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

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‘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

TO HUNT A SUB: NOW RELEASED

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The wait is over!  The publication of what has for me been an eagerly awaited book is now available – ‘To Hunt a Sub’ by Jacqui Murray.

As Jacqui slowly started to give us an inkling about her first fiction book I was hooked. 

An unlikely team is America’s only chance

She reeled me when I read the summary.

A brilliant Ph.D. candidate, a cynical ex-SEAL, and a quirky experimental robot team up against terrorists intent on stealing America’s most powerful nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. By all measures, they are an unlikely trio–one believes in brawn, another brains, and the third is all geek. What no one realizes is this trio has a secret weapon: the wisdom of a formidable female who died two million years ago.

An accomplished writer, Jacqui captured me with a sample chapter. Here is just a taster excerpt. Enjoy…and remember you can read buy the book now!

Within an hour, the massive warship had settled to the ocean floor like the carcass of a dead whale. It teetered atop an ocean ridge, listing starboard against a jagged seamount, and the gentle push of an underwater current from a cliff that plunged into a murky darkness. Every watertight door was closed. As per protocol, the oxygen level was reduced to suppress a fire hazard. Without climate controls, the interior had already reached 60 degrees. It would continue dipping as it strove to match the bone-chilling surrounding water temperature.  Hypothermia would soon be a problem. For now, though, they were alive. 

The hull groaned as though twisted by a giant squid.

The Captain peered into the gloomy waters that surrounded the sub. “Thoughts, XO?”

“We’re stable for the moment, barring a strong underwater current.” 

Based on the creaking protests from the hull, they were at or beyond crush depth. Any deeper, the outside pressure would snap the HY-80 outer hull and sea water would roar into the living compartments. Everyone would be dead in seconds, either drowned or impaled on the ragged remains of the sub by a force in excess of a Category Five hurricane.

selfJacqui Murray  is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

To Hunt a Sub is available to buy on Amazon. 

 £ 2.29      Amazon UK 

$ 2.99      Amazon US 

 

 

A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS: A BOOK REVIEW

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A Boy Made of Blocks is a debut novel by Keith Stuart and is inspired by his experience with his own autistic son.

In the book, Sam is eight-years-old and only recently diagnosed with autism.  The trauma of bringing him up – described early on as ‘he (Sam) was like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas – small, funny but at the flick of a mental switch, easily capable of extreme and demented violence’ – has reached crises point with his mother, Jody and his father, Alex living apart in a trial separation. 

Alex has never connected with his son and mostly left Jody to care for Sam whilst using his job as an estate agent as an excuse to avoid the family home.  

The book is told solely through Alex’s first person point of view and I personally felt this is flawed on two levels. Firstly, it restricts the novel to the character of Alex and although we see Sam and Jody through his eyes, I would have enjoyed a direct view of their world through their eyes. As it is Jody becomes rather stereotyped and typecast. 

Furthermore, Alex’s initial self-pitying, self-absorbed litany (admittedly often self-depreciating and funny) does at times become tiring. It is only as the novel develops that he is redeemed and finally becomes a likeable character with whom I felt empathy.

It becomes increasingly obvious that Alex’s relationship with the world is almost as alien as his son’s. Alex’s isolation and loneliness is not as a result of  autism but started the day he saw his older brother killed by a car when they were children leaving school. A day and a death he has never come to terms with and that eventually tore the family apart, driving his sister (Emma) into a life of a globe trotter, never settling down with anyone, anywhere.

The transformation of Alex and Sam’s relationship and of their lives as a whole occurs as the result of Minecraft – an impulse purchase by his wife to help Sam fit in with his peers at school.  Based on the author’s real-life experience with his son and with his own in-depth knowledge of the gaming industry as a writer, it is only with the introduction of Minecraft that the book takes off. (As well as helping provide the title of this book!)

Minecraft acts like an extended metaphor throughout the book – the more Sam interacts with the game, the more he becomes connected to Alex and the world as a whole. The games’s low and high points – its hell, demons, creepers and finally treasure – mirrors their lows and highs in real life. Whilst staying at his best friend’s (Dan) flat, Alex joins Sam in the virtual world of Minecraft and together they start ‘chatting’ for the first time in Sam’s life as they build and build. It is this journey that finally causes Alex to see his son as a real person and not merely as a problem to be handled. ‘I saw Sam as an obstacle, something I’d have to work around. But that was wrong. Sam was the guide. Sam was my guide.’ Finally Alex realises they have more in common than he ever imagined.

