Tag Archives: 4/5

Book review: Not the Only Sky by Alyssa Warren

27 Apr

not only the sky‘Wait. Patient. Now. Not long. Good girl. Wait here. Brave girl. Think of it as a vacation.’ ‘Back in a jiffy.’

Big Bend, population 500, South Dakota, 1988. Eight-year-old Tiny Mite lives in a ramshackle farmhouse next to her grandfather’s crashed airplane and the pine tree where she trains as a spy. Goddamn is her favourite word. Taking pictures with her camera made of aluminium foil and a tin can is her new big thing. She lives with Bee, her apocalypse-obsessed grandmother and Luvie, her hard-drinking great-aunt. And then there’s her mother Velvet, beautiful and desperate, still in love with her high school boyfriend who she left to have a brief fling with Tiny Mite’s absent father.

One night, Tiny Mite hears a cry, but it’s not what she imagines. And nothing will ever be the same. Six years later, Clea won’t let anyone call her Tiny Mite anymore. Luvie has fallen in love with a pastor, and Bee’s health is failing. Velvet is gone, and nobody except Bee, who can’t bring herself to turn her back on her daughter, will even mention her name.

Containing a wonderfully engaging and eccentric cast of characters who live long in the memory, this is the story of mothers and daughters, people bound by blood and geography, moments captured and lifetimes lost, and things never quite turning out as expected.

Not the Only Sky was a wonderful surprise to read; I’d expected a quirky read, something a little different, but what I found was not just quirky, but beautiful and heartfelt with characters that jumped off the page and will stay with me. Together with the thread of mystery that runs through the story, this all added up to a really excellent read.

Starting in 1988 and told in three parts over a decade, Not the Only Sky is the story of Tiny Mite/Clea and her family. In the first part of the novel we meet Tiny Mite and her family.  Tiny lives with her Mum, Velvet, her grandmother Bee and Her great aunt Luvvie in an old farmhouse deep in rural South Dakota. The town she lives in is small in a huge state and Big Bend is very much a forgotten corner of the world with run down shops, a dwindling population and a fair amount of poverty.

I love stories like this that tell of small town life and are populated by quirky but usually lovable and strong female characters. Tiny and the women that surround her certainly fit the bill; all are eccentric in different ways, slightly broken but still fighting and finding a way forward. Eight year old Tiny’s inner dialogue is just brilliant – I could have read her thoughts all day and in the tradition of Scout Finch and Swan Lake, Tiny has a a wonderfully unique take on the world.

So too does Tiny’s grandma Bee; deeply religious with a basement full of food stored for the apocalypse and a conspiracy theory for everything, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her character. Bee in particular has a complex line to tread, trying to keep her family together despite their individual difficulties. Not the Only Sky is very much a novel about the complexities of human relationships, particularly those of mothers and daughters and Alyssa Warren does a brilliant job of showing that there is often disparity between our thoughts and feelings and our actions and this gave me a lot of empathy for all of the charcters.

The story pivots around a day in 1988 that brings about huge change in the life of the family and is constructed in a very clever way so as to keep the reader guessing what happened to Tiny and Velvet that day. As the narrative jumps to 1994 then 1998 and moves between Velvet’s and Tiny’s (now known as Clea) stories, I was gripped!

I’m a big fan of books that follow a character through a number of years of their lives and I loved reading as Clea grew up and wishing wholeheartedly for a good outcome for her. With a timeless mix of old and new, heartbreak and hope, family ties and new beginnings, wise words and eccentric philosophies, Not the Only Sky is an excellent debut from Alyssa Warren and I’m very pleased to have discovered a wonderful new author.

5/5

Not the Only Sky is released today in paperback and ebook formats by Black and White Publishing.

Find out more about Alyssa Warren and her writing at: http://www.alyssa-warren.com/book/

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

Book review: All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

12 Apr

all grown upAndrea is a single, childless 39-year-old woman who tries to navigate family, sexuality, friendships and a career she never wanted, but battles with thoughts and desires that few people would want to face up to.

Told in gut-wrenchingly honest language that shimmers with rage and intimacy, All Grown Up poses such questions as:
- What if I don’t want to hold your baby?
- Can I date you without ever hearing about your divorce?
- What can I demand of my mother now that I am an adult?
- Is therapy pointless?
- At what point does drinking a lot become a drinking problem?
- Why does everyone keep asking me why I am not married?

