Month: July 2017

‘Mediterranean Summer’ by Jane MacKenzie #RBRT #FridayReads #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Mediterranean Summer’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Mediterranean-Summer-cover

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‘Beautiful artist, beautiful woman, and beautiful lover.’ 
May 1968 and Paris is hot with rebellion, passion and hope, as protestors clash with the riot police. Brilliant art student Laure stands boldly on the barricades, heady with her new-found defiance, and is swept into romance with Lolo, the fascinating student leader. But youthful rebellion comes at a cost.
Two months later, the excitement is over. Laure heads home for the summer to Vermeilla, her picturesque Mediterranean village. She looks forward to the simplicity of village life, and to a summer in the sun with family and friends, but is aware that the new Laure may shock her little Catalan community.
But even Vermeilla isn’t protected from the forces of change. Shadows hang over both Laure and her village haven. Can she battle the menace that has followed her from Paris? And can she trust Robert, the aloof lawyer who may be the only one who can keep her safe? 

I’m a bit of a Francophile. France is definitely my favourite place to visit and I plan to move there permanently one day – Brexit permitting. So I love reading anything set in France and this novel, set just after the civil unrest of Paris in 1968, sounded intriguing.

Art student Laure is returning home to her quiet village after her involvement in the Paris demonstrations. She needs to rest and recover, and she also needs to find a way to resolve the problem hanging over her – a problem that could mean the end of her studies.

At first the peace and solitude are soothing, and Laure enjoys reconnecting with her family and her childhood friends. But her brother-in-law Daniel has a new job at the Nobel factory in Paulilles, and trainee doctor Martin, his brother and Laure’s best friend, is worried about the risks the workers there face from exposure to nitro-glycerine.

The gorgeous summer is clouded by these issues and with Laure’s worries over what has happened in Paris. Then Martin’s cousin Robert, a lawyer from Paris, offers to help. The novel focuses on these relationships – between Laure and Robert, Laure and her family, and Laure and Martin’s family.

There is romance here, and conflict, and at the heart is a girl trying to find her place in a changing world. Laure is a lovely main character, and the interactions between the characters are well-written. There are some beautiful descriptions, of the little towns, the gorgeous countryside, and, of course, the wonderful food, and this part of France is really brought to life through the writing.

It’s a gently-paced read, which works well with the setting. However, it was too slow at times, and, while the descriptions were beautifully done, there were places where they went on for too long, and I did find myself skipping ahead. I do feel that this novel could be quite a bit shorter.

It was also a little difficult to keep track of the many characters and their complicated relationships – though it was worth persevering. The writing was a little too formal at times as well, and came across as a little forced and unnatural. However, on the whole this is a lovely novel, just right for a summer read.

4 stars

Writing & Editing Tips Revisited – Contractions in Dialogue #wwwblogs #writingtips #WritingANovel

writing-dialogue

A very quick tip here for writers struggling with dialogue.

One of the issues that I find in a lot of the manuscripts I edit is that the dialogue can seem forced and contrived. Realistic, believable and authentic dialogue is a must for a good novel, and authors need to make sure they get it right. But many new writers think they have to write ‘properly’ and they think this means eschewing contractions.

Generally, if you want to make your dialogue flow and for readers to believe in it, then you need to use contractions (there are exceptions to this, in particular types of fiction). Think about it. How many people do you know (however posh they are and however ‘properly’ they speak) who say things like this:

‘Please do not walk on the grass.’

The answer is no one. No one ever (except perhaps the queen and probably not even her) speaks like that. It sounds horrible.

So remember:

‘Don’t’ not ‘do not’
‘They’ve’ not ‘they have’
‘Should’ve’ not ‘should have’ (and definitely NOT should of)
‘I’ll’ not ‘I will’
‘Can’t’ not ‘cannot’
You get the point.

There are three things you can do to improve your dialogue:

Listen – actually listen to people talking. This has the advantage of also often being very entertaining.
Read – when you’re reading, make a note of dialogue that really works, and why it works
Speak – read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound right?
Contrived, formal, awkward dialogue is, I’m afraid, the sign of a writer still learning their craft. Get it right, and your writing will be smooth and professional and your dialogue a pleasure to read.

First Night Design | Jane Austen Gets Drunk

Fabulous post – a rarely seen side of #JaneAusten!

First Night Design

CassandraAusten-JaneAusten(c.1810)_hiresbloh 1810 sketch of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra.

Forget the shy, retiring Jane Austen — we have her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s memoir of his aunt to blame for that idea — here is an extract from a letter she wrote from Steventon to her sister Cassandra on 20th November, 1880, after attending a ball. Austen liked to have fun. No one who can write so amusingly and with such charming detail about life and society in her books could have led a reclusive life devoid of society.

