NO MORE MULBERRIES: A BOOK REVIEW

The name alone of the country Afghanistan conjures up images of war, strife, death, despair and deprivation. Intellectually we know there is a life beyond the headlines, an everyday existence which is rarely written about. A few books in recent years have emerged to fill the gap of our lack of knowledge and one of the best of these is Mary Smith’s excellent ‘No More Mulberries’.

Although a fiction novel, it is evident that the author draws on her personal experience as a health worker for ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

‘No More Mulberries’ follows the life of Scottish-born midwife Miriam, who has wholeheartedly embraced Afghanistan and relishes her work with the local people in the rural community of her second husband. Here she makes friends, finds fulfilment with her work however cracks quickly appear in her life.

Her husband Iqbal is struggling to cope with the return to his home village and to balance the rigid expectations of his family, friends and colleagues with his previously more independent life in Pakistan, where he could equally celebrate and be proud of Miriam’s success. As Iqbal escapes into a world of work and silence, Miriam, against her husband’s wishes, joins another health clinic as a translator for Afghan paramedics and foreign doctors. Here the past and present collide as a friend of her first husband, her first and true love, rides into the clinic to bring her for a visit to the village she first lived in when newly married and in Afghanistan years earlier.

The book follows the intense journey of Miriam and partly Iqbal’s journey in the present-day as well as brilliantly bringing their past vivdly alive for us in flashbacks. Through these the characters deep introspection develops into an inner soul-searching journey. For both past traumas has marred their present lives and that of their children. Is it too late for them, they both wonder as their relationship seems to flounder? How can they live in a village that threatens to engulf them by history and tradition?

The book is set in the stunning natural landscape of the countryside as well as to the increasingly unstable political backdrop where tribal tensions are growing in severity. The, at times, precarious situation surrounding Miriam and her family ensures this is a tense, compulsive read which never flags. I was riveted by both the epic sweeping story as well as the wonderful descriptive writing and the beautifully drawn and varied characters in ‘No More Mulberries’.

Mary Smith is an assured writer who unravels the multifaceted lives of her characters with creative skill, whilst retaining a tight control of the overall novel. I was hooked from the very beginning and felt a sense of loss upon finishing the book … one of those times I just didn’t want to say farewell to my new friends! This is one of my favourite books this year and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Available:  Amazon UK    And Amazon US 


SEASONS DEFINED: A REVIEW

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Like the birds on the cover of ‘Seasons Defined’ my soul has taken flight this summer, and with various twists, turns, swoops and sweeps my inner consciousness has been on a mysterious journey. It is an intangible experience, an inexplicable sensation without one specific cause.

Along the way two creative art pieces have become my friends; both affecting me deeply and I’ve returned to them often.

The first is a unique poetry book which I won in a Giveaway by Khaya Ronkainen. This chapbook * travelled from Scandinavia, leaving Finland early summer, only to return with me to Sweden where I savoured it in peace and serenity.

Beautifully bound with golden ribbon and tag, I unwrapped ‘Seasons Defined’ with reverential care and with sweet expectation dipped into the book. Within are sixteen exquisite poems capturing the magic of the seasons in Finland; there follows an exploration of the wilderness, the landscapes, the weather, the wildlife.

‘Hoppers chirp
Bees hum

Fostering species
Flowers bloom

Cotton clouds
Blot the sky’  (From ‘This is Country’)

Furthermore the poems become an exploration of oneself and ultimately love! This collection is a moving tribute to a country Khaya embraced as her own, as well as recognising her roots, and some poems tenderly capture the loving couple of Khaya and her husband.

we quench our thirst from a well of love
and agree, love is a beautiful thing

we dine outdoors with birds singing
and agree, it’s time to dance’  (From ‘Wilderness, My Friend’)

Life in all its facets is celebrated throughout!

As Khaya wrote in a personal handwritten inscription to me, I did indeed recognise a little, or rather a lot, of Sweden and its wilderness within the poems. I related directly to the natural world she so eloquently and vividly describes and through her words I saw the wonderful nature anew.

Whilst depicting the enchanting and bewitching seasons, Khaya’s work struck a deeper chord with me as she spoke of the solitude of the wilderness. Not to be confused with loneliness; this is an enriching, rewarding solitude that brings deeper understanding of the world and oneself.

