Monday, 29 August 2016

TBC 20/20 Bloggers event Book Nineteen. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Genre: Romance / General Fiction

I think it must be fate that most of the books I have read in the past month or so have featured older gentlemen on some sort of personal journey.

Major Pettigrew's is a pensioner, widowed, living a sedate life , a minor pillar in the community and the object of much debate by the ladies of the Parish. He is an expert on Kipling and loves proper tea blends. He likes routine and relies on structure to fill his days.

A sudden family bereavement, the sudden realisation that he has more than a passing respect and attraction for the kind Mrs Ali, a widowed shopkeeper of Pakistani origin who catches him at his lowest point of grief . Throw into this mix a pair of heirloom Churchill Rifles, single mothers, Golfers,Landed Gentry and family issues and you have the perfect recipe for a delightful read!

This is no soft and cuddly village green story. Indeed the setting is cosy, cottages, Golf club dances,Church groups and Shoots at the "The Big House", it does however hide some sharper more caustic subject matters of racism, religious commitment, greed and misogyny. It touches on the gentrification of the countryside at the expense of locals and it is really quite a telling examination of a lot of the real issues in villages across the country.

This is to all intents and purposes a love story between two people  of a certain age who are perfectly suited,intellectually, emotionally and physically and yet their own scruples seek to keep them apart. Both have tricky, some might say; obnoxious,families. The traditionalist Muslim family who keeps a deeply religious nephew on hand to oversee Mrs Ali, despite the fact she assisted her beloved husband run their village store unaided for decades. The nephew has his own demons to fight and is deeply disapproving. Mrs Ali is weighed and measured by judgemental contemporaries  who seek  only to climb socially at the public expense of their "Friend"

Even their platonic activities as friends are placed under microscopic scrutiny by the village, The Major who is to his own mind an independent spirit begins to realise that his familial pride, the need to keep the Pettigrew's name sacrosanct is actually an impediment to his happiness. His son is seemingly more concerned about the bottom line than spending quality time and the village ladies make it abundantly clear what they feel about his seeking companionship outside their social milieu and ethnic group. She is in Trade for heaven's sake


This is an immensely warm and entertaining book filled with tongue in cheek asides, clever comments and a realistic love affair beset by real life obstacles rather than the normal misinformation or misunderstanding. It makes the heartwarming ending much more satisfying when it actually comes.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Book Review: The Book Of The Unnamed Midwife (The Road To Nowhere Book 1) by Meg Elison


Shared with me by Publisher : 47North via Netgalley

This book will appeal to anyone who likes a post apocalyptic tale with something more complex to say about women than throwing a teen girl into peril and seeing her and her beau fight their way out. This reminds me of a more knowing cross between The Road and The Handmaid's tale. It is much more than a sum of those two parts though.

The population has been almost wiped out. Women and newborns in particular have been decimated by a virus. Men roam the land, many of them abducting surviving women. 

A Survivor of the fever and midwifery expert writes a journal of her experiences after the first wave of deaths.

The device of these journals being the cornerstone of learning for some future civilisation is a clever segue into the tale and a gripping read it is. You have to have your wits about you as the PoV shifts between journal and straight prose often and the midwife uses many an alias to protect herself from detection by men who might mean her harm so you have to keep an eye on the name she gives to the next set of folk she comes upon.

The repeated use of  the "= " sign to abbreviate ideas  or to convey  blunt statements  takes a lot of getting used to stylistically but one supposes it is fitting when the writer would always have one eye on perceiving any hazards or threats and not a lot of access  to stationary. 

The style is blunt and spare but very fitting for a story of this type.

I like the Unnamed Midwife very much.She is tough, she is resourceful and she is determined. Pretending to be a boy is an inspired idea and she pulls it off on the whole. She will not become a chattel or a commodity and actively attempts to pass out contraceptive devices to prevent further infant or mother mortality. This becomes the central duality of the story by preventing pregnancy is she in fact helping the population? Or is she helping to wipe out Humanity entirely?

This book could have been a much more strident morality tale, but I think in a way it would have suffered if that was the emphasis. Yes,the treatment the women get from the remaining men is appalling and all the sickening fears you imagine as a woman safe in a healthy world are present; rape, mutilation  and imprisonment. There  is no denying the world Meg Elison creates is horrific and frightening but also there is strength and hope to be had.

The book itself is a testament to the different ways humanity and in particular women are strong, The midwife is a realist who eschews false hope, the Queens in the Hives also are showing strength to take back autonomy for their own destinies. For others it is the women's faith in  the renewal and rebirth power of procreation, the hope that their bodies might be the nurturing place that brings a healthy baby into the world and  that they might, just might survive to see it thrive.

I enjoyed this book very much, it truly was a journey and one that I will be suggesting others take. The beauty of the book is that we learn the fates of all the main protagonists even when the "Midwife" does not,which makes for a very nuanced book filled with vignettes of sadness, but also a satisfying feeling of a story completed.

Five stars.

I cannot wait for new books in this series.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Tv Review: Ripper Street S4. The Strangers' Home (Part One)

 
I was mildly dismayed and yet elated when the BBC and Amazon Prime decided to greenlight another series of Ripper Street , as I felt in my heart of hearts that the last series was a Tour De force and was a fitting finale that should not be tampered with.
 
It had scoured out my emotions  with it's dark tone, Bafta worthy acting and wonderfully gripping plots. Everyone it seemed, had been given their just desserts and poor old Inspector Reid was happily ensconced with long lost daughter Matilda at Margate and Bennet Drake  was finally given promotion to Inspector after being a loyal Sergeant to his mentor and friend for all those years,despite Mr Reid's unravelling mental state and subsequent head wound that left him weakened and his sight impaired.
 