“I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. […] There were very few beauties, and such as there were were not very handsome. Miss Iremonger did not look well, and Mrs. Blount was the only one much admired. She appeared exactly as she did in September, with…

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‘Final Girls’ by Riley Sager #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

final girls

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FIRST THERE WERE THREE

The media calls them the Final Girls – Quincy, Sam, Lisa – the infamous group that no one wants to be part of. The sole survivors of three separate killing sprees, they are linked by their shared trauma.

THEN THERE WERE TWO

But when Lisa dies in mysterious circumstances and Sam shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Quincy must admit that she doesn’t really know anything about the other Final Girls. Can she trust them? Or…

CAN THERE ONLY EVER BE ONE?

All Quincy knows is one thing: she is next.

I’m trying very hard to avoid all these books that have ‘girl’ or ‘girls’ in the title (we’re WOMEN ffs!) but I read this for two reasons. Firstly, it sounded brilliant and secondly, there’s a very good reason that it’s called ‘Final Girls’.

If you love horror movies you’ll know that the ’final girl’ is the last girl left standing once everyone else has been murdered. The term was coined by Carol J Clover in her 1992 book ‘Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film’ and in Sager’s book, Quincy, Sam and Lisa are ‘real’ final girls (in the reality of the book).

The main focus is on Quincy. She is the sole survivor of a horrific massacre carried out on a group of teenagers in a cabin (well, a cottage, anyway) in the woods. She can’t remember everything that happened that night, and she hates being associated with the other Final Girls. And she seems to be coping – she has a home, a successful and loving boyfriend, and she’s developing a food blog. She does take rather a lot of Xanax, and she also keeps in touch with Coop, a policeman involved in the case, but she’s trying to put it all behind her. Then Lisa dies, and Sam turns up. Quincy’s fragile façade starts to fall apart. She finds herself more and more influenced by Sam, and more and more drawn into what has really happened to Lisa, and what really happened that night at Pine Cottage.

There are so many twists and turns here. Just when you think you’ve solved the mystery, that you know what the twist is, you realise you’re wrong. It’s skilfully done and makes this a real page-turner.

The characters are all really well-written and very believable. I didn’t like Quincy all that much –but I didn’t find that a problem. She frustrated me at times, and I was practically screaming at her not to do the things she was about to do – but the fact that she provoked such a strong reaction goes to show how well she was written.

There are some really tense moments, and genuine shocks and surprises. It’s a really intense, gripping and enjoyable read.

Recommended.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy for review.

L’Art Caché II – 2017

Another lovely post from ‘Found in France’.

found-in-france

As one who lives to write, I appreciated this next artist immensely. Isabelle tells stories with bits of rock, pebble and other bits. I was thrilled when she walked me about her mosaics and sharing their tale. It was a visceral experience and you could feel the different tableau’s secrets.

DSCN3692The daughter and the distant mother

Isabelle Delacampagne’s work is not limited to the mosaics you will see here. Yet this story was so compelling and the work so evocative, I prefer to stick with the tale. The story is of the all too short life of the young girl in the red dress, her parents and her journey. The entire set is on the website delacampagne.com. Her email is: isa@delacampagne.com and there is much more there than was even on exhibit. She is absolutely on the list of the artists whose atelier/workshop/gallery I should love to visit and do an exclusive…

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‘Silver Rain’ by @JanRuthAuthor #FridayReads #BookReview

silver rain

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Al is the black sheep of his family, Kate, the good shepherd of hers. Can black and white become silver, or just a dark and dangerous grey?
Alastair Black has revealed a secret to his wife in a last ditch attempt to save his marriage. A return to his childhood family home at Chathill Farm is his only respite, although he is far from welcomed back by brother George.
Kate, recently widowed and increasingly put upon by daughter, sister and mother, feels her life is over at fifty. Until she meets Alastair. He’s everything she isn’t, but he’s a troubled soul, a sad clown of a man with a shady past. When his famous mother leaves an unexpected inheritance, Kate is caught up in the unravelling of his life as Al comes to terms with who he really is.
Is Alastair Black her true soulmate, or should Sleeping Beauty lie?

I’ve read a few of Jan Ruth’s books before and particularly enjoyed the ‘Wild Water’ series. The author has a real talent for painting beautiful settings, and her characters are so appealing because they are ordinary – although certainly not boring! These are proper grown-ups – even if they don’t always behave that way – and make a really refreshing change.

I liked Kate immensely – she’s very well-written and very believable. Her relationship with her mother was particularly well done; that sense of guilt at the sheer exasperation of having to deal with petty little problems, mixed with real love, is something most women of a certain age will relate to. Alastair is great too – one thing that Jan Ruth does particularly well is writing male characters. The men in her books aren’t merely romantic distractions, and they aren’t heroes either. They’re real – flawed, funny, and authentic.

The author knows her setting so well and it is beautifully and effortlessly portrayed here. There’s a real sense of time and place. And the dynamics between characters, the conflicts and misunderstandings draw you right in – these are characters you really care about.

That said, I found it very hard to like Fran; she seemed very selfish and unreasonable. And I felt that there could have been more sympathy for Jo’s situation – I did feel that her opinions and views were rather dismissed and glossed over.

