Friday, 30 September 2016

Beetlebrow by Ben Parker


 
 
Beetlebrow (taken from Amazon)
 
Beetlebrow, the first book in The Beetlebrow Trilogy, is an intricately plotted, emotional and intensely engaging story about two teenage girls, Beetlebrow and Pook, thrown together in a life or death adventure taking place in a sinister, hostile and threatening world. The two will need all their resourcefulness to succeed in a daunting quest: to deliver a cryptic, vital message to the distant eastern city of Dalcratty. The growing love Beetlebrow and Pook feel for each other brings them closer together as they confront challenge after challenge, not the least of which is an encounter with the citizens of Essum, whose morality and culture is founded upon interpreting a half-finished painting. After you read Beetlebrow, your life will never be quite the same.
 
 
My Review of Beetlebrow
 
I gave to be honest and say that when Ben first approached me about reading his book, I had my reservations. This book is completely out of my comfort zone, as it is a YA/LGBT/adventure novel But I like to challenge my reading habits and, so I told Ben that I would give it a go. And I am so very glad that I did. Beetlebrow is an epic romp of a story that is fast paced and beautifully written.
 
What really struck me with this book was the way in which Ben had managed to create an entirely new world that I could, see, taste and smell. The absolute poverty and base desire to simply survive on a daily basis was told with such humility and compassion that I instantly befriended Beetlebrow and happily went with her on her journey throughout the pages of the book. As a mother, I also wanted to reach out and tell her that everything was going to be okay.
 
Beetlebrow is the central character in the book, who together with Pook, begin an adventure to deliver a cryptic message to the city of Dalcratty. What I enjoyed most about this book was their story, which was one of friendship brought about by necessity, the necessity to survive. Although this book is about a lesbian relationship, the focus is very much upon young love, teenage love, those feelings that we all have when we meet someone for the first time and do not know what to say, do or how to act, and this is what Ben beautifully portrays through his writing, that of the unknown. The way in which Ben writes about their feelings towards each other, and in particular Beetlebrow's difficulties in articulating those feelings, is very raw and poignant.
 
Their relationship, and in fact the role of women, is portrayed very strongly within the book. They are living in male dominated times, with women forced into prostitution and begging just to be able to eat. Both Pook and Beetlebrow are strong female leads, who, together, will not allow men to dominate them. They are strong willed and opinionated and ultimately survivors. I loved them.
 
The only slight downside for me with this book, was that I would have loved to have known more about Pook, about her story, but perhaps this will be revealed within the second book in the trilogy.
 
Beetlebrow is a wonderful debut novel about the strength of women and survival within the bleakest of circumstances. I very much look forward to reading more by Ben Parker. 

With thanks to the author and Conrad Press for a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

 
About Ben Parker
 

Ben Parker was born in Ealing, London, in 1983. He studied English literature at Southampton University, achieving a BA and MA, before moving to Kent in 2007. He suffers from clinical depression and anxiety problems, which is probably a little obvious from the tone of "Beetlebrow", but he thinks that from this debilitating illness, the desire to struggle onwards is made more palpable, as he strives to write with originality and verve.

"Beetlebrow" is Ben's first novel. After ten years of trying to get publishers interested in what he'd written, he finally found James Essinger, who was willing to take the challenge of representing his latest book, "Beetlebrow". Around the same time, James was starting The "Conrad Press", a small publishing firm based in Canterbury, and since Ben always preferred the local to the national, he was very pleased that they wanted to publish "Beetlebrow" as part of "The Conrad Press"'s first releases.

Ben enjoys jazz, dub reggae and ambient music. Being a vinyl nut, he's very pleased to be aged 33 and a third :)

You can follow Ben on twitter at @bjcparker

Beetlebrow is available to buy from Amazon here

A CORNISH CHRISTMAS by Lily Graham out on 30th September 2016

A CORNISH CHRISTMAS by Lily Graham

*UK release date, 30th September *



Nestled in the Cornish village of Cloudsea, sits Sea Cottage – the perfect place for some Christmas magic …

At last Ivy is looking forward to Christmas. She and her husband Stuart have moved to their perfect little cottage by the sea - a haven alongside the rugged cliffs that look out to the Atlantic Ocean. She’s pregnant with their much-longed for first baby and for the first time, since the death of her beloved mother, Ivy feels like things are going to be alright.

But there is trouble ahead. It soon emerges that Stuart has been keeping secrets from Ivy, and suddenly she misses her mum more than ever. When Ivy stumbles across a letter from her mother hidden in an old writing desk, secrets from the past come hurtling into the present. But could her mother’s words help Ivy in her time of need? Ivy is about to discover that the future is full of unexpected surprises and Christmas at Sea Cottage promises to be one to remember.

This Christmas warm your heart and escape to the Cornish coast for an uplifting story of love, secrets and new beginnings that you will remember for many Christmases to come.


About Lily Graham

Lily has been telling stories since she was a child, starting with her imaginary rabbit, Stephanus, and their adventures in the enchanted peach tree in her garden, which she envisioned as a magical portal to Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. She’s never really got out of the habit of making things up, and still thinks of Stephanus rather fondly. She lives with her husband and her English bulldog, Fudge, and brings her love for the sea and country-living to her fiction.

