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.’

LOYALTY & TRUST

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Below is my Open Letter to Amazon, which I am also sending to them in the post.

Dear Amazon

It beggars belief how little twelve years of my loyalty and patronage seems to mean to you.

From the first year of useable internet I was a keen shopper at your virtual store. As an avid reader the concept of books online proved irresistible. It was a joy to browse at my leisure, reading the beginnings of books, ordering. Very soon the sound of a book parcel landing on my hall carpet became a regular occurrence.

Quickly I adapted my shopping behaviour and as Amazon increasingly stocked various items, I was a frequent visitor — to the detriment of my purse! Christmases and birthdays saw orders for CDs, DVDs, console games. Household items too soon made it into my basket.

A few years later I heard about the new strange phenomenon called ebook! There was no way I could read on such a device, leaving my beloved paperback. I would never be converted. I held fast to this for a while, even when an eye disease made reading smaller print difficult. A relative sang the praises of Kindle – I would not relent. Until I was given a Kindle and a whole new world opened up for me; my love of reading rekindled and my library of virtual books grew exponentially. 

All the years you wrote emails requesting reviews. Often only a day or two after the order. Sometimes before said item had even arrived. Only this morning I received just such a notification.

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Intermittently I started to write them, then with increasing frequency. I hoped others would find them helpful. Sometimes I sang the praises of films or games, other times I recommended a seller for their prompt delivery. With books I described their impact on me, how successful and entertaining I found them. 

All worked seamlessly until 7th June 2018.

The first inkling I had of any problem was as I came to leave a review for a book I had bought. I put the stars in. Then went to enter my review in the box when I was met with the following message.

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What?! My first reaction was that it must be a glitch on my computer. I tried again. With the same result. I tried another product. Same outcome. I was unable to leave any review. I just couldn’t believe it! 

I immediately contacted you via message and was promised a reply within 24 – 48 hrs. I decided to wait.

The next day, after reading online about this problem, another concern started gnawing at me.

What about the reviews I had posted. Recently? Years ago? Did I dare look? I almost wish I hadn’t checked.

I felt absolute and overwhelming shock. My heart pounded. I was stunned by what I saw. Nothing! All my reviews from the past twelve years eradicated. 

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All gone — without any warning, communication, discussion, explanation.

I felt devastated, dumbfounded. This felt like such a betrayal of trust, a reckless and total disregard for the individual, in this case myself. All my genuine efforts to review bonafide purchases and gifts had entirely disappeared. 

Then came the impenetrable wall of your company … the blankness of silence. 

Despite my three further attempts to contact you via message followed by three telephone calls I have still not had any explanation or discussion upon my lost reviews and my inability to post new ones. 

The staff handling the calls were pleasant enough even having me in ironic laughter once. My last attempt to talk to someone, resulted in the bizarre declaration from the advisor that I hadn’t ever written any reviews! In disbelief I guffawed and repeated my original issue, already described at the start of the conversation.

All along I was promised I would be contacted soon and once I was even promised a reply in six hours.

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During my last telephone call I was repeatedly assured that the matter was being passed over to the Community Team who would be contacting me in, the now familiar, 24 – 48 hrs.

With fading hope and lack of expectation of a reply I am still waiting. The sinking feeling of helplessness with regard to this issue is settling within me. The inability to even talk to someone with authority to discuss the problem is staggering. 

In the midst of the emotional fallout, I have become upset with my own distress. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose this is not of such importance, yet it is to me.

All these years I have naively assumed that my longstanding business with your company was a matter of cooperation. I placed my trust in this and feel your total disregard and lack of communication deeply.

My initial shock is now diminishing and replaced by a sad acceptance. I feel for the sellers of the items I’ve bought, for their lost reviews. I despair that I cannot write my thoughts on any possible products I may buy in the future.

Finally, I am still human and trusting enough that a small part of me holds out that my plea for contact from yourselves is not entirely futile, that someone will get in touch with me. To discuss this issue, to find a resolution and hopefully resurrect my reviews and allow me to review in the future.

The heart and soul is vanishing in so much of the world these days — don’t let this happen in your organisation. 