‘I embrace silence.’  (From ‘At the Crack of Dawn’)

‘Deep in the wilderness, I stumble
The track under a canopy of spruce
Draped in snow leads to paradise

Only imagination stands between
man and reality, for in dreamland
Solitude is tangible.’  ( From ‘Winter Dream’)

The very solitude that enveloped me in its soothing arms during the summer and one which is not yet ready to release its clasp.

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Photo by Irina Kolomijets

Throughout the poems, Khaya’s sense of wonder and joy at the nature of Finland is captured with  awe and exhilaration. Her unique insight and approach is explained by the fact that Khaya is originally from South Africa. The variances of the Finnish seasons is a world away from ones experienced in the southern hemisphere. Furthermore, her poetry is influenced to a certain degree by the strong tradition of oral storytelling of the Xhosa people. I feel that within the beats of the poems there is a song to be heard, the pulse of the phrases take on a life of their own as they become all-encompassing, over-arching each other. This becomes more evident with each reading, when hidden depths are slowly unfurled.

I cannot thank Khaya enough for this precious Giveaway of both her first poetry chapbook and also of the highly unusual broadside ** of the poem ‘Summer’ with original artwork.

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To read more about Khaya & her poetry as well as to buy the print version of ‘Seasons Defined’ click here to go to her website.

‘Seasons Defined’ is also available as an ebook on Amazon UK or Amazon US.

* If like me, you’ve never come across the word Chapbook before, this is an expression from North America and refers to a small paper-covered booklet, typically containing poetry or fiction.

** Broadside were traditionally posters, announcing events or proclamations, commentary in the form of ballads, or simply advertisements.

Finally just as Khaya’s poetry moves me so does the instrumental composition below. Just as the poetry embedded itself within me, so did the music of ‘Awakening’.

From the initial crackle of an old vinyl, the quiet haunting tones of the first bars rise to a hypnotising melody that never fails to lift my heart and mood. The musical ‘Awakening’ mirrors a shift and rekindling of my conscious self.

One comment on youtube writes of ‘Awakening’:

‘Absolutely beautiful, both music and cover. The title is so apt as the shining melody, gently and persistently get brighter. The darker background fights but loses. Five stars Sammy.’

ENCOUNTERS: A BOOK REVIEW

Encounters

Creativity is wondrous gift and one that has no expiration date! 

This thought came to me whilst reading ‘Encounters’ by Fred. H. Rohn. Fred Rohn came late to writing after a two hugely successful careers in public accounting and venture capital investment behind him. His first book, ‘A Fortunate Life’, was published last year when he was aged 91, followed by ‘Encounters’ this year.

I admire and am in awe at the ease he seemed to have entered his third career. Age was no boundary for him, nor for many other artistic people as he explains in the preface, stating that ‘creativity doesn’t stop as you age’ and Herman Wook still wrote at 102.

I myself also aspire and hope to be writing to the last of my days!

‘Encounters’ is a collection of stories of varying lengths which explore ‘Relationships in Conflict’. All the stories are brilliantly written and immediately pulled me into their scenarios. I was always intrigued by the seemingly innocuous beginnings, compelled to read on and unravel the lives of the characters.

Consequence of one’s action is a theme explored in many of the stories as the conflict is deftly outlined. A conflict often followed by reconciliation. Fred Rohn demonstrates skill in placing the reading in the middle of a scene and gradually letting the story unfurl, mostly to delicious unexpected twists.

The first story of ‘The Painting’ highlights many of the writing elements that makes ‘Encounters’ such a great collection. The story begins in the middle of an art show along with an artist called Carrie. This supposedly understated opening quickly becomes a story centred on deceit, and a conflict with no possibility of resolution as Carrie’s actions cause irreparable damage to her marriage. This story, like the majority in the book, is told in the third person. This stylistic technique, which can seem rather distant at times, works perfectly for the stories.

Fred Rohn had a particular interest not only in observing and documenting conflict in relationships but also wanted to show an element of reconciliation in some of the pieces.

This is particularly evident in ‘Doc Brunner’  which is set in a small town in America during World War II. The era is beautifully captured as is the tension of the society at the time as the pastor becomes embroiled in a fight with the local council and bank in an attempt to save his church from foreclosure. His actions, sometimes verging on those of a showman, win new supporters amongst the youth, especially as Doc Brunner also seeks to ease the town’s restrictive rules regarding their freedom to socially meet-up.

There is a quiet, under-stated feeling to all the stories and this is particularly true in ‘Reunion Deals’. Here the sneaky and egotistic nature of Harry Long is brilliantly revealed and one cannot help but be pleased for the long-term deceit he has endured and will continue to experience.

