Archive | January, 2016

Reading round up – January 2016

31 Jan

With this post I’m very excited to announce that I’ve blogged every day in January!! And more excitingly, I enjoyed it! I’m so pleased to have rediscovered my blogging and reading mojo that I’m going to try to do it all again in February (I must be mad!)

I’ve sort of managed to stick with the other resolutions that I set at the start of January and have Tweeted, Facebooked and Instagramed much more in the last month than in the previous six months. I’m still finding juggling everything a little bit difficult at times when work/life/children throw me a curve ball but I keep reminding myself that I do this for fun and it doesn’t matter if I don’t update Facebook every day :-)

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting back into reading this month and I’ve been lucky to have had many amazing books find their way to me. I read ten books in January and they were all 4 or 5 stars. I think I’ve finally started to get more of a balance to my reading  too – here are some of the stats

In January:

  • Half of the 10 books I read were paranormal or fantasy
  • 3 were young adult and 7 adult fiction
  • I read one short story collection
  • One historical fiction
  • I listened to one audiobook
  • I read four contemporary romance/dramas

My books of the month:

I was aiming to choose just one book but I can’t do it so the joint winners of my ‘books of the month for January’ are:

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Truthwitch by Susan Dennard and Our Song by Dani Atkins

Coming in February!

I’ve got some very exciting bo0ks on my ‘to read’ pile for February including Summer at Sea by Katie Fforde, Rosie Dixon’s debut, The Stylist and the gripping 13 Minutes from Sarah Pinborough. I’ll be taking part in several blog tours including Jill Mansell, Emily Hauser and Ilana Fox and I’ve got a great interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky that I can’t wait to share! Look out tomorrow for my February ‘Hot Picks’ for more news of the great books out in February!

Happy reading!

Book review: The Bomb Girls by Daisy Styles

30 Jan

bomb girls

On an ordinary day in 1941, a letter arrives on the doormats of five young women, a letter which will change everything.

Lillian is distraught. And whether she tears, hides or burns the letter the words remain the same – she must register for compulsory war work. Many miles away, Emily is also furious – her dream job as a chef will have to be put on hold, whilst studious Alice must abandon her plans of college.

Staring at an identical letter, Elsie feels a kindling of hope at the possibility of leaving behind her brutal father. And down in London, Agnes has her own reasons for packing her bags with a smile.

Brought together at a munitions factory in a Lancashire mill town, none of them knows what lies ahead. Sharing grief and joy, lost dreams and gained opportunities, the five new bomb girls will find friendship and strength that they never before thought possible as they unite to help the country they love survive.

I do love a good wartime historical drama so when The Bomb Girls dropped through my door recently, I couldn’t resist a peek at the first chapter. It was immediately a case of wishing I hadn’t because as soon as I started reading about Emily, Alice, Lilian, Agnes and Elsie, I was hooked! This is Daisy Styles debut novel and it’s a great read that I think will appeal to fans of wartime sagas and authors like Donna Douglas.

The story is set mainly in the small Lancashire town of Pendle where a bomb-making factory is set up in 1941. As female conscription is announced to support the war effort, five very different women find themselves lodging together in a converted cowshed on the outskirts of the town. The girls become known as The Bomb Girls and the book follows their story from 1941 to the end of the second world war.

Although I’d heard of land girls and was aware of the work women did in the war, this book sheds a wonderful light on the sacrifices made, the friendships built, hardships endured and fun had as the women supported each other through long shifts, separations from loved ones and family members and the ups and downs of wartime romances. I remember by nan telling me about her work in C0venty during the war (she worked in a factory making parts for aircraft engines) and the camaraderie and lifelong friendships formed. Daisy has perfectly captured this in The Bomb Girls and the story is an engaging read.

With five key characters to follow there is never a dull moment and the book has good pace and variety in its storylines. I liked all of the five main characters but Alice, Elsie and Agnes were my particular favourites. Londoner Agnes’s husband is missing in action and her young daughter Esther has been evacuated to Cumbria suffering from Polio. I couldn’t imagine being separated from my children and Agnes’s story brings home the heartbreak suffered by so many. I was willing her to have a happy ending.

Similarly, young Elsie from Newcastle who has suffered for years at the hands of her abusive father and sees the call for women workers as a chance to finally escape. I loved the romance of Elsie’s story and as a North Easterner myself, I loved her character. It is Alice’s story that had me particularly hooked though as she is selected to carry out an entirely different and even more dangerous type of war work.