Annika Perry

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N E W S F L A S H    N E W S F L A S H   N E W S F L A S H   N E W S F L A S H

I just went in again to check on my reviews on Amazon this afternoon (26th June) and to my utter astonishment I found my reviews are back on! Wow! The power of publicity and the influence of many voices sometimes succeeds … and so happy this is the case for me! Thank you everyone!

ENCOUNTERS: A BOOK REVIEW

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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)

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

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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)

MYRTLE THE PURPLE TURTLE: A BOOK REVIEW

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‘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.

THE MUSEUM OF YOU: A BOOK REVIEW

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‘When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story, you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories.’

Grief. It’s all pervasive and its repercussions are felt throughout the generations, even to those newly born as tragedy strikes.

This is only too true for Clover, almost twelve, who has lived under the cloud of her mother’s death when she was only six weeks old. A ‘surprise’ to both her parents, her well-meaning father, Darren, has tried to protect his daughter from any further unhappiness.

His reluctance to talk about his wife, Becky, is clear to sharp-minded Clover as she sees her father’s deep sorrow and fear when she raises the topic with him and he replies with the oft repeated sound-bites, sharing only minimal information about her mother.

On the cusp of teenage years, Clover becomes desperate to break through the palpable dark shadow of her life and learn more about her elusive mother. However ‘she has recently become attuned to the way Dad takes the temperature of her mood and attempts to chart it. He’ll stop once she smiles – a small smile isn’t enough, it takes all her teeth to convince, and even then he sometimes inspects her expression like a worried dentist.’ In her attempt to get to know her mother Clover recreates Becky’s life from her belongings, which have long since been stored with other junk in the seldom entered second bedroom.

‘This was her mother’s room. This was her mother’s view. These are her mother’s shoes. She teeters over to the crowded space at the end of the bed, back and forth she treads, back and forth and back and forth as if eventually, she might step into her mother’s life.’

As the poignant and moving story unfolds, the reader gradually learns the reasons for Darren’s reticence and the patchwork of sorrow and guilt permeates the book.

The novel is written through two narrative strands, that of Clover and Darren. Both are in the close third person perspective and the author’s deftness and skill ensure that each voice is distinctive and it is easy to relate to each character. The sense of immediacy is achieved by the use of present tense for current day events which slides into the past tense for the story of Darren and Becky’s earlier life.

Clover’s courage, keen observation and emotional intelligence is strongly portrayed throughout the novel, not only through her relationship with her father but also with her kindly, loud and older neighbour Mrs Mackerel who has often helped care for her. As Clover experiences the first independent summer holiday she is inspired by the school visit to Merseyside Maritime Museum exhibition about the Titanic to create her own museum about her mother, with a special exhibition in the second bedroom entitled ‘Becky Brookfield – The Untold Story’. The descriptions of the various items recovered from the boxes and suitcases in the second bedroom punctuate the two viewpoints of the story, with each exhibit clearly named, logged and its history guessed at (often wrongly).

Darren is a brilliantly crafted character, flawed, slightly rough. He’s an academic at heart whose passionate interest and intent to study geography at university was cut short by his own mother’s illness and death in his teens. As Darren’s father effectively withdrew from life, silence filled the gap of his mother’s former presence. After losing Becky, Darren once again experiences intense grief as he is ‘poleaxed by the old ache of missing her (Becky)’.

The themes of love and relationship between parents and children is explored throughout the book, including that of Becky and her damaged younger brother, Jim, who grew up in a traumatic household. Despite her Uncle Jim’s chaotic life, Clover accepts him with the same unreserved love as her mother had. Meanwhile, further characters become as family and these include Colin, the odd but stalwart friend from school who is a constant presence in Darren’s life. There is also the outsider Dagmar who becomes an unexpected friend to Clover and finally her father’s female friend, Kelly and her two young sons. Ultimately they all become closely linked, caring for each and showing that ordinary people are extraordinary.

Locations feature heavily in the book, particularly as Darren has never left the area he grew up in. As a bus driver he drives back and forth between Liverpool and Manchester, recalling the street names, homes, allotment, sights and sounds and these quickly become familiar to the reader as the events of his past unravels in a veritable stream of consciousness.

