Monday 24 September 2018

BLOG TOUR: The Toymakers - Robert Dinsdale

I am delighted to be the final stop on The Toymakers blog tour and I am re-posting my review of this imaginative and enchanting book.

Do you remember when you believed in magic?

It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own.

But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own…

What did I think?

I was immediately drawn to the striking cover of The Toymakers and decided to read this on the run up to Christmas to inject a little magic into my life.  I didn't expect to feel so emotional at the end but the power of Robert Dinsdale's writing clearly worked its way into my heart like a toy soldier scaling a battlement.  Don't be mistaken: this is not solely a magical feel-good story, it is mainly set during World War I so be prepared for loss and devastation but you can forget about it for a while when you enter Papa Jack's Emporium.

The Emporium is hidden away down a side street in London and you could easily walk past it, if you didn't know it was there.  This magical toy shop opens at first frost and closes as the first snowdrop flowers but in the short time it is open you can find every toy imaginable in its four walls, but even more toys that you could never have imagined.  Papa Jack and his sons, Kaspar and Emil, create all the toys themselves and there's quite a rivalry between the boys as to whose toys are the best.  

Cathy Wray is drawn to the Emporium after she sees an advert in the newspaper, just when she thought she could not escape her predicament.  So she runs away from home and starts a job in the Emporium, but when the first snowdrop flowers she has nowhere to go and hides in the wendy house in the Emporium.  Both brothers find her at different times and keep it a secret from each other as their rivalry extends to who will win Cathy's heart.  After the war, this intense rivalry threatens to be the downfall of the Emporium when Kaspar meddles with Emil's precious toy soldiers...the toy soldiers don't want to fight anymore and seem to have minds of their own.  Can the Emporium ever survive when Kaspar, Emil and thousands of toy soldiers are at loggerheads and Hitler's bombs are flying overhead? 

Let your imagination run wild and expect the unexpected in The Toymakers.  My imagination went into overdrive and I thought of those horrific Chucky movies as the toy soldiers were scuttling about all over the place.  I found it terribly heartbreaking as the horrors of the First World War were touched on and hoped the soldiers had somebody like Kaspar in the trenches with them to give them some comfort.

The Toymakers is so magical but slightly scary that I think of it as a fairytale for adults.  The Emporium is painted in such glorious colour through the magical prose that I felt as if I was visiting it myself.  I think The Toymakers is a little like the Emporium itself, it's only going to be enjoyable to those who believe in magic but know that the big bad world is right outside the door.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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Sunday 23 September 2018

BLOG TOUR: The Anniversary - Hilary Boyd

Is the one you tried to forget the one you can't live without?

Stella once thought that if she never saw Jack again, it would be too soon.

But life has other plans for her and her stubborn, handsome ex-husband.

Looking after their daughter in a time of need, Stella finds herself unwillingly reunited with the man she shared the best years of her life with - followed by the worst.

Where tragedy once tore them apart, now Stella and Jack are being drawn back together. But each of them has a new partner and a new life.

Should they fight temptation?

Should the past remain the past?

Or are some loves simply meant to be?

What did I think?

I can't even begin to describe the level of emotion in this book, it's almost as if it's woven into the very fabric of the pages.  Although it is ultimately a love story, there are so many trials and tribulations to contend with which cause heartache and pain for the beautiful characters in the book.

I loved the character of Stella; she seems so strong and brave but underneath she is quite fragile and insecure.  You can't help but warm to her after what she has gone through in her life; a life that she thought would see her and Jack grow old together as they watched their family grow up.  Alas, fate had a different path in store for Stella and Jack which saw them splintering off in different directions, that is until their pregnant daughter needs their support and they realise that the love that they once shared has never fully left them...but now they're with other people, is it too late?

Oh my word, The Anniversary is such a heartbreaking love story, encompassing tragedy and hope but filled with nail-biting family drama.  It really broke my heart that Stella and Jack lost so many years of their life together but I completely understood that what happened to them would break up the strongest couple.  I loved how Eve's pregnancy brought them back together with the shared love they have for their daughter.  It felt like there was a low simmering pot on the stove as Stella and Jack's fractured relationship gradually began to repair and I was willing them to kiss before the pan bubbled over!

The Anniversary is a beautiful tragic love story, written with such intense emotion that I can't imagine any reader failing to be moved by this compelling story.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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Thursday 20 September 2018

BLOG TOUR: Friend of the Family - Tasmina Perry

She thinks your life is perfect. She thinks you don't deserve it.
Your job
Amy is more than happy to offer the daughter of an old friend work experience at her London magazine. Josie is young and ambitious. She just needs a foot in the door.

