Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Review ~ Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult


22752718
Hodder & Stoughton
November 2014

Jenna Metcalf was just a baby the night her mother disappeared from the New Hampshire Elephant Sanctuary where they lived. Now, ten years later, Jenna enlists the help of disgraced physic, Serenity and disillusioned ex cop, Virgil Stanhope, in the hope of uncovering new evidence which may lead her to her mother whereabouts.

This multi stranded novel unfolds in several different voices all of whom have a part to play in the eventual outcome. The mystery at the heart of the novel is well explored and makes for compelling reading. Jenna is a feisty protagonist, vulnerable and ferocious in equal measure and the way she systematically sets out to find her mother is commendable. However, it’s the background research into elephant behaviour which is the real strength of the novel and it becomes utterly fascinating to learn just what makes these majestic creatures act the way they do.

There is no doubt that Jodi Picoult is the master of her genre, she holds the reader in the palm of her hand and doesn’t let go until the story is finished. 



Without doubt,  Leaving Time is difficult to put down and is one of my favourite of Jodi Picoult's books to date.




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Monday, 26 January 2015

Review ~ Lamentation by C J Sansom

18052066
Shardlake Book 6

PanMacmillan
2014



The latter days of the reign of Henry VIII are overshadowed by political and religious strife. No one who has any religious conviction feels safe to worship any religion other than that which is dictated by the King. For Queen Catherine Parr, Henry’s last stoical Protestant Queen, there are forces at work who would like to see nothing more than her downfall. When the Queen’s highly controversial confessional book goes missing, Shardlake is enlisted to track down the book on the pretext of looking for a missing jewel. Should anyone discover the real reason for Shardlake’s investigation, then the Queen, and all who are associated with her will be brought down.

Sansom writes about the Tudor age with great conviction, and allows Shardlake, as always, to take centre stage. The superb attention to detail, from the closeted elegance of the Tudor Court, through to the raggle-taggle print works in Paternoster Row, takes the reader on a journey through the vagaries of life in London during 1546. The noise, the stink, the sheer perversity of living alongside cut purses and murderers, as well as the stirrings of religious mania gives Shardlake one of his most complicated investigations. It’s a real joy to watch the pernickety lawyer and his dastardly sidekick, Jack Barak, go about solving such a convoluted murder mystery.

It’s a hefty read, well over 600 pages, filled with the usual subplots, red herrings and dangerous subterfuges, and if I have to be a little bit picky, I would say that its about 200 pages overlong, however, having said that, the story flows well; the political and religious turmoil is written about with great authority and the portrait painted of the failing Henry VIII, is both poignant and terrifying in equal measure.

I can’t see any time soon when Sansom’s legions of fans don’t demand another Shardlake adventure. And the ending of this one certainly lends itself to a continuation and  I for one, can’t wait to see where Shardlake's story goes next.




C.J. Sansom




Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sunday War Poet...




Vlamertinghe: Passing the Château, July 1917

by

Edmund Charles Blunden



" AND all her silken flanks with garlands drest " — 
But we are coming to the sacrifice. 
Must those have flowers who are not yet gone West? 
May those have flowers who live with death and lice? 
This must be the floweriest place 
That earth allows; the queenly face 
Of the proud mansion borrows grace for grace 
Spite of those brute guns lowing at the skies.


Bold great daisies, golden lights, 
Bubbling roses' pinks and whites — 
Such a gay carpet! poppies by the million; 
Such damask! such vermilion! 
But if you ask me, mate, the choice of colour 
Is scarcely right; this red should have been much duller.





Edmundblundencirca1914.jpg



Edmund Charles Blunden was an English poet, author and critic. He was born in London in 1896, moving with his family to Kent shortly afterwards. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and Queen's College, Oxford. Blunden was commissioned into the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1915 and served in France and Belgium from 1916 to 1919, fighting on the Somme and at Ypres. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1917.



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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Review ~ Vivian's Couch by Michael Obiora

23664475
Open Box Production
2014


Kieran Ledley is the world’s most expensive football player, he is also one half of glamour couple “Kier-rissa,” and his step-brother is about to be released from prison.

Freddie Abani is the MP for Woundham, who was touted as London’s potential first black Mayor - until the summer riots.

Rupal Advani is a former policewoman and is now a marijuana addict.

Gemma and her struggling filmmaker husband Pete Newman, are trying to save their marriage.

Vivian Moses is a therapist, and they all have her in common.




This book is not something I would normally have picked up but when approached by the author to read and review it, I was taken in, firstly by the simplicity of the cover, which is, I think, quite striking, but also, because, the overall premise of the story intrigued me.

We read so much about the people who relish being in the spotlight, and watching snippets of the recent celebrity big brother, only reiterates just how vulnerable are people when they are, supposedly, just being themselves. In reality they are as angst ridden and perplexed as the rest of us.

In Vivian’s Couch the author succeeds in bringing a gritty realism to the world of the therapist and of the intertwining of lives which have been irrevocably damaged by circumstances. Although it’s a relatively short read, coming in at just over 164 pages, there is a clear understanding of taking the reader on a journey. Once you get used to the author’s distinctive style of writing, which is, at times, quite dark and gritty, the diversity of the characters start to come together and this then gives the book its realistic edginess.