A Cornish Christmas is published by  Bookouture and is available from Amazon UK  and Amazon.com

Below you can read Chapter One of A Cornish Christmas
 
A CORNISH CHRISTMAS
by Lily Graham
CHAPTER ONE
 
The Writing Desk
 
Even now it seemed to wait.
Part of me, a small irrational part, needed it to stay exactly where it was, atop the faded Persian rug, bowing beneath the visceral pulse of her letters and the remembered whisper from the scratch of her pen. The rosewood chair, with its slim turned-out legs, suspended forevermore in hopeful expectation of her return. Like me, I wondered if it couldn’t help but wish that somehow she still could.
I hadn’t had the strength to clear it, nor the will. Neither had Dad and so it remained standing sentry, as it had throughout the years with Mum at the wheel, the heart, the hub of the living room.
If I closed my eyes, I could still hear her hum along to Tchaikovsky – her pre-Christmas music – as she wrapped up presents with strings, ribbons and clear cellophane, into which she’d scatter stardust and moonbeams, or at least so it seemed to my young eyes. Each gift, a gift within a gift.
One of my earliest memories is of me sitting before the fire, rolling a length of thick red yarn for Fat Arnold, our squashed-face Persian, who languished by the warmth, his fur pearly white in the glow. His one eye open while his paw twitched, as if to say he’d play, if only he could find the will. In the soft light Mum sat and laughed, the firelight casting lowlights in her long blonde hair. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath, away from the memory of her smile.
Dad wanted me to have it: her old writing desk. I couldn’t bear to think of the living room without it, but he insisted. He’d looked at me, above his round horn-rimmed glasses, perpetual tufts of coarse grey hair poking out mad-hatter style on either side of his head, and said with his faraway philosopher’s smile, ‘Ivy, it would have made her happy, knowing that you had it. . .’ And I knew I’d lost.
Still it had taken me two weeks to get up the nerve. Two weeks and Stuart’s gentle yet insistent prodding. He’d offered to help, to at least clear it for me, and bring it through to our new home so that I wouldn’t have to face it. Wouldn’t have to reopen a scar that was trying its best to heal. He’d meant well. I knew that he would’ve treated her things reverently; he would’ve stacked all her letters, tied them up with string, his long fingers slowly rolling up the lengths of old ribbon and carefully putting them away into a someday box that I could open when I was ready. It was his way, his sweet, considerate Stuart way. But I knew I had to be the one who did it. Like a bittersweet rite of passage, some sad things only you can do yourself. So I gathered up my will, along with the box at my feet and began.
It was both harder and easier than I expected. Seeing her things as she left them should have made the lump in my throat unbearable, it should have been intolerable, but it wasn’t somehow.
I began with the drawer, emptying it of its collection of creamy, loose-leafed paper; fine ribbons; and assorted string, working my way to the heart of the Victorian desk, with its warren of pigeon holes, packed with old letters, patterned envelopes, stamps, watercolour brushes, and tubes of half-finished paint.
But it was the half-finished tasks that made the breath catch in my throat. A hand-painted Christmas card, with Santa’s sleigh and reindeer flying over the chimney tops, poor Rudolph eternally in wait for his little watercolour nose. Mum had always made her own, more magical and whimsical than any you could buy. My fingers shook as I held the card in my hand, my throat tight. Seeing this, it’s little wonder I became a children’s book illustrator. I put it on top of the pile, so that later I could paint in Santa’s missing guiding light.
It was only when I made to close the desk that I saw it: a paper triangle peeking out from the metal hinge. It was tightly wedged but, after some wiggling, I pried it loose, only – in a way – to wish I hadn’t.
It was a beautiful, vintage French postcard, like the ones we’d bought when we holidayed there, when I was fifteen and fell in love with everything en fran├žais. It had a faded sepia print of the Jardin des Tuileries on the cover, and in elegant Century print it read ‘[Century font writing] Carte Postale’ on the back.
It was blank. Except for two words, two wretchedly perfect little words that caused the tears that had threatened all morning to finally erupt.
Darling Ivy
It was addressed to me. I didn’t know which was worse: the unexpected blow of being called ‘Darling Ivy’ one last time, finding out she’d had this last unexpected gift waiting for me all along, or that she’d never finish it. I suppose it was a combination of all three.
Three velvet-tipped daggers that impaled my heart.
I placed it in the box together with the unfinished Christmas card and sobbed, as I hadn’t allowed myself to for years.
Five years ago, when she passed, I believed that I’d never stop. A friend had told me that ‘time heals all wounds’ and it had taken every ounce of strength not to give her a wound that time would never heal, even though I knew she’d meant well. Time, I knew, couldn’t heal this type of wound. Death is not something you get over. It’s the rip that exposes life in a before and after chasm and all you can do is try to exist as best you can in the after. Time could only really offer a moment when the urge to scream would become a little less.
Another friend of mine, who’d lost his leg and his father in the same day, explained it better. He’d said that it was a loss that every day you manage and some days are better than others. That seemed fair. He’d said that death for him was like the loss of the limb, as even on those good days you were living in the shadow of what you had lost. It wasn’t something you recovered from completely, no matter how many people, yourself included, pretended otherwise. Somehow that helped, and I’d gotten used to living with it, which I suppose was what he meant.
The desk wasn’t heavy. Such a substantial part of my childhood, it felt like it should weigh more than it did, but it didn’t and I managed it easily alone. I picked it up and crossed the living room, through the blue-carpeted passage, pausing only to shift it slightly as I exited the back door towards my car, a mint green Mini Cooper.
Setting the desk down on the cobbled path, I opened up my boot, releasing the back seats so they folded over before setting the desk on top, with a little bit of careful manoeuvring. It felt strange to see it there, smaller than I remembered. I shut the boot and went back inside for the chair and the box where I’d placed all her things; there was never any question of leaving it behind. On my way back, I locked up Dad’s house, a small smile unfurling as I noticed the little wreath he’d placed on the door, like a green shoot through the snow after the longest winter. It hadn’t been Christmas here for many years.
