Friday, 28 August 2015

Stirred With Love - Marcie Steele

"Sometimes the best friends can be found where you least expect them … 

Still grieving after the loss of her beloved husband, Lily Mortimer is determined to do something with the time she has left. 

After the end of her fairytale marriage, thirty-something Kate is trying hard to mend her broken heart. 

Chloe, a young woman with the world at her feet, is struggling to know what to do with her life. 

When Lily embarks on a new venture in the picturesque town of Somerley, the three women come together to open The Coffee Stop, the most charming café for miles around. 

But opening a coffee shop is never as simple as it seems, especially when you add neighbouring competition, local heart throbs and heartbreak to the mix. 

When tragedy strikes, can the three women pull together to make the new business fly, or will Lily’s last chance disappear down the drain along with yesterday’s coffee grinds?"

This is not your average chick lit - which I was very happy about. Although I do love a bit of chick lit, to break up all the kidnappings and murders I usually spend my time on, it was nice to read one with a bit more substance to it. 
The focus of the novel wasn't on whether the girl would get her fella (in fact, I didn't really know what was going to happen with the fellas!) but is more about friendship - how it can be found in the most unlikely of places and how it can fix things that seem irretrievably broken - and I liked that. 
The characters are warm and sweet, and even when things aren't going Kate's way and she's bloody miserable you can't help wishing everything will be OK. A lovely, squidgy cinnamon bun of a book - not too sweet but a perfect pick me up, and one that I really enjoyed.  

Stirred With Love is out on 3rd September and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Mistake I Made - Paula Daly

"We all think we know who we are.
What we’re capable of.
Roz is a single mother, a physiotherapist, a sister, a friend. She’s also desperate.
Her business has gone under, she’s crippled by debt and she’s just had to explain to her son why someone’s taken all their furniture away.
But now a stranger has made her an offer. For one night with her, he’ll pay enough to bring her back from the edge.
Roz has a choice to make."

I am a big fan of Paula Daly, after I discovered her first novel, Just what Kind of Mother Are You? on holiday in Cyprus one year. This, her third novel, doesn't fail to enthral the reader - just enough thriller to keep you on edge, with a theme running through that makes the reader think, "What would I do?".

The characters in this book are all very well-written. They are fleshed out and it's not difficult to imagine the kind of people they are - most of us work with a "Wayne" and everyone knows at least one couple like Scott and Nadine, however I did thin that the author could have gotten a lot darker with Scott's character than she did! He was a creep, and his attitude to things was appalling, but I did find him likeable and perhaps just not quite threatening enough for me.

I did find the whole theme of the novel uncomfortable - it did make me wonder what I would do if I was in Roz's situation, and I'm not sure I was entirely happy with my answer (what does that tell you!). In all, this was a very, very good read - one that I'll definitely be recommending.

The Mistake I Made is out on 27th August and you can get it here:

**My thanks to Ben Willis at Transworld for my ARC!**

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Waiting Game - Jessica Thompson

"The moon was speckled like a bird's egg. It hung reliably in the blackness above Will Turnbull and Nessa Grier who sat side by side on a bench as the leaves fell around them, landing softly on the thick, wet grass. Their knees were just touching, hearts pounding hard.'
Nessa Bruce waits for her husband to come through the double doors. She'd waited for him to return home from Afghanistan for what felt like forever, and now the moment was finally here. But Jake isn't... Jake Bruce hasn't come home, and it looks like he never will. 
Nessa's life - and that of her daughter Poppy - is turned upside down in an instant. What has happened to the elusive man at the centre of their world? They hold onto the hope that he is still out there somewhere, alive... but as time passes by, Nessa is forced to look at her life, at the decisions she has made and the secrets she has kept. For maybe somewhere within it all lies the answer to the question she's desperate to answer - where is the man she loves?"