Your home
When Josie arrives, she swiftly makes herself indispensable at work and at home. And when childcare falls through before a long-awaited university reunion in Provence, it begins to look as if Josie may be staying longer than Amy had bargained for.

Your husband
In the heat of Provence, Josie's presence starts to unsettle Amy, especially around her husband. As cracks begin to appear in Amy's perfect life, she cannot shake the feeling that the family friend may not be a friend at all...

What did I think?

I'm delighted to open the blog tour for Friend of the Family by Tasmina Perry by sharing my review today.

Amy Shepherd has it all: a handsome husband, a much coveted job and the cutest little daughter but everything seems to fall apart when she does a favour for her old friend, Karen.  Inviting Karen's daughter, Josie, into her life appears to be a big mistake for Amy and paranoia quickly sets in over Josie's motives.  Josie is young, attractive and clever and she seems to have everyone wrapped around her little finger, while Amy becomes discredited at every turn.  Why is Josie out to get her?

The setting for Friend of the Family is a fashion magazine, so if you've ever watched Ugly Betty you will easily be able to visualise the cutthroat environment portrayed here.  There is so much backstabbing and bitchiness behind smiling faces!  Josie is painted as so sweet on the outside but dark and manipulative on the inside that you can't help but dislike her, but I wondered where her motivation to destroy Amy had come from.

I loved the flashbacks to Amy's life at Oxford in 1995; a small group of young men and women who have remained friends for many years.  Their lives intermingle as they work and holiday together and anyone would give their right arm to be part of their tight-knit group...but what is hiding behind those smiles?  Everyone has secrets so put your crash helmet on as they're all about to come out!

Friend of the Family is proper bitch-lit; trust no one in this cutthroat psychological domestic noir novel...but remember to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Tasmina Perry is the Sunday Times bestselling novelist of twelve novels including Daddy's Girls, one of the biggest selling debuts of 2006. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages and have sold over two million copies around the world.

A former lawyer and award-winning magazine journalist, she has edited several national titles including In Style and More. She also writes psychological thrillers under the pseudonym JL Butler. JL Butler's debut thriller Mine has been optioned by Sony Pictures and is in development with Original Film.

She lives in London with her husband, son and too many shoes.

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Tuesday 18 September 2018

BLOG BLITZ: The Girl In His Eyes - Jennie Ensor

Her father abused her when she was a child. For years she was too afraid to speak out. But now she suspects he’s found another victim… 

Laura, a young woman struggling to deal with what her father did to her a decade ago, is horrified to realise that the girl he takes swimming might be his next victim. Emma is twelve – the age Laura was when her father took away her innocence.

Intimidated by her father’s rages, Laura has never told anyone the truth about her childhood. Now she must decide whether she has the courage to expose him and face the consequences.

Can Laura overcome her fear and save Emma before the worst happens?

What did I think?

I discovered Jennie Ensor in 2016 when I read her stunning debut, Blindside, but oh my word is her second book worth waiting for.  The Girl In His Eyes is difficult to read because of the subject of child abuse, although it is not in any way graphic, but it is the emotion pouring out of every page that really got to me.  Jennie Ensor has poured her heart and soul into this book and it shows as you can't fail to be moved by this story.

Right away I could tell that Laura was very disconnected from her family; she no sooner arrived at her parents' house than she was ready to leave.  It must take an unbelievable amount of strength to be in the same room as her father knowing what he did to her as a child.  Laura has never told anyone what happened and bottling that up inside has caused such damage to her self esteem that it made my heart break.  When her father shows interest in another young girl, Laura must find the strength to speak out whatever it costs.

Superbly written, The Girl In His Eyes is such an intensely emotional book that I had to pause often to catch my breath and keep my emotions in check.  I have never felt such a huge spectrum of emotions whilst reading a book, ranging from anger and disgust right though to sadness and hope.  The Girl In His Eyes is so exceptional that I could give nothing less than 5 stars for this heartbreakingly emotional book.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Jennie Ensor lives in London and has Irish roots. During a long trip overseas she obtained a Masters in Journalism and began her writing career as a journalist, covering topics from forced marriages to accidents in the mining industry. Her debut novel BLIND SIDE was published by Unbound in 2016. In January 2018 her short story ‘The Gift’ was placed in the Top 40 of the Words and Women national prose competition. Her poetry has appeared in many UK and overseas publications, most recently Ink Sweat and Tears. She sings in a chamber choir.

