The Homecoming by Rosie Howard @RosieHowardBook #BookReview #MondayBlogs #amreading

The Homecoming

This was a most enjoyable read. The Homecoming is a first-class example of intelligent, contemporary and credible romantic fiction.

From the Back Cover:

Maddy fled the idyllic market town of Havenbury Magna three years ago, the scene of a traumatic incident she revisits most clearly in her dreams. Even so, when she is called back to help at the Havenbury Arms when her godfather Patrick suffers a heart attack, she is unprepared for the welter of emotions her return provokes. Psychologist and ex-army officer Ben is sure he can help Maddy to resolve her fears, until he finds himself falling for her, and struggling with a recently uncovered family secret of which Maddy is blissfully unaware. Then Maddy’s mother, Helen, arrives and Patrick himself must confront a few uncomfortable truths about his history and the pub’s future.

My Review:

This was such a good read. The two main protagonists, Maddy and Ben, despite being relatively young (she’s in her 20s and he’s in his 30s), have enough life experience for their approach to any sort of romantic relationship to be realistic. They are also portrayed in way that gets the reader on their side and to care about how things will turn out. I also liked the supporting cast of characters who were also well drawn by the author. And it was good to see the older characters – Maddy’s mother and her godfather Patrick – being presented in a realistic way.

The story is engaging with just the right blend of jeopardy, mystery and things at stake to keep the reader hooked.

If you’re looking for a heart-warming holiday read, this book definitely fits the bill.

My only minor gripe is the ending felt slightly too abrupt. I wanted a bit more of a sigh and a wallow. Maybe there needs to be a sequel…

The Homecoming is currently available as an ebook and is available to preorder as a paperback due out on 19th July 2018. The Homecoming by Rosie Howard @RosieHowardBook #BookReview #MondayBlogs #amreading

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns @june_kearns #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

What a great story! This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. It was one of those books where you want to get to the end to see how it all plays out, but you also don’t want it to end because you know you’re going to miss it.

From the back cover:

Jane Austen meets Zane Grey
The American West, 1867. After a stagecoach wreck, well-bred bookish spinster, Annie Haddon, (product of mustn’t-take-off-your-hat, mustn’t-take-off-your-gloves, mustn’t-get-hot-or-perspire Victorian society) is thrown into the company of cowboy, Colt McCall – a man who lives by his own rules and hates the English.
Can two people from such wildly different backgrounds learn to trust each other? Annie and McCall find out on their journey across the haunting , mystical landscape of the West.

My Review:

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is a romantic novel with a difference – at least it was for me. I’ve never read a romantic story set in nineteenth century America’s Wild West before. Indeed, before reading this, I would have said a Western setting wouldn’t have interested me. But having read a couple of reviews I was intrigued enough to give it a go. I’m so glad I did.

The main characters were vividly and convincingly drawn.

First of all there’s Englishwoman, Annie Haddon, who is tougher than she knows. The reader can’t help but root for her as she faces extreme adversity and danger following the crash of the stagecoach in which she is travelling. Her courage, her ability to stand her ground, and the way she copes with the cruelty dished out to her by her family, all keep the reader on her side.

And then there’s Colt McCall, a handsome and charismatic cowboy with an interesting and mysterious past, who comes to Annie’s aid. All I can say is – what’s not to love?

The rest of the characters form a strong supporting cast. There are Annie’s relatives – her cruel aunt and her horrible cousin. There’s Annie’s revolting suitor, and there’s a magnificent Sioux scout. They, along with various army personnel and saloon girls, all add interesting detail to the story – detail that is sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous and sometimes sad.

The descriptions of the landscape bring the setting to life – along with the details about clothing and culture.

So everything is well set up by the author for this most intriguing, will-they-won’t-they tale. And she certainly delivers. Yes, indeed – what a great story!

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is published by New Romantics Press and is available here as an ebook and as a paperback.