At first glance The Waiting Game just looked like another chick-lit book until I began reading. Slightly darker than the usual chick-lit genre, it focusses on Nessa and Poppy, a mother and daughter who are waiting for their husband/father to return from Afghanistan when he simply does not re-appear. 
It is a fairly emotional read, and I did find myself becoming quite attached to Nessa - in the beginning I thought she was perhaps a little bit of a weed, a bit girly, but she seemed to toughen up as the story line went on and I really liked her by the end. All the characters are quite easy to relate to, even the unpleasant ones (I really didn't like Poppy, or her attitude but then she is a teenager, so the attitude was pretty accurate!) and I found myself willing things to turn out OK for Nessa. 
The only thing that I did find distracting was that there were a few glaring errors in relation to timelines and ages - the book begins in 1997 and states that Jake is 18, then further on states that he was born in 1981 - therefore not 18 in 1997 (from someone who was 18 in 1997!) - a minor distraction and one that can be easily rectified. 
In all, an enjoyable read and not at all the light, fluffy, chick lit I was expecting. 
The Waiting Game is out now and you can get it here: 
Read on for an exclusive extract of The Waiting Game…
"Nessa’s heart was pounding in her chest. All she could do was hold the envelope in her trembling hands, turning it round, over and over again, to double check it hadn’t already been opened, that it wasn’t an old one that had been misplaced. That would be so disappointing. But it was unlikely; she always kept them in her drawer . . .
Nessa studied the envelope. It was almost just like all the others, but something was different. Something was missing. And why had it been left beneath the doormat anyway? That made no sense at all. Nessa frantically opened the drawer by her bed and found the others. She laid a couple out on the bed and studied them. The rest had an airmail stamp on them. That was the difference; this one didn’t . . .
So what did that mean? And why would a postman put the letter under the mat? Perhaps there was an Amazon parcel stuck in the letterbox . . . That happened sometimes. She couldn’t believe she’d missed it. It broke her heart to think that it was just lying there unopened for god-knows-how-long.
Nessa tore open the envelope and tipped it upside down. A photograph slid out and landed on the white cotton sheets. She didn’t recognise it at first, her eyes blurred with fresh tears. She turned the image upside down and blinked. It was the strangest thing: a photo of Jake – just Jake.
It was a recent one. He looked like he was lying down on a dust sheet or something, and he was wearing his uniform. The sunlight and the dusty haze of it gave her the impression it had been taken in Camp Bastion, although it could have been taken in any number of places. He had the strangest look on his face. His eyes were red and tired, as if he had been upset, or he hadn’t slept for a long time. There was a look of desperate sadness on his face. And yet somehow, despite this, there was so much love in his eyes. It was the strangest thing. Nessa simply couldn’t work out if it was the most heartbreaking, or the most hopeful thing she’d ever seen.
Despite his tiredness, he looked even more beautiful than she remembered him. The pictures he’d sent over the years were always pre-existing images. Photos they had treasured for years, even. This was new and he wasn’t the type to take photos of himself . . . What did this mean?
Nessa turned it over gently, expecting it to just have the usual photo number scrawled on the back and nothing else, but there was more. Words: I’ll be watching over you . . . always . . . I’m so sorry I had to leave . . .
Oh god, Nessa thought, raising a hand to her mouth. He’s gone . . .
He’s gone . . . "

*My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**

Monday, 24 August 2015

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

"When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever."

I have to be honest and confess - I'm not very good at literary fiction. I read The Luminaries, and thought it was OK. I read The Goldfinch and enjoyed it more than The Luminaries but it didn't blow me away. So, when I heard that this has been long listed for the Book Prize, I nearly didn't pick it up, purely because I just didn't think it would be as good as the hype said it would be. 
I was so wrong. This book is astoundingly beautiful, whilst harrowing, it ripped the heart out of me. Not only is the writing exquisite, the characters are so flawless. I became emotionally attached to all of them (even JB), and my tears at the end were not just for the events that took place, but also at the loss of the characters. It's not often I re-read books - my TBR pile just doesn't allow it -  but after finishing this book a week ago, I am ready to re-read it again, just to absorb it's impact if nothing else.
It's not for the faint-hearted - it touches on some very strong issues that may be too much for some readers, but I don't regret picking it up one single bit. 
This is definitely a top contender for my book of the year, and after reading it on my kindle I have already purchased my hardcover copy, to sit on my bookshelf and be re-read again and again. 