Author website & blog:
Twitter: @jennie_ensor 

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Monday 17 September 2018

BLOG TOUR: Dear Mr Pop Star - Derek & Dave Philpott

A collection of hilarious letters to iconic pop and rock stars with fantastic in-on-the-joke replies from the artists themselves: Eurythmics, Heaven 17, Deep Purple, Devo, Dr. Hook and many, many more…

For more than a decade, Derek Philpott and his son, Dave, have been writing deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs. They miss the point as often as they hit it.

But then, to their great surprise, the pop stars started writing back...

Dear Mr Pop Star contains 100 of Derek and Dave's greatest hits, including correspondence with Katrina and the Waves, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, The Housemartins, Suzi Quatro, Devo, Deep Purple, Nik Kershaw, T’Pau, Human League, Eurythmics, Wang Chung, EMF, Mott the Hoople, Heaven 17, Jesus Jones, Johnny Hates Jazz, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Chesney Hawkes and many, many more.

Derek and Dave Philpott are the noms de plume of two ordinary members of the public, working with help from a worldwide social networking community.

What did I think?

Derek and Dave Philpott don't just listen to popular songs, they dissect and analyse them to hilarious effect.  There is something for every pop music fan in their latest book: Dear Mr Pop Star; you're sure to find your favourite artist in this book, even if they didn't respond to Derek & Dave's letters.

I love the layout of letters to and from artists, along with postcards to those artists who didn't respond.  Admittedly, some of them go over my head if I don't know the song that is being discussed but a quick trip to google puts that right.  It's all done in such good fun and this is reciprocated in the responses from the artists.  Take the letter sent to Justin Currie of Del Amitri by Derek Philpott whereby Derek is worried about ruining his corduroys whilst rolling to Mr Amitri after car trouble in the rain!  Lyrics of 'Roll to Me' below if you're wondering what on earth I'm going on about:

When the engine's stalled and it won't stop raining
It's the right time to roll to me

So if you enjoy listening to music, you will never listen to your favourite songs in the same way again after reading Dear Mr Pop Star.  I've found myself listening a lot closer to songs on the radio and if one of the songs that Derek & Dave have written about comes on, it does make me laugh.  It's surprising how much gobbledegook is in lyrics so Derek and Dave speak for all of us listeners when they ask the artists to explain themselves!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Twitter: @DerekPhilpott   

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Sunday 16 September 2018

The Rave (Valley Park #2) - Nicky Black

It’s 1989, the second Summer of Love, and Tommy Collins is doing what he does best: organising all-night raves on a shoestring, and playing a game of cat and mouse with the police. But Detective Chief Inspector Peach is closing in on him, and his dreams of a better life are beginning to slip through his fingers.

DCI Peach finds it all a nuisance, a waste of his force's time, until he finds his teenage daughter unconscious at one of Tommy's raves. Then the chase becomes personal, and his need to make Tommy pay becomes an obsession.

The Rave is a fast-paced, gritty portrayal of life on the edges of society at the end of a decade that changed Britain forever.

What did I think?

I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was to read The Rave, the follow up to Nicky Black's debut and one of my favourite books, The Prodigal.  I thought I loved The Prodigal but I think The Rave is even better as Nicky Black perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the North East in the late 80's.  Jobs and money were scarce but we sure knew how to party!  You don't have to read The Prodigal before The Rave as they both read well as standalones but you really don't want to miss either of these Geordie gems.  

Tommy Collins likes to push the boundaries of the law; he organises raves but he draws the line at selling drugs until local thug Paul Smart tries to get in on the scene.  Paul Smart is Tommy's wife's uncle but Smart is the type of guy who would sell his granny, so Tommy can't expect any favours for being part of the family.  When Tommy gets drawn into Paul Smart's web, my heart rate increased as the tension was ramped up to almost unbearable levels.  DCI Peach has more reason than most to want to put an end to Tommy Collins' rave scene but Tommy isn't the real enemy with Paul Smart pulling strings behind the scene.  Will any of them get out of this alive to tell the tale?

As much as this is the type of gritty crime drama we have come to know and love from Nicky Black, what you can't prepare yourself for is the amount of humour that has been woven into this dark and serious storyline.  I went from almost having palpitations as the police closed in to laughing my socks off within a few pages; I won't ever be able to look at a coathanger without laughing ever again. Nicky Black's writing is so colourful and multi-dimensional that you can almost hear each character speaking and you begin to recognise their individual traits...the characters' character, if you will.  It really brings the book to life and I love that feeling of being immersed in the story.