From dances to disasters, encounters with handsome Yanks, rationing and relationships, The Bomb Girls has all the ingredients of an excellent wartime drama and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

4/5

The Bomb Girls is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

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

Book news: The Nurses of Steeple Street by Donna Douglas

29 Jan

I’m a big fan of Donna Douglas’s Nightingales series and have been an avid reader of her books over the last few years so I was very excited to see that she’s starting a new nursing series based in Leeds. The Nurses of Steeple Street will be released on 21st April and I can’t wait!

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Welcome to the district nurses’ home on Steeple Street, where everyone has a secret…

Ambitious young nurse Agnes Sheridan had a promising future ahead of her until a tragic mistake brought all her dreams crashing down and cost her the love and respect of everyone around her. Now she has come to Leeds for a fresh start as a trainee district nurse. But Agnes finds herself facing unexpected challenges as she is assigned to Quarry Hill, one of the city’s most notorious slums. Before she can redeem herself in the eyes of her family, she must first win the trust and respect of her patients and fellow nurses.

Does Agnes have what it takes to stay the distance? Or will the tragedy of her past catch up with her?

Find out more about Donna and her writing at: http://donnadouglas.co.uk/

Book review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

28 Jan

dumplinDubbed “Dumplin'” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked …until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back. Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant-along with several other unlikely candidates-to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City-and maybe herself most of all.

I was sent a fab package by the publisher to go with this book including Dolly Parton’s greatest hits, a red heart-shaped lollipop and a beauty queen sash and tiara. As you can imagine – I was delighted and pretty intrigued to find out what the book was about after that! Having read Dumplin”, the items sent sum up the book perfectly; it’s the story of teenage Dolly Parton fan and self proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dixon. The lollipop represents Willow’s friend (and maybe something more), Bo who she works with and the tiara and sash represent the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant that Willowdean decides to enter.

The hardback book is beautiful, with its little Dumplin’ on the front and the fab strapline ‘Go Big or Go Home’. As regular readers will know, I have a thing about books set in the American South and I love series like Friday Night Lights so the Texas setting for this story ticked all the right boxes too. Willowdean’s life is that of a fairly typical small-town teenager; she goes to school, hangs out with her best friend Ellen and works at a burger bar in the evenings. Willowdean is happy in her own skin and happy being the size that she is. I found it refreshing that Willowdean identifies herself as fat and is pretty much happy with her body image and I loved that this wasn’t a story of plus size teenager transforms and becomes beauty queen.

Willowdean is happy in her skin until she draws the attentions of handsome lollipop loving Bo. The developing attraction between Willowdean and Bo makes her begin to question herself, her looks and her personality and through the story there’s a lot of soul searching to be done. Although on the outside Willowdean appears happy and confident in her body, on the inside, she is battling with worries, insecurities and grief. Willowdean’s story struck a chord with me as I’m sure it will many readers as it explored how we present ourselves and how that can really differ from what we feel inside.

Although I found the story a little slow at the start and was surprised to see that the beauty contest part didn’t begin until almost halfway through the book I think this was needed so that as readers we could really get to know Willowdean, her friends and family. As Willowdean falls out with her best friend, struggles to come to terms with the death of her Aunt Lucy and tries to understand her relationship with her ex-beauty queen mother and not one but two handsome boys that want to date her, there are some wonderful moments and quotes in the book and it made me smile.

Interstingly, Willowdean wasn’t my favourite character in the book even though I think she’s fab. My personal favourites were Millie and Bo both for being so supportive of Willowdean even when she didn’t always recognise or accept it and for being true to themselves through the story. From secret kisses, best friend dramas and drag queen beauty lessons, there’s a whole lot of life in this story and a wonderful message that no matter what your shape, size, age, ability or disability we all have our insecurities and that’s OK.

4/5

Dumplin’ is released today in hardback and ebook formats.

Find out more about about Julie Murphy and her writing at: http://juliemurphywrites.com/

I’d like to thank Harper360 for providing a review copy of this book.

Cover reveal! The Map of Bones by Francesca Haig

27 Jan

I’m very excited to be taking part in the cover reveal for the second book in Francesca Haig’s Fire Sermon series, today. The Map of Bones will be released in Hardback and ebook formats on 7th April.

map of bones

 

The second book in Francesca Haig’s incredible Fire Sermon series.