Back to my car, I squeezed the chair in next to the desk and placed the box on the passenger seat before I climbed in and started the engine. As the car warmed, I looked at my reflection in the side mirror and laughed, a sad groaning laugh.
My eyeliner had made tracks all down my face, leaving a thick trail into my ears, and black blobs on either side of my lobes so that I looked like I’d participated in some African ritual, or had survived the mosh pit at some death metal goth fest. With my long dark blonde curls, coral knitted cap and blue eyes, it made me look a little zombiefied.
I wiped my face and ears and grinned despite myself. ‘God, Mum, thanks for that!’ I put the car in gear and backed out of the winding drive, towards the coastal road.
Cornwall.
It was hard to believe I was back, after all these years.
London had been exciting, tiring, and trying. And grey, so very grey. Down here, it seemed, was where they keep the light; my senses felt as if they’d been turned up.
For a while, London had been good though, especially after Mum. For what it lacked in hued lustre, it made up for by being alive with people, ideas, and the hustling bustle. It was a different kind of pace. A constant rush. Yet, lately I’d craved the stillness and the quiet. So when The Fudge Files, a children’s fiction series that I co-wrote and illustrated with my best friend Catherine Talty, about a talking English bulldog from Cornwall who solves crimes, became a bestseller, we were finally able to escape to the country.
In his own way, Stuart had wanted the move more than I did; he was one of those strange creatures who’d actually grown up in London, and said that this meant it was high time that he tried something else.
In typical Stuart fashion, he had these rather grand ideas about becoming a self-sustaining farmer – something akin to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – and setting up a smallholding similar to Hugh’s River Cottage. The simple fact of it being Cornwall, not Dorset, was considered inconsequential. Which perhaps it was. I had to smile. Our River Cottage was called Sea Cottage (very original that), yet was every bit as exquisite as its namesake, with a rambling half acre of countryside, alongside rugged cliffs that overlooked the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the gorgeous village of Cloudsea with its mile-long meandering ribbon of whitewashed cottages with window frames and doors in every shade of blue imaginable, perched amid the wild, untamed landscape, seemingly amongst the clouds, tumbling down to the sea. It was the place I always dreamt about when someone asked me where I would choose to live if I could magically supplant myself with a snap of my fingers or be granted a single genie’s wish. Cloudsea. And now. . . now we lived here. It was still hard to believe.
So far our ‘livestock’ consisted of four laying hens, two grey cats named Pepper and Pots, and an English bulldog named Muppet – the living, slobbering and singular inspiration behind Detective Sergeant Fudge (Terrier Division) of The Fudge Files, as created by Catherine, Muppet’s official godmother.
Despite Stuart’s noble intentions, he was finding it difficult to come to terms with the idea of keeping animals as anything besides pets. Personally, I was a little grateful for that. We assuaged our consciences though by ensuring that we supported local organic farms, where we were sure that all the animals were humanely treated.
But what we lacked in livestock, Stuart made up for in vegetation. His potager was his pride and joy and even now, in the heart of winter, he kept a polytunnel greenhouse that kept us in fresh vegetables throughout the year. Or at least that was the plan; we’d only been here since late summer. I couldn’t imagine his excitement come spring.
For me Cornwall was both a fresh start and a homecoming. For the first time ever I had my own art studio up in the attic, with dove grey walls, white wooden floors, and a wall full of shelves brimming with all my art supplies; from fine watercolour paper to piles of brushes and paint in every texture and medium that my art-shop-loving heart could afford. The studio, dominated by the mammoth table, with its slim Queen Anne legs, alongside the twin windows, made it a haven, with its view of the rugged countryside and sea. One where I planned to finish writing and illustrating my first solo children’s book.
Now, with our new home and the news that we’d been waiting seven years to hear, it would all be a new start for us.
I was finally, finally pregnant.
Seven rounds of in vitro fertilisation, which had included 2,553 days, 152 pointless fights, five serious, two mortgages, countless stolen tears in the dead of the night in the downstairs bathroom in our old London flat, my fist wedged in my mouth to stem the sound, and infinite days spent wavering between hope and despair, wondering if we should just give up and stop trying. That day, thankfully, hadn’t come.
And now I was twelve weeks pregnant. I still couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t told Dad yet; I didn’t want to get his hopes up, or tempt fate; we’d played that black card before.
Our hopes. . . well, they’d already soared above the stars.
It was why I so desperately wished Mum were here now. It would have made all of this more bearable. She had a way of making sense of the insensible, of offering hope at the darkest times, when all I wanted to do was run away. I missed how we used to sit up late at night by the fire in the living room, a pot of tea on the floor, while Fat Arnold dozed at our feet and she soothed my troubled fears and worries – the most patient of listeners, the staunchest of friends. Now, with so many failed pregnancies, including two miscarriages, the memory of which was like shrapnel embedded in our hearts, so that our lives had been laced with an expectant tinge of despair, primed for the nightmare to unfold, never daring to hope for the alternative; we were encouraged to hope. It was different, everyone said so, and I needed to trust that this time it would finally happen, that we’d finally have a baby, like the doctors seemed to think we would. Stuart had been wonderful, as had Catherine, but I needed Mum really, and her unshakeable, unbreakable faith.
There are a few times in a woman’s life when she needs her mother. For me, my wedding was one and I was lucky to have her there, if luck was what it was, because it seemed to be sheer and utter determination on her part. It had been so important to her to be there, even though all her doctors had told us to say our goodbyes. I will never know what it cost her to hold on the way she did, but she did and she stayed a further two years after that. In the end, it was perhaps the cruellest part, because when she did go, I’d convinced myself that somehow she’d be able to stay.
But this, this was different. I needed her now, more than ever. As I drove, the unstoppable flow of tears pooling in the hollow of my throat, I wished that we could have banked those two years, those two precious years that she had fought so hard and hung on for, so that she could be here with me now when I needed her the most.
 