And so we arrive three years into the future where things are very much changed;  Inspector Bennet Drake  and Tart with a heart  turned music Hall entertainer Rose are married but unhappliy unable to conceive. Jerome Flynn maintains his brilliant ability to be simultaneously gentle sweet and subservient to his superiors and yet is still able to bring forth the bruiser and the brawler who sustained that rather broken face who knows where in his youth and formative years. His exasperation with Rose who seems determined to blame her past life for her lack of fecundity explodes in temper and within seconds he is the doe eyed boy in a man's body again as he seeks to soothe his one true love.
 

Bennet is also now subordinate to a efficient and  (rather shockingly)  fair and measured Deputy Commissioner who is there front and centre as a spanking new Police Station is opened in Whitechapel that has telephone links to other stations and in a   technical evolution of Edmund Reid's precious lags  archive, a microfiche library has been created, which both men are demonstrably very proud. 

Inspector Drake has also been placed in an untenable position as the lead officer on the murder investigation that will bring his former mentor's Informant Isaac Bloom to the hangman's noose. The poor man has lost leave of his senses and when Reid is persuaded back into London  he finds a man broken, leaving Reid doubtful of his guilt or whether he can be held culpable when his faculties are so compromised.
 



Matthew Macfadyen plays Reid with a kind of rigid poise and emotional detachment. His scientific interests are being mildly used checking coastal erosion for a local seaside resort developer . Things are complicated by The Man's  utterly dull and insipid daughter who seems  to think that because Matilda and her daughter are comparable in age and he is liked by her Dad that she and Edmund  have some form of "arrangement". 

Reid appears utterly and completely indifferent to the poor woman and I cannot actually be surprised as his previous love interests were much more ballsy.From Wife Emily who drew strength from her grief to help the women of Whitechapel escape prostitution, to the Female councillor seeking to improve tenements and the fiesty Jewess Miss Sarah Coren who is the catalyst that draws Reid to his old friends's aid through a gentle knowing guilt trip that was very effective..
 


Captain Jackson and Long Susan are in a holding pattern and as ever  She is playing the long game as usual , pretending piety and forgiveness for Matthew and the law that keeps her incarcerated, but moves are afoot behind the scenes ..

Jackson/Matthew is still the police Surgeon and unbeknownst to Drake has  eschewed all drink and gambling to secretly pay off a lawyer to try to get Susan off of her Death Sentence, so that he and their son  can form a family.His attempts to appear as degenerate as ever were amusing, with his using whisky as a pomade when Drake came upon him unexpectedly; being a really comic touch. His meagre earnings and the well to do Brief does their best, but to no avail, and it seems even Susan's machinations behind even Jackson's back  will be thwarted as she is unable to secure a break out by the rather supercillious doctor at the gaol.
 


Matilda is a precocious little madam and I found myself pitying poor Edmund for spending so much time worrying about the meek little mite and then  being left with a insolent little know- it -all, but she is the catalyst for his return to the East End and so for that,we must be thankful!
 

A new detective and Desk Sergeant (Neville Longbottom of the Potter alumni ) round out the cast although both were  woefully under used in this opening instalment. Despite the seriousness of the plight of the main protagonists, this was a lighter, more deft version of the show we have grown to love, the grimness has lifted  and the palette s much more vibrant as though with the shutting of the old Leman Street station, writers have been able to approach the characters afresh. 

Do not be deceived things are  still dark and ominous in those backstreets but there seems to be more light than shade.



Drake and Jackson have the same grudging respect and friendship  for each other despite the unifying presence of Reid and this series holds great promise, but I cannot wait for the three men to be in the same room together again as writers have kept them artfully apart.

The murder of a prominent Muslim Lawyer and the insidious involvement of the odious special branch almost takes a backseat but as this is a two parter I fully expect the drama to ramp up in part two.

This first episode brings together some very Pertinent  themes for a modern audience considering the setting, those of radical Islam, republicanism , the point at which Patriotism becomes racism and intolerance and the ever present anti semitism of previous series.  This seems less laden with agonising struggle and more an examination of how each character tries to get on with the life that fate has handed them since we last met them.

Overall it has won me over, I left this less wrought than from any episode of the last series,but intrigued none the less.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Book Review: Wildflower Bay by Rachael Lucas.

WIldflower Bay

Women's fiction/ Romance.

I was lucky enough to win the paperback copy of  Wildflower Bay in a Draw and I have devoured in across a lazy Sunday with much enjoyment.

Isla our heroine is unceremoniously sacked from her prestigious designer hair salon after the machinations of a caniving and jealous protégé engineers a calamitous accident. Completely at a loss ,she is powerless to argue against the interim plan her father suggests which is to provid cover at her Aunt's provincial salon on an island off the Edinburgh coast.

Here she begrudgingly falls in love with the insolent girls at the salon and the varied inhabitants of the place, most notably elderly Patron Ruth and her gently rogueish grandson Flynn. Who is also feeling somewhat adrift as his bachelor days with his pals are melting away as his closest friends are about to become parents. These two souls begin to gravitate towards each other. Will Isla's insistence that this is just an eight week stint hold out until those two months are up or will events take another more romantic course?

Well I think we all know the answer, but as with any journey, the path taken is the key, be it the dull straight carriageway or the meandering flower strewn and picturesque lanes, and here we most definitely take the scenic route. From the pretty Austen cover to the bittersweet last act, we know this will warm our hearts.


