Book review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

24 Jul

SwylerE-BookOfSpeculationUKSimon Watson lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a travelling carnival and seldom calls.

On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. The book tells the story of two doomed lovers who were part of a travelling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes and sketches. He is fascinated, yet as he reads Simon becomes increasingly unnerved. Why do so many women in his family drown on 24th July? And could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in years, risk the same terrible fate?

As 24th July draws ever closer, Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before it’s too late.

I love it when a publisher contacts me about a book that piques my interest and I love it even more when that book turns out to be just as good as I’d hoped! The Book of Speculation is one of my surprise favourites of the year so far and has jumped straight into my ‘top books of the year’ list. Erika Swyler’s debut is a wonderful combination of magical realism, mystery, myth and the power of words and books.

Simon is sent an old and rare handwritten and illustrated manuscript by an antiquarian bookseller because it features the name of his maternal grandmother at the back and so begins an intriguing mystery that threads through generations of showmen and women and links to Simon and his sister in the present day.

Moving back and forth between past and present, The Book of Speculation charts the history of a travelling show in the 1800’s and it’s key characters in the past. With characters such as The Wild Boy, The Fortune Teller and The Mermaid, The Book of Speculation is filled with vividly descriptive language and I found the imagery used mesmerising – particularly the detailed descriptions of tarot cards and their meanings.  This novel is only available as an ebook in the UK at present but I can’t wait to get my hands on a paper copy!

In the past, the characters are a wonderful mix of practical and otherworldly fighting for survival whilst weaving an almost fairytale like existance. In the present the story focuses on Simon, his attachment to the book and his desire to uncover the mysteries held in it making it a family saga with a difference.  Simon is a librarian working with a local library and worrying about his wayward sister, the tumbledown house he has inherited and living in the shadow of his parents’ deaths. The mysterious book gives Simon something to fix onto amidst the tumult but there’s also a hint of romance in the story and I found events in the present almost as interesting as those recounted in the past.

As Simon begins to research more into the names in the book, and the past narrative moves forward to meet the present there were numerous twists and turns to the story to keep me guessing and speeding through the pages. That the twists came in both the past and present gave the book great pace and as the pieces of the mystery began to slot together the plot builds to a fantastic and dramatic finale.

As with many of the novels I read, I was drawn to the theme of the sea and water in this book. Simon lives in a house teetering on a cliff. The house isn’t the only thing teetering on the edge throughout the story and I thought the theme of impending danger or disaster throughout added a real edge to the narrative!

5/5

The Book of Speculation is out now in ebook formats from Corvus.

I’d like to thank the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Erika and her writing at: http://erikaswyler.tumblr.com/

 

Book review: Sweet Ache by K Bromberg

23 Jul

Hawkin Play, the bad boy rock star with a good guy heart, has lived a lifetime of cleaning up after his twin brother’s mistakes. Hunter’s most recent screwup could land Hawke in jail and risk the band’s future. Hawke agrees to guest lecture at a local college to stay in the judge’s good graces-and a bet with his bandmate to seduce his sexy teaching assistant is icing on the cake.

Quinlan Westin is harder to bed than Hawke imagined. She knows his type and is determined to avoid the rocker at all costs-even if their attraction runs deeper than simple lust.

Just as Hawke might finally be winning over the girl, his brother has other plans. When Hunter realizes his twin finally has a weakness, he’ll stop at nothing to take advantage…

Sweet Ache is the sixth novel in Kelly Bromberg’s Driven series but don’t worry if you haven’t read any of the others – I hadn’t either and this story stands perfectly well on its own.

This is the story of Hunter and Hawkin Play (such great names!) and their turbulent relationship as brothers. There’s emotional turmoil a-plenty and having pegged Hunter as the quintessential bad boy rocker at the start of the book, I was surprised as his back story was revealed. If you weren’t already enraptured by his flirtatious personality, good looks and musical talent, I think you’ll find it hard not to love him when you find out what he’s gone through and is still going through in his life!

Quinlan Westin makes a fab female lead and can certainly give as good as she gets. The banter between Quin and Hawke sparked off the page from the start. With a very well written love/hate relationship, Bromberg sure knows how to build the tension between her leading man and woman and I was hooked from the beginning.  This book comes with a hot, hot, hot romance rating from me and boy do those sparks fly!

I liked the way Bromberg put Hawk into a situation that was out of his comfort zone and set the scene for him to meet Quin but aside from the romance element to this novel there is a dark and emotional side that tore at my heart strings. As Hunter and Hawk’s back story and relationships with their parents was revealed, I was shocked – it takes a lot to surprise me in a book but I did not see the twist in the tale coming which makes Sweet Ache a story that I won’t forget easily.