 






Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Lost in Static by Christina Philippou




 
 
About Lost in Static (taken from Amazon)

Sometimes growing up is seeing someone else's side of the story. Four stories. One truth. Whom do you believe?

Callum has a family secret. Yasmine wants to know it. Juliette thinks nobody knows hers. All Ruby wants is to reinvent herself.

They are brought together by circumstance, torn apart by misunderstanding. As new relationships are forged and confidences are broken, each person's version of events is coloured by their background, beliefs and prejudices. And so the ingredients are in place for a year shaped by lust, betrayal, and violence...

Lost in Static is the gripping debut from author Christina Philippou. Whom will you trust?
 
My review of Lost in Static
 
Lost in Static is a novel that is told from four different points of view. We read narratives by Ruby, Callum, Yasmine and Juliette. All of whom are freshers at University and live together in a halls of residence. To be able to write a story from four differing and unique viewpoints is no mean feat for any author and, to then create such distinctive voices and to make the novel continuously flow is also incredibly difficult to pull off. However, this author manages to create a flowing narrative told by four distinctive voices with ease.
 
The beginning of the book starts with an accident, and it is only by reading each story, over the course of the book, that we finally find out the terrible truth of what happened that fateful day. I have to say that I was gripped until the very end. But what really intrigued me was the way in which these four characters told their version of events, one story, but each completely different. This is the real joy of this book.
 
Now, did I like the characters? Sadly not. I didn't like any of them really. They were all manipulative and selfish. The only character that I felt a smidgen of empathy towards was Ruby, as I found that I connected most with her, she seemed the most real, although her use of the word 'mate' continually during her inner dialogue did at times distract me from what she had to tell me. However, even though I did not like any of them, I loved this book, and I don't think that has ever happened before. I usually have to identify with the characters, fall in love with them even for me to truly love the story, but I loved the story without loving any of them. This I know is strange, but that is how good the story telling is. You become immersed in their worlds, why they act the way in which they do and, you NEED to find out WHY they did what they did and what the eventual outcome will be.
 
I also have to admit that reading about student life and in particular life in the halls of residence, brought back memories as life as a student. Although I never had the use of a laptop or mobile phone at the time (this was in the early 90's), I did identify with that nerve-wracking feeling of knowing absolutely no other person and feeling all alone in the world. I also missed my now husband, who was at a different University. One of the beginning scenes in particular, where everyone is introduced to one another in the kitchen, really hit home. That gut wrenching feeling that nobody will like you and that you will have to spend the rest of the year thrown together in awkward silence.
 
I found this book to be dark and quite frankly an uncomfortable read, yet I really enjoyed it. I very much look forward to reading more by Christina Philippou. This is a stunning debut novel.
 
 
With thanks to NetGalley and Urbane Publications for a review copy in exchange for an honest review
 
Lost in Static was published on 15 Sept. 2016 by Urbane Publications and can be found on Amazon here.
 
 

Monday, 26 September 2016

Somebody Else's Boy by Jo Bartlett

 
 
 
About Somebody Else's Boy (taken from Amazon).
 
Will Nancy and Jack be allowed to embrace the future, or will their histories forever bind them to the past? Drama teacher Nancy O'Brien puts her ambitions on hold to support her family, and returns to her idyllic seaside home town, St Nicholas Bay. Jack has his own reasons for heading to the Bay; a young widower desperate to come to terms with his loss, he hopes setting up home there with baby son, Toby, might just enable him to survive the future. As Nancy and Jack become closer, not everyone is thrilled, in particular Toby's grandmother, who can't bear to see her late daughter 'replaced'. When Fraser - the only man Nancy's ever really loved - reappears, her living arrangements with Jack seem set for disaster.
 
My review of Somebody Else's Boy
 
I was very eager to start reading Somebody Else's Boy as I had heard so many great things about it and I wasn't disappointed. From the very beginning of the book we are introduced to the setting of St Nicholas Bay, a haven for Charles Dickens enthusiasts with novelty gift shops and tea rooms. However there is so much more to this idyllic setting near the south coast and, this is echoed in the wonderful cast of characters that we are introduced to along the way.
 
Nancy is a drama lecturer at the local college and is daughter to John and Ruth. I really liked Nancy and would love her as a best friend. She is warm, genuine and down to earth. I found myself wanting the very best for her and the scenes with her father most definitely brought a lump to my throat. At her roots, Nancy is a genuinely kind person who has not had the best of luck in life romantically, and when Jack suddenly appears in the Bay, I found myself rooting for the pair of them to get together. To be happy.
 