This was a beautifully crafted romance, the setting beguiling enough to be the obvious place to be the Oasis away from Isla's real life that is so plainly the real sanctuary her soul craves . The Bay is a place to learn about letting go of the past, searching for what completes you, rather than seeking to meet the assumed expectations of others which are invariably not there in the first place. 

Here she learns the value of acceptance of oneself, the joy of letting go and seeking fulfilment and all the while falling gently and believably in love with an equally discombobulated man whose own restraints are also so rigidly self imposed.

Finn is a likeable hero and Isla is well rounded and faceted, the other island inhabitants are lovely embellishments to the tale and the introduction of the completely loony Lily and her horrendous hyperactive son was a stroke of genius.

The wonderfully, warm frothy story was topped to perfection with a Anne of Green Gables reference here and there and the use of wooden Phallic "totems" as a plot device was just deliciously wickedly funny.



My usual gripe of a rushed ending again rears it's head above the surf, but I suspect that length requirements rather than any deliberate intention to shoe horn  in the neat endings, is the culprit here and that is the fault of Panmacmillan rather than Ms Lucas herself .

As it stands the story left me with a beaming smile and who can ask more than that really?

Author Interview: Ashlyn Macanamara talks about "Destined For a King" released in paperback today.

Hello Ashlyn , what a pleasure it is to speak to you about “Destined For A King”

Thank you so much for asking me. I’m honored to be here!


1)You say in your acknowledgements that you had the basic premise of the book mapped very quickly, was this just the plot for “Destined” or do you have a definitive Destination in mind for the saga as a whole?

The note in my acknowledgments referred to just Destined, but I do have a destination in mind, yes. Without setting a toe too far over the spoiler line, I will say that readers will no doubt notice some threads were left dangling. Some threads might hint at future pairings, but there will be an overarching story to this series, which involves Torch and his ongoing quest. So I do know where we’re headed, just not exactly how we’re going to get there.
This is partly due to the way I write. In writers’ terms, I’m known as a “pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants. On the other end of the continuum lie the “plotters”, who can’t write a word until they’ve meticulously decided everything that’s going to happen beforehand. To me, that takes the fun out of the entire process. 

I start a book with two characters and a situation and tell them, “OK, how are you going to get out of this?” Then I let them deal with it.

2)Have you plotted every pairing in the series or does the story of each successive book determine how the next will evolve?

When I proposed this series, I sent in fifty pages of the first book, plus a three short blurbs for the remaining instalments. So I had to tell my editor who the future pairings were. Yes, I know who ends up with whom, and you don’t. *evil laugh* Though you’ll find out in time.

 3) Is this is your first foray into fantasy romance? How much have you enjoyed weaving this world?  I personally  particularly enjoyed the parts of the book centred on scrying stones, healing potions and sacred marks.

I’ll let you in on a badly kept secret. I have always wanted to write fantasy, but the thought of building an entire world from scratch held me back. However, I had a series of possible storylines stashed in the back of my mind. Over the years, I got them out and poked at them, but they weren’t ready yet, I suppose.

Ironically, the plot of Destined did not belong to this original collection of ideas, but I mined the lode for some of the other instalments in the series.

However, then I read the series of which Game of Thrones is the first book. Something happened in those books that didn’t set well with me. To be honest, a LOT of things happened that didn’t set well with me, but I couldn’t let this particular thing go. (And if you’ve read George R. R. Martin, you can probably guess what that event is.) I had to fix it. Suddenly I had a plotline coalesce, and off I went. At the same time, I picked out elements from that fantasy bank I’ve been building in my head.
So yes, first foray. My other published books are all Regency historical.

4) You have cited The Fire and Ice series and Lord Of the Rings as inspirations, is it tempting to go off piste a bit and start writing a gargantuan tome with myriad characters, huge battle sequences and other languages?

See, my mind works in this very odd way—it’s a scary place in there. I remember really obscure historical facts—which means you generally want me on your trivia team, unless I’ve remembered wrong—but I can’t recall the important stuff like whether we’re out of milk. Scary, scary, scary.

5)On that note, How much wiggle room do you get with length, is the editing process something you like or is it like killing one of you babies to cut out sections you have lovingly crafted or have you got it down to a fine art,  condensing the story down to it’s purest form like a triple distilled vodka?

Did someone say Vodka, oh wait...Before I sold my first book, I thought I would hate the editing process. Despise it. It turns out, I like it better than writing the first draft. I am only rarely asked to cut something. (Watch, now I’ve jinxed 
myself.) I tend to write lean and mean, and I actually add material on my developmental edits.
That said, I do have a word count specified in my contract.  I can go over or under somewhat, but my editor has never asked me to pad a story out just to meet that number. On the other hand, if I suddenly send her a 150,000-word opus, I do expect she’ll tell me to break out the machete.

6) Once you had decided to write a Romance in this Genre, Did you plan the parameters of your fantasy world  prior to placing  your heroes within it or did it develop with their narrative?

As I mentioned above, I picked up a few previously developed ideas to use in the series, but as a general rule, it grew as I went. I knew in general terms, I wanted a world that ran on a medieval level of technology with magical elements thrown in here and there. In a way, using a medieval setting helped, because my very first attempt at writing romance (a really bad book that shall forever remain under the bed to be terrorized by dust bunnies) was a medieval-set historical.

7) Calista and Torch are a  really likeable pairing. Do you have other  favourite characters?  When I write, I often find that someone who starts out as a small minor character  becomes so precious that their part in the story suddenly increases, did this happen with anyone in your novel?

Thank you. I’m happy to hear that because I like my characters flawed.
I totally did not expect Brother Tancrid to do what he did to Calista. I knew some things about the role he would play, but not that bit until it happened. (See? This is why I write by the seat of my pants. I probably wouldn’t have planned that ahead of time.)