A Little Life is out now and you can get it here:

**MY thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my ARC**

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Art of Baking Blind - Sarah Vaughn

"There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.
In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes.
Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs Eaden. There's Jenny, facing an empty nest now her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife's death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it's like to have nothing and is determined her façade shouldn't slip.
As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest choux bun seems the least of the contestants' problems. For they will learn - as Mrs Eaden did before them - that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life."

Not many of you will know this, but in a former life, I was a baker. I had a little baking company that provided sweet treats and beautiful things to brighten up people's day. However, not everything lasts forever, and now I am back to just baking for my family (because now I don't bake for everyone else I actually see them!). When I was approached by the author to review this book I knew I absolutely had to read it, because you see, even if you don't bake every day, if you love it you cant get enough of it.

I LOVED this read - not just for the baking (although that was a huge part of it), but the characters drew me in and I was hooked. There is a character for everyone to relate to - for me personally it was Vicki - and I loved watching the way they all reacted to each other, and to how the baking competition affected their every day lives. 

The parallel storyline that runs alongside, relating to Kathleen Eaden, is heartbreaking. A story that shows how appearances can be deceiving and while some appear to have it all that is not always the case. The writing style is beautiful, and I defy anyone to read it and not want to try their hand at baking something. Me, I'm waiting for the autumn now, so I can knock up one of Mrs Eaden's rabbit pies. 

The Art of Baking Blind is out now and you can get it here: 

**My thanks to the author and publisher for my ARC**

A Proper Family Adventure - Chrissie Manby

"Could you spend two weeks at sea with your family?
Thanks to an unexpected windfall, the Bensons are treating themselves to a luxury cruise. With stop-offs in Barcelona, Rome and Marseilles, plus constant entertainment onboard, it's a dream come true . . . Or is it? Last time Chelsea Benson went on holiday with this lot she nearly went crazy.
Her mum and sister are convinced Chelsea's boyfriend Adam will propose on the ship. Chelsea's sure he won't, but she can't help feeling butterflies as they set sail. Is Adam going to pop the question, or will the only thing to pop be Chelsea's ego?"

I was lucky enough for myself and my daughter (AKA The Reading Child) to be invited to the launch for A Proper Family Adventure, which was held at Southampton Docks on board the Royal Princess Cruise Ship. What a day - the ship is nothing more than pure luxury, incorporating several restaurants, a spa, swimming pools, a hot tub and a casino on board. We were given a tour of the ship by Princess's PR Manager, David, followed by a Q&A by the lovely Chrissie. This was followed by a beautiful three-course lunch of a definite 5 star restaurant standard! 

This is such a lovely read - if only all families were like this! I love the chaos that surrounds the Benson family, but I also love the closeness. I'd love it if all my children wanted to come on holiday with me when they are grown up! (Not sure Mr H would want that quite as much though!). This is a sweet, funny read, all about family, love, relationships and how sometimes everything happens for a reason. I really enjoyed watching the way the relationships between the different characters developed - there wasn't a character that you could dislike. 
Some may find it a little too sugary sweet, but I really enjoyed it - it makes a refreshing change for me read something that doesn't carry a sinister undertone, or without a dead body hiding around every corner. This is a perfect summer beach read, one that brought back memories for me of a very similar cruise that I went on with my own family, (no lottery wins though, unfortunately).

This is part of a series of Benson family adventures, however I hadn't read any of them previously and enjoyed it perfectly - there's no need to read the others first. 

Thank you so much to Chrissie, Jenni Leech, Eleni Lawrence and the rest of the Hodder Team, and Princess Cruises for an absolutely brilliant day. 

