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! 

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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,

BOOKS I READ ON MY HOLIDAY

I’m a sucker for lists of all kinds. To do lists, places to visit list, present list but surely the best type of all is that of books! Books are always a huge part of my life and even more so during a holiday.

This Easter in Sweden was no exception and thanks to ebooks I’m no longer restricted by weight to the number of books to take along – just as well as together my son and I read sixteen books.

It was a literary fest and here are a few of the varied mix I read…with just a brief overview and the effect they had on me.

51zIoSmxGJLThe book that carried me across the North Sea was The Legacy of Lucy Harte.  I need a good, no, make that a great book, to ensure that I am distracted from the fact I am 30,000+ feet up in the air with only two engines keeping me safely there and a thin sheet of metal is all that protects me from the airless minus 50 degrees centigrade outside.

‘Maggie O’Hara knows better than most that life can change in a heartbeat. Eighteen years ago she was given the most precious gift- a second-hand heart, and a second chance at life.

Always thankful, Maggie has never forgotten Lucy Harte – the little girl who saved her life. But as Maggie’s own life begins to fall apart, and her heart is broken in love, she loses sight of everything she has to live for…

Until an unexpected letter changes Maggie’s life..’

The Legacy of Lucy Harte is a gem of a read and I was desolate when I finished reading it. I had immersed myself in Maggie’s, her family’s and friend’s lives and it was a wrench to say goodbye to them. The book was wonderfully written and at no point a maudlin story.

LIONA good friend here on WP recently recommended the film Lion. I was all set to go to the cinema when it was removed from the schedule. That is so typical! l! However I saw the book available on Amazon and once I reassured myself that the book was written before the film, I just couldn’t resist this true-life story.

‘As a five-year old in India, I got lost on a train. Twenty-five years later, I crossed the world to find my way back home.

Five-year-old Saroo lived in a poor village in India, in a one-room hut with his mother and three siblings… until the day he boarded a train alone and got lost. For twenty-five years.

This is the story of what happened to Saroo in those twenty-five years. How he ended up on the streets of Calcutta. And survived. How he then ended up in Tasmania, living the life of an upper-middle-class Aussie. And how, at thirty years old, with some dogged determination, a heap of good luck and the power of Google Earth, he found his way back home.’

Lion is a wonderfully sweeping human real life drama; it is lovingly told, heart-breaking, tense and astutely emotionally honest.  The main characters in Saroo’s life are wonderfully captured. The whole book is cinematic in its scope, brilliantly written and by the end I felt I’d seen the film! This is a book that caught hold of my heart from the very start and had me reaching for the tissues. Surely a sequel will be written soon.

GO SET THE WATCHMANGo Set a Watchman has been on my shelf for a year and after the, at times, vitriolic, discussions across the news and social media I had decided to leave this. However, my curiosity was piqued and at the last minute this is the only paperback that made it into my suitcase.

‘Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that can be guided only by one’s own conscience.’

The book is brilliantly written with the first part beautifully capturing Jean Louse Finch’s return to Maycomb and meeting up with family and friends, including her potential fiancee. However, about half way the whole book takes a sudden dramatic turn…and stays there. Whoa! Despite the comments I’d read I hadn’t expected the remainder to be a whole discourse on race in the 1950s and before. Like the slap she received from her uncle, I felt equally winded. As she argues for her beliefs I begin to feel her helplessness. I’m glad I’ve read it but can see why her publishers advised her to write To Kill a Mockingbird instead as indeed the first part of the book contains a lot of her memorable events which later find a central place in TKMB.

BRITT-MARIEFrederik Backman is very popular at the moment and he found success after writing a blog for many years (there is hope for us all!) I had thoroughly enjoyed his A Man Called Ove. I was less fond of My Grandmother sends her regards and apologises.

However, Britt-Marie Was Here is my favourite of his books and as far as I’m concerned Backman has totally redeemed himself!

