Book Haul – week ended 3 June 2017

Review Copies

Comfort of OthersThe Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale (via Bookbridgr)

Minnie and her sister Clara, spinsters both, live in a dilapidated country house in the middle of a housing estate, built when their father sold off the family’s land. Now in their seventies, their days follow a well-established routine: long gone are the garden parties, the tennis lessons and their suffocatingly strict mother. Gone, too, is any mention of what happened when Minnie was sixteen, and the secret the family buried in the grounds of their estate.

Directly opposite them lives Max, an 11-year-old whose life with his mum has changed beyond recognition since her new boyfriend arrived. Cast aside, he takes solace in Minnie’s careful routine, observed through his bedroom window.

Over the course of the summer, both begin to tell their stories: Max through a Dictaphone, Minnie through a diary. As their tales intertwine, ghosts are put to rest and challenges faced, in a story that is as dark as it is uplifting.

Kindle Purchases

 

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (99p)

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest in the family – Hannah – who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.

One Perfect SummerOne Perfect Summer by Paige Toon (FREE)

A Dorset summer, a chance meeting, and Joe and Alice, both 18, fall into step as if they have known each other forever. But their idyll is shattered as quickly as it began. Joe leaves without warning; Alice heads off to Cambridge University and slowly picks up the pieces of her broken heart.

Years later, when she catches the attention of gorgeous, gifted, rich boy Lukas, Alice is carried along by his charm and swept up in his ambitious plans for a future together.

Until news of Joe reaches her once more, but he’s out of reach in a way that Alice could never have imagined. Life has moved on, the divide between them is now so great. Surely it is far too late to relive those perfect summer days of long ago?

 

Dark RiverDark River by I J Benneyworth (FREE)

Independence, a small town and county on the banks of the Hudson River, is a typical, all-American community with a proud history dating back to Colonial times. But just like anywhere else it cannot escape the darker side of human nature. Murder, violence, corruption; these and other crimes are not the exception in Independence. But Sheriff Amanda Northstar is determined that they don’t become the rule.

When the body of Judy Sterling, one of Independence’s most prominent councillors, washes up on the bank of the Hudson the first assumption is suicide. With her car abandoned near the county’s main bridge, a suicide note left inside, it seems that Judy willingly jumped to her death.

However, Amanda’s intuition tells her that there is far more to Judy’s death than first appears. As more evidence emerges and Amanda and her deputies piece together the growing collection of clues, they discover that Judy was caught up in a web of lies, desperation, betrayal and perhaps even murder.

Making SpaceMaking Space by Sarah Tierney (£4.99 was £1)

Why do we hold onto things we don’t need? And let go of the things we do? Miriam is twenty-nine: temping, living with a flatmate who is no longer a friend, and still trying to find her place in life. She falls in love with Erik after he employs her to clear out his paper-packed home. They are worlds apart: he is forty-five, a successful photographer and artist and an obsessive hoarder still haunted by the end of his marriage. Miriam has an unsuccessful love life and has just got rid of most of her belongings. Somehow, they must find a way to reach each other.

Burma's SpringBurma’s Spring by Rosalind Russell (£3.99 was 99p)

Burma’s Spring documents the struggles of ordinary people made extraordinary by circumstance. Rosalind Russell, a British journalist who came to live in Burma with her family, witnessed a time of unprecedented change in a secretive country that had been locked under military dictatorship for half a century.

Her memoir carries the reader through a turbulent era of uprising, disaster and political awakening with a vivid retelling of her encounters as an undercover reporter.

From the world famous democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the broken-hearted domestic worker Mu Mu, a Buddhist monk to a punk, a palm reader to a girl band, these are stories of tragedy, resilience and hope – woven together in a vivid portrait of a land for so long hidden from view.

Chateau of Happily Ever AftersThe Chateau of Happily Ever Afters (99p due 7 June)

Wendy Clayton stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago. Instead, she has a ‘nice’ life. Nice job. Nice flat. Absolutely no men. Until her life is turned upside-down when her elderly neighbour, Eulalie, passes away and leaves her the Château of Happily Ever Afters!

But there’s a catch: she must share the sprawling French castle with Eulalie’s long-lost nephew, Julian. And no matter how gorgeous he is, or how easily she finds herself falling head over heels, Wendy needs to find a way to get rid of him…

Because surely happily ever afters don’t happen in real life?

Late Summer in the VineyardLate Summer in the Vineyard by Jo Thomas (99p)

Emmy Bridges has always looked out for others. Now it’s time to put down roots of her own.

Working for a wine-maker in France is the opportunity of a lifetime for Emmy. Even if she doesn’t know a thing about wine – beyond what’s on offer at the local supermarket.

There’s plenty to get to grips with in the rustic town of Petit Frère. Emmy’s new work friends need more than a little winning over. Then there’s her infuriatingly brash tutor, Isaac, and the enigmatic Madame Beaumont, tucked away in her vineyard of secrets.