A Proper Family Adventure is out now and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Tenacity - J.S. Law

"Suicide must be investigated.
Especially when a Royal Navy sailor kills himself on a nuclear submarine, only days after his wife's brutal murder.
Now Lieutenant Danielle Lewis, the Navy's finest Special Branch investigator, must interrogate the tight-knit, male crew of HMS Tenacity to determine if there's a link.
Isolated, and standing alone in the face of extreme hostility, Dan soon realises that she may have to choose between the truth and her own survival.
Justice must be served, but with a possible killer on board the pressure is rising and her time is running out…"

Apparently, it's quite rude to go on holiday with your family and then spend the entire first two days ignoring them because you have your head stuck in a book that you are completely unable to put down. Me, I don't have a problem with it, but according to Team Hall it's not the done thing, especially when once you finish you gab about it to everyone you meet, encouraging them to read it, even when they are French and can't understand a word you say. But there you go. 

Tenacity is one of those books. One that you keep seeing everywhere, all over Facebook and Twitter and I always think that these books never quite meet the hype. So I delay reading them, then when I eventually pick them up I want to kick myself for leaving it so long. This is a scorcher of a read, with a protagonist that I loved, purely because she was so bloody hardcore taking on all the sailors. Fast-paced is not the word for it - the storyline is so pacy I was left quite worn out by it all. A clever plot line with plenty of hooks and twists mean that "just one more chapter" will inevitably turn into  "read until you don't even realise you fell asleep, til you wake up with the imprint of the chapter on your face." 
I advise you believe the hype and read it now, don't put it off any longer.

Tenacity is out now and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**

Monday, 10 August 2015

A Game For All The Family - Sophie Hannah

"Justine thought she knew who she was, until an anonymous caller seemed to know better...
After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon.
But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody's been expelled - there is, and was, no George. 
Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret - yet Justine doesn't recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves - two big and one small, to fit a child - Justine fears for her family's safety. 
If the police can't help, she'll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she's supposed to be…"

This was SO GOOD - I swear Sophie Hannah just keeps getting better and better. While I have enjoyed her Culver Valley series, I was looking forward to reading a standalone. 

A Game For All The Family is what I would call a proper mystery story - along the lines of Agatha Christie. Nothing seems to make sense all the way through, there is seemingly no way of tying all the loose ends together until you reach the final few pages and that "Ahhhhh" moment kicks in. In this case, not all the loose ends are tied up together neatly, and there is not a straight forward explanation given, however for me, this just added to the mystery of it all quite unlike anything I've read for a long time.

I love Sophie's style of writing - everything is kept fast-paced enough to keep the story moving forward and the pages turning, but without giving away any clues that might reveal the answer to the mystery. I think it takes a very talented writer to be able to do that. The characters are in turn likeable, hideous, mysterious and flat-out bonkers and I read for the very first time a word that I LOVED - I work in construction and henceforth I think I will have to refer to my guys as "bumcrackers" :) 

If you're after a story that will hook you in and completely bamboozle you until the final pages then look no further.

A Game For All The Family is out on 13th August and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Murder in Malmö - Torquil Macleod

"A gunman is loose in Malmö and he's targeting immigrants. The charismatic head of an advertising agency is found dead in his shower. Inspector Anita Sundström wants to be involved in the murder investigations, but she is being sidelined by her antagonistic boss. She is assigned to find a stolen painting by a once-fashionable artist, as well as being lumbered with a new trainee assistant. She also has to do to restore her professional reputation after a deadly mix-up in a previous high-profile case. Then another prominent Malmö businessman is found murdered and Sundström finds herself back in the action and facing new dangers in the second Anita Sundström Malmö mystery."

The second instalment in the Anita Sundström series is another cracking read - I really like Anita, she's a bit feisty, doesn't need a fella hanging around and is completely happy to do her own thing. She doesn't come without her demons - being in love with a killer who's currently banged up behind bars doesn't do her any favours at work - but I like the way she thinks and operates. 
This second novel focusses on issues surrounding racism which makes for uncomfortable reading at times. The opinions that are held by some of the characters are opinions that no rational person would believe in today, and in some places it did make me feel a little awkward. This doesn't detract from the story for me, I actually quite enjoyed being taken out of my comfort zone (and I love when characters are created that are just that hideous).
Those of you that have read the first in the series may be pleased to hear that Westerman carries on being his usual, obnoxious self - unfortunately I can't bear him, and Anita's little comments that take the wind out of his sails are brilliantly amusing.