A variety of locally divisive issues are tackled by Fred Rohn, and one of bullying is sensitively handled in ‘The Piano Recital’. Where many earlier stories feature adults, here 12-year-old Jeremy Twitchell is relentlessly bullied by Bill Parsons. With the help of a piano teacher, a music concert and a surprise suggestion by Jeremy a rewarding and heart-moving reconciliation is achieved.

A few stories centre around the hiring and firing of staff … in itself a most unlikely topic for short stories! However, these are all terrific reads and as usual I was hooked! The lack of empathy and understanding of certain characters is conveyed with expertise.

Two of my favourite stories are slightly unusual. ‘Bicycle’ is deceptively simple in itself with hidden depths and is profoundly moving and full of wisdom as a younger brother is helped by his morose older brother. ‘The Old Man’ is uniquely centred on just one character who remains nameless throughout. In a series of everyday situations his confusion, loneliness is shown as he fails to comprehend his own state and merrily signs up for a most unusual course!

I am particularly struck by the last two pieces in the book – which I assume are autobiographical. Both these are in the close first person. ‘My Red Bible’ is a personal essay about a red-covered bible which was received on the 17th birthday. This thoughtful and reflective piece takes us from Fred’s travels and musing, showing how important this gift has been to him over the years.

‘Reincarnation – Chance Encounters with The Past’ is a wonderful finale to ‘Encounters’. In this eerie work the writer describes the visits from the departed, particularly from his mother. Bizarrely in some of the visions she has adapted to the modern world, even to the extent of checking emails and using an iPhone! Whilst the author longed for a hello from his mother, the readers can only hope that Fred Rohn was aware that his written work is a testament to his mother’s belief: ‘She always said that imagination and intellectual curiosity were two of most important attributes one could possess.’

26042545-5C3F-428F-8E54-20F2FE593BBCFinally, it was with deep sadness I learnt that Fred Rohn passed away earlier this month. As some of you know, his daughter Barbara Vitelli at Book Club Mom helped him on his publishing journey. My sincere condolences to both Barbara and her family.

Rating:        4 out of 5 stars

Price:        Amazon US  $8.99 (paperback) $6.64 (Kindle)

Amazon UK  £7.95  (paperback)  £4.99 (Kindle)

BOOKS IN THE SHINGLE

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Don’t worry, these books aren’t being mistreated – as always my garden provided the perfect backdrop to the photos.

For one reason or another I read mostly on Kindle these days, so it’s a perfect excuse to share my recent unusual paperback and hardback purchases. A spending splurge in the past weeks has seen me with a pile of seven pristine books. Don’t they all look so tempting!?

Although I must admit, I’ve delved into a couple, most are unread and I thought I’d write a bit about the reason for the purchase as well as including the blurb from each. Enjoy!

Three acquisitions followed encounters with the authors and it was an honour and delight to meet them all. Furthermore, who doesn’t love autographed books with a personal slant!

Elisabeth’s Lists by Lulah Ellender        Still to Read

4DA92A22-4DC9-414A-941D-9039485E257FIt was a pleasure to chat briefly to Lulah after her talk along with her agent and publisher during the Essex Book Festival. There is an increasing trend for fictional biographies and this book slots neatly into that genre. Reading about Elisabeth’s Lists I just had to listen to Lulah’s talk about her journey to publication. A journey that became increasingly fraught and heartfelt as she faced the loss of her mother.

On the face of it, Elisabeth’s lists seemed rather ordinary – shopping lists, items to be packed for a foreign trip, a tally of the eggs laid by her hens. But from these everyday fragments, Lulah began to weave together the extraordinary life of the grandmother she never knew – a life lived in the most rarefied and glamorous of circles, from Elisabeth’s early years as an ambassador’s daughter in 1930s China, to her marriage to a British diplomat and postings in Madrid under Franco’s regime, post-war Beirut, Rio de Janeiro and Paris. But it was also a life of stark contrasts – between the opulent excess of embassy banquets and the deprivations of wartime rationing in England, between the unfailing charm she displayed in public and the dark depressions that blanketed her in private, between her great appetite for life and her sudden, early death.

Disposal by David Evans     Still to Read

462462BC-095D-4FD9-B199-C55F255F92CFMy writing group was lucky to have David Evans come and chat to us about his writing and to listen to our work. Following an interesting and productive morning, I  bought one of his books but was warned NOT to read on a plane if I was a nervous flyer! (I am!)