Hawk is another character who surprised me. He’s someone I had to add to the cast, when I realized Kestrel would need to go off on his own. Hawk’s backstory unfolded as I went on, and then it hit me that he might end up figuring mightily in a future book—either him or someone close to him. I’m 
being intentionally vague here to avoid potential spoilers for future books, but yeah.

I think your original question may be hinting at Owl, though. I can tell you that the way his storyline played out was pretty much set at the beginning (broadly).

8) Can I presume that each book will centre on a new pairing from characters we have already met  or have been alluded to here, Or are we going to meet new maidens and erstwhile heroes, I already have my favourites  couples, only time will tell if you agree with my mind's eye!

The next book will involve Kestrel and his quest to rescue Jerrah—if, indeed, she requires rescuing. I’ve heard from another reviewer that the teaser chapter of the next book was not included in the advance copy of Destined, but it will be in the final copy, which is out today, so you’ll get to see a little of what happens there. Spoiler alert: Jerrah can get herself out of trouble, but that doesn’t mean she won’t land in even bigger trouble by the time Kestrel catches up to her.

I have four books planned in total. The third is going to involve a heroine you haven’t met yet, which may possibly dash a few hopes, but I’m hoping you’ll be on board by the time I’ve set things up. As for the final book, well… I won’t say any more here.

If the series does well, I think there will be the potential for even more books. I’m already thinking about something for Owl once he gets old enough for romance hero material.

9)What fantasy elements do you wish you could have included that just beyond all your best efforts just do not fit into your story?

Given the way I write, I haven’t ruled anything out yet. In fact, I can already say there’s an element coming in the second book that I didn’t conceive of originally.

10) The cover for “Destined for a King” certainly drew me in, it is a beautifully eye catching image and was one of the reasons I sought this particular book as an Advance Reader copy.  How much do you gets involve yourself in how the cover will look? Do you choose the cover artist yourself for
instance?

The art department at Loveswept does my covers for me. Though I have no say in who does my cover art, cover time is one of my favorite parts of the publishing process. I have loved everything  they’ve done for me. If you take a look at my website, you might get a glimpse into why.

What happens is my editor sends me a questionnaire to fill out where I tell the art department something about the main characters, the story setting, the mood I’d like, etc. Plus if I’ve seen some cover concepts I like, I can attach them, as well. Then a few weeks later, they’ll generally send me a choice of images. After that, they’ll pass along a few cover ideas based on the image I’ve chosen.
With Destined in particular, I had originally imagined a beefcake cover with a bare-chested warrior holding a really big, really phallic sword. This, to remain in keeping with my Regency covers, which mainly feature the heroes. However, at that point we hadn’t settled on a final title for the book. Once we did that, my editor decided it would work better with the heroine on the cover. I can’t tell you how 
pleased I was when the artist found actual stock photos of a woman holding a crossbow. The moment I saw that image, it jumped out at me, waving its arms and yelling, “Pick me, pick ME!”
How could I not pick that one? It was practically perfect in every way.

11) Is the second book complete or are you still perfecting it?  Is there anything you can share, a title perhaps  to keep the reader salivating for more?

The second book is not yet complete, although it’s due next week,which means I need to get writing. As I said above, it’s the story of Kestrel and Jerrah and most of it will take place in the capital city of Highspring Moor. You will definitely learn a bit more about Magnus and the people surrounding him.
Its title is CLAIMED BY THE COMMANDER.

Well Ashlyn, Thank you for taking time out of your promotion of “Destined for a King” to talk to me,  it has been a privilege and a pleasure to get to see where you are taking the series and to step inside your “writing room” even for a short while.

Thank you so much for asking me. It’s been fun!



Saturday, 20 August 2016

Book Review: Street Soldier by Andy McNab


Street Soldier  From Doubleday,Penguin Random House Advance copy via Netgalley 

Genre: YA,Millitary Thriller.

This was quite a random choice for me but I wanted to see what Andy McNab might do with a Young Adult book and thought it might be a good taster for Andy's more involved adult books. This is actually a much denser book than it's length and basic premise initially suggest.

I think this book will be very successful with teen boys as I am sure many will be able to see themselves in Sean, a teen car thief, prized member of an East End Teen gang whose sole aim is to lift a nice motor, run it into the ground or strip it for parts. However this belies the real complexity of the book that makes it just as readable by an adult audience.

Sean's existence is very insular in fact, despite the freedom he thinks he has by baulks B against authority, freedom  which of course is curtailed when sent to a Youth Offenders Centre. I found the judgement  I had of Sean's delinquency was soon tempered by a pity  for his plight.

He is wasted in the life he feels is his lot and his experiences in the centre were I feel slightly glossy  and maybe McNab  missed a trick in not making more of the stark choice that such incarceration might bring about, by either using it as a turning point  or letting it define you forever. If the repetitive nature of days were more clearly defined, it might act as a cautionary tale to youngsters on the cusp of behaviours that they might not be able to pull back from. 

He gets given a second chance when he is recruited to the army which provides the perfect way to show him that there is worth in standing up for each other and striving for more in life and the Millitary definitely brings out his better strengths and morality.

This is not an easy book and definitely not one for children, there is regular violence, quite a bleak representation of how youth in UK inner cities might be being dragged into adult violence through apathy and a lack of structure.

At first glance Sean's down trodden mother seems to be a cliché, serially abused by her partners and often deserted, no prospects of a boost in confidence from job or financial prospects . However many women in inner city estates live the exact same life. The fact that Sean wants to protect her ,leaves him with a  dilemma, should he choose to better himself, he might be leaving her behind in a place where she is more vulnerable and actually cause her more suffering but by being drawn back into his old life would  he be stifling own soul at the exact time he was finally reaching his potential and perhaps keep him locked into a cycle that would taint the next generation. It is an interesting and challenging plot.

