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Book review: The Summer of Serendipity by Ali McNamara

18 Jul

summer of serendipityOne summer, property seeker, Serendipity Parker finds herself on the beautiful west coast of Ireland, hunting for a home for a wealthy Irish client. But when she finds the perfect house in the small town of Ballykiltara, there’s a problem; nobody seems to know who owns it.

‘The Welcome House’ is a local legend. Its front door is always open for those in need of shelter, and there’s always a plentiful supply of food in the cupboards for the hungry or poor.

While Ren desperately tries to find the owner to see if she can negotiate a sale, she begins to delve deeper into the history and legends that surround the old house and the town. But for a woman who has always been focussed on her work, she’s remarkably distracted by Finn, the attractive manager of the local hotel.

But will she ever discover the real truth behind the mysterious ‘Welcome House’? Or will the house cast its magical spell over Ren and help her to find true happiness?

The escapist, magical stories that Ali McNamara creates are always lovely reads and I look forward to her next book each year. This year, Ali takes us back to Ireland (her previous novel, Breakfast at Darcy’s was also set there) and amidst the beautiful scenery of The Ring of Kerry, Ali conjures up mystery, magic and romance for an excellent summer read.

I love the word ‘serendipity’ but I’ve never come across a character named it until now. Serendipity Parker prefers to be known as Ren and is a successful business woman, having found her talent for seeking out and finding special houses for her clients. The Summer of Serendipity sees Ren and her assistant Kiki heading to Ireland to look for a dream home for one of Ren’s clients.

Ren and Kiki are a great pair and they made me laugh throughout the book. Ren is the more serious and considered of the pair with Kiki frequently getting her words mixed up and taking the wrong meaning with often hilarious results. Kiki is also the romantic of the pair and I felt like I knew her well straight away. Ren is more mysterious and I enjoyed how Ali fed in little thoughts and comments that made me wonder about Ren’s past.

The mystery doesn’t stop there though as Ren and Kiki explore they begin to learn about the legends and stories that tell of the land surrounding them. With beautiful lakes, historical places and larger than life locals, I loved reading about Ballykiltara and the surrounds and being swept up into the story as Ren tries to find the owner of the mysterious Welcome House. Ali’s love of Ireland is apparent throughout the book and the descriptions are lush!

Fans of Ali’s previous books will enjoy a little update on some of her previous characters. This books is a standalone story but if you like it I’d highly recommend checking out Breakfast at Darcy’s (and all of Ali’s other books of course!)

I love stories with magic in them and The Summer of Serendipity has plenty of that. Ali draws upon real legends and stories to create her own special blend of Celtic magic and I thoroughly enjoyed reading as both Ren and Kiki went on their adventures and were drawn into trying to unravel the secrets that surround them.

The Summer of Serendipity is another warm and funny love story from Ali and I highly recommend escaping with it this summer.

4/5

The Summer of Serendipity is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Ali and her writing at: http://www.alimcnamara.co.uk/

Book review: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

8 Jul

impossibleHow far would you go to save the person you love?
Luna is about to do everything she can to save her mother’s life.
Even if it means sacrificing her own.

The Summer of Impossible Things is the book that I’ve been waiting for! It’s a wonderful, magical, hopeful dream of a book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’ve been a fan of Rowan Coleman’s novels for a long time now but my favourite parts of her writing are the ones that show us the magic in life and I’m so pleased that she’s taken this theme and really explored it in her latest novel.

Set mainly in Brooklyn in 1977 and 2007, the story follows Luna and her sister Pia as they return to the place where their mother was born and grew up. For Luna it’s a literal return to the time and place as she finds that she is able to visit the summer of 1977 and comes face to face with her mum as a young woman.

The Brooklyn of 1977 that Rowan creates is brilliant; it’s atmospheric and detailed and I could see the scenes Rowan describes like film scenes playing out as I read. This is the summer that the movies came to Bay Ridge with the filming of Saturday Night Fever and the era is so evocative – it’s also the year I was born so for me it’s always held a special fascination!

For Luna’s mum, it’s a summer of love and something darker – the summer that she left New York for England because of the events that played out. Past and present are inextricably linked through the book which plays out over just seven days in July. Luna’s visit to New York isn’t just a case of settling her mother’s estate; the events of that summer thirty years ago have affected her mother every day since, ultimately leading to her death. Rowan creates a strong sense of mystery in this novel and that makes it a compelling page turner as well as a beautiful and exciting read. I wanted to race through the book to find out what had happened to Marissa thirty years ago but I also wanted to savour and enjoy every word!