‘For as long as anyone can remember, Britt-Marie has been an acquired taste. It’s not that she’s judgemental, or fussy, or difficult – she just expects things to be done in a certain way. A cutlery drawer should be arranged in the right order, for example (forks, knives, then spoons). We’re not animals, are we?

But behind the passive-aggressive, socially awkward, absurdly pedantic busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes.

So when Britt-Marie finds herself unemployed, separated from her husband of 20 years, left to fend for herself in the miserable provincial backwater that is Borg – of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it – and somehow tasked with running the local football team, she is a little unprepared. But she will learn that life may have more to offer her that she’s ever realised, and love might be found in the most unexpected of places.’

Britt-Marie Was Here is deceptively simplistic in its style with a hidden far-reaching depth. The character of Britt-Marie and all whom she encounter are wonderfully crafted although it does take time to become engaged with them on a literary level. Britt-Marie’s world is odd, particularly with her OCD which dictates her life (I could identify with the obsession with lists, though!).

Do stick with the book as it is worth the initial effort and very soon her life and the lives of the inhabitants  of Borg will win a place in your heart and mind. As they are changed by her presence of Britt-Marie, she is equally affected by their disarming behaviour. Hers and their lives will never be the same. I just loved this book and at times found myself cheering along for Britt-Marie, at times screaming at her (silently of course); Britt-Marie evokes a reaction from the reader throughout until the touching and deft finale.

My final three books all have one element in common – Sisters. At last it seems that the era of ‘Girl’ titled books are on the wane only to be replaced by a proliferation of ‘Sister’ related ones.

THE LOST AND THE FOUNDI hadn’t even realised The Lost & The Found was about two sisters, one snatched as young, until I started the book.

‘SHE WAS LOST…

When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Faith’s childhood was dominated by Laurel’s disappearance – from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister.

NOW SHE IS FOUND…

Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans’ old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that’s lost can be found again…’

This is  YA book was recommended to me by my son and mostly so for its ending. The story is superb, well told, full of suspense building to a crescendo of twists. Wow! The first I was sort of expecting, not the second nor the heart-stopping third. I had to re-read it a few times…just to take it in. Finishing this book late at night is not recommended as a sleep eluded me for next few hours. This is an extremely powerful and one  I finished within 24 hours!

51AmnHYNpzLSister Sister is in many ways eerily similar to Cat Clarke’s book and alas only highlights its weaknesses.

‘Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life.

Alice thinks Clare is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family.

One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac.

Two sisters. One truth.’

In all honesty I would say this is the weakest of the books I read during the Easter break. A psychological thriller with few thrills. There were a moments of danger, but the story was clearly signposted, the characters deliberately vague to add to the confusion. It had me hooked to a certain degree however in the end I finished it as I wanted to read the end, see how the writer got there and if I was right. A good read overall, just not great.

Sister Sister also had the misfortune of using the same technique for one of the characters as Sometimes I lie in that one of the character is not telling the truth.

SOMETIMES I LIESometimes I lie is another book recommended to me by my son and this is a compulsive read which such intricate twists my son and I ended up discussing them at length, referring back to the book to double check details.

‘My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me.

  1. I’m in a coma

2. My husband doesn’t love me any more

3. Sometimes I lie’

This brilliant psychological thriller had me guessing until the end, satisfying in its twists and drama, great hold on the characters which are fully developed. My personal pet hate is the very final sentence which I know is supposed to be tantalising but it just isn’t logically possible!!

I read an article on Mslexia  magazine about Twitter length stories and for fun I wrote the following loosely based around the themes of the last three books mentioned.

My long lost sister’s tatty teddy hung limply in the stranger’s hand, her gaunt eyes fixed on me.

‘Where did you get that?’

‘From Lucy…years ago. I managed to escape.’   ©Annika Perry, 2017

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Easter book binge. Have you read any of these? Are you tempted to read any of them?  I look forward to reading your comments.

THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS by @emily_barr #FloraBanks #FollowingFlora

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This is a book that shouldn’t work. But it does so brilliantly. The One Memory of Flora Banks tells the story of Flora, a girl with no recent memory and who astonishingly is the sole narrator. As she faces the world and herself anew every few hours the reader quickly becomes as one with Flora and her confusion, despair and growth.

As a result of treatment for a brain tumour at the age of ten Flora Banks has anterograde amnesia. The seven years following the operation are a void to her although she remembers much of the first decade of her life, especially her parents, her best friend, Paige and her brother Jacob. However each day she’s startled by her older self, family and friends as she wakes to fear what is happening, what has happened. No wonder she has ‘Flora, be brave’ written on one of her hands. 

Writing is one form of survival for Flora as she seeks to navigate her disjointed life and for her aid, she covers her hands and arms with words to remind her of her life, events, people. She also keeps a detailed notebook throughout the days which becomes vital for her sanity and further notes direct her to the book. 

svalbard-islandsThis is Flora’s life until one day something amazing occurs – she kisses a boy on the beach and remembers it!  The boy is called Drake and also Paige’s boyfriend. This pivotal event transforms Flora’s life and she will do anything to chase her memory of  Drake – even to the extent of travelling to the Artic alone in search of him. Her one and only memory in seven years. She’s sure he holds the key to her future self.

Memory forms not only ourselves and our lives but is also critical in storytelling with a beginning, a middle and an end. The One Memory of Flora Banks is unique in that the past, present and future become the now and along with Flora we face each new moment with a tangible sense of fear and anticipation. Her bewilderment and turmoil are brilliantly conveyed and the reader immediately mirrors the unpleasant surreal sensation of her existence. Life becomes akin to a waking dream, at times nightmarish, at times exquisitely beautiful. Whilst Flora’s life in Penzance is written with a more concrete grounding in reality, her time in Spitsbergen gains a stunning dreamlike quality whilst her new-found friends remind her about themselves and herself, helping her, losing her as she chases Drake further.

svalbard-ice-cave-trip-spitsbergenUnlike Flora, the reader has one major advantage – memory! With this ability, the brave, tenacious and surprisingly whimsical nature of Flora shines through and the remote location in the frozen depths of the Artic takes prominence, the bleak white landscape a metaphor of Flora’s blank spaces where her memories should reside. Gradually a more complete picture of her life is created, how her parents dealt with her illness, how her brother wanted her to have a more free, less protected life. His belief in her strength and ability to do anything is the driving force that carries her closer to Drake. But will she ever find him? Will it help her recover her memory?

This is a book that lived with me through the days even when not reading and to which I couldn’t wait to return to every evening. Its magical enchanted feel fluttered like lilting music over me, the absolute unknown a welcome break from formulaic writing.

Why on earth it is marketed under the YA (Young Adult) category beggars belief. This is truly a disservice to a superb book which would be loved by readers of all ages, so please don’t be put off by this pigeonholing.  

This is a wonderful unexpected unusual book which will delight you with its story, its originality and its deft and clever execution; I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

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

Rating:                          5 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     Penguin

Price:                              £ 3.99      Kindle UK

                                          $ 4.39    Paperback  US

AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD: A BOOK REVIEW

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Apples! Only someone of Tracy Chevalier’s calibre can pick such an ordinary fruit and create the most mesmerising, sweeping novel centred around them. 

tracy-chevalierAs a huge fan of her earlier books, particularly Girl with a Blue Earring and The Last Runaway, I was positively giddy to be approved by HarperCollins to review her latest creation, At the Edge of the Orchard. I started reading with a great sense of anticipation.

‘They were fighting over apples again.’

applesConstant war reigns between James and Sadie Goodenough in Ohio in 1838 and onwards as they struggle to turn the inhospitable and aptly named Black Swamp into a successful apple orchard. To James, son of an eminent apple farmer in Connecticut, apples and their trees are an obsession and are treated with reverential care and none more so than his beloved Golden Pippen, a sweet-tasting ‘eater’. 

ciderspittersMeanwhile, his wife Sadie seeks solace from the misery of her life, her losses, in the applejack cider which is made from fresh ‘spitters’ apples. 