The Rave is an absolutely superb crime thriller that has it all: tension, drama, grit and outstanding Geordie humour.  Without doubt a 5 star read and worthy of every single star.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

The pen name Nicky Black is a combination of two writers - Nicky Doherty and Julie Blackie. Julie was a script writer for many years, and Nicky has created two novels based on Julie's TV and film scripts. Both are stories set on the fictional estate of Valley Park in Newcastle, and the criminal world that inhabits it. 

The Prodigal was a bestseller in 2015 and The Rave was published on 14th August 2018.

Nicky is a proud eighties throwback and cat lady and lives in North Tyneside.

Monday 10 September 2018

BLOG TOUR: The Night She Died - Jenny Blackhurst

On her own wedding night, beautiful and complicated Evie White leaps off a cliff to her death.  

What drove her to commit this terrible act? It's left to her best friend and her husband to unravel the sinister mystery.  

Following a twisted trail of clues leading to Evie's darkest secrets, they begin to realize they never knew the real Evie at all... 

What did I think?

I have loved Jenny Blackhurst novels since reading her debut, How I Lost You, when I first started blogging so I was VERY excited to read her new book, The Night She Died.  I actually think this is her best novel yet; it had me on the edge of my seat, my heart in my mouth and my brain in a tizz as I hurtled through this terrific rollercoaster of a book.

Oh I do love a good prologue and that is precisely what Jenny Blackhurst delivers in The Night She Died.  You can't fail to be hooked by a bride jumping off a cliff on her wedding day, so put on your seatbelt and buckle up as Jenny Blackhurst has quite a bumpy ride in store for us.  The story is mainly told from two points of view: that of Evie, the bride, and Rebecca, her friend, with an odd chapter giving us the point of view of Richard, the bereft groom.

It quickly becomes clear that this isn't a normal friendship as Rebecca is so desperate to please Evie that she will do anything for her.  Evie has had a privileged upbringing so you can't help but wonder if she is taking advantage of Rebecca...but to what end?  Digging into Evie's past helps to explain some of her reckless behaviour and it just goes to prove that money can't buy happiness.  No matter how hard she tries, Evie can't deviate from the path that fate has chosen for her...and that path is leading her to the edge of a cliff.

I cannot even begin to describe how amazingly brilliant this book is; it is a dark, twisty, gripping and addictive rollercoaster of a book.  I really couldn't read fast enough to find out why Evie jumped off the cliff and because of the super-talent of misdirection that Ms. Blackhurst has, every scenario I had in my head was proven to be wrong.  That's always a good thing when reading a book; because I was SO wrong, The Night I Died is well worthy of the 5 stars I have awarded it.  It makes me think that I should have a secret 6th star for exceptional books such as this.  The Night I Died is a top notch psychological thriller that I really can't recommend highly enough.  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

JENNY BLACKHURST grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children. Growing up she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels - writing her own seemed like natural progression. The night she died is Jenny's fourth novel. 

Follow her on Twitter or Facebook

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Saturday 8 September 2018

BLOG TOUR: A Perfect Mother - Katri Skala

During a visit to Trieste in Northern Italy to research his long lost great-grandfather, Jacob meets Charlotte and Jane, and the three are forced to confront their individual and shared histories. Their sense of themselves is challenged and they must piece together a future none of them saw coming. 

A Perfect Mother asks big questions: What do we inherit from the broken histories of our parents and our grandparents and how does this shape our own sense of identity? Can we ever escape the past? Are stories, the ones we are told and the ones we tell, integral to how we know each other and how we love? What does it mean to be a good parent, let alone the perfect mother? 

A bracing, hypnotic story of mid-life crisis about the complexities of love, relationship and legacy.

What did I think?

I thought that A Perfect Mother was going to be quite heavy going, but I was pleasantly surprised as it is perfectly paced with interesting characters and an intriguing storyline.  It definitely has the feel of a modern classic and Katri Skala has created such depth of character that made me really care about Charlotte, Jane and Jacob.

It feels very much like a slow-burner with Jacob bumping into Jane and then meeting Charlotte in his quest to interrogate his family tree, but the tangled web that Jacob weaves really picks up the pace of the story.  What I thought was going to be an intriguing glimpse into Jacob's family's wartime past became an even more intriguing examination of a fated relationship and the secrets that sculpted it.

To be honest, I didn't really warm to Jacob; he seems to be floating through life, leaving his family behind as he researches his book.  His research brings him to Trieste in Northern Italy where he meets Jane; now Jane may be married, but not happily, which makes her very honourably put the brakes on anything that may have happened between her and Jacob.  Jane is such a complex character who has such strength in her convictions that I would welcome her being on my side in an argument.  Jane's friend, Charlotte, conversely, is like a fragile butterfly who Jacob somehow seems to ensnare in his net.  I never really feared that Jacob would hurt Charlotte, as he always came across as so indifferent and I could never really tell what he was feeling.  I always had the feeling that that someone was about to get hurt, though...but who?