Luna is a brilliant character; clever, brave and wise, she’s a physicist and I loved how Rowan used her scientific mind to question what was happening to her and to give perspective on the events of the book. Rowan creates ‘real’ characters who have demons to fight and the other women in the book are all strong in their own ways. The Summer of Impossible Things is a love story on so many levels which captures beautifully the complex and unconditional love between parents and children, siblings and partners and it made my heart sing!

I loved the principles and philosophies that Rowan examines in this story; how we as humans experience time, how we understand our place in the universe and just how much is yet to be understood or uncovered! I said in a recent interview for the RNA blog that I think we all need a bit of magic in our lives and that I hoped to see more of this sort of novel in future; The Summer of Impossible Things is a perfect example of what I meant. Rowan’s books just keep getting better I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

5/5

The Summer of Impossible Things is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats.

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

Find out more about Rowan and her writing at: http://rowancoleman.co.uk/

Book review: Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft

5 Jul

beneath burningWhen twenty-two-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it’s in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls – impossibly and illicitly – in love with her husband’s boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.

Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it’s thieves after ransom money, but she’s convinced there’s more to it. As she sets out to discover what’s happened to the sister she’s only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life, and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she’s ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what’s become of her . . .

Beneath a Burning Sky is a novel of secrets, betrayal and, above all else, love. Set against the heat and intrigue of colonial Alexandria, this beautiful and heart-wrenching story will take your breath away.

Beneath a Burning Sky is a brilliant debut from Jenny Ashcroft that has all the qualities that I love in an historical fiction read; well developed and interesting characters, an exotic and well detailed setting, a simmering romance thread and plenty of mystery to keep me turning the pages.

Many of my favourite books this year so far have been historical fiction reads and it’s wonderful to see exciting new authors developing this genre. After reading Beneath a Burning Sky, I will certainly be watching out for more from Jenny Ashcroft. Jenny’s love of history shines through in this novel as she vividly evokes the era of colonialism. I love being transported as a reader and learning about new places and Jenny does that so well in this book, showing both the glittering riches and an altogether darker and grittier side of the city.

The story focuses on Olivia who has been brought to Egypt from England as the wife of business man, Alistair Sheldon. It’s soon clear that Alistair is a horrible man and that Olivia is deeply unhappy. Whilst Olivia’s situation immediately made me sympathetic to her, it was her past and her determination not to give in that really endeared her to me and I was gripped by her story for the entire book, especially when she met Edward and was so tantalisingly close to finding love!

After a dramatic opening, the first part of the book is entitled ‘Before’ and charts the time leading up to the disappearance of Olivia’s sister Clara. The novel then breaks into sections covering the days that Clara is missing starting with ‘Day One’. I loved how this gave the book great pace and I felt like I was living the story with Olivia as I read. Like Olivia I had so many questions and I couldn’t guess the answers to them. Jenny Ashcroft weaves a story that had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

5/5

Beneath a Burning Sky is out now in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

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

Book review: Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

4 Jul

do not becomeWhen Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship’s comforts and possibilities seem infinite. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor mishaps lead the families further from the ship’s safety.

One minute the children are there, and the next they’re gone.

What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents – now turning on one another and blaming themselves – try to recover their children and their shattered lives.

Do Not Become Alarmed is a little different from the other books that I’ve read lately. Every so often I like to step out of my comfort zone and although I don’t read many thrillers, I was intrigued by this story of a family cruise that goes wrong when the children go missing – surely every parent’s worst nightmare?!

The story was much more dramatic than I’d anticipated and I’d describe this book as a blockbuster missing child drama. It has everything from drug cartels, crocodiles and police corruption to car chases and murder and within exotic yet threatening Central American locations, I could see it being made into a film.

I found the storyline a little far-fetched in places, but I did enjoy this book as an escapist read. Do Not Become Alarmed is perfect reading for those who like their summer holiday reads with plenty of drama and I enjoyed the build-up of tension and the twists and turns that the story took.