Powerfully intelligent and wickedly funny, All Grown Up delves into the psyche of a flawed but mesmerising character. Readers will recognise themselves in Jami Attenberg’s truthful account of what it means to be a 21st century woman, though they might not always want to admit it.

All Grown Up is an interesting and thought provoking read. For me, it wasn’t the most comfortable of reads at times but I did enjoy it. The novel tells the story of Andrea – a complex character if ever there was one. I felt like I’d been through the wringer after spending time in Andrea’s head and, a week after finishing reading, I’m still not sure what my feelings are for her! The readers reaction to Andrea is a key premise of the book. There are scenes that might shock, her language and narration of events is no holds barred blunt and she presents a version of the truth that begs for discussion and analysis.

My feelings for Angela veered from admiration to dislike and from empathy to pity. Andrea is happy on her own but through her narrative in All Grown Up  shows how she feels that society conspires to tell her that she’s taken a wrong path, that her choices aren’t right and that she should feel bad about them. For a large part of the story, Andrea does feel bad; about her relationships, her art, her family and friends. Even her apartment conspires against her! 

My initial reaction to Andrea was to be sympathetic – I could understand the pressures and frustrations that come with parents and friends thinking that you should be doing particular things with your life at certain points and I have strong feelings that a woman should be able to be single and childless if she wants. I found myself getting a little annoyed with Andrea because she didn’t seem to know what she wanted really and her choices seemed to be making her so unhappy.

The story is put together in chapters that jump around in time to slowly reveal the big picture of Andrea and those close to her. Two threads in this picture really interested me; Andrea’s relationship with her Mother and with her friend Imogen. Andrea’s mum was actually my favourite character – I thought she was strong, independent and willing to stand by her choices and fight for her family. 

But it was the relationship between Andrea and Imogen that intrigued me most. Not so long ago, I was on the Imogen side of this relationship having just had my first son and trying very hard to maintain a friendship with a friend who actively disliked children and had a very physical revulsion to motherhood in general. Andrea’s reaction to Imogen helped me to take another perspective on this particular friendship dilemma – I love how books can do that!

At the heart of All Grown Up is the big question ‘what makes us adults?’ and I think Andrea represents a lot of the questions that we ask ourselves as we try to be grown ups. Andrea doesn’t necessarily have the answers but in reading this book I’m sure many will recognise situations and mindsets that are familiar – a great novel to debate with friends.

4/5

All Grown Up is out now in hardback and ebook formats from Sepent’s Tail.

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

Book review: The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

3 Apr

The Cows (2)COW [n.]
/kaʊ/

A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.

Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.

Tara, Cam and Stella are strangers living their own lives as best they can – though when society’s screaming you should live life one way, it can be hard to like what you see in the mirror.

When an extraordinary event ties invisible bonds of friendship between them, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration, and a life lesson to all.

Sometimes it’s ok not to follow the herd.

The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other, but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life, they need to find their own voice.

When the bright yellow proof of The Cows arrived at my door, I got very excited. I’d heard good things about Dawn O’Porter’s young adult novels and I couldn’t wait to see what she’d written for adult readers. With it’s bold proclamation #DONTFOLLOWTHEHERD and striking yellow and black cover as well as a promise that everyone would be talking about this book in 2017 I jumped straight in!

I wasn’t disappointed. Dawn has written a novel that is frank, honest, funny and a page turner; The Cows might shock you, it might surprise you and it will certainly give you plenty to talk about. My first thought on finishing the book was that I wished the rest of my book group had read it because I really wanted to talk to someone about it and I can just imagine the fun we’d have discussing it.

The Cows tells the stories of Cam, Tara and Stella; three women who don’t know each other at the start of the book but who are all connected by the end of the story. All three live in the vicinity of London but that’s the single uniting factor as the story begins. Cam is a very successful lifestyle blogger, famed for her feminism and for her honesty. She’s passionate about her choice to be on her own with no ties and no intention of having children.