In the midst of their bitter, self-centred and often violent marriage, ten children are born and many die from the yearly ‘skeeters’  (mosquitoes). Those that survive are more slaves to their parents than children and fend for themselves in the brutal harsh world. It is a gruelling existence which is described in great detail and intensity; I felt as if I suffered with them.

Robert, the youngest son, is striking with his disarming knowing look that unsettles both James and Sadie equally; his quiet diplomacy at times succeeds in calming the household even though he is also interested in the apples.  Martha meanwhile is a sickly child, who nevertheless runs the family ‘home’ and she is pithily described by Sadie as: 

‘Martha was the runt of the litter, the only weak one left who hadn’t died. She hummed all the time, hymns to block out the sounds of Deaths footstep behind her.’

This example is just one of the variety of brilliant narrative techniques used by Tracy Chevalier in this book. Her skilful entwining of narrative voices creates a fully immersive read and it starts with a close third person (James’s) point of view interwoven with the simpler, colloquial, childlike, even bawdy and misspelt first person voice of Sadie. I felt I was involved in an intimate conversation with her at some stages. 

Altogether there are five chapters, each from a different era though some do overlap. One chapter is a masterful collection of Robert’s yearly (unanswered) letters back home following his sudden departure from Black Swamp as a child, describing his intriguing and tough adventures over seventeen years as he heads further west. The mystery as to the cause of his sudden departure is not revealed until much later, however. His life is vividly portrayed as he enters the Gold Rush in California and ultimately ends up working for Willian Lobb, a famous tree collector.  

in-wintertreesWhilst the first section of the book deals deftly with details of apple grafting, growth, picking, the second section centres around the grand sequoia of California and of Robert’s life with them. The description of the sequoia that Robert first encounters is awe-inspiring and I can visualise the whole scene exactly.


dancingThroughout the book, Tracy Chevalier expertly weaves fact with fiction, including the then recently discovered Calaveras Grove in California.  Billie Latham built the infamous stage on the stump of first giant sequoia, named The Discovery Tree, to be cut down at the Grove. As a tree agent, Robert becomes responsible under William Lobb to collect seeds and saplings to send to James Veitch, an English nurseryman for the stately homes in the UK. 


The rough pioneering life of California is recreated brilliantly with the raw hard life in San Francisco captured in minute detail whilst evoking the enthralling enticing allure of the wildlife. Robert is forced to forgo his lonely existence when one day a visitor brings the haunted past dramatically back to him.

The characterisation in At the Edge of the Orchard is superb; there is not a single false tone or word. Everyone is realistically portrayed although it is hard to feel empathy for certain characters, especially James and Sadie. 

The darkness that is all pervasive in the book would be too much without the glint of light and hope in the form of one critical person. Will she become Robert’s saviour and end the desolation that’s blighted the lives of so many? 

I fell head over heels for Tracy Chevalier’s latest novel and was swept away by the story. I’m in awe of the electrifying literary writing which remained powerful throughout. Reading the book I was emotionally overwrought as well intellectually savouring the exquisite recreation of nineteenth century Ohio and California. The ending was a crescendo of sorrows and joy. The best book of 2017 – so far!

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.  At the Edge of the Orchard is available to purchase although the paperback will be released on 7th February 2017 in the UK and is already for sale in the USA.

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Rating:                          5 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     HarperCollins UK

Links:                             Amazon UK or   Amazon US 

 

The Loyalist Legacy: Book Tour

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I am very excited to be part of Elaine Cougler’s book tour for her latest historical novel, The Loyalist Legacy.

‘Historical fiction is flourishing as never before,’ declared the head the British Historical Writers’ Association recently and Elaine’s final book in her Loyalist trilogy is testament to the popularity and success of this genre.