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas @OlgaWojtas #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Entertaining, eventful, erudite

This debut novel by Olga Wojtas is impossible to confine within one genre as it both kicks against and embraces quite a few of them. It is part crime, part comedy, but there are also elements of thriller, fantasy and sci-fi along with historical and romantic. All I can suggest is a new genre of olga-fic.

Back Cover Summary: “Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name. Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins. But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?”

My Review: This book is brilliantly written, completely original and as far as my reading goes it’s unique. The main character, Shona, is well-educated and knowledgeable on many topics, she’s eccentric, kind-hearted, morally upright, brave and stoical – but she’s also utterly lacking in perception when it comes to understanding her fellow human beings and is completely bonkers.

I don’t know if the timing of the release of this novel is a coincidence or not, as this year is the centenary of the birth of author Muriel Spark, and there are currently many events going on in her home city of Edinburgh to celebrate her life and writing. And probably Spark’s most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is set in the fictional Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls in Edinburgh.

Coincidence or not, I love d how Olga Wojtas has taken this fictional school and made it Shona’s alma mater –  and that’s she also made Shona fiercely proud and protective of her former school’s reputation and extremely resentful of what Spark did, as she sees it, to trash that reputation.

The plot centres on the time-travelling mission given to Shona by her school’s founder and is a mad and clever mix of fact and fiction. The supporting cast are hilarious. I especially loved Old Vatrushkin, a most endearing serf. And Shona’s complete lack of understanding of what’s actually going is also very amusing.

I enjoyed, too, Shona’s attempts to introduce elements of Scottish culture to her Russian friends, the Burns supper and square sausage being just two examples.

I would however advise against reading this book on public transport. I read part of it while on the train and did get some funny looks from fellow travellers as I smiled and nearly choked on stifled laughter.

This novel really is the crème de la crème or rather, as Shona would prefer, cremor cremoris

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar is available as a paperback and as an ebook and is published by Contraband.

Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell @ aonghasphadraig #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Insightful, magical, truthful writing

Memory and Straw is yet another wonderful book from Angus Peter Campbell. It’s magical and it’s beguiling and it’s a book to be savoured as you read.

 

Back Cover Description: A face is nothing without its history. Gavin and Emma live in Manhattan. She’s a musician. He works in Artificial Intelligence. He’s good at his job. Scarily good. He’s researching human features to make more realistic mask-bots non-human carers for elderly people. When his enquiry turns personal he’s forced to ask whether his own life is an artificial mask. Delving into family stories and his roots in the Highlands of Scotland, he embarks on a quest to discover his own true face, uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been. He returns to England to look after his Grampa. Travels. Reads old documents. Visits ruins. Borrows, plagiarises and invents. But when Emma tells him his proper work is to make a story out of glass and steel, not memory and straw, which path will he choose? What s the best story he can give her? A novel about the struggle for freedom and personal identity; what it means to be human. It fuses the glass and steel of our increasingly controlled algorithmic world with the memory and straw of our forebears world controlled by traditions and taboos, the seasons and the elements.

 

My Review: Gavin, the narrator, is a scientist working in the very precise world of nanotechnology. His work and his twenty-first century lifestyle means that, like many people nowadays, he inhabits both the virtual online world and the real world.

As he undertakes his latest work project, he finds himself increasingly making comparisons and links to how, in the past, there was a different sort of virtual world, a world of magic and fairies. He concludes that whereas now the internet offers insights and solutions into how we should live our lives, in the past it was the supernatural world that did so offering as it did visions, spells and rituals.

As work and home pressures build to intolerable levels for Gavin, he decides to take some time out and to delve into his ancestry and heritage. He hopes by doing so that he’ll find a clearer idea of who he is and of his place in the world. As he carries out his quest, he finds the lines between past, present and future becoming increasingly blurred but he also comes to terms with where and how he fits in.

There’s a dreamlike quality to Campbell’s writing. His use of language to describe setting and people is exquisite. The plot is fragile. It has to be, but it’s like a spider’s web in its flimsiness. It has coherence and purpose and, for the reader, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and just go with it.