Overall,I think that Vivian's Couch is an interesting and thought provoking read about the vagaries of modern life.





Michael Obiora




Michael Obiora is an actor and writer. His first novel – BLACK SHOES, was published in 2009
 His second novel VIVIAN’S COUCH, a prequel to Black Shoes, was released in December 2014.





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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Review ~ The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones.

17568538
Headline
2013



A jumble of entries, written in different hands, different languages, and different times. They tell of a rumour. A shadow. A killer.

The only interest that Oxford Professor Charles Meredith has in the diaries is as a record of Hungarian folklore ... until he comes face to face with a myth.

For Hannah Wilde, the diaries are a survival guide that taught her the three rules she lives by: verify everyone, trust no one, and if in any doubt, run.

But Hannah knows that if her daughter is ever going to be safe, she will have to stop running and face the terror that has hunted her family for five generations.

And nothing in the diaries can prepare her for that. 


Read. Believe. Run.

The String Diaries is one of those unusual stories which focuses your mind on the unbelievable and causes you to suspend belief from what you know to be good and true. It starts off in a visceral and quite terrifying way with Hannah Wilde, her husband and small daughter apparently on the run from danger and persons unknown. Hannah’s fear is palpable and her instinctive need for survival makes her distrustful not just of her surroundings but also of the circumstances in which she finds herself. 

I must admit that this sort of story is a bit out of my comfort zone but I do so like clever writing which takes me away from the ordinary and prompts me into thinking about something which is just a little bit different. There is no doubt that this is a praiseworthy debut for a new writer. The imaginative way the reader is drawn into a world of myths and shadows, alleged killers and uncanny shape sifters is to be commended. 

To disclose more about this cleverly produced story would risk the wrath of future readers as there is no other way to talk about it but to reveal both plot and malice and that would be unfair. 

So if you want a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, which makes you look up from reading and wonder where you are, or if you just like a rollicking good story with a well driven plot and satisfying conclusion they you could do worse than give this one a try.







Stephen Lloyd Jones



Stephen Lloyd Jones grew up in Chandlers Ford, Hampshire, and studied at Royal Holloway College, University of London. He now lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and far too many books. His first novel,The String Diaries, is available in paperback from Headline.


 His second novel, Written in the Blood was published by Headline in November 2014.




Headline
November 2014


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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Review ~ The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins





21840310
Transworld
15th January 2015


If you've ever sat in a train and watched as the lives of others pass by in a blur or when the train has slowed down to a crawl maybe you've stared into kitchens and dining rooms and seen people quietly going about their daily business, it’s a bit of fun to wonder what their lives are like, but in reality we take it no further. In this psychological suspense story, Rachel fantasises about the lives of a couple she sees every day on her daily commute to London. Jess and Jason, as she thinks of them, are everything Rachel is not and therein lies the temptation for Rachel to construct a life for them which has no correlation with real life, the problem starts to take over when the blurred edges of fantasy encroach on reality.

There’s been much hype around the publication of this debut psychological suspense story and I was thrilled when I received my review copy. It was with great excitement on a cold and wet afternoon that I stepped onto the train with the girl and started to read; but by about a third of the way into the story I was becoming increasingly disappointed. I kept reminding myself that any time soon I was going to start to enjoy the book, after all, everyone else seemed to have enthused about it, so why was I not connecting with the story more?

I can’t say that it’s because the book is badly written, it’s not, it’s good and clever and oh, so sharp in places that you can’t help but be drawn into the whole sorry turn of events. But then, I realised, it was the three main female characters I didn't like very much. I found them rather clichéd; the psychologically damaged and alcoholic ex-wife, the suspicious new wife and the troubled wild child, all jostled for my attention but none of them made inroads into my heart and therein was the crux of the problem. None of them made me care enough, and I think that’s why the book didn't quite work for me. I suppose one could argue that the whole premise of the story is not reliant on the characters being likeable, after all it’s a psychological suspense story involving characters who are all supremely flawed individuals, but it would have meant a great deal more to me, as a reader, to be able to connect and even sympathise with them at some sort of basic level.

In a way it was a relief when the final dénouement arrived and confirmed my suspicions of whodunnit, and even that didn't come as a huge surprise; there had been more than enough hints. Sadly, I was just thankful that the journey was over and I could now step away from the girl on the train with almost a sense of relief. 


....And yet, all is not entirely lost, there’s a lingering whisper at the back of my mind that if ever I'm caught day dreaming on a train journey, I might just start to wonder what’s going on behind the slatted blinds of suburban England.


The more I read, the more I realise, that every reader is unique, just as every writer is unique and not all of us will like the same story and will have a myriad reasons for not doing so.




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  My thanks to Random House UK ,Transworld Publishers and NetGalley for my ecopy of this book.