But Emmy will soon realise that in life – just as in wine-making – the best things happen when you let go and trust your instincts. Particularly when there’s romance in the air…

The Missing WifeThe Missing Wife by Sheila O’Flanagan (99p)

Have you ever wanted to disappear?

When Imogen Naughton vanishes, everyone who knows her is shocked. She has a perfect marriage. Her handsome husband treats her like a princess. She’s always said how lucky she is. So why has she left? And how will she survive without Vince?

What goes on behind closed doors is often a surprise, and Imogen surprises herself by taking the leap she knows she must. But as she begins her journey to find the woman she once was, Imogen’s past is right behind her…

Will it catch up with her? And will she be ready to face it if it does?

Private Lives of the TudorsThe Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman (99p)

‘I do not live in a corner. A thousand eyes see all I do.’ Elizabeth I

The Tudor monarchs were constantly surrounded by an army of attendants, courtiers and ministers. Even in their most private moments, they were accompanied by a servant specifically appointed for the task. A groom of the stool would stand patiently by as Henry VIII performed his daily purges, and when Elizabeth I retired for the evening, one of her female servants would sleep at the end of her bed.

These attendants knew the truth behind the glamorous exterior. They saw the tears shed by Henry VII upon the death of his son Arthur. They knew the tragic secret behind ‘Bloody’ Mary’s phantom pregnancies. And they saw the ‘crooked carcass’ beneath Elizabeth I’s carefully applied makeup, gowns and accessories.

It is the accounts of these eyewitnesses, as well as a rich array of other contemporary sources that historian Tracy Borman has examined more closely than ever before. With new insights and discoveries, and in the same way that she brilliantly illuminated the real Thomas Cromwell – The Private Life of the Tudors will reveal previously unexamined details about the characters we think we know so well.

Leopard at the DoorLeopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh (99p)

Stepping off the boat in Mombasa, eighteen-year-old Rachel Fullsmith stands on Kenyan soil for the first time in six years. She has come home.

But when Rachel reaches the family farm at the end of the dusty Rift Valley Road, she finds so much has changed. Her beloved father has moved his new partner and her son into the family home. She hears menacing rumours of Mau Mau violence, and witnesses cruel reprisals by British soldiers. Even Michael, the handsome Kikuyu boy from her childhood, has started to look at her differently.

Isolated and conflicted, Rachel fears for her future. But when home is no longer a place of safety and belonging, where do you go, and who do you turn to?

Once Upon a Long AgoOnce Upon a Long Ago by Sharon Booth (FREE)

Lexi Bailey doesn’t do love. Having seen the war zone that was her parents’ marriage, she has no interest in venturing into a relationship, and thinks romance is for fairy tales. As far as she’s concerned, there’s no such thing as happy ever after, and she’s not looking for a handsome prince.
For Will Boden-Kean, that’s probably a good thing. He hardly qualifies as a handsome prince, after all. He may be the son of a baronet, and live in a stately home, but he’s not known for his good looks. What he is known for, among the residents of Kearton Bay, is his kind heart, his determination to fund Kearton Hall — and his unrequited love for Lexi.
While Lexi gazes at the portrait of the Third Earl Kearton, and dreams of finding the treasure that is reputed to be hidden somewhere in the house, Will is working hard to ensure that his home survives. When he goes against Lexi’s wishes and employs the most unpopular man in the village, she begins to wonder if he’s under a spell. Will would never upset her. What could possibly have happened to him?
As plans take shape for a grand ball, Lexi’s life is in turmoil. With a secret from Will’s past revealed, a witch who is far too beautiful for Lexi’s peace of mind, and a new enchantress on the scene, things are changing rapidly at Kearton Hall. Add to that a big, bad wolf of a work colleague, a stepmother in denial, and a father who is most definitely up to no good, and it’s no wonder she decides to make a new start somewhere else.
Then she makes a discovery that changes everything — but time is running out for her. Is it too late to find her happy ending? Will Lexi make it to the ball? Will Buttons save the day? And where on earth did that handsome prince come from?

The Other UsThe Other Us by Fiona Harper (99p)

Forty-something Maggie is facing some hard truths. Her only child has flown the nest for university and, without her daughter in the house, she’s realising her life, and her marriage to Dan, is more than a little stale.

When she spots an announcement on Facebook about a uni reunion, she can’t help wondering what happened to Jude Hanson. The same night Dan proposed, Jude asked Maggie to run away with him, and she starts to wonder how different her life might have been if she’d broken Dan’s heart and taken Jude up on his offer.

Wondering turns into fantasising, and then one morning fantasising turns into reality. Maggie wakes up and discovers she’s back in 1992 and twenty-one again. Is she brave enough to choose the future she really wants, and if she is, will the grass be any greener on the other side of the fence?

Two men. Two very different possible futures. But is there only once chance at happiness?