Set against the backdrop after the American War of Revolution (American War of Independence) and the War of 1812, The Loyalist Legacy is an intimate, personal and realistic novel centred around William and Catherine Garner seeking to rebuild their lives admist the terrible hardships and ensuing political fallout.  Her book can be read as a stand alone but of course would be richer to read in sequence.

With realistic insights into the challenging lives of Ontario’s early settlers, Elaine Cougler once again draws readers into the Loyalists’ struggles to build homes, roads, and relationships, and their growing dissension as they move ever closer to another war. The Loyalist Legacy shows us the trials faced by ordinary people who conquer unbelievable hardships and become extraordinary in the process.

The following encapsulates the essence of the book and I cannot help but want to learn more about the two main characters, their struggle and the change created in both them and their country.

When the War of 1812 is finally over William and Catherine Garner flee the desolation of Niagara and find in the wild heart of Upper Canada their two hundred acres straddling the Thames River. On this valuable land, dense forests, wild beasts, disgruntled Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William cannot take his family back to Niagara, but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and the children, he hurries along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return in time for spring planting.

The wonderful atmospheric writing of the following excerpt immediately drew me in and transported into the nineteenth century world of William and Catherine.

The tunnel sloped upward and, as the light grew brighter, they left the water behind. First out of the hole, Lucy watched as Robert turned back to help William tug their father, blinking, up into the sunshine. Aaron pulled her to the waiting wagon, and parted the hay to reveal a hiding place. She crawled inside, John came after and then her sons. They were almost blind in the shadowy half-light, brown with the sun filtered through the layered hay.

A bright spot of light opened where they had crawled in and Aaron shoved a jug of water toward them. “Godspeed,” he whispered and was gone. She prayed his part in this would never be known. The wagon lurched and they were off, the three escapees and her, now just as guilty in the eyes of the law as her men, and whoever was driving the wagon….

John dozed beside her, his long legs reaching to Robert and William who sat hunched at their parents’ feet. She had lain down beside John to try to cushion him from the bumpy road and hold his head on her shoulder. How could he sleep? She was acutely aware of each rut in the road and every stone the wheels scraped against as the wagon carried them to what she hoped was freedom. The horses snorted and panted up every hill and she found herself holding her breath hoping they’d make it.

They hardly stopped on the way out of the village, but each time they did everyone held their breath until the squeaky wheels started turning again. But the ride was uneventful. No one followed them; indeed, no one seemed to know they had escaped.

The wagon bed was covered with a thin tick meant to ease their journey and she thanked the planners for their effort even though it didn’t help much. Nevertheless the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves created a kind of rhythm and gradually her thoughts subsided into the sound as she released her fear and her excitement. Her body relaxed against John’s. The last thing she remembered was putting a handkerchief over her nose to keep out the bits of fresh hay floating in the murky air.

 

Whispering woke her. And a sudden burst of cool air, which wafted into the tight space, now dark. She pulled the cloth away and sat up. John groaned beside her and she felt his fevered forehead.

“Mama? Are you awake?” William’s low voice caught and he cleared his throat. “We’re stopping for the horses.” He crawled through the opening and she followed after him feeling her way in the darkness.

“What about your father? He’s burning with fever.” Picking bits of hay from her clothing she looked around but could see very little. A few distant stars shone weakly and a slip of a moon hung over them like a curved sword. Two men switched the teams but in the dim light she couldn’t see who they were. Only the occasional glint of harness bits and wide eyes—both horses’ and humans’—bore witness to their task. Mr. Beasley had been as good as his word.

Robert went to help the men and Lucy turned to John. William opened up a larger hole in the straw so his father could breathe easier. Very soon the horses were hitched again, the spent team tied to a wheel for a moment, and its driver, spent also after six hours of driving, brought Lucy a package of food from under the wagon seat. They each found a brief moment in the bushes, William helping his father out of the wagon for the purpose, and soon stuffed themselves back into the tight space.