‘The Museum of You’ is written with a unique form of whimsical realism, the grittiness of life interlaced with the magical recreation of Becky’s life in the form a one room museum. In places the novel can seem to be meandering and some might consider the pace too slow. Personally I was captivated by the unfurling of the story, the shifting perspectives, the varying tenses, the excellent dialogue and museum details providing an engrossing, thought-provoking, memorable read. At no stage did the book become mawkish or morbid, rather it’s a seductive tale, tenderly told and overall enchanting with a perfect feel-good factor for the summer holidays!

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

Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                    Random House UK

Available from          Amazon UK   or   Amazon US

Note:

The next few weeks I’ll be on holiday, relaxing in the wonderfully peaceful retreat in the forest, visiting family, friends, connecting with nature, swimming in the lakes and sea. Oh, not to mention, trying to make a dent in my burgeoning reading list – I’m so behind on reviews and feel mortified! Hopefully there will be lots of new ones for you to read in the Autumn. I’ll be popping in only a little on WP (when the weak signal allows) although my blog will be not dormant.

For the first time since I started blogging, I’m honoured to have written guest posts for two fellow bloggers this summer so I hope to see you there (I’ll be reblogging!). Furthermore, I’ll be posting three picture / inspiring quote posts during the next few weeks. 

I am looking at this photo again and can smell the heather, the rocks and the sea. I am sure I can hear the seagulls too.😊 Beckoning me…so off I go and to do something useful…….whatever that is! Meanwhile, I wish you all a lovely summer, may it be full of laughter, smiles and joy – the sun shining neither too hot or too little! 

20160807_115011

Twenty-four Days – A Thriller by J. Murray

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I am delighted to be part of Jacqui Murray’s book launch of her latest exciting thriller, Twenty-Four Days.

It is only nine months since Jacqui Murray released her first book, To Hunt a Sub, which I featured hereTwenty-four Days promises to be an even more intense and thrilling read.

Some familiar characters return in this sequel novel including the ever popular albeit quirky Otto,  a sentient artificial intelligence robot. Along with its handler, Kali Delamagente and brilliant scientist, Zeke Rowe, the unlikely team becomes America’s only chance to stop a terrorist attack that threatens the nation.

First here is some information about the book itself before Jacqui kindly answers some questions that came to my mind whilst reading this and the sample first chapter.

‘World-renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr. Zeke Rowe is surprised when a friend from his SEAL past shows up in his Columbia lab and asks for help: Two submarines have been hijacked and Rowe might be the only man who can find them.

At first he refuses, fearing a return to his former life will end a sputtering romance with fellow scientist and love of his life, Kali Delamagente, but when one of his closest friends is killed by the hijackers, he changes his mind. He asks Delamagente for the use of her one-of-a-kind AI Otto who possesses the unique skill of being able to follow anything with a digital trail.

In a matter of hours, Otto finds one of the subs and it is neutralized.

But the second, Otto can’t locate.

Piece by piece, Rowe uncovers a bizarre nexus between Salah Al-Zahrawi–the world’s most dangerous terrorist and a man Rowe thought he had killed a year ago, a North Korean communications satellite America believes is a nuclear-tipped weapon, an ideologue that cares only about revenge, and the USS Bunker Hill (a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) tasked with supervising the satellite launch.

And a deadline that expires in twenty-four days.

As America teeters on the brink of destruction, Zeke finally realizes that Al-Zahrawi’s goal isn’t nuclear war, but payback against the country that cost him so much.’

To the interview – Jacqui’s answers are in italic.

Firstly, I am interested in the research you must have undertaken for this book? It is technically, scientifically and militarily detailed. What did your research entail? Do you have a background in the Navy/submarines/AIs? Have you any personal experience of submarines?

I have been onboard a submarine, but (of course) couldn’t visit many of the parts I had to describe because they are classified. For that sort of info, I turned to working submariners. They shared what they could without crossing the security line. I also did a ton of Googling under the assumption that if I could come up with it in a Google search, it probably wasn’t classified. Any time I worried I might step over the line of revealing secret details, I stepped back, either obfuscated or deleted. This was true not only for those few sub scenes, but the many cruiser scenes.

Next, I’m interested in your writing process? What is it like writing a fiction book as opposed to your factual tech books? Did you write it whilst still editing the first one? How long did it take you to write this?