Anti-Ageing KitchenThe Anti Ageing Kitchen by Hollie Power (FREE)

Rediscover your inner youth with the Anti Ageing Kitchen
After years of tirelessly trying to discover the secret of eternal youth, I stumbled upon the elixir, in my very own kitchen.
My wrinkles relaxed, my energy grew and I even lost weight.
This book teaches all the basics you need to understand how to look and feel younger, just by the way you eat.
Discover –
Pro ageing and how to avoid it
How to eat for younger skin
The anti ageing superstars of today
Anti ageing recipes
Skin care recipes
Hair care recipes
And so much more…
This book will simply guide you through the path to easily change your lifestyle.

 

#ThrowbackThursday : The Ties that Bind by Erin Kelly – 4*s @mserinkelly

Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. Throwback Thursday was designed as an opportunity to share old favorites as well as older books in our TBR. As I started reviewing on Goodreads long before I started my blog, it seemed a great way of sharing my earlier reviews (which I hope have improved since the early days).

So this week I’m revisiting The Ties that Bind by Erin Kelly reviewed in May 2014.

Ties that Bind

Luke is a true crime writer in search of a story. When he flees to Brighton after an explosive break-up, the perfect subject lands in his lap: reformed gangster Joss Grand. Now in his eighties, Grand once ruled the Brighton underworld with his sadistic sidekick Jacky Nye – until Jacky washed up by the West Pier in 1968, strangled and thrown into the sea. Though Grand’s alibi seems cast-iron, Luke is sure there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and he convinces the criminal-turned-philanthropist to be interviewed for a book about his life.

Luke is drawn deeper into the mystery of Jacky Nye’s murder. Was Grand there that night? Is he really as reformed a character as he claims? And who was the girl in the red coat seen fleeing the murder scene? Soon Luke realises that in stirring up secrets from the past, he may have placed himself in terrible danger.

My Review

I have never read anything by Erin Kelly before, but was aware that her books are well received by those in the know. When I got the chance to read this via NetGalley (in return for an honest review) I was delighted. When I looked at the subject matter, I will admit I was not so delighted as on the face of it, it would not have been my choice of reading – 60’s gangland is not my genre. However I was drawn in from the beginning and I loved it.

Luke has “escaped” to Brighton to stay with a friend, to avoid an obsessive partner, who refuses to accept that their affair is over. The friend, who works for a letting agency, puts him up short-term in a recently empty property that does not appear on the books. Thus starts a mystery that Luke is determined to get to the bottom of, especially when he discovers that the property and the company is owned by Joss Grand. Grand ruled the Brighton gangland in the 60’s, along with his lifelong friend Jacky Nye, whose subsequent murder at the height of their reign was never solved. The Joss Grand of the present day however, seems far removed from the Joss Grand of the past, but is he all he appears, and what was the truth of Jacky’s murder. Luke seizes the chance to investigate in the hope of resurrecting his journalistic career with a Truman Capote style book about Grand.

While on the face of it, Grand agrees to the idea of the book, it is clear he wants it written on his terms and not on Luke’s, who is still trying to uncover the truth about Grand’s past for himself. Luke’s search uncovers truths that he might wish he’d kept hidden and not just for the sake of Grand’s reputation, but for his own safety.

The book was fast paced and very well written, with an eye for detail relating to Brighton of the past as well as the present. Once I’d started it, I just wanted to get it finished to find out the truth. As with all good thrillers, there was a twist and I didn’t see coming, or at least not from the direction it came.

I would thoroughly recommend this book and now can’t wait to read the titles I’ve missed.

 

The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat – 4.5*s @LizaPerrat

All eleven-year-old Tanya Randall wants is a happy family. But Mum does nothing besides housework, Dad’s always down the pub and Nanna Purvis moans at everyone except her dog. Then Shelley arrives –– the miracle baby who fuses the Randall family in love for their little gumnut blossom.

Tanya’s life gets even better when she meets an uncle she didn’t know she had. He tells her she’s beautiful and could be a model. Her family refuses to talk about him. But that’s okay, it’s their little secret.

Then one blistering summer day tragedy strikes, and the surrounding mystery and suspicion tear apart this fragile family web.

Embracing the social changes of 1970s Australia, against a backdrop of native fauna and flora, The Silent Kookaburra is a haunting exploration of the blessings, curses and tyranny of memory.

My Review

The Silent Kookaburra is a touching, troubling and at times challenging story narrated by eleven year old Tanya. She is at the heart of the book, that relates the tale of a her dysfunctional family in small town Wollongong, Australia in the early 1970’s. Against a background of her mother’s repeated miscarriages; her father’s drinking; her grandmother’s sniping and playground jibes about her weight and appearance, Tanya appears to have a resilience that belies her years. When a baby sister finally appears, life would appear to be about to change, and it does, only not in a way that she, or anyone else could have envisaged.

It is a moving and compulsive read that explores emotional and difficult issues that as a society we often tend to shy away from discussing, such as recurrent miscarriage, post natal depression, alcoholism, bereavement and self-esteem. It is a sensitive and I would say, realistic portrayal of a family in crisis. It’s made more touching because we are seeing it through a child’s eyes, but with our adult perception of what is really happening.  In addition it does have a darker subtext of grooming, though initially that is something that as adults we are more cognizant of than Tanya, who is the target of a predatory ‘black sheep’ Uncle. For anyone else, who like me, who would normally prefer to avoid the subject of paedophilia, I will say, that while at times it did get dark and I definitely felt uncomfortable, it never crossed boundaries that I couldn’t cope with. The topic was to a degree made ‘worse’ because we could see with foreboding what Tanya was too young to understand.