August 1976 and it seems as though the long hot summer will never end. Early morning at Clacton on the north Essex coast, a light aircraft takes off from the airstrip but struggles for height and crashes into the sea. First on the scene, Sgt Cyril Claydon pulls the pilot’s body from the wreckage. But something else catches his eye. A bulky package wrapped in black plastic is on the passenger seat. Returning to investigate, he makes a grim discovery – another body. And so begins a series of events that puts him and others in danger as he is drawn into the investigation, having to work alongside DI ‘Dick’ Barton, a man with totally alien attitudes. Can they work together?

Sleeping Through War  Jackie Carreira     Still to Read

6BEBB457-8C0A-4320-82C5-5C69FBC35966Being advised by a fellow writer in the UK to do a book signing event in a bookshop I decided to visit one first. Having read about Jackie’s Carriera’s book I couldn’t wait to meet the author. We had a lovely long chat, discussing at length the events in 1968, glancing through a folder of newspaper front pages from the year (great tip!) and discussing her thoughts behind the book. A chap from Holland joined our conversation and I feel this was a meeting that could have lasted for hours.

Set against the backdrop of real, world-changing events, these are the stories that are forgotten in the history books.

The year is 1968 and the world is changing forever. During the month of May, students are rioting and workers are striking across the globe, civil rights are being fought and died for, nuclear bombs are being tested, there are major conflicts on every continent, and war is raging in Vietnam. Against this volatile background, three women strive to keep everything together.

Rose must keep her dignity and compassion as a West Indian nurse in East London. Amalia must keep hoping that her son can escape their seedy life in Lisbon. And Mrs Johnson in Washington DC must keep writing to her son in Vietnam. She has no-one else to talk to. Three different women, three different countries, but all striving to survive – a courageous attitude that everybody can relate to.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman    Read

4219620A-4FEE-4BF3-906B-D934EAA28E95I’d seen but steered clear of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine for months. The title and hype alone made me unsure and I was not enamoured by the blurb. Then I read yet one more glowing review and I succumbed! During the first couple of chapters I nearly gave up but I’m glad I persevered as I’d have missed out on a terrific novel.

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?


The Old Man and the Sea
by  Ernest Hemingway        Read

F139C29B-2652-42DB-B628-FDF4FAEE2B7BI was intrigued by this book after reading a review by Robbie (which can be seen here). The very same day I found myself  in a book shop. I wholeheartedly concur with Robbie’s passionate review and must agree that ‘The Old Man and the Sea is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.’ I can’t wait to reread it soon!

The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.

86490ABE-6ED6-40D7-AE9A-788BCE46B62BThe Scandal by Fredrik Backman     Read

Wow! Double and triple Wow! This is a masterpiece. I have just finished the book and am blown away by the writing, the concept, the story, the characters. It is a literary tour de force and a huge step up from his other books. I was hooked, in awe, shocked, moved. A brilliant study of human psyche.

My only bugbear is how the title has been changed! Sold in America as Beartown (which is the direct translation from the original Swedish), it is currently being marketed in the UK as The Scandal. The change seems totally unnecessary!

As an aside, the other day I noticed NetGalley were offering pre-release copies of his latest book out in June entitled Us Against You, also set in Beartown. Not having much hope, I applied to read and review it – imagine my yelp of joy when I was notified I’d been accepted. This is now my next read!

In a large Swedish forest Beartown hides a dark secret . . .

Cut-off from everywhere else it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart.

And each year more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest.

Then the town is offered a bright new future.

But it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act.

It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done.

Who will speak up?

Could you stand by and stay silent?

Or would you risk everything for justice?

Which side would you be on?


The Joy of Mindful Writing by
Joy Keyword     Still to finish 

7DD660EF-989A-4729-9AB0-39AAB217662EMy head seems to be spinning with the everyday at the moment and at times I feel as if my creativity is being swamped with ‘things’. This book title spoke directly to me with not only promising to find the joy of writing once again, but also inspire creative awareness. Its dreamy idyllic image on the textured hardback cover, with the old-time single-colour spine proved irresistible . I still have to try any of the exercises but have found the ideas and questions poised thought-provoking … I just had’t realised I needed to set time aside to write! I will get to it, I’m sure!

