Monday 26 September 2016

Free to Be Tegan - Mary Grand

Tegan, aged twenty seven, is cast out of the cult, rejected by her family and from the only life she has known. She is vulnerable and naïve but she also has courage and the will to survive. She travels to Wales, to previously unknown relations in the wild Cambrian Mountains. 

This is the uplifting story of her journey from life in a cult to find herself and flourish in a world she has been taught to fear and abhor. 

Guilt and shadows from her past haunt her in flashbacks, panic attacks and a fear of the dark. However she also finds a world full of colour, love and happiness she has never known before. The wild beauty of the hills, the people she meets and the secrets slowly revealed by the cottage all provide an intriguing backdrop to Tegan’s drama. 

The novel is set in spring, a story of hope, new growth, of the discovery of self and the joy of living. 

What did I think?

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book as I was worried that it might be too much into religion or some form of it, however, I need not have worried.  It's a delightful story about a 27 year old girl who is starting to live for the very first time.  She sees the world through such innocent eyes that she completely captured my heart.

Tegan is cast out of a cult, the only home she has known.  Shunned by her parents, but with a secret parcel from her mother, she finds herself on the streets of London.  Luckily the parcel from her mother contained some money and a contact number for her sister in Wales.  Tegan finds a payphone and speaks to her Uncle Ellis who tells her how to get to Wales via train from London.  She is met at the station by her cousin, Carys, who is of a similar age.  As with all family, whether you know them or not, there is always a mysterious bond so Tegan and Carys hit it off quite quickly.  There are some hiccups though; Tegan has been taught that a lot of the modern world is evil so she refuses to go into the pub, even for a soft drink.

The whole village welcomes Tegan, although there are some secrets that are bubbling to the surface.  The longer Tegan stays in the village, the more likely the family secret will come out, so Tegan's Aunt Hannah is keen for her to leave.  All readers know that secrets don't stay buried for long.

What a lovely story.  I was so emotionally invested in the story that I felt so protective of Tegan, especially when spoilt little bitch girl, Angharad, set her up with the village lothario, James.  Mary Grand did a fantastic job of turning James from Casanova to lager lout when he showed his true colours.  Angharad's fiancé, Sam, is the love interest.  He is so lovely that words cannot describe him - Angharad certainly does not deserve him, nor does she want him, as it turns out!

Free to be Tegan is an uplifting story about new beginnings, friendship, family and trust.  Impeccably written with a strong sense of place; I could almost smell the fresh air and visualise the mist rolling over the Welsh hills.  It made me want to visit Wales; I am ashamed to say that I have never been, despite being part Welsh.  It's a quite unique storyline that I found completely captivating.

I received this e-book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

The Brief - Simon Michael

In the 60s London of gangsters, prejudice and terrifying gang wars, Barrister Charles Holborne spends his life dealing with the worst examples of violent criminality. After successfully winning a number of high profile cases, he is building a reputation among Soho’s criminal classes as a man who gets the job done, a reputation that doesn’t endear him to his establishment colleagues.

Yet Charles is not all he seems, and is battling both personal demons and his own past. When his philandering wife Henrietta is found with her throat slashed, Charles finds himself on the wrong side of the law and in serious trouble of the murderous kind. Arrested for her murder, can Charles discover the truth of her brutal slaying and escape the hangman’s noose?

Based upon a real case and genuine court documents, The Brief is a compelling criminal drama, and an evocative slice of sleazy glamour from the Swinging Sixties. Simon Michael delivers an addictive read for any crime fan.

What did I think?

I picked up The Brief one Saturday afternoon, after the football results disappointed me yet again, and by Sunday morning I was into the final pages.  This is a seriously good British crime novel and really stands out from the rest by including real court documents.  

We are introduced to Plumber and Sands at the start; Sands has just got out of prison and Plumber was his getaway driver who was not caught.  Sands has come up with a plan to rob Express Dairies in London and he needs Plumber to play a more active role this time.  Armed with fake guns, the robbery takes a sinister turn when one of the guns turns out to be real.  When the pair get caught, they come up with a story that there was a third man who fired the gun.  Then one of them changes their story...