I also enjoyed the psychological aspect of the story as the events that unfold bring out the best and worst of the parents of the missing children. Liv and Nora are cousins and for a number of reasons have decided to escape the confines of an American family Christmas for an all-expenses paid cruise. Together with their husbands Liv and Nora each have two children – a boy and a girl each and each child has their own strengths and weaknesses. I liked how the first section of the book lulled me into a sense of luxurious security and allowed me to get to know the children and their parents, laying the foundations for the events to come.

The children go missing when an excursion from the trip doesn’t go to plan. From this point the story splits into two separate narratives; that of Nora and the other parents desperately searching for their children and a narrative that follows the children as they try to get back to their parents. There were plenty of questions as I read and the story keeps a good pace with developments moving back and forth. I could not have predicted what would happen to the children which made this a gripping read.

My reaction to the parents’ parts of the book was interesting too; I found that I didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for any of them but like a good soap opera, I wanted to know what the outcome would be! As the local police try to reunite the families the spotlight is turned on the parents and with stress levels at a peak the relationships are really tested. This was great for showing the true characters of each parent and secrets and underlying stories made for compelling reading.

3/5

Do Not Become Alarmed is out now in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

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

Find out more about Maile and her writing at: https://www.mailemeloy.com/

Book review: The A-Z of Everything by Debbie Johnson

1 Jul

a-zP is for Paris where it all began. J is for Jealousy where it all came undone. But the most important letter is F. F is for Forgiveness, the hardest of all.

Sisters Poppy and Rose used to be as close as two sisters could be, but it’s been over a decade since they last spoke. Until they both receive a call that tells them their mother has gone – without ever having the chance to see her daughters reunited.

Andrea, though, wasn’t the kind of woman to let a little thing like death stand in the way of her plans. Knowing her daughters better than they know themselves, she has left behind one very special last gift –the A-Z of Everything.

Debbie Johnson is making quite a habit of making me cry with her books! The A-Z of Everything is an emotional read but there was also plenty of laughter with the poignant moments, in fact I think the laughter and humour that Debbie puts into her writing makes it even more poignant and she expertly shows in this book that there is a blurry line between sadness and happiness.

Poppy and Rose are sisters who grew up with just their Mum, Angela to look after them. The three were a tight knit unit until Poppy and Rose grew up and apart. As the novel opens, Angela is dying and still trying ot find a way to reunite her beloved daughters. So Angela creates The A-Z of everything; a very personal set of letters, videos, tape recordings and other items for Poppy and Rose to work their way through as they try to fulfill their Mother’s last wish. I loved the premise for this book. It’s a little different from Debbie’s previous books but I absolutely loved The Comfort Food Cafe and I can see how themes in that story have developed into this book so although this is different, Debbie’s fans will still love it and recognise the wonderful warmth of her writing.

The story moves perfectly between past and present building up a picture of Rose and Poppy’s lives and their childhoods. I felt really nostalgic reading The A-Z of Everything as Poppy and Rose are a similar age to me so lots of the things mentioned in their childhoods and as they grew up rang true with me. Rose had my sympathy from the start of the book and I found myself hoping that she could get her life back on track as I read. It took me a little longer to warm to Poppy but I did. Both ladies are excellent characters; well rounded and complex and I enjoyed learning about them as they reacted to the different letters of the A-Z.

The A-Z format gives the book excellent pace and I couldn’t wait to see what would be next and to find out if Poppy and Rose would grant their mum’s dying wish by the end of the story. Johnson explores what happens when loved ones fall out and this is a book that will make you want to hold your loved ones closer and will prompt you to think about what’s really important in life. I loved the adventure that Angela took Poppy and Rose on. This is a novel filled with warmth, wit and wise words – another excellent book from Debbie!

4/5

The A-Z of Everything is out now in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

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

Find out more about Debbie and her writing at: http://www.debbiejohnsonauthor.com/

 

 

 

Book review: All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

26 Jun

all the goodTwenty-one year old Beth is in prison. The thing she did is so bad she doesn’t deserve ever to feel good again.

But her counsellor, Erika, won’t give up on her. She asks Beth to make a list of all the good things in her life. So Beth starts to write down her story, from sharing silences with Foster Dad No. 1, to flirting in the Odeon on Orange Wednesdays, to the very first time she sniffed her baby’s head.

But at the end of her story, Beth must confront the bad thing.

What is the truth hiding behind her crime? And does anyone – even a 100% bad person – deserve a chance to be good?