It’s always good to discover a new author and I really enjoyed this book so it’s great to see that Kelly has a large back catalogue for me to read in future!

4/5

Sweet Ache is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Piatkus.

Find out more about K Bromberg and her writing at: http://www.kbromberg.com/

I’d like to thank the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book.

Book review: The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak

19 Jul

the improbable theory of ana and zakPerfect for fans of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight,The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is Stonewall Award-winning author Brian Katcher’s hilarious he said/she said romance about two teens discovering themselves on an out-of-this-world accidental first date at a sci-fi convention.

When Ana Watson’s brother ditches a high school trip to run wild at Washingcon, type-A Ana knows that she must find him or risk her last shot at freedom from her extra-controlling parents.

In her desperation, she’s forced to enlist the last person she’d ever want to spend time with—slacker Zak Duquette—to help find her brother before morning comes.

But over the course of the night, while being chased by hordes of costumed Vikings and zombies, Ana and Zak begin to open up to each other. Soon, what starts as the most insane nerdfighter manhunt transforms into so much more …

Ana and Zak are like chalk and cheese or that’s what we’re led to believe at the start of this fun, funny and quirky novel by Brian Katcher. We all know opposites attract but Ana and Zak really do seem to come from different planets. Zak; slacker, gamer, geek. Ana; achiever, striver, focussed. But what The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zac teaches us is that no matter where you come from or where you’d like to go there is probably more common ground than you think and first impressions are almost never what they seem!

This is a fast and furious adventure through a Comic Con type event combined with a sweet romance and a fab twist in the traditional coming of age story. I’m sure I missed some  (many!) of the references as Ana’s little brother runs off for a bit of fun at Washingcon whilst the siblings and fellow classmates are supposed to be tucked up safely in a hotel preparing for the final of their regional schools quiz. But there were plenty of references that I ‘got’ and with nods to The Hunger Games, Star Wars, Star Trek and many more, Ana and Zak is an engaging testimony to much loved popular culture.

Partly tongue in cheek, The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak isn’t afraid to laugh at itself but also makes a series of important points about growing up, dealing with family changes, personal changes, grief, bereavement and first love. I loved the variety that the convention backdrop gave to the scene setting in the book and with everything from an amazing intergalactic wedding, a vampire ball to a brutal battle, the book is excellently paced. It’s also a really fun adventure and whilst nothing is unbelievable, there is a sense of the surreal and that anything can and probably will happen!

Ana and Zac and their supporting cast are all great characters. I loved how comfortable Zak was in his own skin – especially while he was in his favourite place. For me, Ana was the more complex of the two in the sense that her back story was more complicated and she was thrown into a situation that she had no knowledge or experience of and a lot to lose. For these reasons I had great admiration for her even if she wasn’t particularly nice to poor Zak in the beginning!

A great read, ideal for fans of The Big Bang Theory and the novels of Rainbow Rowell.

5/5

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Harper 360.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Brian Katcher and his writing at: http://briankatcher.com/site/

Short Story Spotlight: Johnny’s Girl by Paige Toon

19 Jul

johnnys girl

Meg’s life has taken a turn for the perfect. She is the envy of millions with her drop dead gorgeous husband, their two beautiful sons and her new mansion in Henley. Her celebrity PA days are over. But desperate to keep up with her rock star husband, Johnny Jefferson, she uproots her perfect family and moves back to LA.
Meg has to learn to live with her new celebrity status and the insecurities of her old life, which keep reappearing. Under the paparazzi flash of an A-List party, complete with red carpet, champagne and canapés, Johnny’s rock star past catches up with him and Meg’s worst nightmare becomes a reality…

Regular blog readers will know that I’m a big fan of Paige Toon and I’ve read almost everything that she’s written! This summer I’m taking the opportunity to catch up with books (hard copy and on my Kindle) that have been waiting for me to read them for a while. I’m taking part in the blog tour for Paige’s new novel, I Knew You Were Trouble early next month so have started my catch up with Johnny’s Girl.

Johnny’s Girl is an ebook short story set after Baby Be Mine and if you haven’t read that or the earlier book featuring Johnny Jefferson, Johnny Be Good then you might want to stop reading now! For those starting here, this short story gives a summary of all that has gone before so if you haven’t read the books that introduce us to Johnny and Meg then this quick read will bring you bang up to date!

Johnny’s Girl gives a lovely update on Meg and Johnny and I was so happy to be back in their (very glamorous) world. I loved seeing Meg and Johnny as parents and catching up with other old friends in LA from Paige’s previous novels. Going back to where it all began and seeing things from a new perspective. Paige really does give the sense that her characters and their worlds are real.

