where she meets Philippe Smith, a crime writer with a dark and shadowy past. Thrown together by chance, is their fate intertwined? Will the karma and romance of the mountains and the quaintness of the Alps soothe their troubled souls?

Or will their rocky paths create avalanches that cannot be avoided...

Never Again is an enthralling and emotional novel, an entertaining contemporary romance that has as many twists and turns as a really good thriller too. The story gripped me from the opening few pages with its engaging writing and it was easy to become lost in the romance between Harriet and Philippe.

After a horrific few months, we meet Harriet as she is starting her new job as a waitress in a Swiss hotel. Things don’t run smoothly from then on, though, as her first task is to bring a coffee out to one of their long-standing and mysterious guests, Philippe, which left both of them crying over spilt milk. Philippe instantly comes across as rude and bad-mannered, and Harriet would agree, but it didn’t take long for both of them to see a different side to each other and move on from the wrong foot they started off on.

So when we first meet Philippe, he appears grumpy and arrogant and for someone who reads a lot of books in this genre, you already know he is going to have some backstory which has led him to his uncouth attitude. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as the way the author introduces us to Philippe had me completely drawn into his character and interested in who he was and why he was so keen to escape to a quiet location. Parts of his past definitely surprised me and I really grew to like him during this book. He wasn’t perfect by any means – but I loved that about him. He felt real.

I liked Harriet right away. It’s obvious that she too is looking for an escape but not a romantic one, but then of course she meets Philippe… Harriet had a lot in her past she was struggling with but she was still quite a fiery character at times and I enjoyed seeing her grow and stand up for herself more. From the beginning when she doesn’t just let Philippe shout at her because she spilt some of his drink, I knew she was going to be an easy character to root for. I do like it when I can get to know a character so much that they feel like a friend, someone you might want to shake a little bit at times but only with their best interests at heart. Harriet’s character really develops throughout the course of this book and it was satisfying to see that happen.

There was a lot to enjoy in this novel from the gorgeous setting to the characters. There were several characters in this book but the supporting characters were developed just as strongly as Harriet and Philippe. My favourite was probably Elspeth, a lovely and wise hotel guest who contributed to some of my favourite scenes in the book.

With the beautiful setting, back and forth romance, strong characters and the moving story, comparisons could be drawn between the writing style of Nicky Clifford and one of my favourite authors Karen Aldous. I love that escapist style of writing, where the way the setting is described makes you want to be there yourself and the romance is both dramatic and realistic, which had me fully immersed in the story. The author paints a dreamy picture of the setting that will have you imagining yourself there, enjoying mugs of hot chocolate in amongst the beautiful scenery. Overall, I found Never Again to be a really riveting debut novel and I am looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Reviewed: Single By Christmas by Rosa Temple

TITLE: Single By Christmas
AUTHOR: Rosa Temple
PUBLICATION DATE: October 18, 2016

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You’ve heard the saying, ‘opposites attract’ haven’t you? Well meet 27 year old Alex Marshall, a party girl with a penchant for free flowing Prosecco, and her devilishly handsome scientist boyfriend, Charlie, who loves jazz and dinner for two.

Alex and Charlie are together for 11 blissful months until Alex goes out of town and does something she will later regret. Was she drunk? You bet. Does she want Charlie to know? Well what do you think?

With the couple about to spend their first Christmas together will Charlie be the forgiving kind or will Alex be Single by Christmas?

Single by Christmas is an amusing romp of a read packed with romance, humour and the most chaotic of chick-lit heroines. The story follows Alex and her boyfriend Charlie as Christmas is approaching. The beginning of the book has Alex waiting for Charlie to show up on Christmas Eve, but as she explains, she is not exactly expecting him to be there. Alex has made her mistakes but throughout this book we see her grow, a little, and as she thinks back on some of the mistakes she has made in the run-up to Christmas, we see her character develop (a bit!) along the way.

Alex’s life is a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. She is a bit of the typical chick lit heroine, a nice girl who means well but is a bit ditzy and swerves from one chaotic event to another. She also has a penchant for parties and loves little more than a few drinks with her best friends. But even though I found her a little bit frustrating at times, I did like Alex and she is a character you will to get herself together. When you think it’s not possible for Alex to find herself in another awkward situation, she out does herself again and it was certainly a fun read following the mistakes she makes.

Rosa Temple’s writing styling is bubbly and vibrant. Alex narrates this book on a day-to-day basis in the lead up to Christmas. The writing is fast-paced and the chapters are addictive, so it didn’t take me long to finish this book as Alex details all the ways things were going wrong with her and her boyfriend Charlie. We learn a lot about Charlie through Alex’s words and thoughts and really it was hard to find anything to dislike about him. If I’m honest, I found he was portrayed a bit too perfectly but then that’s down to personal taste and my love of flawed characters. I sympathised with him quite a bit throughout this book, especially when he had no clue that Alex was keeping important things from him. The chatty tone to this book had Alex come across more like a friend than a character in a book – although if I was her friend I’d have been a lot less lenient with her than Shalina was about her owning up to what she’d done!

The characters in Single by Christmas were entertaining. From the disastrous to the loveable to the trouble-causing, Rosa created vivid characters who were made easy to picture and easy to love or hate. The book in its entirety was engrossing reading with its quick chapters and fast-moving events. It was easy just to say “one more chapter” then find yourself still reading five chapters later, and I love those kind of books. The story had plenty of humour and was, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. It focuses on the run-up to Christmas rather than being a hugely festive story, but if you like your books full of laughter, friendship, booze and calamities, Single by Christmas is definitely a book you will enjoy.

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