All the Good Things is a brilliant debut from Clare Fisher. It’s a novel that is both dark and light, heartbreaking and hopeful. It made me sad for the world we live in but also positive that sometimes people can make a difference; it made me remember that we shouldn’t judge actions without knowing the full story and it reminded me why reading can be so important to let us see inside different lives and to meet and understand new characters and the world around us.

Beth is just twenty one as we meet her and she’s in prison for doing an “100% TM certified bad thing”. We don’t actually find out exactly what Beth has done until nearly the end of the novel and wanting to know certainly drew me into the story initially but this book is so much more than a page turner with a big reveal. From the very first pages, I loved Beth’s voice – it’s a compelling mix of adult who has seen too much and lost child. Beth’s honesty and the simplicity of some of her statements took my breath away. She felt real and despite knowing that she’d done something terrible, I wanted to get to know her better, to understand her and what led her to where we meet her.

Beth’s counsellor Erika has suggested that she write a list of the good things about her life and so the chapters are titled with the things on Beth’s list. From “Smelling a baby’s head right into your heart” to “Flirting on orange Wednesday” and “running as fast as the thames flows”, each ‘thing’ forms a chapter of Beth’s life and as I read I began to piece together the picture of who she is.

It soon becomes clear that Beth has seen, been through and dealt with, a lot. All the Good Things is very hard to read in places and as the picture built of the many times that Beth had been failed by the people who were supposed to care for and protect her, I could see similar stories to hers in headlines and news stories. It made me sad to think that there are women and children out there right now going through the same things as Beth has. It made me angry that opportunities to help her were missed in the book and that vulnerable women and children are in the same position in reality every day.

As you can see, this story brought out a lot of emotion in me!  It is beautifully written and it really did make me think about the ‘facts’ that we see and what is really behind those stories. I cannot wait to read more from Clare.

5/5

All the Good Things is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this novel as part of the blog tour.

Find out more about Clare and her writing at: https://clarefisherwriter.com/ 

Extract and giveaway: Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

18 Jun

Today is my stop on the Shattered Minds blog tour. Thanks to fab publisher Macmillan, I have an exclusive extract from the book and a copy of the beautiful hardback to give away! Please do check out the other stops on the tour too – there’s an extract each day so start at the beginning and read on from there!

Laura Lam’s Shattered Minds stars a female ‘Dexter’ with a drug problem and a conscience, in a terrifying near-future where technology rules our lives and haunts our dreams.

shattered mindsShe can uncover the truth, if she defeats her demons

Ex-neuroscientist Carina struggles with a drug problem, her conscience, and urges to kill. She satisfies her cravings in dreams, fuelled by the addictive drug ‘Zeal’. Now she’s heading for self-destruction – until she has a vision of a dead girl.

Sudice Inc. damaged Carina when she worked on their sinister brain-mapping project, causing her violent compulsions. And this girl was a similar experiment. When Carina realizes the vision was planted by her old colleague Mark, desperate for help to expose the company, she knows he’s probably dead. Her only hope is to unmask her nemesis – or she’s next.

To unlock the secrets Mark hid in her mind, she’ll need a group of specialist hackers. Dax is one of them, a doctor who can help Carina fight her addictions. If she holds on to her humanity, they might even have a future together. But first she must destroy her adversary – before it changes us and our society, forever.

Extract

THREE

CARINA

The Zealscape, Green Star Lounge, Los Angeles,

California, Pacifica

Carina’s drug dreams always begin the same way.

She’s back in Greenview House. Her father bought it even though it was far too big for three people, outside Woodside, California, less than an hour by hovercar out of San Francisco. Nothing but trees surrounded that house that would become a crypt. She couldn’t wait to leave, and now, eight years later, she still can’t escape it.

Carina walks through the empty hallways, her footsteps echoing. Nothing exists outside of the house in the Zealscape, not really, and the windows only look out into a grey fog. All her dreams and nightmares take place in its various rooms. Even if the rooms can expand into streets or forests, no matter how vast, she can turn a corner and step back into those familiar corridors. She tried to change the Zealscape program to another setting, but in the end, her subconscious is too tied to Greenview House and everything that happened here.

She opens the door to the room where she last saw the young girl and the doctor she knows from earlier nightmares. They are nowhere to be seen.

‘Anyone here?’ she calls. ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are!’

Silence.