The social commentary aspects of the plot could well have been developed into  a strong narrative and this would have been a fine book, but McNab has cleverly woven in some very timely comment on  domestic terrorism, Race and even Misogyny in the British Army into this story and it becomes a much more complicated beast and is all the better for it!

This may not have been my usual choice, but I am exceptionally glad I took a chance on it. Like any good book it left me thinking about it long after the last page was read.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Book Review: The Trespasser by Tana French


The Trespasser by Tana French

Genre: Police Procedural / Murder Mystery

Thanks to the good folks at Netgalley and the  publishers Hodder and Stoughton, I was privileged to meet a great acerbic female lead in the shape of Antoinette Conway, whilst the butt of some quite obvious sexual harassment,and bullying she holds her own and solves the crime with the help of her partner Stephen.

She is not a formulaic character, not the stock “dark tortured soul”that  crime drama authors tend to think  all readers want to see, she is sarcastic, funny but vulnerable and just as susceptible to human frailty.

The mystery itself was twisty enough to hold attention until the end but it was the interplay between the officers of the squad that I found infinitely compelling with plenty of misogyny and "banter" that masks  a much more sinister underbelly within the incident and interview rooms.  

The revelation of the culprit is not too heavily signposted, and if forced to be critical, I have only one quibble and  that is the ending seemed just a little rushed and a little unsatisfactory for our heroes somehow,despite getting "Their Man".

I still highly recommend The Trespasser.

Tana French at her very best!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Book Review: The Sugar Planters Daughter by Sharon Maas.


Genre: Fiction, Romance

It is 1912,Winnie is about to marry the sweet and kind George Quint, the love of her life. Used to privilege, comfort and security that is born of wealth and  used to the good life she had on her father’s sugar plantation, Winnie has gone against her family, against what is accepted by society in fact; because George is a black postman from the wrong side of town in what the white folk think of as slums.  This is British Guiana, South America and inter racial marriage is taboo.


Winnie may be living a meagre existence practically in poverty and fighting to be accepted into her husband's community but  she is not alone in her struggles. Her sister Johanna is eaten up with jealousy. Winnie has a loving husband and a beautiful family. To make matters worse, Winnie is quite blatantly her mother's favourite child too. Johanna has social status, she runs her family’s sugar plantation but this is no substitute for the blessings she feels Winnie has been unfairly gifted.

So when Winnie’s son falls ill and to Venezuela  she goes on a desperate quest for a  cure, Johanna finds herself increasingly drawn to George. Loyal  and loving George is blind to her as anything other than the judgemental sister of his bride, he adores Winnie. Johanna, stung by perceived rejection  by someone so beneath her and compounded by the hopelessness of her own marriage, Johanna is out to seek revenge and she has no thought about the ramifications of her selfish and churlish act. Her actions are extreme and calculating and sully all that was pure between Winnie and George.

I have subsequently realised this is the second  book featuring these characters so some leeway must be given if I form my opinions of the characters from this initial meeting, but of all the characters I found Yoyo (Johanna) the most interesting if not the most repellant! If Winnie had been previously spoiled by the trappings of wealth and privilege, it is obvious that Yoyo has been utterly rotted by her father's indulgence and descrimatory attitudes and behaviours, where Winnie earns respect and seeks to do better when she makes mistakes, Jojo blames, recriminates and plots. 

Sibling rivalry is one thing but the assumed slights here far outweigh the reality of the situation. Johanna may lead an unfulfilled life but this is in part her own fault. I feel little sympathy for her plight.

The book's style is very easy to read, the different voices are distinct and immediately conveyed the characteristics, the true nature of their respective personalities and I fell instantly in love with Winnie and George and from the very start I was rooting for them . The use of the clever plotting device of setting George up as a penitent for some as yet known crime against his true love was an instantaneous way to tie me to their destinies.

The setting is lush, and verdant and an area of the world which intrigued and enthralled me The research around the divide between the Rich "English" and the poorer African and Indian inhabitants actually provided insights that I had not really considered prior to reading the book. The fact that George's cuisine seemed to follow a more Asian route rather than that of the African food I had expected was an eye opener and added infinite facets to the book as a whole.

This is ultimately a story of searching, Winnie Searches for Acceptance, George searches for forgiveness from himself as much as his beloved and Yoyo for respect and ultimately in the end for serenity in her circumstances, no matter how much her situation is her own doing. I never grew to like Yoyo, but I grew to understand her which is testament to the skill of Sharon Maas as a spinner of stories.

This was an utterly enthralling read and now I will have to seek out the origins of Winnie and George's enduring love affair in "The Secret life of Winnie Cox". I think it is safe to say Ms Maas has a new advocate here.



Friday, 12 August 2016

Book Review: A Boy Made Of Blocks by Keith Stuart. A journey of self discovery and family through Minecraft.


A Boy Made of Blocks.

Thanks to the tremendous folks at Netgalley and the publishing bods at St Martin’s Press, I have had the privilege of reading this truly heartwarming book in return for an honest review. The premise is simple: Despairing Father seeks any way to reach and interact with his autistic son.

When you join our hero,the slightly discombobulated, highly anxious and emotionally distant  young man whose journey we are going to join in with for the entirety of this story, I was not sure I could relate, but in actual fact Alex turns out to be ok…

Because this is not really the story of Sam, the lovable, sweet little boy that at first glance seems so remote from the world, although he is so desperately important as the driving force and the catalyst, it is the story of Alex  young father, set adrift in his life whose own journey of discovery is far more complex and emotionally wrought.