While it might seem from what has been written, a rather unsettling and dark read, given it’s themes, the author cleverly balances the shade with lighter episodes and comic interludes. The curmudgeonly, racist and homophobic Nana Purvis is also a brilliant comic character with a range of irreverent  put downs and malapropisms that lighten the mood. Similarly adding light is the grumpy neighbour,  Old Lenny with his habit of turning up with something from his garage that he invariable got cheap from a mate.  While it might seem, that Tanya’s life is not the happiest, she still has her indomitable Nanna and the redeeming friendship of Angela, whose Italian family, embrace her as one of the family, feed her,  care for her and in more ways than one prove to be her salvation.

Although I have no knowledge of 1970’s Australia, the themes of small town life, and the prevailing social norms seemed universal, and they were very reminiscent of 1970’s Britain. The time and place were brilliantly described, the casual institutionalised racism and homophobia of the older generation as society became more multi-cultural felt very familiar. The references to food, sweets, biscuits, magazines and tv programmes also served to add to the authenticity of the period.

I’m not sure how I would categorise this book, in exploring the very realistic portrayal of a family in crisis, it is part psychological drama, part mystery and part nostalgia but the whole is an unsettling, but emotive and compelling read that had me gripped, right through to the end.

With thanks to the author for a review copy to enable this impartial review.

Book Haul – week ended 27 May 2017

Review Copies

 

Music ShopThe Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. With thanks to publisher for this proof copy due for publication on 13th July. 

From the author of the world-wide bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a new novel about learning how to listen and how to feel; and about second chances and choosing to be brave despite the odds. Because in the end, music can save us all …

1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.  Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann.

Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …

Kindle Purchases

 

Guide for the PerplexedA Guide for the Perplexed by Jonathan Levi (99p)

A late-night strike closes down an airport leaving two women stranded on their respective journeys in the bewitched Spanish town of Mariposa. Holland, an English filmmaker, has come to interview Sandor, the famous but reclusive violinist. Hanni, a Miami widow, is on a quest to recover a lost letter that confirms her link to her ancestor Esau, who was allegedly the true discoverer of America. Each woman has had her trip arranged by Ben, a cosmological travel agent and each has a copy of his tourist guide, entitled Guide for the Perplexed.
As the women share cabs, surreal adventures and their fantastic personal histories, Levi’s mesmerizing tale spirals back in time, embracing stories about Jews, the Inquisition and Columbus’s first voyage.

DetrimentThe Detriment by David Videcette (£1.99 on pre-order – due 29 June)

“The truth costs nothing, but a lie can cost you everything…”

June 2007: a barbaric nail bomb is planted outside a London nightclub, a spy is found dead in his garden, and a blazing Jeep is driven into Glasgow airport. Three events bound by an earth-shattering connection that should have remained buried forever.

From the author of ‘The Theseus Paradox’, the smash-hit 7/7 thriller based on true events, comes the sequel about a real-life mystery that threatens to destroy a nation. Detective Inspector Jake Flannagan must uncover how a series of astonishing events are inextricably linked, before the past closes in on him.

We all have secrets we say we’ll never tell…

Wrong Shade of YellowThe Wrong Shade of Yellow by Margaret Eleanor Leigh (FREE)

I was middle aged and homeless, soon to be penniless, and really and truly no different from that bag lady sitting on the bench over there. I couldn’t jack it in and go home, because I didn’t have a home to go to anymore. The bicycle and the tent were now home. Wherever I found myself on any given night was now home. And that meant, for tonight, Genoa Piazza Principe Railway Station was home.
I was cycling across Europe in search of Utopia, a place I believed was located somewhere in Greece. When I found it, I would start a new life there. It was my big, fat, Greek midlife crisis. But now I was having a crisis within a crisis. What on earth had I been thinking?

Letters to EloiseLetters to Eloise by Emily Williams (FREE)

‘Receiving a hand written letter is something that always puts a smile on my face, no matter who the sender is.’ Flora Tierney.

When post-graduate student Flora falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year studies she hits a huge predicament; continue a recent affair with her handsome but mysterious lecturer who dazzles her with love letters taken from the ancient tale of ‘Abelard and Heloise’, or chase after the past with her estranged first love?
But will either man be there to support her during the turmoil ahead?

‘Banish me, therefore, for ever from your heart’, Abelard to Heloise.

Summer at Hope MeadowsSummer at Hope Meadows by Lucy Daniels (99p on pre-order – due 1st June)

Newly-qualified vet Mandy Hope is leaving Leeds – and her boyfriend Simon – to return to the Yorkshire village she grew up in. There, she will help out in her parents’ surgery whilst they’re short-staffed. Mandy’s life has always revolved around her work with rescued animals, and Welford offers an opportunity to work with creatures of all sizes, from hedgehogs and puppies to farm stock and even wild deer.