Embrace the process of writing and the rich potential of conscious creativity and mindfulness with this enlightening insight into mindful writing. Exploring how writing mindfully can create deeper connections with your words, your characters, and yourself, this carefully crafted manual invites you to embrace the writing process as much as the completed work; plotting out sparkling stories with a Zen-like awareness. Through meditative exercises, engaging anecdotes, and astute notes on perception, imagination, and focus, author helps you to flow, flourish and lose yourself in writing. Containing 20 mindful writing exercises, this unique guide explores how conscious writing creates mindful awareness, offering a fresh angle on shifting writer’s block.

Havey you read any of these, and if so, what are your thoughts on them? Are you enticed by the descriptions to buy any of these books? Have you had an opportunity to splash out on books recently? What tempted you? And why? I look forward to all your comments; it’s a brilliant excuse to chat all about books!

BENEATH A BURNING SKY

Beneath A Burning Sky

This was just the perfect book for a cold and wintry Easter holiday! Set in the warmth of Egypt towards the end of the 19th-century, I soon found myself basking in the heat of the rich descriptions of Alexandria of 1891 as the city was brought vividly to life. Quickly I found myself immersed in not only the wonderfully exotic locations, which are lavishly described but I also found myself wrapped up in the lives and drama of the characters.

The first of these is a new arrival to Alexandria. Although born in the city, Olivia left fifteen years earlier following the tragic death of her parents. Her paternal grandmother, who always resented her mother, sought revenge by abandoning her youngest granddaughter in a lonely and uncaring convent school in England, whilst raising Olivia’s sister, Clara herself.

At last the two sisters are reunited in their beloved city; both married to two men linked through their business. Olivia has effectively been coerced into a marriage with Alistair Sheldon, despite her misgivings … fears soon to be proved all too real. Generally disliked by those around him, few would believe the depth of Alistair’s cruel and violent nature. In contrast Clara’s marriage to Jeremy is happier, safer with two young sons, however she is distracted and distraught.

Secrets abound within the idyllic city and within all the relationships and soon Olivia too has to hide her close friendship to a certain Captain Edward Bertram (Teddy) who lodges in their house. The attraction between the two is palpable and intense although Olivia will not allow herself to act on her feelings.

The pivotal moment in the book is the sudden disappearance of Clara. As the book counts up the days thereafter, the intrigue only deepens and embroils everyone – apart from Olivia who desperately wants to find her sister. Ostensibly the novel is told through the third-person point of view, but obliquely from Olivia’s, thereby ensuring the reader feels her pain, confusion, fear. Just as Olivia attempts to unravel the mystery with the investigative help of Teddy, her friends and the police, so the reader seeks comprehension of the myriad of events.

Olivia’s strong spirit and determination grows as the dramatic and heart-wrenching story unfurls with secrets overflowing and for some reason seems to revolve around the ‘accidental’ death of a local mother. Everything seems to be connected but how?

Furthermore, the undercurrent of revolution permeates throughout the book and the historical elements are skilfully interwoven with the fictional.

The final tense chapters are spell-binding and relentless. I highly recommend this superb novel.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.img_0621

Rating:        4 out of 5 stars

Publisher:  Sphere (Imprint of Little, Brown)

Price:        Amazon US  $ 13.99 (paperback) $ 4.05 (Kindle)

                 Amazon UK  £ 7.26 (paperback)  £ 2.99 (Kindle)

DAYS OF WONDER: A BOOK REVIEW

Daysofwonder

As a huge fan of Keith Stuart’s debut book ‘A Boy made of Blocks’ I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity by the publisher to read and review a pre-release copy of his latest novel. As always on such occasions when I eagerly look forward to a new publication, I hesitated for a fraction before plunging in to read … I just hoped the book would not disappoint. I need never have feared – it is truly a gem! 

From the first couple of paragraphs into ‘Days of Wonder’ I knew I was in for a treat and settled back to enjoy, savouring the story, becoming engrossed with the characters and their lives. By the end my emotions had been on a rollercoaster ride, ending in tears, at times laughing out loud, all the time moved and touched to the core.

Keith Stuart’s first book was based on his own life experience as a father with an autistic son, ‘Days of Wonder’, his first fiction novel, also centers on the relationship between a father and his child; in this case a 15-year-old daughter, Hannah and her father Tom. Not only is Hannah seeking her natural independence, experiencing first-love, fretting about A-level options, she also has to contend with an uncertain future – and perhaps none at all. Since being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart-condition cardiomyopathy, her whole life has been under its shadow. 