This then leads me on to Jack, what can I say? I love him, what woman wouldn't. He lost the love of his life and you just want him to be happy again, to live. But he is in limbo and you cannot help but feel his pain. This state of being in limbo and of not being fulfilled with life is so very true for many of the characters in the book, and I was once again reminded that life is for living, that we need to seize the moment. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?
 
Father's play a huge role in this book and this theme very much ran as an undercurrent for the entire story. We have Jack who is dad to baby Toby, who has, as a very recent widower, had to learn to raise his son as a single father in the best way that he can. His thoughts, feelings and raw emotion were written beautifully. I felt his grief in every single word. I just wanted to reach into the pages and give him a big hug. The scenes between him and Toby were also written beautifully, sharing that newly formed bond between dad and son. The theme of fathers is also emotionally portrayed in the relationship between Nancy and John. I can't say too much about this without giving away the plot, but the way in which the author writes about their relationship is authentic and from the heart.
 
Some very serious issues are tackled in this book, but again I can't go into them as it would spoil the story, and I don't want to do that. All I will say is that these issues are dealt with in a sensitive manner and add to the depth of the story. For all of these serious issues though, this is in fact a funny book. It is uplifting in the fact that we are reminded to live each day as if it is our last. To embrace it.

The very core of this book is based upon a beautiful love story, told through many different narratives. The love that a mother and daughter share, the love between father and daughter, father and son. I also really enjoyed the blossoming friendship between Nancy and Jack. The very heart of this book is built upon the love that grows from friendship.

 
 
About Jo Bartlett
I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember, but never really took it any further. Concentrating on my career and family, writing went on the back burner until a catalyst called cancer gave me a major kick up the proverbial.  I decided I was going to write that novel after all.

In 2015 my debut 'Among A Thousand Stars' was published by So Vain Books, which at one point appeared in the top ten of three Kindle charts on the same day.  I also had two pocket novels published by DC Thomson in 2015, which fulfilled my childhood dream of walking into WHSmiths and buying something with my name on it. 

I write mainly contemporary women’s fiction, when I’m not knee deep in assignments in my day job as a university tutor. 'Somebody Else's Boy', the first of the four-book St Nicholas Bay series was published by Accent Press in August 2016. This series is set by the sea in Kent, where I live with my own family – so close to the edge of the Channel that we’re practically French.

My ambition is to drink tea and make stuff up on a full time basis, and, if you follow me on Twitter @J_B_Writer, I might even say something interesting one of these days… although I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Many thanks to the author for a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Somebody Else's Boy was published by Accent Press on 25th August and is available to buy from Amazon here.
 
 
 
 

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Brazillian Husband by Rebecca Powell







The Brazilian Husband

Book description

SUNSHINE, SAMBA, SECRETS AND LIES - this summer’s must-read.

“…scrawled in biro, the words which had brought me here…

‘Take me home’.”

Determined to honor her late husband’s final request, Judith and her teenage step-daughter, Rosa, set out on a journey from London to Brazil to track down his family and take his ashes home.

But when Judith’s search leads her to Ricardo, a handsome but haunted human rights lawyer, she begins to unravel a web of lies surrounding her husband’s past: a past which is about to come crashing into their present in the form of Rosa’s real mother.

As the two women navigate their way through this vibrant country of contrasts, they find themselves struggling to salvage their own fractured relationship and put the past behind them.

The perfect blend of romance and suspense, set against the stunning backdrop of northeast Brazil, The Brazilian Husband is a story of friendship, family and finding out who we really are.

The perfect page-turner to get you in the mood for the Rio Olympics...




My Review of The Brazilian Husband
 
 
I love to read and to escape to other worlds and this book did exactly that. While reading I was transported to Brazil. I could smell the air, see the people and I completely immersed myself in their culture. It was fairly obvious from reading this fantastic story that the author knew Brazil well. The way in which she writes is from the heart; she knows what she is talking about, both as a woman who has lived in the country, and as a woman who has worked in a shelter supporting women. This oozes from every pore of every page.

For me this book worked on many levels. Firstly we have Brazil. I fell in love with Brazil and now want to go there. As a young girl I would very often pick up a random travel book from the library and devour it from cover to cover, I sometimes still do. Even though this book is obviously a work of literary fiction, it introduced me to the world of Brazil in which a travel book could never do.

Secondly we have the central theme of family and motherhood. What it means to be a mother, to have a family, to love, to nurture. We follow Judith's story of how she deals with the loss of her beloved Edson and we learn how unconventional their marriage was. But what is the modern family? How do we quantify what a 'normal' family is? These are the questions that we are left pondering and which I found totally refreshing for the 21st Century. We then also have the flip side of what it means to be a daughter in an unconventional family, as we read Rosa's thoughts as she shares her feelings. This I found very insightful and it added a new dimension to the storytelling, helping to enrich Judith's character.
 
Although very much dominated by the female voice, we have a strong male presence in the book in the form of Ricardo, the man who runs a shelter for children and who helps Judith to bridge the gap between the past and present.  I am also not ashamed to say that I fell secretly in love with him.

Throughout the book all of the central characters go on a journey to find out who they really are and who they are meant to be in life. This is something that we all struggle with at times. But for me the real joy of this book was that of watching Judith and Rosa's journey together. I was allowed into their world, and what a privilege it was to share the ups and downs with them.

This is a remarkable debut novel by a talented and empathic writer. I look forward to reading more by Rebecca Powell.