Sam is  a beautifully complex puzzle, but when he is in his comfort zone he is content.  He is able to find order and peace and whilst autism is still a condition that strikes a shiver of fear into any parent’s heart when they have a diagnosis that their child has been placed somewhere along the spectrum, at least routines can be adapted and processes put in place to try to keep emotions level and trauma at bay.

Not so I fear for us “normal” folk. And this is where the book really shines. It is Alex that really has the longest journey, the biggest quest to fulfil , because his problems are not really about a lack of connection with his son, because as the story unfolds we see , he always had inroads to him, but it is his fear of losing control, of not being able to keep a handle on the situation that is his stumbling block.  (See I did it, managed to use a block as an analogy and we have not even got to Minecraft yet!)

Alex has deep seated issues with helplessness borne of a tragic childhood trauma, he and his sister Emma  have both failed to truly cope in the face of it and the guilt they feel so that a chasm had formed between them and their seemingly totally together Mother and this pattern of emotional estrangement has leached into his relationship with Jody his wife who feels isolated and alone.

Yes poor Alex has got himself into a bit of a pickle.

Thank God for Minecraft!  The simplicity of the premise of a game that is basically a  multiple material electronic Lego set, is the magical key to unlock everything. The rules and structure are perfect for Young Sam, the imagination required to build opens channels of communication between father and son, the ability to play together in harmony, the Facing of dangers in the game creates patterns to face real dangers in the real world and the ability to do things over when  disaster hits are life lessons that Alex needs to learn as much as his special Son.

This book made me smile and many a lump appeared in my throat  throughout, but one chapter Obliterated all and left me blubbing  so hard I had to step away and brew some tea. I do not have personal experience with Autism or Aspergers, but I do know the healing power of gaming on a troubled mind thanks to the experiences of a loved one and so to know that the story was inspired by true events is heartwarming and inspirational. I happily give this book and Keith Stuart a resounding five stars.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Book Review: ROAR, an original story. By Nicole Trope.


Gifted by the author as a free Audiobook,  by my TBC group on Facebook, this was my first experience of Ms Trope's writing. 

A short story of amazing resonance considering it's Brevity.

Here we have the story of a woman attempting an escape from an emotionally and physically abusive marriage and chronicling the rapid decline in her mental esteem and the dampening of the stridency of her inner voice to tell her that enough is enough. 

The placatory way that she attempts to keep the peace, the little ways she tries to pre-empt his ire and  the inner dialogue she has with herself as she questions her capacity to ever escape are vividly depicted and the tension is palpable throughout.

It shows the fierce love she has for her child, an innocent drawn into the toxicity of a domestic abuse situation, and the short hours we spend with her as she awaits the resolution to her problem are taut and uncomfortable , as we as readers start asking ourselves, "what would we do?"

The morality of her decision at first seems questionable, I found myself reluctantly standing in moral judgement at the tale's opening, but as the back story unfolds, I began to question my own ideas as to whether the end  justified the means by which her escape might be assured.

Be warned this is not a comfortable story by any means and there is a fair amount of swearing but there is an integrity to the grittiness and truth resonates throughout the piece which I think is what makes it feel so unbalancing , as we know that the story is that of every victim of domestic abuse and whilst the extremity of the solution is certainly not preferable , the reason why she may have been pushed to such extremes is not. 

I think anyone who has ever questioned their own value to the world or themselves can see how easily one might fall into the Venus fly trap of similar abuse and how the drip drip drip of regular, but random chipping away at confidence might be lead to a lethargy in taking action that , in this case at least, only the perceived threat to an innocent might be the catalyst snap them out of that lethargy into positive action.

"Roar " is an excellent title as the  symbolism of a lioness protecting a cub is most fitting and I can honestly say, that this short story narrated by Australian Actress  Susan Strafford has definitely put Nicole Trope onto my authors to seek out list. A triumphal beginning to our Reader/Writer relationship!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Book Review: War Torn by Kenneth Miller. The psychologist's perspective.


A solid exploration of the plight of those attempting to escape persecution in times of war or Millitary occupation.

Harrowing tales from some of the least publicised recent War Zones and some that  we are very familiar with, but wish we weren't. I had particularly sought this book to look more closely at the Balkan conflict. Whilst it was an interesting psychological examination, I personally feel Mr Miller did not invest enough in allowing the subjects their own voice. 

A little too much emphasis on the medicine and treatment and the author's own biographical experience of his travels  and not enough straight testimony  from those affected for my own personal tastes . The filter of the methods of treatment diminished the power of the personal stories  and I definitely felt the first chapters were wasted opportunities as it was very generalised and even when individuals were cited their stories seemed rushed. This improved as the book progressed, but this soured the reading experience for me.

I would of liked more in the subject's own words. 

Well written, but not quite what I had hoped for.

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.


A Man called Ove.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 

It is actually quite hard to categorise this book into any kind of genre because it is so different to anything I have read before.There is a dark humour suffusing the whole story and yet it is achingly sad and searingly angry!

 I really think this ability to infuse such wry laughs into what is essentially a life story of an ordinary man beset by a disproportionate amount of trauma; is something the Swedes seem to do really well. Am am thinking most particularly of “The Hundred Year Old Man  who climbed out of a window”

Ove is a man imbued with a most particular  and peculiar set of standards and despite of his initial seemingly curmudgeonly attitudes and his compulsive behaviours (that to an outsider would strike them as decidedly odd) , he is actually really lovable and definitely someone you want in your gang.