Charles Holborne is the barrister defending Plumber.  His success is envied by his peers as he doesn't come from a privileged background and he has more enemies than he realises.  Charles is unhappily married to Henrietta; Charles works long hours and even has a little flat in London for nights he works late and Henrietta becomes well known for having affairs.  As the scene is set in advance of Henrietta's murder, the suspects have all been lined up nicely but the evidence has been planted to point at Charles.  As Charles fights to clear his name he really finds out who his friends are.

Phew!  I had to stop and take a breath after finishing The Brief.  I felt like I was in the speed-reading olympics with my nose getting closer and closer to the page and my bottom perched precariously on the edge of my seat.  I completely bought into the 1960's era with the mention of The Great Train Robbery and the run in with The Krays.  The authentic police statements and court transcripts were just the icing on the cake - I felt like I was watching the drama unfold before my very eyes.  Absolutely unputdownable; if you loved watching Damages and The Good Wife you will definitely enjoy reading The Brief.  This is Britcrime at its very best.  

So stop reading my review and go and buy this book right now!  It is FANTASTIC!

I can't thank Matthew at Urbane Publications enough for sending me this brilliant book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you, Matthew!

My rating:

BLOG TOUR: The Learn - Tony Halker

I am thrilled to be opening the blog tour for Tony Halker's The Learn.  I have a short excerpt chosen by Tony Halker followed by my review.  The excerpt reminds me of how happy we all are when the sun is shining and could imagine that our ancestors felt equally blessed when the sun shone down on our wet and windy isle.

Page 3 – Near the beginning of the book characters are emerging, we see a child and his mother, the boy develops and grows to manhood through The Learn. This excerpt describes a “place moment” on a beach when mother and son scavenge together. I like the idea that they thought of time differently dictated as much by the seas and tides as by what they saw in the sky.  

The boy is seemingly reluctantly running to keep up; a more careful look shows a near skip, light in a relaxed body. He too relishes this place moment with his mother. Dark haired despite the light in her; thin, wiry, whispish, jerky in movement; he too exudes vitality, though of a different inner spirit to that of Rigantona. He has the seed of joy in him, Rigantona struggles to water the joy seed inside of her, it grows from time to time but can be stunted when the sun is not shining.

Blending reality, history and legend, about a time when women were considered as important as men, taking power in an oral society that worships the Goddess. A whole Celtic Druid world is laid out before us, incorporating beliefs, technology and the natural environment.

A Celtic boy, a beach scavenger, is pledged to the Learn, a life of endurance, a path to become sworn Druid: scholar and warrior. Young women and men progress, becoming Priests and Druidii. Friendship, affection, passion and care develop as novices mature, confidence emerging.

Seasonal battles of winter and summer bring rich festivals when seeds of men are taken by women in pleasure to prove fertility. Small damaged, hurt peoples on the margins of Celtic society blend in and out of vision.

At frontiers with Nature, dependent for everything on what the earth gives or takes, an emotional response to the natural environment defines who people are and the values they live by.

A lyrical novel resonating with modern readers through portrayal of character, language and history; arising from a landscape of today, yet centred in the Celtic Bronze Age of North Wales.

What did I think?

Although I found it quite hard to get into, it was well worth persevering as the sights and sounds of Bronze Age Britain are brought to life in Tony Halker's The Learn.  The author has very kindly listed his characters at the start of the book which proved an invaluable reference as the story progressed and more characters were introduced.

Owayne is the main character; he is the son of Rigantona, a beach scavenger hunting for pearls known as Goddess Tears.  Rigantona wants her son to become a druid so she sends him off to the Learn to start his training.

I quite enjoyed it when the Syth were introduced, and not just because it made me think of Star Wars.  Owayne is on kind of an endurance trial where he must survive in the wilderness.  The Syth watched over him and invited him into their camp which must have enhanced Owayne's knowledge of the different people of our isle.