This is a book to transport you, to fully immerse yourself in and to take your time with. It’s an insightful and rewarding read.

 

Memory and Straw is available as a hardcover print book and as an ebook. It is published by Luath Press.

 

Bad Apples by JJ Marsh @JJMarsh1 #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Bad Apples

A satisfying, delightful, engaging read

Regular readers of my book reviews will know I’m a big fan of crime writer JJ Marsh. So my expectations were high when I came to read Bad Apples, the sixth and final book in the DI Beatrice Stubbs series. My high expectations were more than met but I was also gutted that this was to be Beatrice’s last case. However this meant I savoured it all the more.

 

Back Cover Blurb: Acting DCI Beatrice Stubbs is representing Scotland Yard at a police conference in Portugal. Her task is to investigate a rumour – a ghostwritten exposé of European intelligence agencies – and discover who is behind such a book.

Hardly a dangerous assignment, so she invites family and friends for a holiday. Days at the conference and evenings at the villa should be the perfect work-life balance.

Until one of her colleagues is murdered.

An eclectic alliance of international detectives forms to find the assassin. But are they really on the same side?

Meanwhile, tensions rise at the holiday villa. A clash of egos sours the atmosphere and when a five-year-old child disappears, their idyll turns hellish.

From Lisbon streets to the quays of Porto, Parisian cafés to the green mountains of Gerês, Beatrice realises trust can be a fatal mistake.

 

My Review: As in the previous books, Bad Apples has Scotland Yard detective, Beatrice Stubbs, working alongside police colleagues in Europe. This time the setting is Portugal and as always, JJ Marsh’s writing style ensures the reader really feels they’re there. The cities of Porto and Lisbon along with the Portugal’s mountains are all vividly brought to life with small details capturing so much.

There are two plotlines – one domestic and personal, and one criminal. The supporting cast are wonderful as always including old and loved characters as well as some new ones. And Beatrice is at her lovable and quirky best and still uttering those mixed metaphors of hers such as ‘ears to the grindstone’, ‘long in the hoof’, and ‘a dustman’s holiday’.

The action begins quietly enough with Beatrice, close to retirement and having been promoted to Acting Chief Inspector, preparing to attend a European police conference in Portugal. And for this final working trip, she has decided to combine work with pleasure. So whenever she’s free she intends to join her partner, the wonderful Matthew, and other family and friends at a villa they’ve rented in the Portuguese hills. But it’s not long before there’s a murder and some other sinister events which not only require Beatrice and her colleagues to investigate crime rather than attend seminars, but also threaten the safety of Beatrice and those close to her. Yes, all the usual ingredients of a DI Stubbs plot are there and the story is told with all JJ Marsh’s usual flair. The writing is clever, original, witty and warm and the twists and turns are far from obvious. And the end if both fitting and satisfying.

And so it’s farewell to Beatrice, and here’s hoping she enjoys a long and happy retirement. I’ll miss her. *

 

All the books in this series including Bad Apples are available in paperback and ebook formats and are published by Prewett Publishing. They are also available as two e-book box sets of three.

*PS: adding this to original post. JJ Marsh has been in touch and assured me that although Beatrice has retired, her adventures will continue and three more books are planned. Hurrah!

A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity by Trish Nicholson @TrishaNicholson #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

This is a beautiful book, both in its words and in its presentation. The cover is gorgeous in look and feel and the text more than lives up to the promise of the cover.