Another excellent read - I can't wait for the next in the series!

Murder in Malmö is out now and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**

Bloody Scotland - A Q&A with Ragnar Jonasson

I was very excited to be asked if I would like to be part of the Bloody Scotland Blog Tour - and particularly excited to discover that I got to do a Q&A with Ragnar Jonasson, author of Snowblind. Snowblind has to be one of my books of the year so far - one of those books that once you pick it up you can't put it down again until you've devoured the very last page. Here is my chat with Ragnar:

1. Snowblind is set in Sigulfjord - how much research did you have to do and did you spend a lot of time in the area to help you to "set the scene"?

My father was born in Siglufjord and my grandparents lived there for most of their lives. I made my first trip there 3 months old, and have visited more or less every year since, sometimes many times a year – so my research was done long before I decided to write about the place. I was also able to ask my father about specific details, and furthermore my late grandfather wrote a series of books about the history of Siglufjord which I have been able to use throughout my series. My aim was to make the descriptions of the town and locations as accurate as possible, so that readers could visit these places in real life – the tunnel, the theatre (now a concert hall), the church, the grocery store, the streets, the fish store etc. – all these places exist. 

2. I'm hoping that some characters will be returning - who was your favourite character in Snowblind and what makes them your favourite?

Ari Thór, his girlfriend Kristín and his boss Tómas are recurring characters in the series, and some of other characters appear in more than one book. In Snowblind, I enjoyed writing all of the characters and to avoid any spoilers I won’t discuss the suspects or my favorites from that group. I think Ari Thór is probably my favorite character, simply because I’ve written five books about him so I feel I know him quite well by now!

3. If Snowblind were to be made into a movie who would make up your ideal cast?

My ideal Ari Thór would be a good friend of mine, the Icelandic actor Thor Kristjánsson, who has done the audiobooks for the series in Iceland, and who has just read the Snowblind audiobook in English for Audible as well. Thor is one of Iceland’s biggest name film stars and has also worked in Hollywood, recently in Dracula Untold. He is about the same age as Ari and even shares the name Thor with him!

4. What is next for Ari Thor?

The next book published in the series in the UK, Nightblind, is set a few years after Snowblind. Inspector Tómas has moved south and Ari Thór has a new boss in Siglufjord. In the first chapter, the new inspector is shot at point blank range in the middle of the night just outside of the village, and Tómas is called back to Siglufjord to investigate, along with Ari Thór.

5. What is your writing procedure like? Are you a plotter or do you just see what happens?

In all my books, I have outlined the plot in detail before I start writing, so I always know from the beginning how the book ends. Of course during the process of writing, some minor things change, some characters become more prominent and in some cases the characters surprise me with their actions! But in essence, the basic idea and plot outline stays the same.

6. Who are you influenced by? Do you have any particular favourite writers?

I think writers are probably influenced by everything they read, in one way or another. I read a lot of crime fiction and my favorite authors include Agatha Christie and P.D. James, as well as American golden age writers Ellery Queen and S.S. Van Dine.

7. Finally, I know that I have been inspired to visit Iceland after reading Snowblind - any tips or must-see places to visit?

My favorite time in Iceland is probably May to July, when the days are long and bright. In mid-June we have almost twenty four hour daylight, a great time to visit the country. In terms of places to visit, I would of course recommend Siglufjord and other places in Northern-Iceland, it is a very charming area. Another favorite place of mine is the amazing glacial lagoon in the south east of Iceland.

Snowblind is out now and you can get it here:

And you can read my full review here: 

Be sure to catch the rest of the Bloody Scotland Blog Tour! 

**My thanks to Ragnar Jonasson and the Bloody Scotland team**