I received a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Rebecca Powell was born in Bristol.  She has a degree in French and Portuguese from the University of Leeds and in her early twenties she worked for a year at a women's shelter in the northeast of Brazil, before moving to London, where she continued to work for a number of national charities.  She now lives in the South West of France with her husband and three children.  Rebecca is the sister of award-winning novelist Gareth L Powell (Ack-Ack Macaque; The Recollection) and children's author Huw Powell (Spacejackers).


The Brazilian Husband is available in paperback and kindle from Amazon here
 

 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

I had heard so many good things abut this book, so when I was browsing the shelves in my local library and spotted it, I knew that I had to read it. I devoured this beautifully written book quickly and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Abut Falling (Taken from Amazon)

Honor’s secret threatens to rob her of the independence she’s guarded ferociously for eighty years.

Jo’s secret could smash apart the ‘normal’ family life she’s fought so hard to build.

Lydia’s could bring her love - or the loss of everything that matters to her.

Grandmother, mother and daughter – three women whose lives are falling apart. But one summer’s day, a single dramatic moment will force their secrets into the open.

Can they save each other from falling?


My Review


This was such a beautiful book to read. The emphasis was very much upon the relationship between women, how women support each other and what different generations of women can teach each other. All of the three main characters, Honor, Jo and Lydia, are likeable, strong and feisty women who know their own mind. Each have their own secret (which I won't give away) and it is through the telling of their individual stories and unique voices, that you realise what each of their secrets is doing to them. The strong message within the book is that it is only by confiding and trusting in others that you can truly adapt and enjoy life.

Honor is the grandmother, and Jo's mother-in-law, and at first I admit that I did not like her much. But as her story developed, and I began to find out who she truly was, she gradually grew on me and by the end she was by far my most favourite of the three. Jo I found to be the weakest link, as at times I wanted her to wake up and see what was going on around her. But I empathised with her as a busy mum of two pre-schoolers, and then having to deal with a teenage daughter. The scene where she travels by bus with the two younger children had me in stitches and was vey similar to when I used to travel by bus with my two boys in their younger days. I still carry tubs of cheerio's with me, just in case. But throughout the story we soon realise that Jo is tackling her own demons and is simply doing the best that she can.

Lydia I really admired. A teenage girl coming to terms with her newly adult self and all of the associated life changes that are to take place. Her voice, for me, was the strongest. I could hear her talking to me through the pages. She was heartfelt and authentic; beautifully captured in that moment between childhood and adulthood.

I love this book. I love the fact that the entre narrative discuses how strong women are and that they are even stronger when they support each other. The bonds between grandmother, mother and daughter are also fully explored, as is the delicate relationship between mother and daughter-in-law.

This book really was like a breath of fresh air and will make you evaluate the relationships that you have with the important women in your own life.


Falling was published on 28th July by Black Swan

Monday, 19 September 2016

Owl Song At Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney




 Book description taken from Amazon 


Maeve Maloney is a force to be reckoned with. Despite nearing eighty, she keeps Sea View Lodge just as her parents did during Morecambe's 1950s heyday. But now only her employees and regular guests recognise the tenderness and heartbreak hidden beneath her spikiness.

Until, that is, Vincent shows up. Vincent is the last person Maeve wants to see. He is the only man alive to have known her twin sister, Edie. The nightingale to Maeve's crow, the dawn to Maeve's dusk, Edie would have set her sights on the stage all things being equal. But, from birth, things never were.

If only Maeve could confront the secret past she shares with Vincent, she might finally see what it means to love and be loved a lesson that her exuberant yet inexplicable twin may have been trying to teach her all along.



My review of Owl Song At Dawn

*My Book of the Year...*


As I started to type this review, a huge lump formed in my throat as I thought about all of the emotions that this book conjured up within me. It moved me on so many levels. So I will try my best to explain what this book means to me, and why I feel that everyone should read it.

Owl Song At Dawn is set in Morecambe, which is only down the road from where I live. As a northern novel there are many iconic landmarks and references that I could easily associate with, such as The Midland Hotel where I only recently had afternoon tea, Brucciani's that do wonderful coffees and ice creams, the Eric Morecambe statue and Marine Promenade. All of these made me feel as if I were visiting an old friend. It welcomed me in from the very first page... and I was hooked. 

The book centres around the main character of Maeve, who is now nearly in her eighties. The story is from Maeve 's point of view and we are told a story from her past that encroaches on her life today. The present day story takes place in Sea View Lodge, which is where Maeve runs a guest house, mainly catering for individuals with a disability and their carers. Along the way we are introduced to many colourful characters, but my heart was very much drawn to Len, who is employed as a gardener and who just happens to have Down's syndrome. 

Maeve is a force to be reckoned with. Throughout the book we learn that she is a strong woman who is intelligent, witty, speaks her mind, but who ultimately is a caring and loving woman. I love her.

It is through Maeve's flashbacks of her time living at Sea View Lodge, as a child and then young woman, that we are told about her life with her twin sister, Edie, who has a learning disability, severe physical disability and autism. We read letters from medical professionals and beautiful lyrical poems that encompass the true essence of her sister. It is the medical reports and correspondence though that very much upset me. The language that was used in the 50's to describe a young child, and then young woman, with a disability are quite frankly disturbing, disrespectful and show that they had very little understanding of how such terminology affected both the individual and carer.