Things seem to be going beautifully for the lovebirds but of course there has to be a spanner in the works and this one comes in the form of an exciting new character to get to know! The story leads into Paige’s first Young Adult novel, The Accidental Life of Jessie Jefferson which is next on my reading list so look out for a review of that soon and please do check out the blog tour for I Knew You Were Trouble!

Johnny’s Girl is out now as an ebook exclusive.

Johnny Be Good, Baby Be Mine and The Accidental Life of Jessie Jefferson are out now in paperback and ebook formats.

I Knew You Were Trouble will be released in paperback and ebook formats on 30th July.

Find out more about about Paige Toon and her novels at: http://www.paigetoon.com/

TROUBLE BLOG BANNER

Giveaway winners: Brethren by Robert Merle

11 Jul

brethren

 

The winners are …

Chris P, Rhonda and Emma

Congratulations! I have sent you all an email. Thanks to everyone who entered. Look out for more giveaways very soon!

Book news: My Sister’s Secret by Tracy Buchanan

11 Jul

I love the cover and intriguing premise for Tracy Buchanan’s next novel, My Sister’s Secret and am really looking forward to reading it. The ebook is released on 21st July with the paperback following on 13th August!

image001

 

Willow’s memories of her parents are sun-drenched and full of smiles, love and laughter. But a mysterious invitation to a photographic exhibition exposes a secret that’s been buried since a tragic accident years ago.

Willow is forced to question everything she knew about Charity, her late mother, and Hope, the aunt she’s lived with since she was a child.

How was the enigmatic photographer connected to Willow’s parents? Why will Hope not break her silence?

Willow cannot move forward in her life without answers. But who can she really trust? Because no one has been telling the truth for a very long time.

 

my sisters secret

Find out more about Tracy and her writing at: http://www.tracybuchanan.co.uk

Book review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

6 Jul

paying guestsIt is 1922, and in a hushed south London villa life is about to be transformed, as genteel widow Mrs Wray and her discontented daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers. Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, bring with them gramophone music, colour, fun – and dangerous desires. The most ordinary of lives, it seems, can explode into passion and drama . . . A love story that is also a crime story, this is vintage Sarah Waters.

I was delighted to be asked to be part of the Waterstones Book Club this summer and to review and discuss Sarah Waters’ latest novel, The Paying Guests. Having enjoyed Sarah’s previous novels, I was very much looking forward to this one and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting to fellow bloggers about the book (I’ve linked their reviews at the end of this post so that you can see all of our thoughts).

The Paying Guests is written in three parts and there were three very distinct sections to the story. Part one sets the scene beautifully; the sense of time and place that Sarah Waters creates in her writing is wonderful. Reading The Paying Guests I felt like I was transported to 1920s post-war London. The world and characters depicted were as clear to me as if I was watching them on television and so caught up was I in this world that it was a bit of a disappointment to stop reading and come back to the modern world.

The Paying Guests is an evocative examination of the post-war world and its impact on individuals and wider society Frances and her mother have been forced to open up their home and take in lodgers to make ends meet and the book charts what happens when Lilian and Leonard Barber move in. I liked the way that the complex social structures and changes wrought by World War One were threaded through the novel and brought down to the level of individuals with the Barbers representing the upwardly mobile clerk class; Frances and her mother the traditional middle classes and I particularly enjoyed the contrasts with Lilian’s family.

There’s much talk of what is ‘done’ and a complex code of subtle social etiquette underlines  the relationships in the book. Having listened to my own gran and great aunts discuss similar in the past, the lives depicted felt completely believable and I admire Waters’ ability to present domestic life in the 1920s so vividly.  The story burns slowly as the two families work out how to live in their new spaces and I enjoyed reading as the relationships developed with secrets revealed. Waters builds the tensions brilliantly with a series of peaks and troughs and kept me guessing as a reader and I enjoyed the romance of this part of the novel.

Part two delves deeper into the relationships between the key characters and the novel swiftly moves to become a crime story with the final part focusing on the outcome of said crime and it’s repercussions. I’m not a huge fan of crime novels and I did find this part of the book more difficult to get my head around. Although there is a wonderful amount of detail as to the ins and outs of 1920s criminal investigations and court cases, it was the love story element that held my interest and I would have liked to have seen what would have happened to Lilian and Frances had the crime element not got in the way!

I really enjoyed discussing this book with Kariss, AliceSophie and Kara and would definitely recommend it to book groups as we found that we all had plenty to say about the characters and events depicted. The Waterstones Book Club edition comes with exclusive extra material including an interview with Saarah Waters and a great list of question prompts for book groups to discuss.