Back Cover Summary:  An entertaining cultural history and a highly original take on the power of stories in societies past and present. Trish Nicholson brings us a unique interweaving of literature and history seen through the eyes of storytellers, making a fascinating journey for general readers and students alike. From tales of the Bedouin, to Homer, Aesop and Valmiki, and from Celtic bards and Icelandic skalds to Chaucer, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Scott and Chekhov, some of the many storytellers featured will be familiar to you; others from Africa, Asia and the Pacific may be fresh discoveries. Beginning with oral tales of our foraging ancestors, the emergence of writing, the great migrations, the age of exploration and the invention of printing through to the industrial revolution and the digital age, Nicholson brings us voices from all corners of the world. Combining this extraordinary breadth with telling myths, epics, fables, fairy tales and legends, she reveals their story-power in the comedy and tragedy of human affairs. And what of Story’s future..? A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity is our own human epic, thoroughly researched and referenced, and told with the imaginative flair of an accomplished storyteller. This is a book-lover’s book, illustrated and handsomely presented in hardback and paperback volumes designed ‘to have and to hold’.

My Review: To be human is to tell stories. It’s in our human nature to make sense of our lives through the stories we tell ourselves and others. And it’s the development and variety of humanity’s stories that Trish Nicholson explores in her book. She travels from the earliest oral traditions to the crossroads that the digital age has now brought us to. A crossroads where our stories can be spread across the globe and where they can be used either as tools for freedom or for oppression.

It’s a big ask for a book to live up to such a title but it most certainly does. Because of the nature of its contents, this is a book for dipping into rather than reading from cover to cover. Each chapter is a delight and there is no stuffy academic prose. The index of storytellers is comprehensive going from Aesop to Zola, as is the roll call of cultures visited which ranges from Aboriginal to Zulu.

Every chapter has something to commend it but one of my favourites is the one on Sir Walter Scott. Yes, because this is a storyteller whose roots are close to home for me, but also because it’s so absorbing and interesting. And it’s a great example of one superb storyteller telling a great story about another.

I highly recommend this book to oral storytellers, to writers and to readers.

A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity is published by Matador and is available as a hardback and as a paperback.

 

 

It’s Who We Are by Christine Webber @1chriswebber #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

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An entertaining, interesting and satisfying read

As promised in my previous post where I interviewed author, Christine Webber, here is my review of her new novel It’s Who We Are.

From the back cover: Five friends in their fifties find themselves dealing with unforeseen upheaval as they uncover long-hidden and devastating family secrets. Meanwhile, the world around them seems to be spinning out of control. This is a novel about friendship, kindness and identity – and about how vital it is to reach for what enhances rather than depletes you.

My Review: As in her previous novel, Who’d Have Thought It, Christine Webber has produced a perfectly judged contemporary tale. The protagonists are in their fifties and linked to one another through friendship. All five of them are facing challenges some of which are age-related and some of which are simply related to what it means to be human regardless of age or stage.

The various challenges which drive the plot include supporting adult children, coping with ageing parents, facing up to divorce, beginning new relationships, managing the demands of work and facing up to getting older. Bu the overriding theme is the one of relationships, of the ties that bind – familial, romantic and friendship and how they inform a person’s identity.

The five main characters are a great mix. They are realistically drawn and they’re a diverse group but the reader cares about all of them.

This is a story that deals with all of life – its joys, sorrows and imperfections.

All in all it’s a lovely satisfying read.

Book Review: The Good Sister by Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #bookreview

This is Maggie Christensen’s latest book and it’s her best yet. It’s romantic, heart-warming and completely charming. I loved spending time with this novel’s engaging characters and, even although the story was brought to a satisfying conclusion, I was also left wanting to know what would happen next in the lives of these lovely people.

The Good Sister is similar to this author’s earlier novels in that it’s romantic fiction and it features a couple who are no longer young when they fall in love. However it differs from the others in that it’s set in Scotland – as opposed to Australia.

This is a multi-generation story with three vividly drawn and credible main characters and a well-judged supporting cast.

There’s romance, mystery and a little bit of history. I particularly like that this a romantic story where the contemporary couple who fall in love are in their sixties – and who – the young may want to turn away now – enjoy a full sexual relationship. How life-affirming is that! It was a nice touch too that the character who is in her nineties refers to the couple in their sixties as young. Age really shouldn’t be a barrier to a full life and this is a theme Maggie Christensen is an expert at weaving into her romantic but realistic stories.