But aside from that, this is a really well-written and enjoyable read.

Recommended.

4 stars

‘Fire Damage’ by Kate Medina #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

fire damage

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To find a killer, she must unlock a child’s terror…

The first in an exciting new crime series featuring psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn – a brilliantly complex character who struggles with a dark past of her own. Perfect for fans of Nicci French and Val McDermid.

A traumatized little boy

Four years old, terrified, disturbed – Sami is a child in need of help. Now it’s up to psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn to find the cause of his suffering and unlock his darkest memories, before it’s too late.

A psychologist with a secret

Meanwhile Jessie is haunted by an awful truth of her own. She works alongside former patient, Captain Ben Callan, to investigate a violent death – but the ghosts of her past refuse to leave her.

A body washed up on the beach

When a burnt corpse is found on the Sussex coast, Jessie begins to uncover a link between her two cases – and a desperate killer will do anything to keep it buried…

Army psychologist Jessie Flynn is asked to treat the traumatised four-year-old son of an army major. His father has been badly burned in a petrol bomb attack in Afghanistan and it seems that he is the terrifying ‘shadowman’ at the heart of Sami’s terror. But the situation is far more complex than that, and Jessie’s investigations lead her to make some intriguing discoveries about Nooria, the boy’s mother.

Jessie is also asked to help a former patient, Captain Ben Callan, with his investigation into the apparent murder of a soldier in Afghanistan. And does a body washed up on a Chichester beach have links with either case?

There were some parts of this book that I found really gripping and thoroughly enjoyed. Jessie is an interesting main character and is certainly three-dimensional. Her history has a huge effect on her everyday life and this adds an extra depth to her character, and her relationship with Callan is also well-written. I didn’t guess the twist at the end either. And Sami is a hugely effective character, and very sensitively written

However, the story took a while to get going and I did find myself skipping through some of it. And there were aspects of the writer’s style that I didn’t like. There were quite a few incomplete sentences. Sometimes these worked, adding drama and tension, but quite often they just seemed awkward and unfinished.

And the ending felt very rushed. Everything was tied up very quickly in almost one scene, which was a little disappointing, particularly as things took a while to get going in the beginning.

3-stars-out-of-5

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy.

L’art caché I – 2017

found-in-france

The lovely village of Albas (population: 77) once again invites us to indulge ourselves in an enchanted exposition of Art. This is the fifth year that I have had this wonderful opportunity and each year I look forward to the coming event.  A number of the artists exhibiting are not local. One that I spoke to came from Brittany. Yet the generous locals make their gardens, barns and other such areas available for the exhibits.  The name of the event, translated, is Hidden Art and it could not be more appropriate. Upon arrival you are given a map of the village and numbers on different sites which correspond with the names of artists at the bottom of the page. However, unless you have been here at least once or twice there is no telling the wonderful surprises that await you. Also there are always different participants. 

DSCN3600Bienvenue!

DSCN3603To the left…

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Writing & Editing Tips Revisited: Using Adjectives and Adverbs #WritingTips #WritingANovel #wwwblogs

 

adject

The use of adverbs and adjectives is an issue for many writers. Many overuse them in the hope of making their writing seem more interesting, more descriptive. And while I’m not at all advocating that you cut all adverbs and adjectives out of your writing, what I have seen over and over again in the work that I edit, is that both are often added for no discernible reason. This is often, it seems to me, because a writer is trying really hard to set a scene, to draw a reader in. They can see the scene, the characters in their head and they want to convey everything that’s there. And they want to show that they can write, that they have a wide vocabulary. But unfortunately, these adverbs and adjectives often add nothing to the scenes in which they appear.

So how do you know what adjectives and adverbs to cut?

Let’s look at adverbs first.

Adverbs modify verbs. If you’re using an adverb to modify a verb, ask yourself why you need to. Is the verb not doing its job? If the verb alone can’t tell your reader how someone or something is doing something, then is it the right one to use?

For example:

John walked quickly down the street.

man walking quickly

You want your reader to know how John walked, so if he’s walking quickly, then say so – right? Well, no.

John hurried down the street.

One word instead of two – tells us exactly how John is moving.

How about:

She totally, completely accepted that her work needed editing.

Neither of those two adverbs is needed. Just say:

She accepted that her work needed editing.

(Actually get rid of ‘that’ too!)

There are also adverbs that are totally redundant – like ‘totally’ in this sentence!

The fire alarm rang loudly.

How else would it ring? It wouldn’t be much use as a fire alarm if it rang quietly.

 

fire alarm

A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.

The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface.

Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:

The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.

(Though, to be honest, that’s still too much).

And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence. ‘Beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc.are broad terms – these words are subjective and mean different things to different people. They add nothing and are best avoided, except in dialogue.

Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. Very careful.

joey

The use of adjectives and adverbs is a contentious issue – I’d love to know your thoughts.