The Omega resistance has been brutally attacked, its members dead or in hiding.

The Alpha Council’s plan for permanently containing the Omegas has begun.

But all is not entirely lost: the Council’s seer, The Confessor, is dead, killed by her twin’s sacrifice.

Cass is left haunted by visions of the past, while her brother Zach’s cruelty and obsession pushes her to the edge, and threatens to destroy everything she hopes for.

As the country moves closer to all-out civil war, Cass will learn that to change the future she will need to uncover the past. But nothing can prepare her for what she discovers: a deeply buried secret that raises the stakes higher than ever before.

Find out more about Francesca and her writing at: http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/cr-108655/francesca-haig

Book review: Halfway Dead by Terry Maggert

26 Jan

11194843_10153039642218369_2107229321_oCarlie McEwan loves many things. She loves being a witch. She loves her town of Halfway, NY—a tourist destination nestled on the shores of an Adirondack lake. Carlie loves her enormous familiar, Gus, who is twenty-five pounds of judgmental Maine Coon cat, and she positively worships her Grandmother, a witch of incredible power and wisdom. Carlie spends her days cooking at the finest—and only—real diner in town, and her life is a balance between magic and the mundane, just as she likes it. When a blonde stranger sits at the diner counter and calls her by name, that balance is gone. Major Pickford asks Carlie to lead him into the deepest shadows of the forest to find a mythical circle of chestnut trees, thought lost to forever to mankind. There are ghosts in the forest, and one of them cries out to Carlie across the years. Come find me. Danger, like the shadowed pools of the forest, can run deep. The danger is real, but Carlie’s magic is born of a pure spirit. With the help of Gus, and Gran, and a rugged cop who really does want to save the world, she’ll fight to bring a ghost home, and deliver justice to a murderer who hides in the cool, mysterious green of a forest gone mad with magic.

One of the best things about blogging is discovering so many books that you probably wouldn’t have found just browsing a book store. I love opening my inbox to see what newsletters and emails I’ve received to tempt me! I recently received an email from author Terry Maggert telling me about his new book, Halfway Bitten which is out on the 9th February. I read the blurb and thought the books sounded fun – I love books with witches in them but it was when I clicked through and saw Terry’s fab covers that I knew these were books I should read. Cover appeal is very hard to explain but something about this one called to me and I’m so glad they did#!

Halfway Dead is the first book in the Halfway Witchy series. So what has me so hooked? Firstly, I loved leading lady Carlie McEwan and her home town of Halfway. The cosy setting is fab and I loved the community feel to the story with Carlie’s neighbors pitching in and looking out for each other. In contrast, the action scenes where Carlie kicks some serious paranormal entities into touch had me on the edge of my seat. If you think of this story as Buffy meets Charmed meets The Gilmore Girls  you’ll get the idea!

Carlie’s connection with her Grandmother is just lovely. Carlie’s gran is a very powerful witch and together the two make a formidable team. My favourite parts of the book were the ones that explored Carlie’s magic in more depth and I loved the back story that Terry created and the legends and philosophies behind the magic that Carlie and her gran use.

As a mystery hidden in the local forest comes to the fore, Carlie is drawn into an ancient secret and as she heads to confront the dark force hidden there the story really picks up pace and Terry throws in a nice array of surprises along the way. With all manner of paranormal beasts and beings appearing, there’s huge potential for the story to carry on and I’m already looking forward to reading Halfway Bitten. Since reading Halfway Dead I messaged Terry to tell him how much I enjoyed the book and he tells me there are several more books planned in the series and a spin-off for a key character too!

With action, romance and humour, the Halfway Witchy series is one to watch!

4/5

Halfway Dead is out now in ebook and paperback formats.

Halfway Bitten will be released on 9th February.

To find out more about Terry Maggert and his writing visit: http://www.terrymaggert.com/

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

 

Book review: Our Song by Dani Atkins

25 Jan

our songThis is the story of Ally and Charlotte, whose paths have intersected over the years though they’ve never really been close friends. Charlotte married Ally’s ex and first true love, David. Fate is about to bring them together one last, dramatic time and change their lives forever.

Full of Dani’s signature warmth and emotion, this is a gripping and emotional family drama. With breath-taking plot twists, Dani explores themes of serendipity, friendship and love. She fully engages the reader in the dilemmas faced by her characters. What would you do if your husband was the love of somebody else’s life? And when faced with an agonising decision, could you put the past behind you and do the right thing? 