The structure of the book at first seems scattered, but once you adjust, it is ingenious! You learn all about Ove and his motivations, each chapter slowly excavating new facets of his life. The book reveals the depth of the sorrows that Ove has to endure and the devotion and true love that has been the foundation of everything he has done.

Ove reveals himself to be kind and selfless and all the bluster and blather is just a smoke screen, even as he contemplates some pretty darn drastic action, his kindness and belief in what is right always wins out.

Ultimately this book is a wonderful exploration of the extents folk will go to  in order remain “alone” in an an attempt to avoid the total loneliness felt  in a crowd , and also the healing  power of family, no matter it’s genetic make up.

You will laugh, you will cry, but you will leave “The residential area” of Ove and the other residents enriched. That is my vow.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Book Review: The Bride Price by June Francis


The Bride Price

This was an engaging “Quest Driven” Romance. Based in a time in History that is intriguing and swathed in romance with dramatic raids across the Wales / England borders and into the Welsh mountains to see out lost family and fulfil a vow.

plucky heroine and a noble hero , loyal and devoted to family. 

This is great cast of characters both good and not so good. ( The fact the hero is called Cadfael is a massive bonus as the Monk Cadfael is one of my favourite literary characters.)

Overall a lovely way to spend a couple of hours!

Friday, 5 August 2016

TV Review: Boy Meets Girl, season two another triumph!


Regular visitors to my blog will have seen that last year’s standout comedy favourite was a little unassuming series called Boy Meets Girl, the wonderful love story of sweet and kind Leo and Judy a transgendered woman and the slowly unfolding drama as  their respective families learn about the truth of their relationship.



I utterly adored it, so it was with some trepidation that I came to series Two, I did not want it to be less than it had been in series One. I need not have worried of course this gentle, clever and tender comedy is just as good as it ever was.

With the tension of whether matriarch Pam would find out about Judy’s former gender now abated, I wondered how  dramatic development would continue, but the writers have been more subtle, there little !  

The family are still as in your face and interfering as ever with James and Peggy vying for the “looniest of them all” prize. There is a rounder cast with a new transgendered character, a young female to male whose own battle to find a place for himself  seems angrier as his youth means he is less happy in his skin and his subsequent  pseudo adoption by Pam and Tony is rather lovely.


 To complete the cast is a boyfriend for the lovable. ”sister with no  filters” Jackie, a boyfriend who asks all the questions that less sophisticated script writers would have put in Leo’s mouth in Season One. Herein lies the beauty of the show, it does not lower itself to what might be the expected storyline or exposition, it is more nuanced in every way and oh so much better for it!


I was worried that like many other sitcoms that there would be a spanner in the works, a love interest that splits the lovely couple and there were little smoke signals from the young blonde, brash courier manager, but to my joy Leo was… Well Leo! (Huzzah!!)  and with Leo at her side Judy has blossomed and the joy on her face when….

SPOILER SPOILERS SPOILER look away now if you have not watched the whole series…















She sees her beloved in his morning suit, at their wedding is just the best gift to a big soppy romantic like me!



Hilarious, warm , but tough Denise Welsh, the utterly gorgeous Harry Hepple and the poised and sophisticated Rebecca Root have been the heart of the show from the very start and I was so desperately happy to see that they were the emotional core of the last episode which left me crying happy tears as the credits rolled.




Book Review: The Fire Child by S.K Tremayne.


 Psychological Thriller 

From Publishers Harper Collins

I read this book with some trepidation as it seems to have divided other reviewers into two distinct camps, those that enjoy it and those that are bored to tears with the expansive historical background, disguised as a learned husband introducing a new younger, less experienced  wife to his life.. I have to admit  for my part that it did take a fair amout of time to really get into it's stride. Part of this seems to be the author's insistence on getting as much Cornish history  into the book as possible and whilst the setting of an ancestral home mainatained on the proceeds of the mining industry was definitely atmospheric  and did indeed add plot points to the story.
 
This is the story  of a second wife coming to a bleak isolated, but beautiful landscape to mother a child in pain and grieving hard(  who may or may not be gifted with seeing the future through an ancient  family mythical second sight). who gradually starts to believe the story she had been fed about her Husband's first wife is not as cut and dried as it first seems.  This is a story of three perspectives, Jamie's is always shaded from the reader, always slightly obscured. David and Rachel both have deep wells of secrets.
 
The plot is twisty and eerie and I enjoyed never quite knowing what ailed young Jamie, whether he actually did have a second sight. I never really warmed to David even in the opening that sets him up at the sophisticated perfect man, so I found myself  disliking him almost from the start, but I was pleased to discover this was not your run of the mill "Rebecca" story. Du Maurier was always going to be a spectre at the feast in any novel set here afterall . 

The revelations during the searing finale chapters weres indeed a surprise and for that  I can say that overally this was a fine tale.
 
I did not feel the pictures  preceding each chapter did anything to move the narrative and in fact rather jarred me out of the flow of the story as I perused the admittedly beautiful images, but  I think they had a place, just that perhaps  they might have been better served by including a Historical notes section at the story's end and annotating each photograph with the setting and its connection to the story. This is a small complaint however and I would definitely seek out more books by S.K. Tremayne.
        

 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

TV Review: The Living and the Dead. The spooky, clever, topsy turveyparanormal thriller that has won my heart.


Forget all about that “Poldark “malarky, there has been a brand new Rural  Costume drama in town that knocks three hay bales and a tractor,out of that little bare chested brooder

A show  I think will be hard to beat for story ,atmosphere and pure picturesque beauty.


