books

‘The Art of Falling’ by Danielle McLaughlin #BookReview #FridayReads

Nessa McCormack’s marriage is coming back together again after her husband’s affair. She is excited to be in charge of a retrospective art exhibit for one of Ireland’s most beloved and enigmatic artists, the late sculptor Robert Locke. But the arrival of two outsiders imperils both her personal and professional worlds: a chance encounter with an old friend threatens to expose a betrayal Nessa thought she had long put behind her, and at work, an odd woman comes forward claiming to be the true creator of Robert Locke’s most famous work, The Chalk Sculpture.

As Nessa finds the past intruding on the present, she must decide whether she can continue to live a lie – or whether she’s ready to face the consequences once everything is out in the open. In this gripping debut, Danielle McLaughlin reveals profound truths about love, power, and the secrets that rule us.

This is quite a slow-paced novel, almost gentle in its composition, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an absorbing read. It really is.

Nessa is a well-drawn main character, and it’s a relief to read about a middle-aged woman who has a lot of the faults and worries and insecurities that most of us do. She’s at a point in her life when things should be going smoothly – her career is established, her marriage has survived an affair, her daughter is growing up, she lives in a beautiful house – but it doesn’t take much for it all too start falling apart.

The little details of ordinary life really add something to the narrative. It makes it all feel so real, so authentic. And Nessa isn’t some sugar-coated super woman. She has her faults, can be childish and petty, selfish and shallow. But aren’t we all, sometimes?

It’s skillfully written, every word well-chosen. It’s one of those books that forces you to slow down, to read carefully, to enjoy every page.

My only gripe was that I did feel that Nessa let her husband off the hook rather too lightly, and I did feel we could have known a bit more about him, and his motivations.

But this is a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

‘Mirrorland’ by Carole Johnstone #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

One twin ran. The other vanished. Neither escaped…

DON’T TRUST ANYONE
Cat’s twin sister El has disappeared. But there’s one thing Cat is sure of: her sister isn’t dead. She would have felt it. She would have known.

DON’T TRUST YOUR MEMORIES
To find her sister, Cat must return to their dark, crumbling childhood home and confront the horrors that wait there. Because it’s all coming back to Cat now: all the things she has buried, all the secrets she’s been running from.

DON’T TRUST THIS STORY…
The closer Cat comes to the truth, the closer to danger she is. Some things are better left in the past…

The most dangerous stories are the ones we tell ourselves…
No. 36 Westeryk Road: an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A place of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?

Now in her thirties, Cat has turned her back on her past. But when she receives news that one sunny morning, El left harbour in her sailboat and never came back, she is forced to return to Westeryk Road; to re-enter a forgotten world of lies, betrayal and danger.

Because El had a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets. And to discover the truth, Cat must first confront the reality of her childhood – a childhood that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as she remembers…

I’m going to use a cliche because it’s true – I couldn’t put this book down. Every page was a pleasure to read.

The narrative takes you from past to present, as Cat returns to her childhood home to try and make sense of her twin sister’s disappearance. But there are so many reasons she left and coming home brings all those things back to the surface. Switching like this can often be clunky and awkward, but here it works so well and the flashbacks, the details of the twins’ strange childhood, are beautifully done, so evocative and detailed.

As the past is slowly revealed, the tension really grows, and the reader is pulled along by the narrative, as almost every page seems to reveal another piece of the puzzle. It’s expertly done, absolutely gripping.

A very impressive debut. Very much looking forward to her next book.

‘Ash Tuesday’ by Ariadne Blayde #RBRT #FridayReads

I read ‘Ash Tuesday’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

In New Orleans, the dead talk and the living listen. 

Giving ghost tours on the decaying streets of the French Quarter isn’t exactly a high-profile career, but the guides at Spirits of Yore Haunted Tours are too strange and troubled to do anything else. They call themselves Quarter Rats, a group of outcasts and dreamers and goths who gather in hole-in-the-wall bars to bicker, spin yarns, and search for belonging in the wee hours of the night after the tourists have staggered home. 

Through the ghost stories they tell, their own haunted lives come into focus. Like the city they call home, these tour guides are messy with contradiction: they suffer joyfully, live morbidly, and sin to find salvation. 