You know a book is good when it keeps you up reading long into the night. As a working mum of two young children, my sleep is precious but last week I got to a point in Our Song where I just couldn’t put the book down. I’d grown so attached to the characters and so involved in the story that I had to know the ending. Who needs sleep anyway ;-)

As you might have gathered, Our Song swept me up and held me captive from the first page to the last. It’s a particularly impressive achievement as the book is a weighty 500 pages long. Every page and word counts and I could have read about Charlotte, Joe, David and Ally for another 500 pages. This is the first of Dani’s books that I’ve read and I’m so pleased that she has two other books out there for me to discover while I wait for her to write more (write fast Dani!)

The premise for Our Song is a simple one but so engaging; two men end up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of their local hospital. Two concerned wives rush to their sides. So far, so normal but then comes the killer detail – the wives have met before. One of the women has two men that she loves in the hospital that night! Flash back eight years and we join Ally on the fateful night that she meets David. Flash back six years and David is proposing (in one of the most romantic proposals I’ve read) to Charlotte. Immediately the questions begin to build; how did David and Ally’s relationship end. Why do the two still think of each other and what happened to cause such a charged reaction between  Charlotte and Ally when they meet in the hospital? As the story moves between past and present, the jumps are carefully plotted to keep the questions coming and keep the reader glued to the page.

Dani Atkins is expert at keeping the tension high as the picture of the past builds against a very real life and death struggle as each man fights to survive in the present. I found it particularly interesting how involved I felt with the characters in this book. As a reader it comes across that Dani knows her characters inside out – they feel real. Having seen some of Dani’s character profiles on her Facebook page, it’s easy to see how much thought she has put into creating believable three dimensional characters. My loyalties were very much with Ally initially but as more of the story came out I found myself questioning my own reactions to the characters and I loved the way Dani shifted my perspective and perceptions as the book progressed.

Dani certainly knows how to tug on the haertstrings and grab your emotions as a reader. I have to give special mention to young Jake’s scenes in the book. Although they are few, they were the ones that had most impact for me. Probably because my own son is the same age as Jake, I had no problem imagining the scenes with him and this certainly heightened the emotional impact of the story. His scenes brought a lump to my throat every time and there is one particular scene that had me in floods – I defy even the most steely of readers not to shed a tear!

I’ve said in previous reviews that I love books that beg the ‘what would you do in that situation?’ question and there is a huge question at the end of this book for one of the characters. I think this would be a brilliant book for reading groups to start the year with. With themes of fate, destiny, love and romance and a believable and real cast that will feel like your own family by the end Our Song made an excellent start to my reading year.

5/5

Our Song is out now in ebook formats and will be released in paperback on 28th January.

Find out more about Dani Atkins and her writing at: https://www.facebook.com/DaniAtkinsAuthor/

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

Guest Post: Advice for people whose New Year’s resolution is to become a writer by Leila Segal

24 Jan

Today is my stop on Leila Segal’s blog tour for her collection of short stories, Breathe. Leila was born in London, of Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian descent. When she was little, she started to write. In 2000 she visited Cuba – as soon as she arrived she knew that she wanted to stay. She lived first in Havana, then in the rural far West. Breathe – Stories from Cuba is her debut collection, written during this time. Leila is director of Voice of Freedom, a project that works with women who have escaped trafficking. She reads her work regularly in London – find out more at www.leilasegal.com.  

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In 2000, I rented a room in Havana and set out to write short stories. I’d written since I was a child, but how did you become a writer? How would the work in my notebooks become finished stories that people would want to read? Armed with Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande, I decided to find out – my short story collection Breathe is the result. Here is what I learned in the process:

  • Be persistent. Don’t push discomfort away – it will stimulate the best work. Indecision, difficulty – explore them on the page. Confusion and conflict in my new Cuban reality created the stories in Breathe.
  • Let your fingers write. Ignore the inner critic; she can help you edit later, but don’t let her kill what is precious – you, on the page.
  • Write when you wake up. You’re still in thrall to the subconscious, which will weave its images and symbols into the words. Keep a notebook by the bed.
  • Turn off the phone. In Cuba I had no internet, no phone and often no electricity. I would sit in the dark looking up at the tropical sky – hours and hours of peace. There was space for thoughts to flow, and for me to hear them.
  • Be brave. ‘The authentic voice may not be the one you want to hear,’ says Al Alvarez in The Writer’s Voice. Let yours sing on the page – it might be fiercer, or more surprising, than you’ve allowed.
  • Start anywhere. The story exists inside you, a living whole; pull it out by its finger-tip or toe.
  • Read. Voices that excite you will sing and dance in your head, ready to inspire when you sit down to write.
  • Seek out the new. Listen and observe. ‘When people talk, listen completely,’ Hemingway said.
  • Creativity is capricious. Follow where it leads.