Tara is a TV documentary maker and single mum with a six year old daughter and Stella is a PA to an award winning photographer and struggling to deal with the grief that cancer has caused in her life. Three very different women with very different stories, none of which map directly to my own but I found that I could empathise on a number of levels with all of them at different points in the book. Through Cam, Tara and Stella and their friends and families, Dawn examines what it is to be a woman in 2017.

Set in a social media world where a person can go from unknown to ‘trending’ in 60 seconds, no topic is off limits. From motherhood to masturbation, the scope is wide and that’s what I loved about this story which brings to the fore so many of the judgments that we make about ourselves and others every day and puts them under the microscope.

Dawn also managed to tick the elusive box of making me stop in my tracks with heart-stopping surprise as I read. No spoilers here but it was brilliant to have that moment of shock as I read and as an avid reader it’s a rarity that I don’t see something coming!

The Cows has a life affirming message about taking even the worst of situations and turning it around to make something good. I felt like Dawn O’Porter had given me a push and said ‘get on with it’ when I’d finished reading – and I will!

4/5

The Cows is released on 6th April in hardback and ebook formats by HarperCollins.

Find out more about Dawn and her writing at: http://www.dawnoporter.co.uk/

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

Book review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

17 Mar

last act Hattie

No one keeps more secrets. No one is better at hiding them.

Eighteen-year-old Hattie Hoffman is a talented actress, loved by everyone in her Minnesotan hometown. When she’s found stabbed to death on the opening night of her school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of the community.

Sheriff Del Goodman, a close friend of Hattie’s dad, vows to find her killer, but the investigation yields more secrets than answers: it turns out Hattie played as many parts offstage as on. Told from three perspectives, Del’s, Hattie’s high school English teacher and Hattie herself, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman tells the story of the Hattie behind the masks, and what happened in that final year of her life…

Wonderfully evocative of its Midwestern setting and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this is a book about manipulation of relationships and identity; about the line between innocence and culpability; about the hope love offers and the tragedies that occur when it spins out of control.

I don’t normally read and review crime books – it’s not a genre I have a huge love for,  but something about the cover of The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman drew me in and when I read the synopsis, I couldn’t resist. I do love an American High School story and the title and synopsis had echos of an old favourite of mine, Twin Peaks and The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. 

There are three very strong character voices in this story; Hattie, Sheriff Del Goodman and Peter, Hattie’s school English Teacher. The chapters move between the murder investigation in the present, set in 2008 and the months leading up to Hattie’s death starting back in August 2007. The moves between characters and backwards and forwards in time give the story good pace and set up many questions, intrigues and mysteries as the novel progresses – I was certainly hooked!

Hattie is a wonderfully complex and well-written character. She’s an amateur actress and has plans to move to New York as soon as she’s finished high school. But for Hattie, acting isn’t just something she does on stage; she sees her whole life as a series of different roles and ‘acts’ accordingly. It’s a clever premise and the psychology of Hattie is one of the most gripping parts of the story-line, throwing up many questions about how we see ourselves and how others see us (or want to see us).

Sheriff Del was my personal favourite character in the book. In many ways he comes across as the ‘typical’ Midwestern small town Sherrif but I liked his shrewdness and his dry humour and I liked that we get to see underneath the tough exterior as we move through the book, particularly through his relationship with Hattie’s parents. His interactions with his young deputy, Jake, are brilliant and their competitiveness made me smile.

Finally, Peter – a city boy transplanted to his wife’s farm as she cares for her dying mother. Peter was the character that I liked least – possibly because he came across to me as very selfish but also because he seemed to think himself above most things! The three different narrative voices make for great reading though as we get different perspectives on events and I enjoyed piecing the time line together and trying to work out who had killed Hattie.

As well as reading this book, I listened to parts of it via the Audible version and I have to say that it is one of the best narrations I’ve listened to this year. Each character has a separate narrator and whilst they jump off the page, hearing them tell their story really increased the impact of it. If you’re a fan of audiobooks I’d certainly recommend giving the audio version a try.

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman is a clever and compelling thriller that will keep you guessing to the final pages!

4/5

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman is out now in Hardback, ebook and audio formats from Quercus.