Words and phrases such as suffering, sub normal and burden are commonplace. These individuals were seen as being less, as being different. The author though completely redresses the balance, in her depiction of Edie, who is a bright, loving and happy individual. It makes you as a reader question your own happiness and what is truly important in life. Indeed, what does make us happy? 

The scenes where a young Maeve and Edie are together, are what really touched me. The strong bond clearly evident between them on the page. Maeve did not see all of her sister's so called imperfections, which is what the professionals and system focussed upon, but rather Maeve saw her perfect sister, who loved to laugh, dance, sing and had beautiful curly hair. 

This book touched me deeply. I have never read a book quite like it. I was initially drawn to it because of the subject matter. The author herself has a sister with cerebral palsy and autism, and used this as inspiration for the story and for the colourful and enigmatic character of Edie. I myself have a young autistic son, and worked for many years as a nurse, and I was curious to see how the author would portray disability through her writing, as so many get it wrong. But this book tackles the subject with the upmost respect, dignity, empathy and oodles of humour. In particular the issues surrounding individuals with a learning disability and sexuality, is poignantly told, again with openness and humour. This is something that is often brushed under the carpet, a taboo, we shouldn't talk about it, but this author does, and it is so very refreshing. 

What I feel readers will gain by reading this book is that every life matters. That to have a disability does  not make you less. That those who care for an individual with a disability do not see someone who is broken or needs fixing, they just see someone who they love. This book is a raw, funny and honest read.

Most importantly, I now feel less alone. 


About Emma Claire Sweeney (taken from Amazon)

Emma Claire Sweeney is a multi-award-winning author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, who currently teaches on City University’s Novel Studio and at New York University in London.

Emma was brought up in the North West of England, the elder sibling of twins, and OWL SONG AT DAWN is inspired by her autistic sister.

With her writer friend and colleague, Emily Midorikawa, she runs the website Something Rhymed, which shines a light on the forgotten friendships of the world’s most famous female authors.

Emma writes literary features, reviews, and pieces on disability for broadsheets and magazines.

Owl Song At Dawn was published by Legend Press on July 1st 2016. It is available to buy from Amazon here.

Friday, 16 September 2016

No Turning Back byTracy Buchanan

 
While browsing the shelves in my local Sainsbury's I spotted this beautiful book cover, and thought that I recognised it. I did! A few days previously I had read a post about it on twitter, and at the thought that I really must read this book! So of course I popped it into the shopping trolley. 

Book description taken from Amazon

You’d kill to protect your child – wouldn’t you?
FROM THE #1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF My Sister’s Secret
When radio presenter Anna Graves and her baby are attacked on the beach by a crazed teenager, Anna reacts instinctively to protect her daughter.

But her life falls apart when the schoolboy dies from his injuries. The police believe Anna’s story, until the autopsy results reveal something more sinister.
A frenzied media attack sends Anna into a spiral of self-doubt. Her precarious mental state is further threatened when she receives a chilling message from someone claiming to be the ‘Ophelia Killer’, responsible for a series of murders twenty years ago.

Is Anna as innocent as she claims? And is murder forgivable, if committed to save your child’s life…?


My Review of No Turning Back

 

At the beginning we are quickly introduced to Anna and her daily morning radio show. I instantly liked her, and this I felt was very important. To really enjoy the book and to empathise with Anna, you have to like her. 

The crux of the book, for me, was that as a mother I would do anything to save my child, and this means ANYTHING. I have two young sons and throughout the book I kept placing myself in Anna's position and wondering if I would have done the same thing to protect my child. Instinctively I told myself yes, of course I would have done the same as she did. But underneath is a rumbling current of uncertainty. It is a hypothetical question... the correct answer is yes, but in reality, who knows? And this is the ethical dilemma which the author so eloquently explores.

Throughout the book I agreed with most of the decisions that Anna made. I did question some of the risks that she took, thinking that at times she had completely overstepped the mark, but I understood why she did what she did, and for that I could forgive her mistakes.

Although this book is dubbed as a thriller, I actually found that the heart of the book was about the relationships between women. The mother and daughter bond, the granddaughter and grandmother bond. These family dynamics were beautifully explored and portrayed, while not being over sentimental.

The book did live up to its theme of being a suspenseful thriller, as throughout we are left hanging as to who has been committing these awful crimes, past and present. Hand on heart I had the suspect completely wrong. I was gripped until the very last page.

This is a thriller with lots of heart and a truly enjoyable read.

 
No Turning Back was published on 28th July 2016 by Avon Books

About the Author (taken from Amazon)

Tracy Buchanan lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, their little girl and their one-eyed Jack Russell. Tracy travelled extensively while working as a travel magazine editor, and has always been drawn to the sea after spending her childhood holidays on the south coast visiting family, a fascination that inspires her writing. She now dedicates her time to writing and procrastinating on Twitter.





 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Girl I was Before by Izzy Bayliss

The Girl I was Before is the debut novel from Izzy Bayliss.

Book Information taken from Amazon

When Lily McDermott walks in to find Marc, her husband of just three months in bed with actress Nadia, life as she knows it is over. Lily thinks things can't get any worse when she sees photos of her husband and his new lover splashed across the glossy magazine pages, but when she loses her job too, she is at her lowest ebb and turns to baking to soothe her soul. Wounded and broken she has to try and pick herself up again with the help of her best friend Frankie and with her encouragement, Lily decides to turn her hobby into a business and sets up Baked With Love. However whatever Lily does, it seems disaster soon ensues and when handsome stranger Sam comes to her rescue, Lily isn't quite ready to turn her back on her marriage. 