Carina turns away. Needing her fix, she creates her first victim, bringing him to life on a table before her, prepped just as she wishes. Half the fun is the hunt, but when she first plugs in, there’s never the patience for it. It’s an appetizer of violence before the more leisurely meal.

Carina has a very specific type, here in the Zealscape. She kills criminals, perpetrators of terrible, fictional crimes. They are usually men, middle-aged, cocky in their assurance that they are getting away with their wrongdoings. She has killed women, for a bit of variety, often ‘angel of death’ types. Never children or teenagers – which is why the vision of the girl was so damn jarring.

Where had that come from?

The Zealscape is where Carina lets it all out so that those people out in the real world, those strangers who seem as insubstantial as her dream creations, are safe from her. She has killed hundreds of figments within these walls over the last six months. Used almost every weapon. Killed quickly. And slowly. The one constant is that she never tires of it.

The man pushes against his bonds, the whites of his eyes showing. Carina has created him a serial killer, like her, but he preys on the innocent. He buries young boys beneath his house, like John Wayne Gacy. He’s not real, but he deserves death.

Her fingers itch and she moves closer. His chains rattle as his struggles grow more frantic. A desperate, delicious gurgling bubbles from his throat. Her fingers tingle in anticipation, and her heartbeat quickens.

Carina doesn’t speak to her victims. She did in the beginning, trying to make these fabrications of her imagination understand what she was about to do to them. It grew dull, unlike the act of killing.Carina sometimes finds her situation amusing, when she’s coherent enough for amusement. The government doles out unlimited Zeal to keep criminals off the streets, yet offers them an unlimited playground to hone their criminal skills. With chronic Zealot mortality rates as high as eighty per cent, however, the government doesn’t have much to fear.

Closing her eyes to concentrate, she opens them to a long, thin knife resting in her hands. There are some weapons she prefers – the knife is particularly instinctual, personal, whereas the gun is too distant, even if the kickback and the crack are satisfying.

Carina hefts the knife.

The man below her is in his physical prime, muscled as a wrestler. He’s strong, the chains binding him straining with each pull. Her usual type is older, paunchier. Though she still buzzes with the need to kill, she forces herself to slow down, at least a little. She runs the knife tip along his skin next to the bonds. A tear slides down his cheek. She wipes it away with her thumb, then brings her fingertip to her mouth, tasting the salt. It feels real. Real enough.

His pain and fear feeds her, as if she grows larger from it. Only here, when the blood runs onto the white floor, does she feel alive any more. Carina is not that wreck of a woman strapped to a Chair in the Zealot room, suffering from mouth sores and malnutrition. That woman is the ghost.

The man whimpers again. Carina relishes the sound for a moment, then stands and thrusts the knife into his throat. Blood spurts from the punctured artery, painting her face red. She leans her head back, holding the hilt tighter, pressing down hard. All too soon the gurgles stop. She has not given this man a name, or imagined what life he might have lived outside his crimes. His eyes are wide, his mouth open in shock. She takes her hands away from the hilt. Her hands stop shaking. Carina sits next to the body, closing her eyes, breathing in the iron tang of blood.

She’s euphoric after the kill, and these brief moments before the craving returns are the only times she feels even remotely like her pre-Zeal self. Guilt bleeds in around the edges, even if she can’t regret that glee of the kill.

A few years ago, Carina had this under control. An occasional impulse she could push back and ignore. Nothing bubbled to the surface; it hadn’t since she was a teenager. She’d seemed like a perfectly functioning member of society. A great career, a promising future. And then, slowly but surely, it had all unravelled. A Zeal trip here or there. Once a month. Then twice a month. Weekly. By the time she’d left Sudice, it’d been every other day.

Now, she rarely leaves. She doesn’t trust herself out there. A wolf among sheep who’d never see her coming.

When she opens her eyes, the body is gone. A benefit of dream worlds: no clean up. No fear of being discovered dumping the body. No fear of discovery at all.

Dealing with the orderly’s accusing eyes is the only judgement she faces, and one she never fears.

She holds onto her sense of self, staying calm and collected. Replete. The mind of the scientist is back. She wanders the imaginary halls of her childhood home, peeking through the doors: the old home gym, her mother’s bedroom, preserved just as it was the last time she left it and never returned. Her teenage room, with its holographic band posters and unmade bed, reeking of a desperate attempt at normalcy.