But rural Yorkshire is very different to the hustle and bustle of a big city. Mandy must work hard to be accepted by the close-knit village community, and convince them of her abilities as a vet – especially Jimmy Marsh, the gruff owner of the local Outward Bound business, with whom she just can’t seem to get along.
When some long-neglected animals are discovered in a critical state on a nearby farm, Mandy is determined to prove herself as a confident and fearless vet. When it comes to protecting animals in need, she’s prepared to do whatever it takes…

Calling all NeighboursCalling all Neighbours by Tara Ford (FREE)

Tiffany Cuthbert has just moved into her dream home and to top it all, she bought the house with the love-of-her-life and long-term boyfriend, Joe Frey.
So what could possibly go wrong?
As the young couple settle into their new home, on the outskirts of town, they begin to meet the neighbours, one by one.
Tiffany soon realises that things are not as they might have first appeared in Sycamore Close as she unwittingly gets drawn into strange situations with even stranger characters.
Will Tiffany and Joe’s new house be home-sweet-home or will it turn out to be the pressure point where everything falls apart?

Major Pettigrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (99p)

Major Ernest Pettigrew is perfectly content to lead a quiet life in the
sleepy village of Edgecombe St Mary, away from the meddling of the
locals and his overbearing son. But when his brother dies, the Major
finds himself seeking companionship with the village shopkeeper, Mrs
Ali. Drawn together by a love of books and the loss of their partners,
they are soon forced to contend with irate relatives and gossiping
villagers. The perfect gentleman, but the most unlikely hero, the Major
must ask himself what matters most: family obligation, tradition or
love?

The OneThe One by John Marrs (99p)

How far would you go to find THE ONE?

One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.
A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…

MasqueradeMasquerade by Catherine Marshall (FREE)

A week marooned among strangers seems to Anna to be the perfect opportunity to reinvent herself. Leaving behind the mess that her life has become to attend a Psychology summer school in Bath, she is hoping for some sense of perspective, perhaps even an escape. But Anna comes to realise that she is not the only one searching for answers. Among her fellow students are Carys, who is being stalked by her abusive ex-husband, Michael, grieving for the loss of his wife, and Jack, enigmatic and nonchalant and hiding troubles of his own.

As the hottest week of the summer draws on, unsettling events spring from the shadows of their pasts. Reliving old passions and discovering new ones, Anna becomes aware of sinister undercurrents. Amid disappearances and death and the threat of violence, she finds that no one is quite what they seem, and that someone is guarding a secret which will have terrible consequences for them all.

Mr Gandy's Grand TourMr Gandy’s Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh (99p)

Timothy Gandy has kept his lifetime’s ambition secret for forty years.

Now, suddenly (if tragically) released from the hen-pecked tedium of his ordinary existence, he is unexpectedly free to realize his dreams.

He will embark on a Grand Tour of Europe, following in the footsteps of the aristocrats of the eighteenth century.

He anticipates high art, culture and pleasant weather. He never expected to encounter new friendships – and possibly even love – along the way.

It seems that Mr Gandy has embarked on the journey of a lifetime…

#ThrowbackThursday : A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton – 4*s

Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. Throwback Thursday was designed as an opportunity to share old favorites as well as older books in our TBR. As I started reviewing on Goodreads long before I started my blog, it seemed a great way of sharing my earlier reviews (which I hope have improved since the early days).

So this week I’m revisiting A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton reviewed in May 2014.

Dark and Twisted Tide

Police sergeant Lacey Flint thinks she’s safe.

She thinks her new job with the river police, and her new life on a house boat, will keep her away from danger. But she’s wrong.

When Lacey discovers a body in the water, and sinister offerings appear in her home, she fears someone is trying to expose her darkest secret.

And the river is the last place she should be.

My Review

Lacey Flint left the Police Force after a traumatic case and instead joined the Metropolitan Marine Unit. As she lives on a houseboat on the Thames, and loves swimming and boating this seems to be her ideal job until she discovers a dead body and things begin to unravel (quite literally).

It appears that the body was left for her to find and when another turns up Lacey starts to develop a theory about the bodies and where they are coming from. Whoever is responsible is clearly targeting Lacey and it becomes apparent that her own life is in danger unless she can uncover the culprit first.

I’ve never read any of the previous novels featuring Lacey Flint, but after reading this, I shall definitely be going back to catch up. I like her as a character and I like the way that Sharon Bolton gives us a combination of back stories to the individuals that form part of Lacey’s circle, both professional and personal. Consequently several threads are running through the book, which gives a very rounded, 3 dimensional story that maintains the interest to the end. What I also liked is, that as the story played out, the possible indentity of the guilty party/parties shifted and proved not to be one of the several characters that I’d earmarked.

This was a really enjoyable read – and it really deserves the description of Thriller. I am now looking forward to reading more.