The beauty and magic of the world of Minecraft is brilliantly and descriptively explained, weaving its way through the book as it widens the world for Sam.  

The ghost of Alex’s brother refreshingly haunts the pages, recounting  the events of their childhood lives and also providing an amiable side-plot through the possible romance between Dan and Emma. An aunt adored by Sam and to whom he naturally connects.

The tense in the book is unusual as it is present tense throughout and brings a sense of immediacy and involvement with the story.

A Boy Made of Blocks builds to a satisfying exciting conclusion, with me rooting for Sam along with the rest of his family and friends.

Overall, I like this book a lot but curiously enough I don’t love it. It is very well written and constructed. The start lacked the fizz and unputdownable factor of many other books, although it did pick up and I am very glad to have finished it.

Sam is pivotal for the story and the success of the book – at times I felt he was the only one making sense of the confusing mess of this world. He has depth and immediately likeable, personable and always original. Sam shines through for me. The lesson he has learnt is applicable to us all: ‘Life is an adventure, not a walk. That’s why it’s difficult.’

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

Rating:                           3.7 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                      Little Brown Book Goup UK

Publication Date:        1st September  2016                         

Price:          £ 6.99       Kindle       –   Amazon UK          

                     £ 7.99        Paperback – Amazon UK

                    $ 20.41        Hardback –   Amazon US

Mourning Has Broken: A Book Review

mourning2

I read this book during a time of loss and sadness. When my spirits were so low neither music nor books could enter my heart. Numerous books remained unread, the words and stories therein unable to penetrate the wall. 

Then I recalled reading about Carol Balawyder and ‘Mourning Has Broken’; her book on loss and grief. On a whim I bought it.

My attention was seized from the very first few sentences and as I devoured it within two days ‘Mourning Has Broken’ left a deep and profound impact on me.

The writing is exceptional and beautiful. Poetic in places, full of wisdom. Her words spoke directly to me, then at times mirrored my experiences of loss exactly. I have never highlighted so much in a book since my student days. Nor have I I talked so much about a book – I am sure my family by now feel they have read it too!

Within nine months Carol first lost her mother then her sister, Diana, to cancer.  Years before her father had passed away. As she struggled to cope with the ensuing grief, she turned to writing. These turned into two essays which are collected here in one book. Carol calls them essays; for me the word is too heavy, ponderous.

The writing flows with ease and is never ‘preachy’ in tone. Whilst the book is about how to deal with the pain of losing family members; it becomes much more – a personal exposition of Carol’s life and familial relationships and ultimately ‘Mourning Has Broken’ is as much a book on living and surviving grief as on mourning and loss.

Through skilfully crafted snippets Carol provides detailed images of her life when young with her father, mother and sisters (elder one, Louise). At times funny, at times sad, the overwhelming feeling regarding her parents is one of sadness and mourning – even before their deaths. Always kind, considerate and giving Carol realises she never had the relationship she wanted with them.  Averse to showing any physical or verbal affection she regrets her parent’s lack of hugs and ‘I love you’. Where her father was a secret alcoholic, her mother lived by an array of confusing rules, many of which young Carol inadvertently ran foul. 

pinkrose2The second part of the book opens with the ‘unfathomable’. That after five years of fighting lymphoma her sister’s battle is soon over. As the family and the two sisters gather for Diana’s final days in hospital I cried. The helplessness, despair is portrayed with Carol’s usual deep sincere honesty. 

As she recounts her sister’s fight with cancer (whilst Carol was at the same time also being treated for a ‘safer’ form of cancer) the reader follows her soul-searching; both to understand the past, its guilt, joys and lows and to comprehend present pain. Searching for spiritual meaning, searching for a way to live on. Her self-awareness is at times unforgiving, always touching. 

Throughout Carol’s gentle and compassionate nature shines forth. The book is both heart-felt and heart-warming. 

I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is not, as I thought, a only book for those suffering loss. It is for everyone, whenever. I wished I’d read it earlier. 

Now I will let some of Carol’s wonderful writing in ‘Mourning Has Broken’ provide a glimpse of this life-changing book. 