The plan was to drive all night, the new driver had said, but Lucy wondered how much more she and John could take. Her rheumatism pained her at the best of times but bumping along in the back of this wagon was pure agony although she uttered not a word to her family. William had kept the plug of hay out of its hole at the back of the wagon and she was glad of the air. She plunged her hand into the sack to find what their rescuers had packed for them.

Hours later the wagon stopped again. William woke and hastily plugged the hole against the dawn light but soon removed the hay and crawled out, Robert right behind him. John’s eyes were on her and she took his hand.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Another stop for horses, I expect.” She touched his cheek. “Come. We’ll have a stretch.”

Robert helped his father from the wagon and took him into the bushes.

“Where are we, William?” Lucy asked. “Do you know?”

“We’re going to Burlington Bay. That’s all Aaron told me.”

“Beasley kept his promise.”

William squeezed her rough hand and she winced. “What is it, Mama?”

She forced a smile and took back her hand. “Look. The sun is just clearing the lake.”

“That’s the last we’ll see of it today.” Robert had returned from helping his father. “The driver says we’re still many miles from Beasley’s place.”

03_elaine-couglerA lifelong reader and high school teacher, Elaine Cougler found her passion for writing once her family was grown. She loves to read history for the stories of real people reacting to their world. Bringing to life the tales of Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and Rebellion of 1837 is very natural as Elaine’s personal roots are in those struggles. She lives today in the heart of Ontario, Canada, and is the descendant of Loyalists who lived through the times of which she writes.

Elaine Cougler can be found on TwitterFacebook Author Page, LinkedIn and on her blog.

The Loyalist Legacy is out now and available at  Amazon UK or Amazon US.

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THE FOOD OF LOVE: A BOOK REVIEW

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It’s not often I start a book and have absolutely no idea what it is about. NetGalley emailed me saying I’d been pre-approved for ‘The Food of Love’ and as that morning I’d just finished a rather graphic collection of Stephen King’s short stories I thought this gentle-sounding novel would be my soothing tonic.

‘The Food of Love’ – such a safe, innocuous title I immediately pictured romance centred on a taverna in Greece or a spy/love story set in Spain, the nights hot and with many evening scenes at a half-lit tapas restaurant. 

I could not have been more mistaken, although my theory seemed to hold sway for the very first part of the book which starts with a family on holiday in the warm climes of Florida. Freya Braithwaite and her husband Lockie are walking through Old Naples one evening with their daughters, Charlotte and Lexi. Charlotte is quietly confident albeit cautious and sensible whilst her younger sister is the adventurous one who begs to be allowed to swim in the dark. Even as she is being warned about the dangers, including that of sharks, she refuses to obey and disappears off the sea wall into the blackness below.

This brief flashback sets the picture of a perfect happy harmonious family where love and laughter are the norm in their idyllic lifestyle. Eight years later the book begins properly with the Braithwaite family at home in the UK and quickly I became engrossed in their lives; Freya is a freelance food writer (extremely pertinent to the book), whilst her husband is a freelance photographer. The family are captured with poetic, lyrical ease and in small sketches the author reveals the everyday, the ordinary wonderful life. Of course, as with all good books I was by this stage on tether hooks, just waiting for the turn in the story, waiting for the drama, the chaos.

A phone call from the school provides the catalyst to the ensuing novel where a normal meeting with a teacher unveils the potential problem with one of her daughters. Freya’s gnawing anxiety ahead of the meeting is portrayed with truth and I could easily imagine myself in her position and Freya’s insistent rejection of the teacher’s insinuations is equally believable – there was no way Lexi could have an issue with food! 

From hereon the book becomes a harrowing, even punishing read at times, as Lexi’s anorexia is dramatically discovered and her health rapidly deteriorates. The effects of her starvation are candidly described and the catalogue of Lexi’s increasingly critical health problems are meticulously revealed. Freya’s confusion, desperation and guilt is brilliantly captured whilst Lockie’s down-to-earth, angry reaction causes friction for the first time in their nineteen year marriage. He finds it increasingly impossible to accept what he sees as ‘pandering’ to Lexi as she undergoes various treatments. Furthermore the tension that has existed between the siblings continues to fester, especially since Charlotte finds herself sidelined, the milestones in her own life forgotten, ignored.