Although I am partial to a bit of historical fiction, I know that history is not the most riveting of subjects for a lot of readers.  I did find this slightly on the dry side and I think perhaps that Tony Halker has so completely embraced the Bronze Age period that he has written it as if he was in that period.  It certainly adds to the authenticity of the book but I wasn't drawn into the story as much as I expected to be.  I did, however, find the religion fascinating, especially the goddess Anu who they think of as Mother Nature.

The Learn is a fascinating glimpse into ancient Britain and would be well worth reading for anyone who is interested in the Bronze Age.

I received this book from Authoright in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon
Purchase from Foyles

About Tony Halker

Born in London, Tony Halker studied geology at Leeds University after which he worked as a geologist, travelling extensively overseas. Following an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, he became a manager in hi-tec business and later a businessman and entrepreneur. His writing is inspired by powerful natural landscapes and his interest in the people and technologies emerging from those hard places. His two daughters were born in North Wales. He lives with his wife there and in Hertfordshire.

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Sunday 25 September 2016

BLOG TOUR: Only Daughter - Anna Snoekstra

In this chilling psychological thriller, one woman’s dark past becomes another’s deadly future.
In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared.
She’d been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen—blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched—though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come.
Eleven years later she is replaced.
A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec.
Soon the imposter is living Bec’s life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers.
But Bec’s welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem. As the imposter dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter—and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger.

What did I think?

This was a really good psychological thriller and although I never really warmed to any of the characters, I think perhaps there was a very good reason for that.  The main character, Bec, is an imposter and the Winter family are as dysfunctional as they come, perhaps not on the outside but when you scratch the surface you find out that appearances can be very deceptive.

The main character is caught shoplifting and, as she bears a striking resemblance to a missing teenager, she claims to be Bec Winter to get off with the shoplifting charge.  The detective who was investigating Bec's disappearance obviously needs to find out where she has been for the last eleven years; questions that only the real Bec Winter could answer.  The fake Bec does her best to evade questions and refuse DNA tests, and then her family turn up to collect her.  Surely a mother would recognise that this imposter is not her daughter?  As the family welcome fake-Bec with open arms the plot does indeed thicken.

My brain went into overdrive as I considered every scenario but the one that Anna Snoekstra had written whilst trying to work out the outcome of the book.  I kept thinking that someone would realise she wasn't the real Bec or perhaps she was the real Bec and didn't realise it.  I was absolutely floored as the book reached its conclusion so I think Only Daughter will go down very well with lovers of twisty psychological fiction.

I received this e-book from the publisher, Mira UK, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

I am releasing my review as part of the blog tour so make sure that you follow the rest of the tour for some great reviews and interesting content.

Saturday 24 September 2016

The Honey Trap - Mary Jayne Baker

The trap is set – but which one of them is the bait?
Journalist Angel Blackthorne is looking for her next big scoop. When her sleazy editor asks her to use her charms on super successful – and married – film director Sebastian Wilchester for a juicy exposé, Angel thinks what the hell? There’s a staff job on the horizon, and, let’s be honest, no one can make a cheater cheat if they don’t want to, right?
After the scandal breaks, Angel tries to put the story – and Seb – behind her, but fate seems to have other ideas. A near miss at a premiere after-party and a shared love of vintage film brings the honey closer to the trap.
But what happens when pretence leads to passion, and a ‘kiss and tell’ becomes something real?

What did I think?

This was such good fun and pure escapism; nobody would be quite as forgiving in real life but that's why it's called fiction.  Angel and Seb is such a good story; the honey trap throws them together but perhaps fate had a little helping hand.

Angel is a journalist who accepts an assignment to entrap married film director Seb Winchester into a compromising position.  Angel happens to 'bump' into Seb at a hotel bar and they immediately feel the fizz of chemistry between them.  One thing leads to another and they end up in Angel's hotel room which is conveniently set up with hidden cameras.  After she got the 'money shot', Angel didn't plan to go all the way with Seb but she got carried away in the moment and really felt something for him.  Cue the heartbreak as the photos of their night of passion make the front page of the sleazy red top and Seb realises that he has been set up by Angel.