All too soon, that buzz returns. Her fingers twitch. That delicious expectation of following her victim and their moves: where they’ll be, how she’ll take them and make them hers. Her thoughts turn only to blood and flayed muscles. Of taking out organs and hefting them in her hands, arranging them just so.

Here in the Zealscape, she can lose herself in the hunt as much as she wants. Here, she hurts only herself, as more and more of her body wastes away, strapped in the Chair in the Zeal lounge. Her body warms, thrums with excitement. She whispers Zeal’s newest catchphrase to herself: ‘More real than reality.’

Carina enters another room. In the real Greenview House, it was a guest bedroom and study, but now it is her planning room. One wall is blank, and she can visualize and design her next victim. She decides to go back to her roots: a distorted echo of her first target. Carina builds the man from scratch. Early fifties, a beer gut, hair and beard of greying brown. Hard eyes, an unhappy slash of a mouth. Large hands that make blocky fists. He is different enough that the sight of his face doesn’t make her shudder. She feels awareness sharpening. She’s growing closer. Her fingers twitch.

After creating him, she sends him away. She spends a few minutes programming his background – his job, his friends, sketches of his wife and family. This criminal has a penchant for child porn. She can again pretend it’s vengeance, not pure, selfish pleasure. Most Zealots don’t have such control over their drug-fuelled dreams. Then again, most people don’t have PhDs in neuroprogramming.

She can’t wait any more. Her skin is hot with need.

Carina walks through a door on the far side of the room and steps into a hallway that transitions seamlessly into a street. She follows her prey at a distance, watching the greying head bob as he walks. Her jaw is clenched tight. She barely blinks. The other people on the street are only vaguely human- shaped, with blurred ovals for faces. Nightmares for anyone else, but for her, just stand-ins.

Carina grasps a Stunner she conjured in her pocket. Sometimes she’ll stretch out the hunt – stalk them for longer, make their lives more detailed, lose herself in the fantasy – but she can’t today. Her breath catches in her throat. Her eyes in the Chair, back in reality, dilate behind closed eyelids. Almost time. Almost time to feel alive again, for a little while.

She’s just taken out the Stunner in a quivering hand when it happens.

The street disappears, along with her quarry. Just gone, as if someone has hit a switch. The whole room turns black. No, darker – that blackness of the space between stars. There have been glitches in the system before, but Carina knows, with a deep certainty, that this is something more.

She’s lost the sense that she has a body. Her mind seems to float in the darker-than-darkness. Then light explodes back into her world.

Numbers, sounds, flashes of brightness, the feel of fingernails against her skin, of bubbles on her tongue. All her senses fragment and blur. Between the overloads is a snapshot of cohesive thought.

I’m dying. This is what dying must feel like.

The noise and the chaos begins to crystallize. Five images, over and over: A bee, buzzing, its wings flapping frantically, its antennae twitching. A rose, in full bloom; brilliantly, impossibly red, a drop of dew on one petal. A thorn, from the rose, its point curved and wicked. A drop of blood, welling on a fingertip. And eyes, staring right at her, wide and fathomless. Heterochromic – one green, one blue. They play, over and over and over again, telling a narrative she cannot hope to understand.

And then they stop, though she can still sense them, as though the images are flashing just out of sight.

The last image, the mismatched eyes, takes over her entire vision. It zooms out, until Carina sees the rest of the face, and then a body on a Chair in that lab she recognizes all too well. The last vision had been through the girl’s viewpoint, but Carina is sure this is her. She’s young – fifteen, sixteen at a push. She’s all doe-eyed innocence, spindly, coltish legs, her hair half an inch long. She reminds Carina a little too much of herself as a teenager. The girl is dead.

Part of her short hair has been shaved away. Dr Roz Elliot has opened up her skull, poked about in the contents, and sewn it back up, yet dead flesh does not knit. Her tanned skin is pale and chalky, legs akimbo.

‘What did you do, Roz?’ Carina asks the darkness.

The dead girl does not answer. Her eyes are open and staring. One blue, one green.

As if Carina blinks, the image is gone, and all is darker than black once again.

Giveaway!

I have one hardback copy of Shattered Minds to give away.

To enter this giveaway,  just leave comment in the box below or re-Tweet one of my tweets about this giveaway or like one of my posts about this giveaway on my Instagram page.

I’ll pick a winner using Random.org after the closing date.