On working with editorsbreathe

Trust is essential. Your editor must ‘get’ your writing, otherwise there will be a permanent tussle. Voice and style are a matter of taste – an editor should not try to stamp out yours, but rather advise on story structure, character development and language, so your ideas are communicated to readers. An editor is a step away; you’re too close to raw creation to know how effective you’ve been.

My editor for Breathe saw where there was ‘too much’ writing that detracted from the emotional punch of a story; he encouraged me to let go of clunky endings and complicated beginnings that were really just preambles in my head, to get right to the meat of the story – what readers crave.

He saw where characters who were clear in my head didn’t convince – they were fully imagined, but had I got my imagining onto the page?

An editor can spot factual and logical inconsistencies, repetition – or complexity that needs to be explained. In one of my stories in Breathe, the contrast between the narrator’s point of view (a tourist), and that of Cuban characters seemed obvious to me – but, as my editor saw, it was not to the reader. In another, there was too early a ‘reveal’ – for full impact in a story about racism, revelation of the character’s race had to be left until the end.

I was fortunate to have a skilled and patient editor for Breathe, who allowed me to develop the collection at its own pace, but that’s rare – more often, publishers want manuscripts that are ready to go. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by professional fiction editors, offers practical, effective techniques to transform your work from first to final draft.

Some of my favourite books on writing:

Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande (Macmillan)

Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg (Rider)

Ernest Hemingway on Writing, ed. Larry W. Phillips (Simon & Schuster)

The Writer’s Voice, Al Alvarez (Bloomsbury)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King (Quill)

Breathe: Stories from Cuba by Leila Segal is published on 21st January (£6.99, Flipped Eye).  

Website: www.leilasegal.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Leila-Segal-174955382552749/

Twitter: @leilasegal

Book news: The Museum of You by Carys Bray

23 Jan

The cover for Carys Bray’s next novel, The Museum of You was released today and I had to share it – isn’t it brilliant? This book isn’t out until June but there’s lots of excitement building already and I can’t wait to read it.

museum of you

 

Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, but now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.

Darren has studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want – everything he can think of, at least – to be happy.

What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is still full of her mother’s belongings. Volume isn’t important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell her the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be.

But what you find depends on what you’re searching for.

Find out more about Carys and her writing at: http://carysbray.co.uk/

Audio Book Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

22 Jan

harry potter“Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter ‘H’.”

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

My son Max is back today with his thoughts on the Audio book of Harry Potter and the Philisopher’s Stone.

Max says:

“I had already read the book on my own and I really enjoyed it. I haven’t listened to an audio book before and I really liked it. It was nice that me and Mum could listen together at bedtime.

The audio book is about 8 hours long. It has 18 chapters and is narrated by Stephen Fry. He was a very good narrator. I liked it when he made up voices for the different characters. I liked his impression of Ron Weasley best because it made me laugh.

I liked the book because it was full of adventure and exciting, I liked learning the language of the wizards, especially the spells, I’ve tried ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ spell on my brother Sam, but I haven’t made it work yet!

My favourite part of the book was towards the end of the story, I found out some important bits of information about the characters, it was really exciting and I couldnt wait to find out how the story ended.

As much as I enjoyed reading this Harry Potter book, I enjoyed listening to the audio book more, I would like an illustrated version though!

5/5

Mum’s verdict:

The audio book was a big hit with Max – he’s still at the age where he likes to be read to, especially when he’s tired so it was lovely to snuggle up and listen to this together. Stephen Fry’s narration is spot on – he has a wonderful story-telling voice and I could happily listen to him all day. We’ll definitely be investing in more audio books now and we’re looking forward to listening to the next book in the Harry Potter series.

We’d like to thank Audible UK for providing a review copy of this book.

All seven of the Harry Potter books are now available for instant download via Audible. Find out more at: http://www.audible.co.uk/