For me, the story was all about Charlotte and Jane: they met under such difficult circumstances that forged an unbreakable friendship.  Jane was kind of like a mother figure to Charlotte so I thought she was the perfect mother in the story until Charlotte proves how far she is willing to go to protect her child.  Such is the depth of emotion in the story, that I have a lump in my throat just thinking about it.

A Perfect Mother certainly tugged at my heartstrings as it both shocked and surprised me.  I really felt as if I had read a proper grown up novel, such is the standard of Katri Skala's writing.  I have to say that I am completely astounded that this is the author's first novel; there is not a single word out of place and it certainly has the feel of a literary classic.  If you're looking for something a little deeper and yet slightly dark, look no further than A Perfect Mother.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it direct from Hikari Press

About the author:
Born in France of an American mother and a Viennese father, Katri Skala has lived in the United States and across Europe. 

She has worked as a senior arts administrator, script editor, and literary editor in the field of new writing in Britain and the US for a range of organisations that include Channel Four, BBC, the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Arvon Foundation, the University of East Anglia, and the Writers Centre Norwich. 

She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in literature and journalism from Vassar (in the US), Cardiff and the University of East Anglia. 

She has had published short stories and magazine features. A Perfect Mother is her first novel. An extract was recently published in INK Anthology, a showcase of new writing produced for agents and publishers. 

She works as a mentor to writers in all genres and at all stages of their writing life.

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Friday 7 September 2018

BLOG TOUR: 11 Missed Calls - Elisabeth Carpenter

Here are two things I know about my mother:

1. She had dark hair, like mine. 

2. She wasn’t very happy at the end.

Anna has always believed that her mother, Debbie, died 30 years ago on the night she disappeared.
But when her father gets a strange note, she realises that she’s never been told the full story of what happened that night on the cliff.
Confused and upset, Anna turns to her husband Jack – but when she finds a love letter from another woman in his wallet, she realises there’s no-one left to help her, least of all her family.
And then a body is found…

What did I think?

Elisabeth Carpenter sure knows how to write a gripping page-turner as I found out when I read her fantastic debut, 99 Red Balloons, and 11 Missed Calls is no exception.  From the intriguing prologue until the final page was turned, I was frightened to blink in case I missed a crucial word that would explain what happened all those years ago on the edge of a cliff in Tenerife.

11 Missed Calls grips the reader from the start as we meet Anna's mum, Debbie, on the edge of a cliff in Tenerife.  With suicidal thoughts in her head, she thinks her family would be better off without her, but just as she's about to step off the edge someone else appears...of course, we don't find out who this was until much later so prepare to read very fast!

Thirty years later, Anna can't forget a mother she never knew and she's sure that there's more to Debbie's story than meets the eye.  I certainly agreed with Anna and was really suspicious of the fact that Anna's Dad and Debbie's friend, Monica, were now together.  Hold on a second...didn't Monica go to Tenerife with Debbie?  Yes indeed, Debbie's story is sounding more fishy than Baldrick's apple crumble so I read with such eagerness to find out what really happened.

There's a lot going on in this book that can sometimes make it quite busy and a little overcrowded but do bear with it; I think I was so hooked on the Debbie story that it was all I could think about and I almost glossed over Anna's other drama with her husband, Jack.  I think I just wanted to get back to the main storyline as quickly as possible with one huge question buzzing around my brain: did Debbie jump or was she pushed?

I always felt as if people knew more than they were letting on and I felt angry at times at the attitude that Anna shouldn't really be asking about what happened to her mother when she couldn't even remember her.  The thing is, she remembers more than even she realises and I do believe that traumas in childhood can cause us to have phobias and fears throughout our life.

11 Missed Calls is such an intense family drama and that amazing prologue ensured I was hooked like a hungry fish from the very first page to the very last.  Keep 'em coming, Elisabeth!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Elisabeth Carpenter lives in Preston with her family. She completed a BA in English Literature and Language with the Open University in 2008. 

Elisabeth was awarded a Northern Writers’ New Fiction award, and was longlisted for Yeovil Literary Prize (2015 and 2016) and the MsLexia Women’s Novel award (2015). She loves living in the north of England and sets most of her stories in the area, including the novel she is writing at the moment. She currently works as a book keeper.

Follow Elisabeth on Twitter @LibbyCPT

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