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review

 

Under an Amber Sky by Rose Alexander 4.5*s @RoseA_writer

 

When Sophie Taylor’s life falls apart, there is only one thing to do: escape and find a new one.

Dragged to Montenegro by her best friend Anna, Sophie begins to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. But when she stumbles into an old, run-down house on the Bay of Kotor she surprises even herself when she buys it.

Surrounded by old furniture, left behind by the former inhabitants, Sophie becomes obsessed by a young Balkan couple when she discovers a bundle of letters from the 1940s in a broken roll-top desk. Letters that speak of great love, hope and a mystery Sophie can’t help but get drawn into.

Days in Montenegro are nothing like she expected and as Sophie’s home begins to fill with a motley crew of lodgers the house by the bay begins to breathe again. And for Sophie, life seems to be restarting. But letting go of the past is easier said than done…

 

My Review

Having already been tempted to buy this author’s previous book, I was equally smitten not only by the enticing cover, but by the premise of the story. I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed. It’s a story that will by turns tug at the heartstrings; make you smile; make you hope; and by the end, will have totally pulled you into the lives of the inhabitants past and present of the ‘stone house’ on the Bay of Kotor.

Buying a house was the last thing on Sophie’s mind, when she found herself being dragged round an old house with her friend Annie and a hopeful estate agent, during a respite break to Montenegro.  But something about the house and its history, combined with a need to escape her own reality, suddenly makes the idea seem less unrealistic. After Sophie moves in, she finds her life changed, by the lodgers she acquires – the jobbing builder Frank, the elderly sailor Irene; scatty artist friend and single mum to Tomasz, Anna and finally the troubled war photojournalist Ton. But the locals and neighbours also play their part in helping her feel part of her new community, not least local taxi driver Petar and his wife Sandra, and the tall attractive lawyer and translator Darko.

But this story is about far more than following Sophie on her journey forward. It’s a mystery and a love story set in the past between two of the previous inhabitants of the house Mira and her husband Dragan.  Theirs is a story that sadly would have replicated the story for many Montenegrins, during the Italian occupation and civil unrest during WWII. The area of Kotor (Cattaro) in particular was annexed to Italy because of its small Venetian speaking population, largely due to the Queen of Italy being the daughter of the former King of Montenegro.

I must say, I’d be tempted to move there as well. While I might pass on the crumbling house (until it had been suitably renovated) I was totally taken by the description of the town and the people. Never having been to Montenegro, or knowing much about it, this book has certainly piqued my interest. The back story of the wartime occupation added an interesting if very poignant aspect to the story, which gave it another dimension. But it was also very much a story of the present as we get to know Sophie and her household. It felt at times like the house attracted its own inhabitants, all in some way needing their own makeover and renovation to make them complete. As the house was gradually restored and the gardens rejuvenated, similarly Sophie and her ‘motley crew’ also find their own restorative healing.

I was totally transported and involved with all aspects of the storyline. The characters are realistic and believable, especially Sophie who is someone you just want to hug and tell her it will all be OK. Real life of course, doesn’t come with that certainty and that makes the book a compulsive read to find out exactly how things will turn out. The back story of WWII and the more recent civil wars are a reminder that on the whole wars solve nothing but result in atrocities, divisions and memories that will haunt generations.

This is a heartwarming story, beautifully told and I have no hesitation recommending it.

I received an ecopy via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.

 

 

 

 

Blog Tours – my thoughts and observations.

Having posted recently about why I was stepping back from Twitter I am conscious that in the body of the post and via the resulting comments I made several references to blog tours. These by default appear negative, as it was the negative aspects of the tour concept that I was alluding to. Consequently I’ve decided to clarify my thoughts and views to make it clear I am not against blog tours per se, and I’m certainly not being critical of bloggers who take part. In being honest about how I feel, I understand I run the risk of alienating some people and that is not my intention, but I’d rather be criticised for what I’ve actually said, than be judged on what someone assumes from a passing comment without any context.

I think blog tours are an invaluable way to get a group of bloggers together to post their timely reviews and create a buzz about a book. For small, independent publishers in particular, or self published authors, they are a low-cost marketing option which gets the word out to many more people than they could ordinarily hope to reach without taking out expensive adverts or sponsored posts. The positives are not all on the publishing/author side though there are many advantages for a blogger which include unique content for their blog; increased traffic – especially if giveaways are involved; new followers and the ability to build a positive and mutually advantageous relationship with a publisher/author. So all good reasons to participate in and support a blog tour, it can be a mutually beneficial process for both parties, so win, win.

However, just as there are positives, there are also negatives and it is those aspects of the concept that I have always been uncomfortable with. I also think that to a degree they are partly responsible for the increasing number of posts regarding blogger burnout and blogger bullying, which I’ll elucidate on later. These were aspects of blogging that I was unaware of when I dipped my toe in the water and set up this blog at the end of 2015. At the same time, while people were joining in blog tours, I was certainly not as conscious of them then, as I am now. The blog tour seems to be the “go to” medium when launching a book and I’m sure there is a correlation between this and the previously mentioned blogging negatives.  To try to keep my thoughts on track, I’ll attempt to deal with the things I’m uncomfortable with point by point.