The disease has brought father and daughter wonderfully close together, their bond inseparable since her mother left whilst Hannah was still young. Tom has raised Hannah on his own, with the support of his eclectic theatre group which he manages. The members are close-knit and effectively a second, albeit quirky, surrogate family to Hannah, caring and understanding.

Since the initial diagnosis at the age of five, Tom has sought to bring magic into her life and a professionally produced birthday play at the theatre has been key to this … a tradition Tom is desperate to continue, one that Hannah feels less keen on in the cusp of adulthood… an adulthood that may never exist for her. 

Starting the book my one fear was that the disease would dominate the book, that it could become mawkish and moribund. Not at all! The disease is a backdrop to so many stories within the book; the uncertain future of the theatre, how it has saved so many people. It’s about lives, relationships, friendships, love. Of living and dying. I became totally absorbed into not only Tom and Hannah’s lives but that of Ted, Angela, Margaret, Callum, Sally to name a few. Their fears, frustrations, courage and perseverance were uplifting and soulful.  

 Throughout feisty gutsy Hannah is insightful and wise beyond her years, whilst loving and worrying about her father as she desperately seeks to find him a date. Furthermore, she finds and becomes supportive of her first boyfriend; a young man equally crippled with a very different illness.

The book is effectively and skilfully told through the two-viewpoints of Tom and Hannah. With the latter, it is as if overhearing a private conversation, immediate, at times raw, at times swinging perfectly into modern jargon. As with Tom and the other characters, the sense of humour is impeccably narrated, the put-downs perfectly timed. Through Hannah’s words we learn about her best friends, including a very special 81-year-old lady, the dramas of school, relationships.

Tom’s narrative is personal, emotional, realistic … comically sardonic at times, other moments relating such humorous dating escapades I cried with laughter! As a reader, I couldn’t help but warm to him and feel for his predicament- caring and being over-protective and struggling to let go of his daughter. All the time, unaware his daughter is trying hard to protect her father from the future and for the future. His gentle, confessional tones mingled with the comic and drama persona whilst the ghost of his ex-wife lingered in the background, the possibility that they might yet be a family.

For both of them, there will never be a normal life … and as the novel develops they learn to embrace their predicament; their love and bond growing stronger as a result. 

An interesting additional narrative format is the occasional letters in the book … deeply revealing about past events in Hannah’s life and written by her, it is only towards the end the reader becomes aware for whom they were written. This is yet one more poignant and emotional revelation in a novel which has heart-wrenching moments cascading throughout. 

The descriptive detail by the author is superb, he is wonderfully visual in creating settings, presenting plays, and I became engrossed in them all and felt as if I’d been watching a film. 

‘Days of Wonder’ is ultimately, and perhaps unexpectedly, a powerful, life-affirming and inspirational book. I was hooked from the very beginning and did not want to put it down for any breaks. It’s one of those books that I just had to read one more chapter until I sadly had to say goodbye to my new friends!

 
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I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.
 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Publication Date: 7th June 2018
Price:  Amazon UK:    £ 12. 99 Hardback.      £ 6.99 Kindle    
             Amazon US:  $ 9.82  Kindle
Publisher:  Sphere (Imprint of Little, Brown)

‘A COMPELLING DEBUT BOOK!’

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A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has read and/or reviewed my book over the past couple of months.

It’s amazing to read your thoughts about my collection through your comments and reviews!

Reviews are the ultimate gift for authors and the latest one on Amazon for The Storyteller Speaks was the perfect start of the month for me!

Overwhelmed with joy, I read it over and over and was touched how Lauren Scott managed to bring in so many aspects of my stories and poems. My warmest thanks to Lauren for her wonderful review and for letting me share it here on my blog.

Featured Image -- 5975A COMPELLING DEBUT BOOK!

The stories and poems in Annika Perry’s debut book are indeed compelling. Each one evokes various emotions from everyday life.

I’ve followed Annika’s blog for awhile now, so I wasn’t surprised at how wonderful the final outcome turned out to be. The cover alone is stunning! She has her magical way of playing with words to pull the reader in, but keep one hanging on until the end.

However, not all of her writing in this book is lighthearted; some is pretty dark. There were times when I smiled, moments when I was horrified, and occasions for tears. The beauty is that with each turn of the page to a new story or poem, the reader is pleasantly surprised.

With this being said, it was difficult to choose favorites, but I managed to pull out a few: Chillies in My Handbag, Bouquet of White, A Rare Passion, Stars of Wonder, and Loss of a Patriarch, which personally resonated with me because of my father’s passing last fall.