Weaving together real New Orleans folklore with the lives of eleven unforgettably vibrant characters, Ash Tuesday is a love letter to America’s last true bohemia and the people, both dead and living, who keep its heart beating. With her debut, Blayde has carved out a deep and uber-readable interpretation of what it means to live, love, and grieve in New Orleans.

“There’s something about New Orleans. Maybe you can trace it to Latin America or the Caribbean or maybe not, maybe you can’t define it at all. The divine? The diabolical? I don’t know what to call it. But there’s magic, here.” 

New Orleans has a rich and bloody history, so it’s hardly surprising that its streets and buildings should be full of ghosts. And the author of ‘Ash Tuesday’ has found a wonderful way of telling those stories, along with the stories of an eclectic cast of characters, the ghost tour guides of Spirits of Yore.

It is Mardi Gras, and the city is full of tourists. We follow each of the guides as they give their tours, and then stay with them, learning about their lives, their struggles, their hopes, loves, dreams and pasts. And watching over it all is Kat, whose story is saved for the bittersweet ending.

This is one of the most beautifully crafted books I’ve read, every page, every paragraph a pleasure to read. I didn’t know much about New Orleans, but now I feel as though I know it well, and can see it so clearly from the author’s evocative descriptions – descriptions that never interfere with the narrative but provide a clear sense of time and place, conveying the atmosphere of chilly, eerie nights and bright carnival parades with equal skill.

The characters are brought to life with love and honesty. I adored Veda, and lovely Max, and wished so much for the other guides to understand Angela a bit more. The interactions between them all felt so real.

This is a book that will appeal not just to those who enjoy a good ghost story (although there are plenty of those), or those who are interested in history or in New Orleans. Because this is a novel that is fundamentally about people, their faults and their flaws, their mistakes and their victories, their love (and sometimes their hatred) for each other, and the ways in which we can let the past, and the people in the past, break us, or we can find our own ways forward, with people who love us for who we are.

A wonderful book.

‘Dark Corners’ by Darren O’Sullivan #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

You thought you’d escaped your past

It’s been twenty years since Neve’s best friend Chloe went missing. Neve has never recovered and promised herself she’d never go back to that place.

But secrets can come back to haunt you

When Neve receives news that her first boyfriend Jamie has gone missing, she’s forced to return. Jamie has vanished without a trace in a disappearance that echoes the events of all those years ago. Somebody is watching and will stop at nothing until the truth about what took place that night is revealed …

Neve left the mining village where she grew up after her best friend Chloe disappeared. Now, after the breakup of her relationship, and struggling to run a business with her friend, she returns to help in the search for another friend, and her first love, Jamie.

The story switches between the present day, and the events of twenty-one years ago. This is done very well, and there is no confusion. The plot is quite complex and there are lots of twists and turns to keep mystery fans happy, and the atmosphere is quite spooky. The writing is very good in places, particularly in the evocative descriptions of the abandoned mine, the headframe watching over everything.

But I did find it hard to really connect to the characters, which made it difficult to really feel the tension. and there were quite a few errors in the text, including a lot of unintentional switches from past to present tense in the earlier chapters.

I also found the ending a bit of a disappointment.

So, not for me, unfortunately, but the book does have a lot of really great reviews, so the author is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the mystery genre.

‘A Room Made of Leaves’ by Kate Grenville #TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview

It is 1788. When twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth marries the arrogant and hot-headed soldier John Macarthur, she soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Forced to travel with him to New South Wales, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours. All her life she has learned to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express.

Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.

There’s no question that this is a beautifully written novel from a very talented author. Some of the description is absolutely wonderful and there’s such a clear sense of time and place.

The opening chapters, describing Elizabeth’s childhood, worked the best for me, and the Elizabeth in these chapters felt very real and fully drawn.

Once the narrative moves to Australia, the novel didn’t work quite so well for me. I did feel that Elizabeth was a little too good to be true and that the portrayal of her husband was a bit superficial. I would have liked a bit more detail about the dynamics of their relationship, and also some more detail about the daily hardships of life in the new settlement. This aspect, in particular, was very glossed over. It must have been absolutely brutal, but it doesn’t really feel that way.

I think too, that, while there certainly is acknowledgement of the cruelty to the indigenous people of the area, this could have been more fully detailed. And is it really believable that Elizabeth would have been so enlightened, that she would have recognized that the immigrants from England were stealing land and food and lives from others?