Length of Blog Tour/Number of Participants

Maybe it’s just me, but I think a well-organized and relatively short tour is far preferable to create an immediate buzz. Now I’m not intending to get into a debate about how short is short, but having trawled the internet to pull up articles and features on blog tours, the consensus would appear to suggest 7-14 days. Penguin (other publishers are available) for example recommends up to a week before and after publication to create a buzz. To my mind this gives an author/publisher the opportunity to collect together a reasonable number of bloggers to review and share their thoughts on a book. I acknowledge from a publisher or author’s viewpoint they may well have a pool of bloggers to choose from, that far exceeds that number, and the temptation is to try to accommodate as many bloggers as possible. However as a marketing strategy does this really create additional publicity or is it overkill. More importantly what about the blogger?

The following is a review of just some of the blog tours I spotted this weekend via Facebook and Twitter. They are all UK-based. I am not ascribing details of the book or publisher I just want to use these as examples of the numbers.

No of Days in Tour Number of Stops per Day Total Bloggers on Tour
7 2 14
7 2 14
7 2 14
10 1 or 2 11
12 1 12
13 1 13
13 1 13
14 1 or2 26
14 1 14
21 1 21
27 1 27
30 1 or 2 42
32 2 64
52 1 52

Now there are always two ways of looking at everything, some would argue that the longer the tour the more coverage and publicity for the author/book – I can’t argue with that. But think about how the blogging community works and how to my mind that can  actually be detrimental. Here’s an example.

Blogger A is on a 14 stop blog tour. They normally post their content to 2 or 3 book related Facebook pages/forums, to promote the post, which is what bloggers do. However, Reader A is also a member of those forums. This means at worst (or best) depending on your view they’re seeing the same book every day for 14 days posted in 2 or 3 forums by at least 1 if not 2 bloggers. Then we have Twitter, Blogger A tweets their post, which is then retweeted by not only the others on the Tour, but additional supportive bloggers. So on some days we are often batting the same title around between bloggers. Given that ideally the author and the publisher should also be playing their part in promoting the book, they might also be retweeting. That is a lot of views of the same book on an average 14 day tour, multiply that by 30 or 52 and I for one switched off  long ago.

From a marketing point of view, I can’t deny the book is being seen, people will remember it, and it’s done the job of creating a buzz, which is excellent – just what the author/publisher wanted.  But what about the blogger? I’d be curious to know how many participants in a tour can honestly say they read every post, and yet they invite the reader to follow the tour and drop in on other bloggers. If I was interested I might do 2 or 3, but  21, or 42 or 64 – that’s simply not going to happen. My point is, the later participants on the tour have put as much work in as the first, especially if they’ve read and reviewed the book. Now while they might have unique readers on their blog to read their post, how much traffic, new views, new followers are they really picking up at the tail end of a tour, if other people are like me and have lost interest. The problem is, I suspect they may not even be aware,  because in the Twitter age, a like or a retweet is a notification that your Tweet has been seen and acknowledged, but how many people have actually read your content (a problem, I may add, not just restricted to blog tours!).

So let’s be honest, this is just about marketing, read the articles and most authors will admit, blog tours are about getting their book seen and their name recognised, it is not about sales, they are an added bonus if they happen. I had a recent conversation with a publisher who confirmed just that. Blog tours are not aimed at increasing sale, sales are a bonus. Combine this with the increasing use of Q&A’s, guest posts, cover reveals in tours and I start to get uncomfortable. This is pure marketing, I’ve even seen some posts that have a tenuous link to the content of the book. This concerns me because, bloggers have a following, they are respected and they’re good at what they do, but by making this the way forward for the industry to promote itself I worry that it compromises a bloggers  integrity. I’ll explain why in the next topic.

Blogger bullying

Even if you’ve not been on the receiving end, I’m sure you’ve either seen examples on Facebook forums, or heard about it, or had bloggers relate their experiences. One Facebook group, that I was a member of, had a thread that was vociferous and quite vicious in its condemnation of bloggers. Do I agree with it – no, is it acceptable – never, so what I am about to write is not a defence of what went on. It is my attempt to explain why I think these views are held, wrongly in my opinion, but then I’m on the inside. Most of these views, come from people on the outside and to my mind it’s to do with perceptions, and I strongly believe it also links to the increase in blog tours and similar author/publisher promoted posts.