4/5

The Paying Guests is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

I’d like to thank Waterstones for providing me with a review copy of this novel.

Find out more about Sarah Waters and her novels at: http://www.sarahwaters.com/

Read Alice’s review at: http://ofbooks.org/2015/07/06/review-the-paying-guests-by-sarah-waters/

Read Kaara’s review at: http://queenofthelbd.com/2015/07/05/the-book-review-sarah-waters-the-paying-guests/

 

 

Book review: The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

2 Jul

9780349408125 (1)On 24th November Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska.

Within hours they are driving alone across a frozen wilderness

Where nothing grows

Where no one lives

Where tears freeze

And night will last for another fifty-four days.

They are looking for Ruby’s father.

Travelling deeper into a silent land.

They still cannot find him.

And someone is watching them in the dark.

There’s a certain irony to reviewing a book set in the frozen wilds of Alaska whilst enduring a heatwave here in England but despite the scorching temperatures here in London at the moment this book certainly made me shiver! The Quality of Silence is a tense thriller, a gripping family drama and a poignant story of a two parents and their deaf daughter.

It is a story that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go making me race through the pages to get to the final outcome, but at the same time, The Quality of Silence is a beautiful novel that explores our relationship with our senses and how we as humans cope when pushed to our limits.

Without a doubt, my favourite character in the novel was Ruby; the ten year old daughter of Yasmin and Matt. Ruby is deaf and her deafness is a key part of the story as she embarks on a dangerous journey with her mother into the frozen, dark, wilds of Alaska to search for the man that they love. Ruby’s ‘voice’ was just wonderful and the parts of the book that she narrates really stood out for me. This is as much a story of a mother coming to understand her daughter as it is a dramatic thriller and I really enjoyed the balance of the two aspects.

The brutal Alaskan setting is as much a part of the story as the characters and events and I loved the way that Lupton showed the cruelty of the landscape and elements aside their beauty. The journey that Yasmin and Ruby take is an immense physical challenge but it also poses a huge mental challenge for Yasmin in particular and I loved the way that this was used to reflect Ruby’s ‘silent’ world and to get me as a reader to begin to understand the complexities of Ruby and Yasmin’s mother-daughter relationship.

Rosamund Lupton creates a brilliant tension from the beginning as Yasmin is greeted by a stranger at the airport and instead of the confrontation she had planned with her husband, she is faced with a completely different and horrifying situation. The twists and turns that the story took continued to surprise me and the drama and danger give the book excellent pace with the threats faced by Ruby and Yasmin keeping the tension high – my heart was often in my mouth as I read!

5/5

The Quality of Silence is released today in hardback and ebook formats.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Find out more about Rosamund Lupton and her novels at: http://www.rosamundlupton.com/

Author interview: Amanda Prowse

29 Jun

What better way to start the week than by having lovely author Amanda Prowse stop by to chat about her new novel, Perfect Daughter? On Remembrance Day 2012 Amanda made headlines with her debut novel Poppy Day. She received widespread military support, celebrity endorsements and appeared in newspapers and on TV sofas everywhere. Amanda donated all her author royalties to the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.

This was followed by four more novels and she was Writer in Residence on ITV’s This Morning in 2013. Amanda now has seven novels and a number of short stories under her belt, including the no 1 bestselling What Have I Done? Welcome Amanda!

Amanda Prowse book shot - black and whiteYour new novel, Perfect Daughter, is released this week. Please could you tell me a little about it and your inspiration for it?

Jackie Morgan’s story is set in Weston Super Mare, and shows how she struggles with the pressure cooker of life. She is caring for her kids, her ailing mum and in a marriage that has lost its sparkle. When her past comes back to haunt her, she learns a lot about herself, her family and what is important. I watched my own mum care for her grandchildren and her mum who had dementia and wanted to write about the millions of women like her in the UK that ‘sandwich generation’ looking after both kids and parents, it is tough and I wanted to write a story of hope that shows that no matter how tough things get, its important to find joy in the small things…

The novel focuses on Jacks Morgan. By way of introduction, what would Jacks’ Twitter bio say if she had one?

What a great question! Love it. Okay, it would say, ‘Wife, mum, dreamer, living by the seaside and waiting for my time…’

Perfect Daughter examines the sacrifices that people make for their families and others. What would you like readers to take away from the novel?

I think two things, firstly, you never know what’s around the corner, no matter how bad things get, tomorrow is another day and it might just bring you great things! And secondly, how time gives you a great perspective on life, things that seem impossible or unfair or make you unhappy, have an uncanny knack of altering when we look at them after a period of reflection or even a good night’s sleep!