That said, the book did leave me wanting to know more about the real Elizabth Macarthur, and it was, on the whole, a book that I’m glad to have read.

‘Here Is the Beehive’ by Sarah Crossan #bookreview #fridayreads

For three years, Ana has been consumed by an affair with Connor, a client at her law firm. Their love has been consigned to hotel rooms and dark corners of pubs, their relationship kept hidden from the world. So the morning that Ana’s company receives a call to say that Connor is dead, her secret grief has nowhere to go. Desperate for an outlet, Ana seeks out the shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach – Connor’s wife Rebecca…

This story begins at the end of an affair – brought short by the sudden death of Connor. It follows Ana’s memories of the affair alongside the way she copes (or doesn’t) with the situation.

The story is told in verse form, which makes every word, every line, every scene compacted into what is really important. Rather than making things feel underdeveloped, the author’s skill means that you learn so much about each character, each situation, in a few well-chosen words and situations.

Ana isn’t very nice. She’s selfish, and self-absorbed. But she’s also deeply unhappy, and the narrative doesn’t try to excuse her, or her behaviour, it simply shows us what she is like, what she does, and how that affects those around her.

The narrative is packed full of emotion – love, hate, jealousy, guilt, but it never feels overdone, just realistic, considering the characters and the situation.

It’s a fairly short read, but no less a whole story – I read it in a couple of days which is unusual for me at the moment as I have so much else to do! So that’s a testament to how much I enjoyed it.

‘The Bird in the Bamboo Cage’ by Hazel Gaynor #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

China, 1941. With Japan’s declaration of war on the Allies, Elspeth Kent’s future changes forever. When soldiers take control of the missionary school where she teaches, comfortable security is replaced by rationing, uncertainty and fear.

Ten-year-old Nancy Plummer has always felt safe at Chefoo School. Now the enemy, separated indefinitely from anxious parents, the children must turn to their teachers – to Miss Kent and her new Girl Guide patrol especially – for help. But worse is to come when the pupils and teachers are sent to a distant internment camp. Unimaginable hardship, impossible choices and danger lie ahead.

Inspired by true events, this is the unforgettable story of the life-changing bonds formed between a young girl and her teacher, in a remote corner of a terrible war.

I’ve read quite a few of Hazel Gaynor’s books and have loved every one of them. She has a really lovely way of writing about ordinary people in extraordinary situations, showing how those people find such strength of character in order to cope. The relationships between her characters are always a highlight too.

This novel is no exception. Elspeth and Nancy are authentic and likeable narrators, showing clearly their fear and bewilderment as their lives change so dramatically. What works particularly well is their belief that this can’t possibly be happening, that someone will come and hp them. It really made me, as a reader, think about what how I would react in those circumstances.

I did find, however, the storyline around the Girl Guides a little overdone. I can appreciate that it was something to hold onto, for the girls and their teachers, and something they used to give life in the camp a sense of normality, but it did take over the narrative in places.

Otherwise, another great novel by Hazel Gaynor, and definitely recommended.

‘Space Hopper’ by Helen Fisher #BookReview

If you could go back in time to find answers to the past, would you?
 
For Faye, the answer is yes. There is nothing she wouldn’t do to find out what really happened when she lost her mother as a child. She is happy with her life – she has a loving husband, two young daughters and supportive friends, even a job that she enjoys. But questions about the past keep haunting her, until one day she finally gets the chance she’s been waiting for.
 
But how far is she willing to go to find answers?
 
Space Hopper is an original and poignant story about mothers, memories and moments that shape life.

When she is just eight years old, Faye loses her mother. Taken in by kind neighbours, she forges a happy life, albeit one that has a sadness at its heart.

She has a good job, a lovely, supportive husband, two daughters, lots of friends, but nothing quite fills that hole.

When she finds an old space hopper box in the loft, it paves the way for her to return to her past, and to be with her mum, but as is usually the case with time travel, interfering with the past isn’t always a wise thing to do, and the consequences can be much more far reaching than you expect.

I did enjoy this. For a debut novel it’s very well-written, confident, well-paced, and absorbing in places, and the details of Faye’s past were so well done, really authentic.

That said, there were a few places where things dragged a little, and some of the time travel aspects didn’t really work for me. And I’m not sure I completely believed in the ending.