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Monday, 19 January 2015

Author Spotlight ~ Linda Huber



I am delighted to welcome Linda Huber back to my blog to talk about her book 




18854689
Legend Press
2014




Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for The Cold Cold Sea?

Two things happened way back in the nineties. I was researching my family tree and came across a distant little cousin who had drowned in the 1940s, aged just eleven, in a Glasgow swimming pool. I was shocked that I had never heard of this child. Not long afterwards I had a letter from a friend, very upset because a friend of hers had suffered a similar tragedy in her own family. That really started me thinking – how do parents cope in this kind of nightmare situation – and what happens if they don’t cope? That was the start of The Cold Cold Sea.



What can you tell us about the story which will pique the reader's interest?

I think it’s clear to the reader quite near the start what is going on in The Cold Cold Sea – the suspense is more in how the characters deal with the situation they find themselves in. So many people have said to me ‘I wanted to reach into the book and hug/shake/yell at X, make them do the right thing, tell them it was going to be okay.’ I found it interesting that while some people wanted to hug X, others would much rather yell…



Your writing is very atmospheric – how do you ‘set the scene’ and how much research did you need to do in order to bring -The Cold Cold Sea to life?

As a child I spent several summer holidays in and around Newquay, and I absolutely loved it. I’ll never forget those breakers crashing up the beach, or the colours of the sea as it shimmered in the sunshine. All the time of writing The Cold Cold Sea I was back there in my mind – it was lovely! 

The school setting was no problem either, as I’ve worked in several schools over the years and know what goes on in a classroom. I’ve also worked with people under severe stress, so I was able to take some aspects of that into the book too. 

Most of the research I did for this book was geographical, and as always the world wide web had most of the answers!


What was the most difficult aspect of the writing the story? How did you overcome it?

For me, the hard bit is leaving large chunks of my characters’ lives out of the story. When you write about people you really get to know them, and it’s all too easy to include too much detail that’s of no interest to the reader because it takes them away from the main story for too long. As a writer, I find it almost impossible to stand far enough back from my own work to judge if I’ve balanced it well – this is where you need someone whose opinion you value and who knows what they’re talking about. And then you need to give yourself a mental kick and take their advice! 



Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How do you feel about them when the book is finished? Are they what you expected them to be?

I love my paper people, and I hope that comes across in the way I write about them. The situation in The Cold Cold Sea is dreadful for them so it wasn’t easy, putting them through such a nightmare. As for ‘finished’, that’s tricky too – this is my second book and for the second time I was gutted when my editor said, ‘That’s us, we’re done now’ – and I had to accept that never again could I change something that Maggie felt, or give Phillip more insight into what he had to do, or…


I don’t know what I expected them to be, but I do hope they come over as real people.


How do you manage to balance writing with your everyday life and what do you do to relax?

Writing is my relaxation! My day job is teaching, I’m in Adult Education, but as I work part time I have plenty of opportunity to go jogging or walking, my main ‘switch off’ hobbies. I get a lot of ideas then too. I think writing merges with everyday life too, as so many ideas come from brief encounters with various people.



What’s next?

My main work-in-progress at the moment came from just such a ‘brief encounter’ at a family wedding – it’s about a couple who are in the process of adopting a child, and then…


Another project is almost ‘finished’ too, but I’m not sure what I’m doing with that one yet – you can join me watching this space!


You can find more about Linda on her website here
Twitter @LindaHuber19
Facebook


My thoughts about The Cold Cold Sea

Three year old Olivia Grainger disappears from the Cornish beach where she has been happily collecting seashells and for her parents, Colin and Maggie, their worst nightmare is about to come true. Meanwhile, not too far away, Jennifer is settling into her new home and preparing her daughter, Hailey, for school. On the surface, these two families have nothing to connect them but by a series of clever manipulations the story reveals how all too easily people can be duped into believing what they think they see.

From the start, this clever psychological suspense story draws you into a web of deceit which is so deftly manoeuvred that at times you really do have to stop and take a breath. The writing is very good, the plot credible and the whole premise of the novel works well because of the believability of the characters involved. The anguish of Colin and Maggie is so well done that their devastating terror at the loss of Olivia is palpable and deeply upsetting. Jennifer, on the other hand, is a skilled manipulator; she is supremely flawed but no less fascinating because of that, however, it is her treatment of Hailey which will have every parent itching to make a phone call to social services. Jennifer’s husband Philip, largely absent in America for much of the action of the story, gets drawn into the mêlée largely by default but his bewilderment is credible and his actions understandable. However, the real star of the novel, for me,  is Hailey who shows wisdom and tenacity far beyond the scope of her tender years.

To say more about this excellent novel would be to do both the book and the author a complete disservice. The Cold Cold Sea deserves to be read, as I did, in one sitting on a cold and blustery day, when the scudding clouds overhead cast as much a shadow on the world as did the book itself.



 My thanks to Linda for sharing her novel with me and for allowing us a fascinating glimpse into the writing of The Cold Cold Sea.


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Linda is also the author of The Paradise Trees and was an author contributor on the recently published  anthology Winter Tales


The Paradise Trees Winter Tales: Stories To Warm Your Heart


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