My first effort at fiction (called Born in a Treacherous Time–it will come out next year–it has been a long long process) was inspired as an effort to humanize dry facts. I wanted to present real-world events in a way people would enjoy rather than a textbook which tends toward the pedantic. So, I used fiction’s traits of developing characters, story arc, and crises-resolution. This is typical in historic fiction and creative non-fiction, but I didn’t know that when I started twenty-five years ago. I am a devotee of that approach now. 

This book is the sequel to To Hunt a Sub. When I finished that book, I sent out query letters, waited, got nibbles and waited some more. To keep myself busy, I wrote Twenty-four Days. I finished it before the query process for the first book ended. That’s frightening to think about. When I went through the same slow, tedious process (which included acquiring and losing an agent) for Twenty-four Days, I decided I’d prefer to self-publish. The material in Twenty-four Days (a partnership between North Korea and Iran, a North Korean nuclear weapon, and an attack on a US warship by North Korea) is somewhat time-sensitive and spot on for today’s geopolitical events–I didn’t want to miss that opportunity!

Following a discussion with another blogger, do you prefer to write straight on the computer or in longhand first? Do you think it makes a difference?

I have rheumatoid arthritis so I definitely must type. I’m looking to the day when I’ll replace typing with speaking. Anyone out there write their book entirely with vocal commands? I’d love to hear how that goes.

How do you find the editing process? Did you write many drafts first?

I like the editing process. I probably read through the entire book a dozen times, to be sure of flow, pacing, that sort of stuff, but in between, I edit in chunks. I find it very effective to have my editing software (I use Autocrit) identify pieces they have a problem with and then dig into it to fix it. There will be thousands of those–too many passive sentences, repeated words, or any number of other reasons. 99% of the time, after I’ve fixed these and then reread the entire draft, I am much happier with the story.

I was wondering if this book can be read as a stand-alone or best after To Hunt a Sub? Are you planning a sequel to Twenty-four Days? Are you working on any other fiction book?

It is a stand-alone though I’ve peppered in details from the prior book where needed. I am planning the sequel. I want to feature Otto (the sentient AI) more centrally and move away from warships and submarines. I’ll know more in a few months!

I’m also working on a spin-off series that revolves around the ancient female Lucy who appeared several times in To Hunt a Sub. Her story of resilience, strength, and pain is motivating. This will be historic fiction rather than thriller. The first is titled Born in a Treacherous Time and is due June, 2018.

With reference to the title – Is there any particular significance of 24 days?

The story starts with the good guys having only 24 days to save the world. Typical thriller fashion, innit? I count down the days as the reader moves through the book, to build drama and keep the action centered.

What is the hardest part of self-publishing? Are there any elements in indie publishing that were easier than you originally thought?

The hardest part of self-publishing is believing I’m worthy. When an agent knocks on your virtual door and says they want to represent you, that tells you you’re a good writer, You’re worthy of being published. It’s difficult to do it without that cheerleader, to put my work out there because I believe in it (and my husband–he always believed in me). 

The easiest part of self-publishing is the second book. Once I built a template for how to do it,  all I had to do was replicate it for the second book. That’s not to say it wasn’t frightening, time-consuming, and stressful. But I did have a model to follow that worked once before. That made a big difference. 

Finally, here are a couple of extracts from Twenty-four Days to whet your appetite:
'Obeid was stunned. His gut said Run! He risked his future—his life—staying a moment longer with this crazed zealot, but Obeid did little more than croak a strangled, “If I succeed, I will also die!” His University friends called it a Sophie’s Choice.

The Kenyan shrugged. “But less painfully.”

…..

Across the yard, limned against the grey sky, towered the domed shape of the HMS Triumph, its deck slick with rain, sail glistening in the early morning light. The warheads it carried could reach the vast majority of the planet but the bustling sailors, some in oil-stained uniforms, others nattily dressed in white with jaunty officer caps, greeted each other, oblivious to the danger approaching them in the uniform of shipmates.

What had he done?

“Keep going,” the scar-faced Kenyan hissed between clenched teeth.

Obeid balled his fists to stop their shaking and forced his steps to be slow and measured as if in no rush to start what would be a three-month deployment.'

Jacqui, many thanks for your honest and informative answers in this interview. Tempted to read more,  Twenty-four Days is now available to purchase at  Kindle US,  Kindle UKKindle Canada,