Can Lily risk opening her heart again or is she destined to allow Marc to shadow her life forever? 



My Review of The Girl I Was Before

The Girl I was Before is a thoroughly enjoyable and 'unputdownable' read. I read it in a few short sittings. From the very beginning when we meet Lily and her husband in a rather compromising position with another woman (told beautifully), I was drawn into Lily's chaotic world and wondered what on earth was going to happen next.

Although the book was a light and romantic read, perfect for curling up with in your favourite armchair with a cup of tea, the author dealt with some very real life issues in a sensitive and thought provoking manner, while still managing to insert humour into the narrative.

With so many chick lit novels on the market, it can be a little difficult at times to find something truly refreshing and which has a different type of voice. This book was one such book. Told in first person narrative It made me laugh, it made me cry and at the very heart of the book was Lily who was instantly likeable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and all of the colourful characters within it, of which there are many, not least her sister.  I can't wait to find out what will happen next in book two! My fingers are already twitching.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

About Izzy Bayliss

Izzy Bayliss lives in Ireland with her husband, children and their dog. A romantic at heart, she loves nothing more than cosying up in front of the fire with a good book. Her motto is that reality is over-rated and she is happiest staring into space and day-dreaming.

You can find her hanging about on https://www.facebook.com/izzybaylissauthor or Twitter @izzybayliss

The Girl I Was Before can be purchased from Amazon here







 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Peppermint Park by Stephanie Harte

I had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie Harte over on Book Connectors and offered to review her book in exchange for an honest review. 

Peppermint Park

 

Book Description (taken from Amazon)

"The tree-lined street in the affluent suburb of Chigwell, Essex was made up of extravagant mansions. Peppermint Park looked picture perfect on the outside, but behind closed doors, it was a different story. It concealed a life of torment, where family secrets were hidden from public view. In the swinging sixties, Violet boards a plane bound for San Francisco with her boyfriend Bradley, to start a new life at Happy Acres, a hippie commune. Once they stepped inside the boundaries, they entered a different realm, one without clocks and calendars. Where naked yoga sessions and howling at the moon were compulsory activities, and people experimented with marijuana, magic mushrooms and moonshine as a daily pastime. Violet and Bradley were having the most amazing time of their lives. They were living the dream. But was their amphetamine-fueled existence about to come crashing down around them? Surely you can never have too much of a good thing, can you? Join Violet and Bradley on their journey as they take a leap of faith into unknown territory in search of a new beginning, set against the stunning backdrop of Northern California." 

My Review of Peppermint Park 

Firstly I have to say that I enjoyed this book, although it was very different to how I had anticipated it to be from looking at the cover (which I think is lovely). From the very first page I was drawn to Violet, and was so happy when she finally escaped from her abusive home in Essex to start a new life and adventure with her boyfriend in California. 

We are very quickly thrown into the hippie commune that is to become their home and I loved this aspect of the book. Learning to live off the land and eating a vegetarian diet with hilarious consequences. This early part of the book quickly introduced us to the simple way of life for its inhabitants and is described beautifully, as are the many colourful characters that we meet along the way. 

It is over the course of the book that this idyllic lifestyle that they are living is soon threatened, and we begin to see the cracks slowly appearing around them. Relationships are explored with the emphasis very much upon loyalty, responsibility and faithfulness. 

What makes this book so very special is that these very issues, plus some very taboo subjects, are dealt with in what I thought was an incredibly sensitive manner. This is by far no mean feat. The text was also not overly dramatic, but very simply told with the facts laid out before us, allowing us, the reader, to draw our own conclusions. Although I did find myself shouting at Violet for some of the decisions that she made, I respected them.

One aspect I did struggle with was the dialogue between characters, as it did appear a little unnatural at times. However, Peppermint Park is very much a plot driven narrative, it is fast paced and you find yourself being swept along for the ride, so this did not take away too much from the enjoyment of the book. I just wanted to keep on reading, as I needed to know what would happen to all of the characters. Most importantly I found myself rooting for Violet and wishing her that happy ending.

This is the first novel I have read by Stephanie Harte and I look forward to reading more of her books. If you want to read something that is a little bit different from the norm, and wish to escape back to the hazy days of the late 60s and early 70s, then this is the book for you. I really enjoyed it. 

About Stephanie Harte

 

Stephanie Harte was born and raised in North West London where she still lives with her husband Barry, daughter Sarah, son James and Cairn terrier Ruby.

She was educated at St Michael’s Catholic Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school, she trained in Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy at London College of Fashion.

She worked for many years as a Pharmaceutical Buyer for the NHS, based at Barnet General Hospital purchasing medicines and related supplies for North London hospitals including, Edgware General, Finchley Memorial, Napsbury & peripheral sites. Her career path led her to work for an international export company whose markets included The Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

Since 2007 Stephanie has been teaching regular beauty therapy workshops at a London based specialist residential clinic that treats children with severe eating disorders.

She is the author of Kitty Murphy's Ticket to Paradise, Wight Christmas and Peppermint Park.

You can buy Peppermint Park from Amazon here 

 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Hello from Jo

Hello and welcome to my blog.

I am an avid reader and writer of romance novels. This is my very new book review site and I very much hope that you enjoy reading my reviews. I read pretty much anything and enjoy browsing the shelves of my local library to see what is on offer.

If you have a book that you would like me to review, please take a look at my Review Policy page and get in touch.

Many thanks

Jo