It's so frustrating that Angel has finally met the man of her dreams but, apart from him being married, he wants nothing to do with her for setting him up.  As the pair kept bumping into each other you could feel the crackle of sexual tension through the pages and I even forgave Angel for setting Seb up in the first place.  Just one thing to sort out though - he's married to the star of his films but are they truly happy?

I really enjoyed reading The Honey Trap, although it was sometimes a wee bit too mushy for me with all of the 'I love You's'.  It's great fun and perfect for reading in the sun or curled up on the sofa with a hot chocolate - although there are some steamy scenes so don't wrap up too warm!

I received this e-book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Threat - Hugh Fraser

'How far would you go to protect the innocent?'

London 1961. In the dying days of the Macmillan government, George Preston is in control of crime in West London and Rina Walker is his favoured contract killer. When Rina is hired by Soho vice king Tony Farina to investigate the disappearance of girls from his clubs she discovers that they are being supplied to a member of the English aristocracy for the gratification of his macabre sexual tastes. Rina's pursuit of the missing girls and her efforts to save the innocent from slaughter become increasingly perilous as she grapples with interwoven layers of corruption and betrayal and makes her way, via the louche nightclubs of Berlin, towards a final confrontation with depravity.

What did I think?

I would really recommend reading High Fraser's debut, Harm, first although you could read Threat as a standalone novel.  Reading Harm first really helps you to understand Rina's background and why she makes some of her decisions.

Hugh Fraser has written a no holds barred account of a dark and depraved English aristocrat at the start of the swinging sixties.  Only one woman is up to the task of revealing the macabre goings on at Ringwood Hall - our very own Rina Walker.  Rina once again takes any risks necessary to complete her mission, once she knows her sister, Georgie, is safe in boarding school.  Seeing this softer side to her really contrasts with the hardened assassin some people know her as.  It was absolute genius to have her reading such a 'girly' book as Pride and Prejudice and I smiled each time she picked the book up.

I was completely absorbed in the story and I felt like I was hiding behind the sofa watching events unfold when Rina moved in to catch the culprit armed with her Polaroid, rather than a gun.  Sometimes a photograph can be just as damaging as a gunshot.

Threat is another great British thriller by Hugh Fraser; it's so fast paced that I absolutely rocketed through it and have no doubt that we will be seeing Rina Walker again.  I certainly look forward to it!

I received this e-book from the publisher, Urbane Publications, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Friday 23 September 2016

Good Me Bad Me - Ali Land


Annie's mother is a serial killer.
The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.
But out of sight is not out of mind.
As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly.
A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.
But Milly's mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.
Good me, bad me.
She is, after all, her mother's daughter...

What did I think?

I had seen lots of excitement about this book on Twitter so I was eager to read it for myself and what a tremendous read it was.  I read it over the course of 24 hours and I could not have torn my eyes away from this book if my life depended on it.  It is such dark, disturbing and compulsive reading.

Annie's mother has been arrested for abducting and murdering several children and for Annie's protection she has been housed with a foster family and has a new name, Milly.  A shiny new me, as Annie/Milly calls herself.  Of course, you can change your name but you can never change the person you are inside, which is what I took away from this story.

Milly is fostered by psychologist, Mike, his wife, Saskia, and teenage daughter Phoebe.  What a dysfunctional family these guys are. Mike may be a psychologist but he can't see what's going on under his nose and he certainly doesn't know how to deal with his teenage daughter.  Phoebe is a typical 'mean-girl'; she makes no attempt to welcome Milly, in fact she goes the complete opposite way and makes it known that she is not welcome at all.  Milly does eventually make friends with a girl from a rough estate, Morgan, and she really likes her.  So much so that she wants to protect her from harm - eek!  Eyes on stalks time.

As the court case against her mother progresses, Milly has to give evidence but is screened from the court.  Milly can feel her mother's presence and you can feel how disturbed and affected she is.  It's a proper brain twister as you piece together all the evidence and realise that perhaps there's more than one killer in this book.