This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Friday 23rd June.

Good Luck!

 

Book review: Seven Days in May by Kim Izzo

13 Jun

kim izzoAs the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk.

Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead. In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war. As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate.

I love reading novels that shed light on events and periods of history that I know little about. The sinking of the Lusitania is one such event – I knew very little about the circumstances and theories surrounding the tragedy when I started this novel and I learned a lot from reading it. Kim has certainly done her research and evocatively brings to life both the ship itself and the activities of the British Admiralty in Room 40, some of which are still shrouded in mystery today.

Kim has created three excellent and very different female characters to lead Seven Days In May; Sydney and Brooke are rich American heiresses but as different as two sisters could possibly be. Sydney’s belief and active participation in the suffrage movement contrast sharply with her sister’s desire to be the leading light of New York society and Izzo sets up an excellent friction between the two which plays out throughout the story.

We also meet Isabel Nelson as she takes up a new post, working for the Admiralty in London. Izzo uses Isabel to give us a tantalising glance at the inner workings of the war effort. I’d never heard of Room 40 but have always been fascinated by the code breakers of World War Two and was surprised to learn of this predecessor. Isabel is also hiding her own secret past and this added another layer to the intrigue of the story.

Key issues of the time, particularly women’s rights, are brought to life through Isobel, Sydney and Brooke and this makes Seven Days in May a very readable and even relatable novel. I’ve enjoyed both of Kim’s previous novels but the combination of mystery, social history and the tension of an impending disaster make this my new favourite of her books.

Starting in January 1915, the story moves chronologically, charting the days to that fateful day in May and then following the aftermath of the sinking. Chapters are narrated in turn from  the viewpoints of Sydney, Isabel and Edward – the man Brooke is engaged to and the reason that the sisters are crossing to England. Edward is also an interesting character  who didn’t appeal to me much at first but I warmed to him as the novel progressed.

Building on rich historical detail, Izzo also packs plenty of drama and romance into this story which took me through the full range of emotions. The scenes from the sinking were just heartbreaking and I read with my heart in my mouth waiting to see which of the passengers survived. Seven Days in May is a gripping historical fiction read from Kim Izzo, perfect for fans of Gill Paul and Hazel Gaynor.

4/5

Seven Days in May is released on 15th June in paperback and ebook formats from Harper Collins.

Find out more about Kim and her writing at: http://kimizzo.com/wdp/

I’d like to thank Emma Dowson for providing a review copy of this book.

Book review: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

7 Jun

come sundownLove. Lies. Murder. A lot can happen… COME SUNDOWN

Bodine Longbow loves to rise with the dawn. As the manager of her family’s resort in Western Montana, there just aren’t enough hours in the day – for life, for work, for loved ones. She certainly doesn’t have time for love, not even in the gorgeous shape of her childhood crush Callen Skinner, all grown up and returned to the ranch. Then again, maybe Callen can change her mind, given time…

But when a young woman’s body is discovered on resort land, everything changes. Callen falls under the suspicion of a deputy sheriff with a grudge. And for Bodine’s family, the murder is a shocking reminder of an old loss. Twenty-five years ago, Bodine’s Aunt Alice vanished, never to be heard of again. Could this new tragedy be connected to Alice’s mysterious disappearance?

As events take a dramatic and deadly turn, Bodine and Callen must race to uncover the truth – before the sun sets on their future together.

Nora Roberts is one of my favourite authors that I’ve discovered since becoming a blogger and over the last seven years I’ve read many of her novels. They always hook me from the first page and hold me gripped as I read, whether I’m reading about the search for a mythical gem on a sun-soaked island or about love and drama in a thriving city. Come Sundown is no exception and is filled with great characters, romance, drama and suspense – another sure fire hit for Nora!

The story takes place in the beautiful setting of Montanna where we meet Bodine Longbow and her family. Bodine is the manager of her family’s very successful five star resort which sits alongside the family ranch. I loved Bodine from the very start; she’s a great business woman, a successful and caring boss and loves her family and friends. The descriptions of the resort, ranch and Montanna are just wonderful and if there are any horse-lovers reading this review, you will love this book!

But within the picturesque beauty hides a shocking secret. The novel opens with a short prologue set in 1991 as Alice makes her way home to her family after a long absence. Alice doesn’t make it home that night and what happens to her gives the story a series of shocking twists and turns.