Another bonus to this creative compilation was the About the Stories section at the back of the book. I really enjoyed reading how each story was born.

Overall, anyone who chooses to read this wonderful collection of short stories and poems will not be disappointed. This was a wonderful start to Annika Perry’s writing journey, and I’m sure I’m not alone in anticipating new publications from this amazing author.  

5.0 out of 5 stars

by Lauren Scott’

If you want to check out The Storyteller Speaks it is available here at Amazon US or Amazon UK. Thank you so much!

Lauren Scott blogs at Baydreamer and this is her ‘space for sharing poetry and photography, and for initiating occasional discussions.’ It’s always inspiring and heart-warming to read her posts and chat away via comments. Do pay her a visit!

NB. I have turned off comments for this post.

MYRTLE THE PURPLE TURTLE: A BOOK REVIEW

7E1BFEF8-D209-461E-8196-4FC9D30E5638

‘Myrtle the Purple Turtle’ is one of the most striking, original children’s books released in recent years.

I was immediately drawn in by the welcoming cover of Myrtle proudly striding along and quickly became engaged with this wonderful character.

As a purple turtle, Myrtle has never considered herself any different from the other turtles and is happy and confident in her life. Until one day a rude turtle laughs and taunts her for even daring to consider herself a turtle.

What follows next is a touching and tender story to which we can all relate when faced with inconsiderate hurtful comments. As Myrtle sets out on a journey of self-discovery and understanding…with some help from her mother and friends along the way, she learns to accept herself and others.

I quickly lost myself within Myrtle’s world and empathised with her hurt and confusion … cheering her on as this feisty creature sought deeper understanding.

The language of the book flows with ease and it is well written in brief sentences, which are kept lively with the use of direct speech. Children and adults alike will be enraptured by Myrtle and captivated by her story.

The illustrations are the crowning glory of this book – they are superbly and deftly drawn with a huge emotional impact and are visually appealing. The drawings, which are vibrant and luscious, are fun and often cheeky; I couldn’t stop giggling at the image of the two head-butting turtles. The illustrations and story blend seamlessly together to lift the story onto a deeper level, exploring the themes of what makes us unique and ultimately learning to embrace ourselves and others. As Cynthia Reyes herself says ‘Love Your Shell’.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Myrtle the Purple Turtle’ and it is an entertaining and uplifting book which deserves to be on every child’s bookcase…it is one they (and you) will happily return to time and again.

I received a free no obligation preview copy of this book from the author and this is my honest unbiased review.

RATING:              5 out of 5

PUBLISHER:        Weaverback Press

AVAILABLE:       Amazon UK (Paperback)      Amazon UK (Kindle)

                              Amazon US  (Papaerback)   Amazon US (Kindle)

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SECOND CHANCE ROMANCE: A BOOK REVIEW

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After reading a series of intensive, high-octane thrillers in the past weeks, Jill Weatherholt’s  ’Second Chance Romance’ proved just the tonic I needed to relax and return to earth.

In this heart-warming novel published by Harlequin Love Inspired, Jackson Daughtry, a single father of five-year-old Rebecca, one morning comes to the rescue of Melanie Harper. She hit a tree whilst swerving to avoid a deer and Jackson’s paramedic skills come to good use as he helps her out of the car and then to the hospital. From this very first meeting, their lives are interwoven and irrevocably changed. 

Melanie is the niece of the very popular Phoebe Austin, Jackson’s business partner to the local cafe The Bean and since the death of his parents, Phoebe has been like family to him. Melanie wants her aunt to move with her to Washington, DC., which causes conflict for everyone concerned.

As a divorce attorney in the capital Melanie is a city girl through and through. However, the tragedy which struck her life a year earlier had resulted in her retreating into herself in the isolated, uncaring environment of urban life. When faced with the beauty and wondrous landscape of idyllic and harmonious Sweet Gum in the Shenandoah Valley she gradually opens up emotionally. The setting becomes an intrinsic part of the novel and the friendly, caring attitude of the community is sensitively and memorably portrayed.

The novel is told in the third person switching with ease and skill between the two main protagonists and ultimately allowing us closer access to their thoughts and feelings.

Being a romantic novel, the frisson between Jackson and Melanie is at the core of the story; its intensity and the continual emotional rollercoaster between them makes this a most compelling, addictive read. Whilst attracted to each other, they deny these feelings to themselves as differences over many issues makes any future seem untenable. Just as Melanie comes out of the hospital, Aunt Phoebe suffers a stroke and whilst she recuperates, the running of the cafe falls to Melanie and Jackson.  The past haunts them both more than ever when faced with working together each day and confronting their traumas.