Good Me Bad Me is an outstanding psychological thriller; my eyes were on stalks and I couldn't read it fast enough.  

I received this e-book from the publisher, Penguin - Michael Joseph, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

The Captain's Daughter - Leah Fleming

The secrets in a woman's heart are deeper than the ocean…

For May Smith, travelling with her husband and baby girl Ellen, stepping foot on the Titanic marks the start of an incredible journey, one which is destined to take her from the back streets of Bolton to the land of opportunity: the United States. 

But when the 'unsinkable' Titanic hits an iceberg one cold dark night, May's dreams are instantly shattered. Jumping from the sinking ship at the last minute, May loses sight of Joe and Ellen. Distraught, she is pulled into a lifeboat. Minutes later, the real-life Captain Smith swims to the lifeboat and hands May a baby swaddled in blankets. 

Beside herself, and in virtual darkness, May believes the baby to be Ellen. This rescue is witnessed by fellow survivor, Celeste Parkes, married to an American industrialist who is on her way back to Ohio after her mother's funeral. 

In horror, they both watch the death throes of the mighty ship; May traumatised, knowing her husband has drowned, Celeste wishing her bully of a husband had been on board and out of her life. 

As the dawn comes up, and the two women are rescued by the Carpathia,a friendship is formed, one which is destined to transcend the Atlantic and social differences between them and last a lifetime. Then May makes a shocking discovery and a split-second decision which will change the lives of so many.

What did I think?

I've always been fascinated by the story of the Titanic so Leah Fleming's The Captain's Daughter made it straight onto my radar and into my virtual shopping basket when it was released by Simon & Schuster in 2012.  It has, however, sat on my bookshelf for 4 years so I finally picked it up and, although I did expect an emotional read, it was even more emotional than I ever imagined.

May Smith (not related to Captain Smith despite the title of the book), her husband, Joseph, and young daughter, Ellen, are setting off for a new life in America.  They have managed to secure a place in steerage on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.  On the same voyage, travelling in first class, is Celeste Parkes.  Celeste is originally from Lichfield but is married to an American and is returning back to Ohio after attending her mother's funeral.  In the early hours of 15 April 1912, the two women find themselves in a lifeboat; Celeste after being given the opportunity to board the lifeboat and May after being fished out of the water, much to the chagrin of the other first class inhabitants of the lifeboat.  When somebody resembling Captain Smith hands a baby into the lifeboat, May thinks that she has been reunited with her daughter, but the baby isn't Ellen.  When rescued by the Carpathia, May gives the other rescued passengers a chance to claim the baby but when nobody comes forward she has no option but to keep the baby herself.  She knows she isn't her baby, Ellen, so in order to not arouse suspicion she calls the baby Ella and returns to England.

Meanwhile, Angelo Bartolina is searching for his wife and daughter who were on the Titanic and were coming to join him in New York. He finds a lace shoe on the docks when the Carpathia arrives and he is sure that it belongs to his baby daughter, Alessia.  The lace is so intricate it had to have been made by his wife, Maria, but perhaps she sold it or it was stolen on board.  Angelo never gives up hope that one day he will be reunited with his daughter.

I absolutely adored this book.  I was disappointed at first that the Titanic episode was over very quickly in the first few chapters, but the link that May and Celeste formed on the lifeboat was unbreakable, as were my eyes from the page.  It's an epic story that spans the period from the Titanic sinking in 1912 to the late 1950's, encapsulating two world wars.  The characters are well rounded, warm and bound together by tragedy; we know their secrets and their fears so it was no surprise that I was in floods of tears at the end of the book.  I had shed a few tears part way through and even had a gasp-out-loud moment as the journey came to the end for one of the characters.

The Captain's Daughter is an outstanding family saga, written in such a way that you are immediately drawn into the book and embraced by the characters.  I heartily recommend this book; it's both emotional and beautiful.