All in all a great and absorbing read.

Back Cover Blurb:

Two Isobels. A lifetime of regret. A love that spans the years

 In 1938, as the world hurtled towards war, twenty-year-old Isobel MacDonald fell madly in love. But fate and her own actions conspired to deny her the happiness she yearned for. Many years later, plagued with regrets and with a shrill voice from the past ringing in her ears, she documents the events that shaped her life.

In 2015, sixty-five-year-old Bel Davison returns from Australia to her native Scotland to visit her terminally ill aunt. Reading Isobel’s memoir, she is beset with memories of her own childhood and overcome with guilt. When she meets her aunt’s solicitor, events seem to spiral out of control and, almost against her will, she finds herself drawn to this enigmatic Scotsman.

What is it that links these two women across the generations? Can the past influence the future?

Set in Scotland and moving from the nineteen-thirties to the present day, The Good Sister is a women’s fiction book featuring compelling real-life characters, fascinating plot twists and a strong mid-life heroine. If you like feel-good stories of second chances, you’ll love this new book from Maggie Christensen.

 

The Good Sister is due to be published on 23rd November and is available to pre-order now.

I have pre-ordered my own copy but I also received a free pre-publication copy from the author in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Madness Lies by Helen Forbes @foreva48 @ThunderPointLtd #bookreview

Top notch crime fiction – a gripping and satisfying read

This is the second book in the DI Joe Galbraith series. Having enjoyed the first one, Shadow on the Hill, very much, I had high expectations for this new one. I wasn’t disappointed.

If anything Madness Lies is even better than its predecessor. And I should also say it’s not necessary to have read the first book in order to enjoy this one – but I recommend that you do.

The book is set once again in Inverness and the Western Isles, and both are vividly described. There is murder, violence and the threat of violence for Detective Galbraith to deal with. But it’s not all about crime. Joe’s work relationships and his personal ones also figure strongly in the plot, as do the themes of love, family and friendship.

The characters are engaging. Joe Galbraith is the perfect mix of strong and vulnerable and the supporting cast are expertly drawn.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot for fear of spoilers. But I can say the seeds are expertly planted early on. The backstories of the characters are fed in well. The climax is superb and the ending flows well from all that has gone before.

This book definitely comes into the category of difficult to put down. First class crime fiction.

Back Cover Blurb:

When an Inverness Councillor is murdered in broad daylight in the middle of town, Detective Sergeant Joe Galbraith sees a familiar figure running from the scene. According to everyone who knows him, the Councillor had no enemies, but someone clearly wanted him dead. The victim’s high profile means the police want a quick resolution to the case, but no one seems to know anything. Or if they do, they’re not prepared to say. This second novel of Highland Noir from Helen Forbes continues the series with a crime thriller that moves between Inverness, North Uist and London, reaching a terrifying denouement at the notorious Black Rock Gorge. 

Madness Lies is published by Thunderpoint Publishing and is available as a paperback and as an ebook.

Book Review: Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech @LouiseWriter @OrendaBooks #bookreview #MondayBlogs

A midwinter tale where light battles to overcome the dark, exquisite storytelling…

This is a wonderful and moving novel. The main character, Catherine, is a damaged, vulnerable but endearing character. Forced out of her home after a devastating flood hits her town, she is left adrift in a literal and metaphorical limbo.

Catherine hopes that by helping others also affected by the flood she will somehow be able to help herself.

The other characters, her family, her colleagues at the flood crisis helpline, and her friends – Fern and Christopher – are all convincingly portrayed. They too are flawed, some likeable, some not. But even the most unlikeable are presented in a humane and non-caricatured way.

Maria in the Moon is raw, it’s shocking, but it’s also full of hope, humour and delight.

It’s exquisite storytelling and I recommend it as an ideal winter read.

Back Cover Blurb:

Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’

Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria.

With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges… and changes everything.

Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defenses we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Maria in the Moon is published by Orenda Books and is available as a paperback, an ebook and as an audio book.