Find out more about Mindy Mejia and her writing at: http://mindymejia.com/

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

Book review: Secrets of A Happy Marriage by Cathy Kelly

12 Mar

secrets of a happyBess is hoping to show everyone just how happy her recent marriage is, but behind all the party-planning the cracks are beginning to show. Why is joining a family so difficult?

Jojo, Bess’s stepdaughter, has a point to make. Bess is not her mother, and she won’t replace the one she’s been missing every day for the last two years. And will she ever get the chance to become a mum herself?

Cousin Cari is a fierce career-woman who isn’t unnerved by anything – apart from facing the man who left her at the altar, and he’s on the guestlist. Her job has been a safe place to hide ever since – but is it time to let love into her life again?

Thanks to laughter, tears and one surprise appearance, the Brannigans might just discover the secrets of a happy marriage . . . But will they find out before it’s too late?

In Secrets of a Happy Marriage, Cathy Kelly has created the wonderfully complicated Brannigan clan and charts the ups and downs of their lives as they prepare for patriarch Edward Brannigan’s 70th Birthday. I loved the huge variety of characters and storylines in this book. It’s like a wonderful Irish soap opera with just about every family and relationship scenario covered from infertility to career issues, affairs, new love and difficult parents! 

As the title would hint, marriage is also a key focus, from a tricky second marriage to being jilted at the alter and how marriages cope when they are put under pressure. Each chapter of the book starts with a quote or a tip on the secrets of a happy marriage and there are many wise words both in the quotes and the book itself.

My overwhelming feeling whilst reading the book was what a wonderfully strong set of women Cathy has created in this story. I was immediately drawn into the story by Faenia, who opens the novel  with a prologue set in San Francisco. Faenia ended up being one of my favourite characters and I was intrigued from beginning to end by her story and I didn’t want to stop reading until I found out what had happened to her. She’s in her sixties and is a highly regarded stylist at a big department store and very glamorous but also very wise and I loved her attitude – I think I could have read a whole book just about Faenia and her life!

My other favourite character was Cari. Cari works for a publishing house and is a top editor with a high profile writer who is very unfairly taken away from her. How these women deal with life when it deals them a bad hand makes for great reading and I admired their strength. As an avid fan of all things bookish I loved the insights into the publishing world that I got from the parts that involved Cari. I especially liked the bit about how important bloggers are ;-)

As well as strong independent women there are some lovely men in the story too and my heart went out to Jo-Jo’s husband Hugh, Edward and Conal who have some difficult situations to deal with the women in their lives. This story shows well that none of us can do everything alone. With plenty of sharp wit and humour as well as an abundance of emotion and advice from Nora, the unofficial family therapist and wise woman this is a great book to curl up and get lost in this Spring.

4/5

Secrets of a Happy Marriage is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from Orion.

Find out more about Cathy and her writing at: http://www.cathykelly.com/

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

Book review: A Secret Garden by Katie Fforde

2 Mar

a secret gardenLorna is a talented gardener and Philly is a plantswoman. Together they work in the grounds of a beautiful manor house in the Cotswolds

They enjoy their jobs and are surrounded by family and friends.

But for them both the door to true love remains resolutely closed.

So when Lorna is introduced to Jack at a dinner party and Lucien catches Philly’s eye at the local farmers market, it seems that dreams really can come true and happy endings lie just around the corner.

But do they?

Troublesome parents, the unexpected arrival of someone from Lorna’s past, and the discovery of an old and secret garden mean their lives are about to become a lot more complicated…

Katie Fforde has long been a favourite author of mine and I have nothing but admiration for the way that she keeps coming up with new stories and lovely new novels that are a joy to escape with. In A Secret Garden we find ourselves in a Cotswold village.  In this idyllic setting we meet a lovely and quirky cast of characters who I really didn’t want to leave as I finished the book.

Lorna is a gardener tasked with bringing the gardens of her long-time friend Peter’s stately home back to life. Lorna lives in a lovely little cottage on the estate and as we meet her she’s harbouring a secret love for her old friend. I liked Lorna immediately, particularly for the way she dealt with Peter and his new girlfriend Kirsty. As Peter drops the bombshell that he’s’ met ‘the one’ and invites Lorna to meet her at a dinner party, he starts a chain of events that result in many changes for his unsuspecting guests. A Secret Garden is a gentle romantic comedy that kept me guessing right to the end; if Jane Austen was writing now, I imagine her novels would be something like this.