The contrasts between Alice’s story in the past and Bodine’s in the present are stark and some parts of this novel were difficult to read and I couldn’t predict what would happen (although I enjoyed developing my theories and trying to guess!). As a murder is discovered on resort land, past and present collide and I could not put this book down until I found out what the outcome would be!

Nora sets the pace brilliantly. I found myself swept up in Bodine’s story and her developing romance with childhood crush Callen and also holding my breath every time the narrative moved back to what happened to Alice. Come Sundown is dramatic and tense. wild and romantic; a sweet and suspensfull mix of a page turner.

4/5

Come Sundown is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from Piatkus.

Find out more about Nora and her writing at: http://www.noraroberts.com/

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

 

Book review: Pieces of Happiness by Anne Ostby

6 Jun

pieces of happinessI’ve planted my feet on Fijian earth and I intend to stay here until the last sunset . Why don’t you join me? Leave behind everything that didn’t work out!

When recently-widowed Kat writes to her four old school friends, inviting them to live with her on a cocoa plantation in the South Pacific, they swap icy pavements and TV dinners for a tropical breeze and an azure-blue ocean. Leaving behind loneliness, dead-end jobs and marriages that have gone sour, they settle into the Women’s House, surrounded by palms and cocoa trees; and locals with the puzzling habit of exploding into laughter for no discernible reason.

Each of the women has her issues to resolve, and secrets to keep. But together the friends find a new purpose, starting a business making chocolate: bittersweet, succulent pieces of happiness. As they embrace a new culture that views ageing so differently from their own, will they learn to accept and forgive: to discover the value of friendship, and a better way to live?

Pieces of Happiness is a beautiful look at female friendships, growing older and the healing powers of chocolate and sisterhood. I love stories like this and Anne Ostby’s second novel to be published in English is a brilliant example of its kind and sensitively translated. The book has just been released in hardback format with the gorgeously summery cover seen here.

The novel opens with a series of letters from Kat in Fiji to four of her best friends from her schooldays. Now in their sixties, it’s clear that there has been a lot of water under the bridge for the group of friends and Kat’s letters immediately had me intrigued about both author and recipients. The story develops beautifully, moving between past and present to delve into the secrets and worries of Kat’s friends now and how their lives brought them to this point. I loved looking back and meeting Sina, Ingrid, Lisbeth and Maya both now and as their younger selves and finding out what happened to them, seeing how their relationships and friendships changed over the years.

There’s a wonderfully hopeful message about the ability of friendships to endure and grow with you and the book beautifully captures the ability of special female friendships to survive all manner of bad and good weather and still fundamentally stay rooted. Each woman has her own set of worries and issues to address and the individual story lines in the present added interest and covered so many issues that are relevant to us all; getting older, ill health, worries about children, making time for ourselves and living up to our hopes and dreams.

Glamorous Lisbeth  has been living the high life since marrying the catch of the town but as we scratch beneath the surface we see that her fairy-tale is not as happily ever after as it sounds. Maya makes the journey to Fiji with a secret illness to face. Ingrid has had enough of being the sensible one and wants to let her alter ego, the wonderful ‘Wildred’ out and single parent Sina, struggling with her wayward son is broke and not sure how to move forward. Kat has recently lost the love of her life. I was captivated by the drawing together of the group and how their ‘house of women’ developed through the story.

Ostby adds a further layer to the story with shory chapters in the form of prayers from the point of view of her housekeeper Ateca. These chapters were just wonderful and gave a whole new perspective to the story and the characters. I loved being able to see each woman from the viewpoint of an outsider and I thought this technique and the different cultural filter that Ateca sees everything through gave the excellent depth and allowed me as a reader to really get to know the characters.

The descriptions of scenery and Fijian life are luscious, colourful and atmospheric – they made me want to pack my bags and seek out adventure. Regular readers will know that I have a bit of an obsession with the sea and I absolutely loved the descriptions of it in this book.

Sina can hear it. With her face turned towards the sea she can hear Fiji welcoming her. A rush of sand against sand, a rhythm of water and moonlight and promises she can’t decode.”

I highly recommend Pieces of Happiness as a thoughtful and uplifting reading escape this summer whether you’re heading off on holiday or curling up in a nice cosy reading spot at home!

4/5

Pieces of Happiness is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from Doubleday.

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