The Living and the Dead has been totally tremendous  and I have been raring to blog about it from the very first episode. Using supreme willpower I have avoided the IPlayer Binge to watch weekly  to prolong my enjoyment and I can right here and now declare, if it does not win a BAFTA for screenplay or lead actor I will do something totally random like ram a pitchfork through the windscreen of the judging committee chairman’s BMW.

This is the story of a London psychiatrist Nathan and his vibrant photographer wife Charlotte , his second wife as it happens  as his first wife and his young son died  in tragic and mysterious circumstances  forcing his exile from the family farm where he lived and now he and Charlotte have returned  to see his ailing Mother and to help her run the place.

What follows is a ever building drama which melds an examination of rural traditions, superstitions, one’s faith in God and of course Spirits ;against a backdrop of huge industrial upheaval in agricultural techniques.


As  lost and untethered spirits start taking a terrible toll on the local farm workers and Nathan attempts to thwart them at every vicious and tragic turn this gradually unravelling story is actually that  of a man unable to move past his losses to keep his mind and life in the present. Nathan Appleby begins to suspect that a malevolent force is the architect of all this accumulated misery.

Each  of the six episodes ratchets up the tension until the final episode when everything becomes clear and yet is completely upturned and mad as a box of frogs! Utterly utterly  brilliant stuff.

This is also the series where I feel  Colin Morgan (one of the most talented young actors of his generation in my opinion) finally gets to show the full depth and breadth of his acting prowess. I am pleased to see Sam Donovan has taken his “Humans” star and really given  him something with some heft to get to grips with. From the bubbly jovial, slightly ungainly  doctor at series opening to the clearly deranged man  at series finale, everything from the cadence of his speech, his facial tics  and grimaces reveal more than any line of dialogue could convey.


Playing against such a performance was going to be hard but Charlotte Spencer is a brilliant foil, almost swapping personas she starts out strident, brave and a risk taker. Passionate and unafraid the story brings her to a place of utter desolation and fragility that is played so delicately and beautifully that she leaves you breathless.





The supporting cast are a veritable list of the Great and Good of British character actors and another Sam Donovan alumni actress plays a particularly damaged and slightly dotty schoolteacher, Utopia’s very own Jessica Hyde herself , Fiona O’ Shaughnessy. She is just one of many familiar faces that round out the cast. 


If all of this were not enough to recommend the show, the use of music inspired by old English Folk music has a particularly haunting quality and the theme music never fails to give me a bit of a shudder!

I am hoping and praying for a series two because the Denouement was just too intriguing to ever let those skeletons remain hidden.




Monday, 1 August 2016

Book Review: The Olive Farm by Carol Drinkwater


This is the book to read if you cannot get away for a summer holiday this year. Carol Drinkwater writes a memoir that is a sumptuous as it is diverting  Who has not wanted to move abroad and live from the land? You can feel the sun and smell the sea on every page.

I have always held a little soft spot in my heart for her as the very first Helen Herriot in All creatures Great and Small and this book allows us to follow her and her German born  Partner (later Husband) Michel as they take the massive risk to buy a French Olive Farm in the South of France.  Their courtship is fresh and very new, but their love and hopefulness spur them on into a situation neither seems fully cognisant of when they arrive with a car filled with mattresses and other bits and bobs from Carol's London  home.

Situated in the hills above Canne, Apassionata is as dilapidated and neglected as any place can be and yet, she, Michel and his two teen daughters from his first marriage bowl up there to start work  on the place even before a single, tile, shutter or gnarled olive tree is formally theirs. The addition of the morbidly obese pet dog Pamela is an added concern that Carol was also unprepared for. She (Pamela) is ever on the cusp of a cardiac calamity as the heat and her considerable heft see Carol worrying much about the capacious  appetites  of the greedy pooch. 

Carol has passable French, but feels isolated from the girls, insecure in their presence as the true magnitude of the task they have taken on dawns. They have no beds, no experience and most pressing of all in the heat of a Riviera Summer, no water supply. 

She is in love with the romantic ideal of a haven for artists and artisans and a writer's garret and so the challenge is to make the reality mould to her mind’s eye.

This is a book about the history of  Olives, a book about love and passion  and also about the South of France.  Taken separately would make a nice read, but together provide richness and depths to what might have been a formulaic book.

Carol and Michel weather many a calamity both natural and Financial but it is Ms Drinkwater’s skill with description which really lends  itself to a book such as thisand I purposefully read the book slowly and with intention , to  fully imagine, the sights, sounds and tastes of these first two years at Apassionata and to  experience ( by proxy), every glass of wine, every salad, and fish consumed, which are described with a languid but vivid style.

It is obvious why Carol has become such a prolific writer of books and screen works with such a wonderfully rich place to be inspiration and sanctuary from the rigours of the real world. Her use of vocabulary is rich and plummy but still you see her as “one of us” as she struggles with the mundane and the mad. 


 Her  years as a nomadic explorer and seeker are evident in her reference points, but it  is the calming affect of her one true love and the place itself that  means she finally wants to put down roots and what grounds her.

The trials and tribulations of trying to maintain day jobs whilst a money pit sits on a hill softly beckoning is described with honesty. Things are not always idyllic, but they are always picturesque. Description of flora and fauna is to be expected, but here it is so beautifully transported into my.mind’s eye as to be almost projected.

A cast of helpers and hinderers also pepper the book, all of them interesting; along with a number of canines who make every effort to take up residence in both villa  and Carol’s heart. Soon  land, people and assumed teenage charges are adapting to Carol and she to them, until a mutually satisfactory equilibrium is settled upon.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book which makes me want to visit the area myself and taste that glorious golden oily elixir from her olives  for myself!