Two of my favourite characters in the book were Philly and her Grandfather (known as Grand) who have run away from their Irish home to grasp their freedom and launch their own business. I absolutely loved the idea of grandfather and granddaughter running away together and starting a new life and I loved the relationship that the two have throughout the book. Philly has up to now had a very strict Irish upbringing so I enjoyed watching her take her first independent steps and admired her work ethic as she nurtures her plant nursery. The romantic element of Philly’s story is absolutely charming as she meets chef Lucien.

This is a book about finding love at any age and how wonderful but also how daunting that can be. It was refreshing to read a story that had romance for the majority of characters and I think Katie makes a lovely point with this story that love really does know no boundaries (but we often put our own up just to give it a challenge!)

Gardeners and garden fans will of course love this novel and Katie has clearly done her research. I’m not really a gardener but the descriptions in the book even made me want to have a go! Katie also sheds a fascinating light on sculpture and stone masonry through the character of Jack and as a fan of big old houses I really enjoyed the settings that Katie has created. I felt like I’d had a lovely escape to the country as I read this book and I think this would make an ideal Mother’s Day Gift if you’re looking for ideas!

4/5

A Secret Garden is out now in hardback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Katie and her writing at:  http://www.katiefforde.com/

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

Book review: Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows

21 Feb

ambulance girls bpbOn duty during London’s Blitz…

As death and destruction fall from the skies day after day in the London Blitz, Australian ambulance driver Lily Brennan confronts the horror with bravery, intelligence, common sense and humour.

Although she must rely upon her colleagues to carry out her dangerous duties, Lily begins to suspect that someone at her Ambulance Station may be giving assistance to the enemy by disclosing secret information. Then her best friend, Jewish ambulance attendant David Levy, disappears in suspicious circumstances. Aided – and sometimes hindered – by David’s school friend, a mysterious and attractive RAF pilot, Lily has to draw on all of her resources to find David, and negotiate the dangers that come from falling in love in a country far from home in a time of war…

Ambulance Girls is the first book in a new historical saga series from Deborah Burrows and will appeal to fans of wartime sagas such as Daisy Styles’ The Bomb Girls and Donna Douglas’ nursing series’. I do love a good historical saga and particularly those that shed a light on the important work done by women during war. Set in London in 1939, Ambulance Girls starts with a brave rescue and is an excellent tribute to the men and women who put their lives on the line to rescue others during the second world war and particularly during the Blitz.

Deborah clearly knows her history and has done her research; I live and work in London and I was fascinated by the details that Deborah put into this story; it certainly made for thought provoking reading as I read about places and landmarks that I visit regularly and the devastation that the bombing raids wreaked.

We meet Lily Brennan who is fairly new to England and working as an ambulance driver. This novel stood out from other sagas to me for having an Australian female lead which gave a very different perspective on the war and I enjoyed seeing London through her eyes and also learning about the country that she called home. Having read several books about the nursing profession during the war, I enjoyed getting another perspective on the work that so many women volunteered to do.

Lily is an excellent lead; she’s bright, strong and has an innate sense of what is right that she is willing to fight to defend. I admired her bravery as she pushed herself to the limits to help others and her tenacity in fighting for what she believes is right. Lily’s partner in the ambulance is David; a handsome and educated Jewish man who Lily has formed a close bond with. I enjoyed their banter and I felt that their relationship was very well written.

I was also struck by the way that this novel quickly showed that David is considered an outsider. There’s a sad and sobering theme to Ambulance Girls that highlights clearly that anti-semitism wasn’t the preserve of Hitler and the Nazis but also prevalent in England during the war. I always find it fascinating to think about what people knew at the time, what attitudes were accepted and how this played out in day-to-day life in England. We hear a lot about the camaraderie and fighting spirit of the war years but in Ambulance Girls we also see the other side of the story with characters who take advantage of others’ misfortune and show prejudice to others.

As David goes missing, Lily teams up with an old school friend of his to try to find him. David’s RAF pilot friend, Jim was one of my favourite characters in the book and I loved reading as his relationship with Lily developed. Their story brings the romance element to the story but certainly not in a conventional way and I enjoyed how this story line kept me guessing.