My rating:

Tuesday 20 September 2016

BLOG TOUR: War Orphans - Lizzie Lane

I simply could not resist the cute puppy on the front of Lizzie Lane's War Orphans, so I was delighted to be invited to host a stop on the blog tour.  You can read my review after Lizzie's guest post on her canine influences for War Orphans.

Canine Influences on War Orphans - Guest Post by Lizzie Lane

OK. I fully admit I’ve always been a sucker for big brown eyes, the kind begging you to say ‘yes’ when you’ve already said ‘no.’

Silky hair also helps and I am not prejudiced as to colour, breed or questionable pedigree.

Rusty was not top drawer but the first time I saw his big brown eyes looking up at me, I was smitten.

He was an Irish Red Setter and I bought him purely as a pet, though he went on to open other doors I never knew existed.

Thanks to Rusty I became more and more involved in all things canine. I entered dog shows, I acquired more dogs, I ran dog training classes, I even judged at dog shows.

I learned a log from my canine friends, number one being that they are totally loving, totally loyal and will be with you till the end no matter what daft things you do or what dangers you lead them into.

There was always a wet nose to nudge me out of my dark mood or away from my work. One look from those heavenly velvet eyes was enough to remind you that there was fresh air outside, a chance to stretch your legs and go chase rabbits. Rusty did the chasing though never caught any.

It was Rusty that came to mind when I first read about the wholesale destruction of dogs at the outbreak of war. The rush to euthanize was so massive that dead animals were left in heaps outside vets, PDSA and RSPCA waiting rooms. Even the rendering companies who reduced the animals to glue were inundated.

Horrified and fascinated, I felt compelled to write a story against that appalling background. To do that I needed to channel my emotions and imagine how it felt to abandon a dearly loved pet, one who so dearly loved in return.

After all these years it was Rusty who came to mind. I lost him when he was nine years old. He left home, somehow got lost and I never saw him again.

I became Joanna, the little girl in War Orphans who finds the abandoned puppy. Her cat had already been destroyed. She is determined to protect the cocker spaniel puppy she names Harry.

For me Rusty lives on through Harry even if only in a book. Both endowed with big brown eyes and silky coats, gave unconditional love and helped people heal; a fitting memorial I think.

Thanks so much for your guest post, Lizzie!  What a fabulous testament to Rusty; I'm sure many readers will relate to their own beloved family pets when reading War Orphans.  To find out what I thought of War Orphans, read on for my review.

If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency. If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed." 

Joanna Ryan’s father has gone off to war, leaving her in the care of her step-mother, a woman more concerned with having a good time than being any sort of parent to her. 

But then she finds a puppy, left for dead, and Joanna’s becomes determined to save him, sharing her meagre rations with him. But, in a time of war, pets are only seen as an unnecessary burden and she is forced to hide her new friend, Harry from her step-mother and the authorities. With bombs falling over Bristol and with the prospect of evacuation on the horizon can they keep stay together and keep each other safe?

What did I think?

I don't read as many wartime sagas as I used to but when I saw the puppy on the front of War Orphans I was powerless to resist. Although I don't have any pets of my own, I do consider myself an animal lover and dogs seem to recognise this in me, as I'm a bit of a dog magnet as well as a book magnet.  War Orphans is based around a true story, that of so many household pets who were put to sleep during World War II, many of them by less than humane methods.  We take the time to remember all of the fallen on Remembrance Day and we shouldn't forget the plight of so many innocent animals.  Through War Orphans, we will remember them.

Joanna's mum died when she was 6 so her father remarried, as men did in those days, to provide Joanna with a mother to care for her.  Only Elspeth, the woman her father chose, wasn't quite as maternal as he thought - a fact that she hides from her new husband. Elspeth is very selfish and only looks after herself, so when Joanna's dad goes off to war, Joanna doesn't look forward to returning home from school.  One day, when she is playing beside a stream after school, she sees what she thinks is a rat but on closer investigation turns out to be a puppy clinging onto life.  She rescues the puppy, names him Harry and hides him in an abandoned shed at the local allotments.  Joanna doesn't know this at the time, but the shed belongs to her teacher's dad, Seb Hadley.