How were you able to draw upon your own experiences in writing this book?

I am very close to my mum. She’s lovely and I have watched her put her children first and then her mum who lived with her when she was poorly and now her grandchildren! Her selfless devotion to her family is incredible and I wanted to write a story about a woman who faces challenges and has the love of her family as the foundation on which everything else is built.

You have a blog as part of your lovely website. What are your top three blogging tips?

1. Read it aloud before you post to check that flow! 2. Don’t be afraid to be yourself; it’s your unique style that will set you apart. 3. Write what you know.

What do you like to read when you have free time?PROWSE_Perfect Daughter

I wish I had more free reading time, but when I do, I love to dive into anything by Jodi Picoult, Isabel Allende, the poetry of Maya Angelou and many many more!

 And finally, what can we expect next from Amanda Prowse?

Ooh I have two more books coming out this year, ‘Three and a Half Heartbeats’ out in September; is the story of Grace and Tom who lose their little girl. It looks at how their world unravels and how they try to rebuild their lives, not knowing even if they can…

‘Christmas Café’ out in October; is Bea’s story, set in Sydney and Edinburgh, it’s the story of how lives can be entwined across the miles and how events from your youth can continue to shape you in the most unexpected of ways…

And I am writing my next two novels now, the first is Romilly’s story and it’s heartbreaking but FAB!

Thanks Amanda!

Perfect Daughter is out in Hardback and ebook formats on 2nd July.

You can connect with with Amanda on Twitter at @MrsAmandaProwse, on Facebook and YouTube and at www.amandaprowse.org.

Book review: No Place for a Lady by Gill Paul

28 Jun

no place for a ladyIN WARTIME, THE RULES OF LOVE CHANGE …

1854. Britain is fighting a gruesome war.

There has been no news of Lucy Gray since she eloped with handsome and impetuous Captain Charlie Harvington and embarked with him to the Crimea.

Dorothea Gray will risk anything to heal the rift with her little sister and bring her home safe. She determines to join Florence Nightingale and the other courageous women travelling to the battlefield hospitals as nurses.

She will not rest until she finds her sister.

Lucy, however, is on a very different journey, a journey through tragedy, trauma and true love.

But neither sister is prepared for the challenges they will face, the passion they will each taste and the simple fact that they might never see one another again …

I’m a big fan of Gill Paul’s novels; you can read my reviews of Women and Children First and The Affair to see just how much I enjoy Gill’s writing. But despite this there was a little bit of trepidation before I picked up No Place for a Lady. Why? Partly because it was the first of Gill’s books that was set in a period and place that I know very little about but mainly because the story is set in a particularly gruesome period in Britain’s military history! Of course I needn’t have worried at all; Gill brings her excellent ability to show the human and relatable side of any story to this novel and has crafted and adventure that held my attention completely with characters that were interesting, frustrating, brave and fascinating in equal measures and I couldn’t put this book down once I’d started reading.

No Place for A Lady focuses on the lives of two sisters. Lucy and Dorothea Gray are as different as sisters can be, with older sister Dorothea having taken on a parental role since the girls’ mother died. As a result she is very much the sensible, responsible and reasonable half of the siblings – to the point of being overbearing and judgmental in Lucy’s opinion. In contrast Lucy is young, carefree, romantic and prone to acting on impluse which she does to startling effect by marrying an Army Officer following a whirlwind romance and deciding to accompany him as he goes to fight in the Crimea.

The story moves between Lucy and Dorothea and is set out in such a way that the book recounts the same timeline from each woman’s point of view until the stories meet. It’s a clever way of capturing the reader in the plot. So invested was I in these characters that I actually found myself tempted to skip ahead just to check what had happened to one of them! This is something I never do and I did manage to restrain myself but it’s testament to Gill’s fab writing and vivid way of bringing her characters to life that I found this book a proper page turner!

I also learned a lot from this story – Gill is meticulous in her historical research and I was fascinated by the facts that the story threw up. I had no idea that soldiers’ wives accompanied them to the battlefields nor of the conditions endured or adventures had! Nor was I aware of the nursing history that the novel details and a visit to the Florence Nightingale Museum is now on my wish list too! Gill opened my eyes to a fascinating period of history whilst providing a wonderful story of love, romance, bravery and the special bond between sisters.

Gill has most definitely done it again and I have no hesitation in recommending that you add No Place for a Lady to your reading lists!

5/5

No Place for a Lady is out now in ebook formats and will be released in paperback on 2nd July.

Find out more about Gill and her writing at: http://www.gillpaul.com/