I know that we were circling, like birds of prey, around his death.

I remember once telling a therapist that my father was my hero. “It’s hard,” he answered, “for any man to stand up to that kind of idolization.”

I love therapy sessions where I am allowed to lie down, just as I love corpse pose in yoga. Why can I not give myself permission to lie down in my own home without a feeling of guilt that I should be doing something else? Something productive?

Morphine. Morpheus. One who shapes dreams. In a dreamlike state but still aware. What are you thinking of in these last hours of your life? What are you feeling? Where are you?

I don’t tell her I think my sister is hanging on like a leaf hangs on to a branch in late November. Sooner or later it will have to let go.

What needs letting go is a future with her.

Death changes everyone.

Before entering a bookstore,  I always ask for guidance that I may find the book which I need to be reading at this time in my life.

Still, at her funeral service, I read these lines from Thich Nhat Hahn: Time is too slow for those who wait/too swift for those who fear/too long for those who grieve/too short for those who rejoice/but for those who love, time is eternity.

Do we ever really bury those we loved dearly? Is there really any such thing as closure?

Mourning, I realize, must come in small parcels. To realize the immensity of the loss at once would be too overwhelming and unbearable. It must be done in bits and pieces of dreams disappearing one sliver at a time.

In the spring before Diana died, she and her partner, Jean-Louis, planted a wild rose bush at our parent’s gravesite. Now, as I walk towards the grave I am struck by the single rose in glorious bloom amidst all the dead ones. My immediate thought is that Diana’s spirit is in the pink wild rose for in her own life, she was a pink wild rose.

In this void, the voice of Karen Armstrong, one of the most progressive thinkers on the role of religion in our society, reaches me. God was not something you could prove with rational thought or words. God was something to be experienced, and you could have this God experience through music, poetry, silence, compassion, and kindness.

“Faith and hope,” she once told me, “are gifts of grace. They are the lighthouse which shines on our days of darkness.” 

carolFrom ‘Mourning Has Broken’ by Carol Balawyder

Note: Use of the quotes are reproduced from the book by kind permission of the author.

RATING:   5 out of 5 stars!

PRICE:        £ 1.99   Kindle       –   Amazon UK          $ 2.99   Amazon US

                     £ 6.02   Paperback – Amazon UK         $ 8.50     Amazon US

 

 

SING: A BOOK REVIEW

sing

Looking for a great summer read – look no further! Sing is pure escapism! Full of fun, fame, friendships and romance. A perfect getaway from reality.

As famous pop star Lily Ross yet again suffers a failed romance in the full glare of the public limelight she accepts the opportunity to escape the madness of her life. To recover from her heartbreak she decides to  live three months during the summer on a small island in Maine.

The house on the island was recently bought by one of her best friends, Tess who used to visit it as a child along with Lily and their other close friend, Sammy. As Lily’s fame and career took off Tess and Sammy left their own dreams behind to be companions and assistants to Lily. Only now, on the island does Lily’s selfish and self-centred approach to life start to rock the foundations not only of her ability to write songs but threatens her life-long friendships.

However, Lily at first fails to notice her friends discontentment as she struggles to recover from the break-up with equally famous Jed. Crashing, literally, into Noel, a local fisherman on her first day on the island does bring new romance for her as she quickly falls for the down-to-earth islander and soon discovers his deeper side and more complex family and career issues. Equally Tess and Sammy are vividly brought to life and developed throughout the book.

This is an engaging novel, marketed as YA / Teen book, but as always I disagree with this genre labelling and felt it was a delightful entertaining read as an adult. The plot moves quickly along, the characters which I feared would become caricatures are fully developed and it was particularly satisfying to see the shallow Lily rediscover her caring more thoughtful side as memories and new experiences sweep over her.

As always with such books it is very much of will she / won’t she scenario. Will she get back with Jed? Will she finish her album? Will she follow her heart’s desire? Will she abandon her fans and career? Will she finally see her friends as such instead of as paid assistants? 

This book not only made me want to stand up, cheer and dance, but by the end I was ready to join Lily and Sing!

netgalleyI 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:                      HarperCollins UK

Publication Date:        2nd  June  2016

Price:                              £ 3.85     (Paperback – Amazon)  

                                         £ 3.99      (Kindle – Amazon) 

Link to Amazon.com