When a publisher simply provided an ARC, it was read and reviewed, ideally to an agreed time frame, but if that slipped a bit, no harm done. As every author is keen to tell us a review is a review whenever it is posted. Now, the blogger, as part of a blog tour, is doing nothing different. They are receiving an ARC, which they are reading and reviewing. The resulting review, would be identical. So what’s different, I thinks it’s the formalisation of the process that puts the author/publisher in control to a degree as they dictate time scale, format, use of corporate logo’s and banners etc. I think this has a knock on effect that skews the perceptions of the validity of the reviews. A blogger  ‘signs up’ to a blog tour before they’ve received the book or can gauge its content, which,  I stress, would be no different from my downloading from NetGalley.  I judge from the author’s previous work, or the genre, or the publisher, whether it is something I’m likely to enjoy, and for the most part I do, and my reviews reflect that. As a result, I rarely write what I deem a bad review. However, it’s the perception with a blog tour, that by default, the review is going to be  a good one, that brings into question, from some people, the honesty and integrity of the reviewer/blogger. They are perceived as writing it for the author/publisher and not the reader.

It’s easier to see this at work if  we look outside of our own bookish world and lets use for example cosmetics. If a company send out samples of their new product to individuals to sample and the results are positive, you might tweet about it or tell your friends. Now imagine you get the same sample, you like it, but the company says, that as part of receiving the sample, you have to tweet your review using their heading, or linked to their poster, or other users. That starts to look less like an honest review and a bit more like a promotional advert. Even though your thoughts on the product are exactly the same, it’s all about perceptions, and I suggest we might also make assumptions about a product if we saw it promoted that way.

The concept is further muddied by the existence of paid blog tours. I don’t know of  any  bloggers that get paid for reviewing, but I am aware of bloggers participating in tours organized by individuals (outside of a publisher’s marketing department) who are being paid. This is a perfectly valid and legitimate way to earn money, and to be honest, the sums involved are not a great deal. But again, it comes down to perceptions, combine this with the knowledge that some tour organisers ‘require’ nothing less than a 3 star review and the whole issue might lead people to wonder about honesty and integrity.  I will admit, that I have always felt uncomfortable with the notion that someone is being paid (however much that might be) to do a job that directly relies on the unpaid, goodwill and professionalism of others. The input from bloggers is not inconsiderable, it can’t be equated to something like getting opinions from a focus group.

I’m not getting into the issue of ‘free’ books as for me that’s a non-starter. A book that takes 3-4 hours minimum to read, then requires a review, a web post and time spent posting across social media is not ‘free’. It’s a fair exchange for anyone’s time, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative.

So I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I think that as blog tours have become more prevalent, they can appear to make the blogger look less individual and more corporate, and because of paid tours, some people think bloggers also are being paid.  It’s not about the reality, it’s about perceptions and what people believe based on what they know or think they know.  It doesn’t make it right, and I’m not sure what the answer is, but I firmly believe it contributes to the negative view of bloggers.

Blogger Burnout

Just as many of you will have read the instances of blogger bullying, you will also have read post’s by fellow bloggers saying they are overwhelmed or tired and need to step back from blogging. Some of those may well be due to external influences, that are totally none book related, such as health. But we are also aware of those who are squarely laying the blame at the pressures of blogging and have expressed a desire to cut down on blog tours. This latter comment, chimes with my theory that the increase in the tours is creating some of that additional pressure.

Most book bloggers set up their blog to spread the word about books and authors that they love. For most it’s a hobby as they work either full-time or part-time. For others it’s an opportunity to mix with like-minded people, and for people with health issues, it’s a level playing field on which they can compete. But I suspect whatever the initial motivation, the key thing was, it was supposed to be enjoyable and not a pressure. Admittedly some of the pressures might be seen as self-inflicted, taking on too much, trying to compete, or succumbing to the dreaded ‘fear of missing out’. But I think the growth of blog tours is also to blame, and it’s effects have been insidious.

The main thing a blogger has over their blog is control. Their blog, their rules. This changes when you embark on blog tours. The timing of when to post is allocated, no problem, until the material doesn’t come through; or the date is changed; or worst still life takes over and you’re up till dawn finishing the book to meet a deadline.  Once your post is ready to go, you have to conform to the standards laid down; make sure you link to the requisite places; use the designated banner or content provided; and then embark upon the round of sharing with social media. When blog tours were less prolific, this was less of a problem. But as they proliferate this is starting to sound a lot less like fun, and more like work with deadlines and instructions. To some people this is not an issue, but for others, it is.

It’s easy to say, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen, but it’s not that easy to do. It’s hard for some saying no to an author they respect and have worked with before, or the publisher they want to support. The problem is not necessarily that individual request, it’s the accumulation of pressure that can build over time. There might not be an issue when a  tour is accepted, it’s something that might happen along the process, that impinges on a deadline or has knock on effects for others.  The issue with the tour is, it’s not flexible, and one is committed and feels responsible, to the author/publisher and other participants on the tour. This doesn’t happen with an ordinary book review in the same way, as it doesn’t have the same ‘contractual obligation’ attached.

So if you’re still with me at this stage, thank you. It wasn’t an easy post to write, and I might not have expressed things as well as I wanted, but I think it sets out the gist of how I feel. You might agree or disagree, with my views, or it might be something you’ve never really thought about. I have (perhaps unwisely) left the comments option open, so you can add your own thoughts. I would however, request that just as I’m allowing you to offer your opinions, you respect my right to have mine and I have no intention of getting involved in any heated debates.