Although told from the third person perspective I identified closely with the characters, especially so with Freya and Lexi. The collapse of all their lives is told in raw albeit loving detail with the absurd amidst the calamity skilfully interwoven. Personally I found the topic uncomfortable, disturbing even and I would not be surprised if this holds true for many potential readers, however I can offer the assurance that it is handled with finesse and control; ultimately it is a book about four people thrown into the unknown and how we function as an individual, as a couple or as a family when faced with adversity, when the unimaginable becomes a reality and to what extent love can be the solution. 

I read the book in two days and found it, to use that well-worn phrase, ‘unputdownable’ and this was partly down to the ‘countdown’  paragraphs at the end of each chapter. Set some time in the future, the clock starts with eight hours left as Freya prepares for the life-changing event, and together with Charlotte, she is desperately trying to compose a letter to Lexi. Events, memories from the past are unveiled as they struggle to compose their missives. The burning question is of course whether Lexi is alive or dead?

‘The Food of Love’ is a compelling, heart-wrenching, even painful book but all the same a heart-warming and rewarding novel which I can highly recommend to anyone with an interest in so-called ‘domestic’ dramas. 

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

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Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     Lake Union Publishing 

Release Date:              1st December 2016                               

Links:                             Amazon UK or   Amazon US 

THE FIRE CHILD: A BOOK REVIEW

fire child

‘You will be dead by Christmas.’

This dramatic declaration, uttered by eight-year-old Jamie to his new step-mother, Rachel, is pivotal to ‘The Fire Child’ and as the summer months count down to Christmas the tension and intensity of the book builds a to nail-biting finale. 

From her single life in London Rachel is quickly whisked off her feet by handsome but mysterious David and soon she finds herself in the midst of his family legacy and home of Carnhallow House in Cornwall. David is a loving and kind husband but often distant from her, both emotionally and also physically as his work takes him to London. His mother, Juliet, is welcoming but the sinister looms ever closer. Whilst Rachel quickly forms an attachment to her step-son, Jamie often appears disturbed by Rachel’s presence and he is haunted by visions of his dead mother; beautiful, angelic Nina who died in an accident eighteen months earlier. Nina who now it seems is proclaiming Rachel’s imminent demise. As Rachel seeks help for the boy, she finds her sanity brought into question as the past begins to catch up with her.

Tremayne weaves a wonderfully tight story with multiple threads coursing through the writing. Who is lying? Jamie? But why? Or is it David with his deep sense of duty to keep the family legacy alive? Or even Rachel herself? 

Following in Nina’s footsteps, Rachel tries to continue the excellent restoration carried out by Nina of the stunning estate which sits upon the tin tunnels dating back to the previous century. Nearby lies Morvellen Mine – the site of Nina’s death.

The emotional detachment of both David and Jamie is mirrored in the remote location of the house. The suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere is brilliantly brought to life; Rachel’s isolation emotionally and physically is emphasised in every chapter and rendered more immediate through the first person perspective. Her loneliness is palpable and reflected in the increasingly colder climate, darker days, gloomier light.The novel is steeped with tension, spine-tingling and even though I read this on warm summer days I still felt chilly and had goosebumps. The book has many similarities with Daphne du Maurier’s chilling ‘Rebecca’ and its powerful use of pathetic fallacy evoking a sense of a dark foreboding threat, madness and even death.

Half-way through the book I felt it had reached its climax and I honestly wondered where it would go; how or even if the author could continue this crescendo of suspense. I needn’t have worried. Through the use of David’s voice in the third person interspersed with Rachel’s continued narrative the author brings the book through unimaginable twists and turns to its dramatic conclusion. 