I’m so pleased that there are going to be more books in this series. The next, Ambulance Girls Under Fire is due for release in October and will focus on Celia Ashwin, another ambulance driver that we meet in this book. I can’t wait to read more about the characters that Deborah has introduced here and find out what happens to them next.

4/5

Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows is published by Ebury Press, in paperback on 23rd February.

Find out more about Deborah and her writing at: http://deborahburrows.com.au/

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

Book review: The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman

9 Feb

house at bishopsgate1611. Celia Lamprey looks out across the rooftops of Aleppo for the last time. After ten years living in the Orient, she and her husband, Paul Pindar, are setting sail for England – taking with them the legendary diamond, the Sultan’s Blue, despite the curse that surrounds it.

They arrive to find a country much changed; Bishopsgate, once surrounded by fields, is now a muddy thoroughfare choked with carriages – from which carpenters, gardeners and footmen descend, summoned to restore Pindar’s great house to its former splendour. But all is not as it seems. Celia is frail, and the marriage childless. Between the couple lies a great, unspoken darkness. Now, as they await the arrival of Celia’s friend Annetta from Venice, another woman, the alluring widow Frances Sydenham, becomes increasingly indispensable to the running of the household – and the happiness of its inhabitants.

But who is this strange woman, and what are her real motives?

The House at Bishopsgate is a gripping and intriguing historical fiction novel set mainly in London in 1611. This is a period of history that I’m not very familiar with, so I was very much looking forward to reading this book and learning about a new time period for me. I wasn’t disappointed; it’s clear from the very first page that Kate Hickman knows her stuff and I loved the wonderful level of detail that she put into this book. Katie’s descriptions of place, furniture and clothing are excellent and I was easily able to visualise London in the 1600s and found it fascinating to learn more about the history of the city that I live in and as familiar place names popped up I loved imagining London of the past.

In this story we meet Paul Pindar and his wife Celia. Paul is a wealthy merchant and as the story opens is preparing to return to England after many years away. Although only a very short part of the story, the descriptions of Paul and Celia’s home and life in Aleppo were among my favourite parts of the book. When I picked up The House At Bishopsgate, I hadn’t realised that it’s actually the third of Katie’s novels to feature Paul Pindar and I’ve now added The Pindar Diamond and The Aviary Gate to my reading list for the future as I would love to know more about the back story of the characters in this book even though it stands perfectly well on its own.

Katie’s storytelling is packed with historical detail and feels very true to the period but is also pacey, readable and current as political intrigue and family dramas play out. I found the characters in this book fascinating and was quickly drawn into the complexities of their stories. Paul and his wife Celia are on the surface rich and exotic with the magnificent house of the title a testament to Paul’s mercantile success and a showcase for the treasures that he has collected. But underneath all of this the couple are battling the impacts of Celia’s past. As they return to England they are joined on their voyage by widow Frances Sydenham who soon makes herself an indispensable part of the household. Frances was one of the characters I liked least but as the story progressed I couldn’t wait to find out what her machinations would lead to and I thought she was cleverly used to bring a psychological thriller element to the story.

Chapters from the perspectives of different characters bring further mystery to the story and these are interspersed with letters from Paul’s brother Ralph to Paul. Ralph is one of the most horrid characters I’ve come across in a book recently and his attitude to those around him is immediately obvious. But Paul isn’t the only target of Ralph’s bullying tactics and there’s an excellent subplot to the story that unfolds as Paul and Celia’s return to England plays out to a dramatic ending.

4/5

The House of Bishopsgate is out now in hardback and ebook formats by Bloomsbury.

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

 

Book review: A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

20 Jan

a boy made of blocksA father who rediscovers love

Alex loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. He needs a reason to grab his future with both hands.

A son who shows him how to live

Meet eight-year-old Sam: beautiful, surprising – and different. To him the world is a frightening mystery. But as his imagination comes to life, his family will be changed . . . for good.

A Boy Made of Blocks is Keith Stuart’s debut novel; a story inspired by Keith’s own experiences of having an autistic son. It’s a novel of love, frustration, heartbreak, humour  and hope charting dad Alex’s relationship with his wife Jody and eight year old son, Sam.