Seb Hadley lives with his daughter, Sally, who is Joanna's teacher.  Seb is struggling after the loss of his wife and doesn't leave the house.  After some nagging from Sally to 'dig for victory' and grow their own vegetables, he visits his neglected allotment where he finds Harry living in his shed.  Seb can see that Harry is being fed and watered so he wonders who is looking after this lovely puppy.  He sees Joanna visiting Harry after school and it isn't long before the pair strike up an unlikely friendship.

War Orphans, although being based around such a disturbing storyline, is such a heart-warming read with characters we can liken to those in our favourite fairytales.  Elspeth is the traditional wicked stepmother to Joanna's Cinderella and Seb may very well be Joanna's Fairy Godfather.  Harry's part is the prince who steals all our hearts - he certainly stole mine!

I enjoyed War Orphans more than I expected so I gave it a well deserved 5 stars.  It is quite heart-breaking at times, with both human loss and the plight of the animals, but like all good fairytales it ends with a heart-warming happily ever after.

I received this book from the publisher, Ebury Press, in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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Sunday 18 September 2016

Nina is Not OK - Shappi Khorsandi

Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t? 

Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all. 

And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend. 

But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…

What did I think?

Oh my word!  Where to start with this one - it has to be the funniest yet saddest book I have read all year.  We all like a drink now and again, and we've more than likely all had that one drink too many where we don't remember how we got home yet wake up in our own bed.  In Nina is Not OK, Shappi Khorsandi has written a dark and brutally honest account of one young woman's battle with alcohol. Seeing the effects on Nina's family will, I'm sure, make some people think twice about having 'just one more drink'.

Nina, at 17, is at the in-between age of child and adult; she thinks she's old enough to make decisions but she doesn't realise that her mum still knows best.  She lives with her mum, Sandra, step-dad, Alan, and half-sister, Katie, who she adores.  After reeling from the break-up with her boyfriend, Jamie, Nina turns to alcohol to drown her sorrows.  On a night out with her friends, Beth and Zoe, Nina gets thrown out of a club and ends up going home in a taxi completely out of her head with her knickers in her hand.  Nina can't remember what happened but thanks to the wonders of social media a video gets posted to fill in the blanks.

Nina's mum is at her wits end, having seen the devastating effects of alcoholism when she was married to Nina's dad, who unfortunately died.  So when Alan gets offered a job in Germany they arrange for Nina to live with her friend Beth and her dad, Max. Max is unable to cope with Nina's binge drinking so Sandra returns from Germany to put Nina in rehab.  As Nina gets the help she needs, she realises that she's not to blame for what happened that night and she didn't ask for it.  There's only one problem, the guy she was with that night, Alex, is now going out with her friend, Zoe.

So raw, emotive and powerful, Nina is Not OK is as addictive to readers as alcohol is to an alcoholic.  Written with such honest humour that you laugh at times and then guiltily realise that it's really not funny, not for those who live with alcoholism.  When Nina bumps into the kitchen wall, I was reminded of a scene in Absolutely Fabulous when Edina and Patsy visit a vineyard in France and Edina complains that someone has stolen her steering wheel.  It's that kind of brilliantly dark humour.  I would definitely recommend Nina is Not OK to all book lovers - it's one of the best books I've read this year.

I received this ebook from the publisher, Ebury Press, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

LOST AND FOUND BLOG TOUR: The Island - Olivia Levez

My lovely cousin, Georgia, over at Teen Book Hoots recommended me to one of her blogger friends, Michelle Toy of Tales of Yesterday, who invited me to take part in the Lost and Found Blog Tour.  I am delighted to post my review of The Island by Olivia Levez as part of the virtual tour, but there's also an actual tour - find out if it's coming to a location near you at the end of my post.