Having been left to raise his daughter four years earlier when he was abandoned by his wife, Jackson finds it difficult to trust anyone. Meanwhile, Melanie is still lost to herself and the world following overwhelming grief…a tragedy that is only slowly revealed. Whilst  Jackson finds solace in his faith, Melanie lost hers. 

Faith is one of several deep and thought-provoking themes examined and woven into the narrative. Grief, fear, forgiveness and love are all seamlessly arced across the novel and hidden within the more everyday events. These include such gentle, seemingly inconsequential happenings such as a fair, apple picking, picnic and baking, which are all exquisitely described and very much part of the homily Mills & Boon genre. Numerous sub-plots such as the menacing return of woman long since disappeared and the romantic possibilities for Aunt Phoebe bolster the main story.

For me the star of this book is Rebecca, Jackson’s daughter – she instantly won a place in my heart! Her warm loving personality, belief and innate wisdom is brilliantly captured and helps unravel the darkness of sorrow within Melanie; I can just imagine the powerful impact of the hugs from this little girl. The reader’s instant affection for Rebecca only heightens the tension and drama as she faces danger and the possibility of being lost to them forever.

Although an easy read with a welcome escapist element, this is a well-crafted and written novel with a perfect fusion of romance and drama; I quickly became engrossed in the lives of all the characters and I didn’t want to leave my new friends as the novel came to an end.

Rating:                   4 out of 5 stars

Available from   Amazon US   or  Amazon UK

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31 DAYS OF WONDER: A BOOK REVIEW

A brief lunchtime encounter at Grosvenor Park, London proves a pivotal moment in the lives of two young adults. Ben barely has a chance to introduce himself to Alice when she is whisked away by her domineering colleague to Glasgow. Not Glasgow, Scotland as Ben assumes, rather to see her irate boss, nicknamed after the city.

This misunderstanding sets in motion a course of actions that changes Ben’s life irrevocably as he becomes intent to find Alice once again…by getting to Glasgow whatever means possible! His loyal friend and flat mate, Dave, is on hand to help, even lending his folding bike to Ben. Before he knows it, he has been encouraged with his grandfather’s unexpected and unusual approval and involvement, to enrol on a charity bike race…one which is cut short by a tragedy within the family.

After the meeting with Alice in the park, he soon sees her again…but the reader (and Ben) is aware that this is a hallucination…one that seems very real and with whom he converses. Gradually her appearances drift further apart until the end when Ben’s childhood trauma is fully revealed and the reason for his supposed mental problems are explained.

Meanwhile, Alice continues to face a gauntlet of verbal abuse about her size at both work and from her parents when she visits them…and inevitably a downward spiral of eating ensues to escape her misery. Her daily humiliation saps her confidence and strength until she is weak, meek and at everyone’s mercy. The ray of hope in her days are Ben’s kind words in the park, a memory that supports her and she even makes up a relationship with him to her family and colleagues…one that to her surprise helps her ultimately and dramatically find her voice.

The daily battles in life take a turn for the positive as the memory of their meeting is the catalyst to changes in both their lives. 

31 Days of Wonder’ is a whimsical novel, often amusing – even laugh out funny at times – whilst also deeply profound and moving. It’s delightfully surprising in failing to conform to convention and become a straight forward romantic story and instead the lives of the two main character circle each other, their separate narratives mirroring but always kept apart.

It is told from a third person viewpoint of Alice and Ben, each entry by them punctuated by either her location, train times or Ben’s location and distance from Alice. Each chapter is a new day, counting up to the titled ‘31’ and with all such counting devices the book easily becomes a compulsive read, which is abetted by the short segments and chapters as well as being written in the present tense.

The theme of self-acceptance is all-pervasive in the book and reflects the author’s own journey to self-acceptance whilst battling with depression during the writing of this novel. After many re-writes over a long time, the author finally achieved the perfect ending…with light, positivity and hope reigning strong. 

This is a charming, beautifully written novel of self-discovery which is engaging and memorable. Definitely not to one miss and I am now keen to read Tom Winter’s other books.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publication Date: 10t August 2017

Publisher: Little Brown Book Group UK

** This is the first of many books I hope to read whilst away on my summer break amidst the serene beauty of the Swedish natural world.