As a mum to 5 and 8 year old boys there was a lot that I could empathise with in the story; I love my sons to bits but there are days when everything seems like a struggle and I can’t do right for doing wrong! Stuart clearly shows how those days and incidents are many and constant with a child who is autistic. My heart went out to Jody as she explained the constant worry about a simple day at school. What surprised me about this book was how much I disliked Alex initially. I really felt annoyed by his lack of ability to cope with the situations he found himself in and for much of the first third of the story I wanted to give him a good talking to!

In contrast to my feelings for Alex, I loved Sam and thought he was beautifully, believably and sensitively written. When Sam discovers the game Minecraft it literally opens a new world to him and provides the mechanism for Alex to begin to understand his son and build a relationship with him. These parts of the book had me thoroughly captivated and I enjoyed reading as Sam’s world opened up.

In addition to the serious themes of this stoyr; relationship breakdown, the pressures of being a parent, dealing with grief, there’s a lot of humour in A Boy Made of Blocks; some of it dark but I did find it funny and I loved the description of Sam’s responses to the world around him as ‘not being given the rule-book’ which does make for some very blunt and honest statements from Sam that had me smiling. It’s safe to say I went through the whole spectrum of emotions as I read and I did cry at the end – the final chapters weren’t at all what I was expecting but were just perfect.

4/5

A Boy Made of Blocks is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Sphere.

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

 

Book review: The Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

13 Jan

promise of fire“Cat” Catalia Fisa lives disguised as a soothsayer in a travelling circus. She is actually an exceptionally powerful Magoi – known as the Kingmaker – who can divine lies. But Cat has no interest in using her powers – or in being used for them – and stays under the radar, far from the clutches of her power-hungry homicidal family.

An ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, Griffin, is intent on bringing peace to his newly conquered realm. When he discovers Cat is the Kingmaker, he abducts her – then does everything he can to coax her to help his people willingly.

Cat has worked hard to avoid the dangerous destiny she fears is in her blood but the balance of power in their world is shifting. The old magics are no longer all-powerful and there’s a new, ferocious force at work. To survive, Cat will have to explore the true depth of the powers she’s spent so long running from – and perhaps even learn to work with her enemies . . . .

Amanda Bouchet’s debut, A Promise of Fire is the first book in The Kingmaker Chronicles trilogy, published for the first time in the UK by Piatkus this month. The Kingmaker Chronicles are high-fantasy romances set in a world divided by those who have magic and those who don’t. I love the cover for this UK paperback edition – it captures the sense of the book perfectly.

Immediately, as I started reading I was thrown into a new world and I enjoyed the vividness of Amanda’s descriptions of the travelling circus where we find Catalia, known as Cat living as a soothsayer. The pace of this story is great and its soon clear that there’s more to Cat than she’s letting on and this sets the anticipation high right from the start as she encounters the hulking Griffin and knows he wants more from her than just his fortune!

Fans of mythology will love that this novel is packed with gods, goddesses, omens, oracles, fantastical creatures and magic. Bouchet has created a vivid and detailed world in which to set her story that links directly to the Greek/Roman mythology creation story (you can read more about it here: http://www.amandabouchet.com/origin-of-thalyria.php). I’m a huge fan of mythology so it was exciting to find a new novel that played into that world. If you’re a fan of Nora Roberts’ Guardians trilogy, I’d definitely recommend that you check this series out.

Cat is a feisty, quick and clever character and I liked her straight away – her inner dialogue made me smile and I enjoyed how Amanda Bouchet slowly revealed more about Cat and the worlds she lives in as the story progressed. There is never a dull moment!  Griffin is Cat’s enemy but he’s nicely drawn as an enemy she (and us readers) can love to hate and Bouchet builds the tension beautifully between them with lots of spiky banter and high action scenes.

I really enjoyed this book – it’s original, action packed and fun. The strong mythology coupled with compelling characters, a gripping story line and a good dose of passion make A Promise of Fire a quick and exciting read and an excellent start to a new fantasy series.

4/5

The Promise of Fire is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Piatkus.

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

For more information on Amanda Bouchet and The Kingmaker Chrionicles, please visit: https://kingmakerchronicles.com/ or http://amandabouchet.com/