‘The Fire Child’ is a compulsive read, eerie, tense, well-crafted and cleverly plotted. I found myself walking and trying to unravel its intricacies – who was the real victim? Who was the culprit?  How and why did really Nina die? My only reason for not giving this book five stars is that I never totally empathised with any of the characters. Admittedly they were fully developed and well portrayed but I hesitated in giving my heart to any one of them. That said, this is up there with the best of this year’s psychological thrillers.

Finally a thank you to S. K. Tremayne (a pseudonym for journalist Sean Thomas who also writes as Tom Knox) for the fascinating history of the 4,000-year-old  tin mining industry of Cornwall, highlighting just some of its horrific and terrifying practices. The factual elements were seamlessly incorporated into this work of fiction.tinmine

A Cornish Tin Mine Ruin

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

Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     HarperCollins UK

Publication Date:        16th June  2016                         

Price:        

£ 6.00  Hardback – Amazon UK       

£ 4.99 Kindle (available 28th March 2017)  –  Amazon UK                                                                  £ 7.99 Paperback (available 9th February 2017)  – Amazon UK

From  $ 5.81 Hardback – Amazon US

LOCAL GIRL MISSING: A BOOK REVIEW

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Wow! There are thrillers with twists and then there is Local Girl Missing. A slow burning thriller that builds up to a crescendo of twists!

Twenty years ago 21-year-old Sophie Collier disappeared one night in her small Somerset hometown of Oldcliffe-on-Sea. Her best friend, Frankie (Francesca Howe), is devastated and left the town soon after the tragedy. Now she is back, answering the desperate call by Sophie’s brother Daniel to help him. To help him finally discover what happened to his sister. The impetus to his renewed search for the truth is the discovery by the police of a woman’s foot – that believed to be of his long-lost sister after she vanished, leaving only her trainer on the seaside’s dilapidated pier.

The story is told through the present narrative of Frankie and through Sophie’s old diary entries from 1997, prior to her disappearance. Eerily the two voices weave back and forth, from the past to the present. From past shared loves, to the death of a boyfriend witnessed by the girls as young. To the present and renewed love interest between Daniel and Frankie, to her former boyfriend Leon who was Sophie’s big love the months before her disappearance.

All seems connected and as Frankie arrives the past seems to invade her present existence. Quickly she begins to regret her return as ghosts literally appear to haunt her in the town, around the flat she resides. Letters appear alluding to knowledge of a devastating secret. She hears a baby’s cry every night, yet no family resides in the other apartments. Frankie’s friendly father appears more and more in the past story-line. Why? He ran a hotel in which the girls worked. How far does family come before friends? Who really is the enemy? Can one tell? Frankie’s distress and confusion is palpable but still she remains in the Oldcliffe. Unwilling to leave Daniel. Desperate, it seems, to discover the truth of her best friend’s disappearance.

The novel quickly builds to one where everyone is held under suspicion by Frankie.

I had expected a great novel by Claire Douglas as I’d been hooked by her nail-biting debut of ‘The Sisters’ where nothing was as it seemed. This book only confirms the expertise and adeptness of the author. The writing is taut, tense and gripping. The undercurrent of menace bubbles beneath the surface – a real psychological drama. Intense, shocking and frightening. Absolutely wonderful.

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

Rating:                    4 out of 5 stars

Publisher:               Penguin UK

Publication Date: 11th August 2016

Price:                        £ 4.99 Kindle – Amazon UK          

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Local-Girl-Missing-Claire-Douglas-ebook/dp/B01CL290HI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1471982528&sr=1-1&keywords=local+girl+missing

                                  £ 3.85 Paperback – Amazon UK    

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Local-Girl-Missing-Claire-Douglas/dp/1405926392/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1471975196&sr=8-1

                                $ 6.03 Paperback – Amazon US      

https://www.amazon.com/Pier-Claire-Douglas/dp/1405926392/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471975429&sr=1-1&keywords=local+girl+missing