Title: The Island
Author: Olivia Levez
Release Date: 3rd March 2016
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Rock the Boat
Format: Paperback

‘There were friends once, but they melted away. Things are different now I am a MONSTER’

Frances is alone. Cast away on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, she has to find water, food and shelter. But survival is hard. Especially when she is haunted by memories of the things that she did before, the things that made her a monster. Pushed to the limit in extreme conditions, she battles to come to terms with her past, and find a future worth fighting for.

This is a gripping and thought-provoking story about one girl’s journey to become the person she believes she can be.

What did I think?

I don't read a great deal of YA novels but there was something so very appealing about The Island, with the added benefit of an embossed cover that entices you to trace the waves as you're reading.   I absolutely raced through The Island in two days as I simply couldn't put it fact I am still stroking the calming cover at every opportunity!

Frances is a very troubled teen and we are introduced to her as she sits on a plane destined for an Indonesian island.  Frances has been signed up to a pilot scheme by TeamSkill that takes young offenders to a remote desert island to teach them team building and life skills.  Of course, this is a book about a castaway so it's no surprise that the flight does not go according to plan and Frances finds herself floating out to sea in an inflatable lifeboat...alone.  When she hits land she has to fend for herself and, as we gradually learn about her family life, we find that this is something she is quite used to doing.

Fran is from a single parent family and lives with her mum, Cassie, and her little brother, Johnny, who she affectionately calls Monkey. Fran is carer for both Johnny and her mum and when she writes stories at school her teacher alerts social services that Johnny is not being brought up in a safe environment.  The resulting visit from social services has a cataclysmic effect that leads to Fran ending up on this desert island trying to crack could-be nuts to quench her thirst.  Then we realise she's not alone...

I loved the way this was written; in very short chapters and quite poetic at times.  With each turn of page we are given the opportunity to step into Fran's bra-shoes (loved that) and live each day with her.  As with any period of solitude, she frequently looks inside herself and sees only a monster, so I wondered what she had done that was so bad.  Yes, she has committed a crime but, looking at all of the events leading up to this, I really felt a deep empathy for her.  As each day passed, I likened Fran to a could-be nut; hard on the outside but once you crack her shell there is a soft sweetness inside.

The Island is a beautiful, emotive and thought-provoking read; it is quite unique in style with such clever diction that gives us an insight into Fran's feelings and emotions, sometimes by using just one word.  I do have to mention that it has a dot dot dot ending which some readers may find unsatisfying, but I was so completely absorbed in the story that my imagination was happy to run away with me. Olivia Levez has written a superb debut and I was completely captivated.

I received this book from the publisher, Rock the Boat, in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author

Olivia Levez lives in Worcestershire, where she divides her time between teaching and writing. The Island is Olivia’s debut novel and her second book will publish in spring 2017. She writes mainly in her caravan in West Wales, where the coast was inspiration for the desert island in her book. She loves dogs, real ale and yoga.

About The Lost and Found Tour

5 YA SCBWI debut authors get together for a UK tour.

Olivia Levez (The Island), Patrice Lawrence (Orangeboy), Kathryn Evans (More of Me), Sue Wallman (Lying About Last Summer), Eugene Lambert (The Sign of One)

Birmingham Waterstones for the launch event chaired by Chelley Toy!

Saturday, 1st October, 2-4pm
Join us for a discussion of identity, loss, and the darkness inside; of self-discovery, friendship, and hope for a better tomorrow as part of the #LostandFound Book Tour.

Unflinching, clever and honest, our five authors explore what it means to grow up when the cards seem to be constantly stacked against you.

Don't miss your chance to meet these amazing authors, ask questions, and get your books signed.

Sat 1st Oct, 2pm
Birmingham Waterstones
Thurs 6th Oct, 6pm
London Islington Waterstones
Sat 26th Nov
Guildford Waterstones
Thurs 1st Dec
Liverpool Waterstones
Sunday 22nd January
Hampshire Libraries, Petersfield
Sat 4th March
Glasgow Waterstones

More Tour Dates

Catch us at any of the following tour locations!

Blog Tour

Follow the #LostAndFound for fab blog posts and reviews from 12th September – 30th September with some awesome bloggers!