But certainly a good read, and I’d definitely read more by this author.

AUTHORS – WHY YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE BAD REVIEWS #WWWBLOGS #BOOKREVIEWS

one-star-frown

I’ve written about this subject before, and received many different responses and opinions. I thought I’d address the issue again, as I still often see authors on social media asking others how they should handle a negative review. The most common response is ‘Ignore it’. That always makes me shudder. if you’re publishing, if you’re putting your writing out there, then negative reviews are something you’re going to have to deal with, and ignoring them is not the right advice.

Writing is hard. You invest huge amounts of time and effort into your writing. It can be a pain. And it’s terrifying having your work out there, where it can be picked apart. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone could bear all that in mind when they write a review of your book?

But why should they? No one has forced you to put your book on Amazon. And your reader, who has spent their money and invested their time in reading your book, is entitled to their opinion. You chose to sell your book. They bought it in good faith.

Now, I’m not talking about the reviews that are silly and thoughtless and are to do with delivery times and downloading issues etc. These are ridiculous, and can, for the most part, be ignored as can the sort of reviews that complain about the amount of sex or swearing in a book, something that’s down to personal taste. I’m talking about reviews that point out a fault with your book. And if lots of readers are telling you that your books are full of errors, or are too wordy, or are boring, or that they had to skip great big sections, then you need to take note. The problem is, lots of writers lump all these types of reviews together. Worse, they accuse these readers of being trolls.

Not this kind of troll!

And this is a problem with a lot of authors and it’s one that does other indie writers no favours. There is a tendency among authors to be very precious about their work. They think because they’ve worked hard and because they’ve sweated over a book then that means it should be above criticism. They seem to think that because they’ve poured their hearts and souls into something then no one must be mean. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s rubbish.

It’s not OK to put something that’s poorly written or badly edited out there, expect people to pay for it, spend their precious time reading it, and then not expect to be taken to task if it’s not up to scratch. If you went to a restaurant and bought a meal and it was crap would you think, oh well, but the chef spent time on it, I should be nice? No, you wouldn’t. You’d complain. You’d be entitled to. And if you’ve put a book out there, then the reader is also entitled to complain if it isn’t up to scratch.

I know of book reviewers who have dared to criticise books and who have been met with insults and worse. That’s just not on.

Indie authors say they want to be treated with respect. They say they want to be recognised. But then some expect special treatment. The world doesn’t work like that.

So look at those one star reviews. It’s painful, I know. But there might be something in there that really helps your writing.

Be brave. We only learn through our mistakes after all, and if you never face those mistakes and correct them, then you’ll never grow as an author.

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‘Daughters of Night’ by Laura Shepherd-Robinson  #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

From the pleasure palaces and gin-shops of Covent Garden to the elegant townhouses of Mayfair, Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Daughters of Night follows Caroline Corsham as she seeks justice for a murdered woman whom London society would rather forget . . .

London, 1782. Desperate for her politician husband to return home from France, Caroline ‘Caro’ Corsham is already in a state of anxiety when she finds a well-dressed woman mortally wounded in the bowers of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Bow Street constables are swift to act, until they discover that the deceased woman was a highly paid prostitute, at which point they cease to care entirely. But Caro has motives of her own for wanting to see justice done, and so sets out to solve the crime herself. Enlisting the help of thieftaker Peregrine Child, their inquiry delves into the hidden corners of Georgian society, a world of artifice, deception and secret lives.  

But with many gentlemen refusing to speak about their dealings with the dead woman, and Caro’s own reputation under threat, finding the killer will be harder, and more treacherous, than she can know . . .

This combines all the twists and turns of a really clever murder mystery with meticulous research, and a fabulously written main character – mystery, history and a female lead that you really care about.

Lady Caroline Corsham (Caro) discovers her friend, who she believes to be an Italian countess, dying in a bower in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Caro is shocked to discover that ‘Lucia’ is actually Lucy Loveless, a high-class prostitute. When the police don’t seem to care about Lucy’s murder, Caro, determined to get to the truth and to secure justice for Lucy, begins an investigation herself. Along with theiftaker Peregrine Child, she begins an investigation that brings to light some very dangerous goings-on in Georgian society – some of which are rather close to home.

This is a very long book – almost six hundred pages in paperback format. It does manage to hold your interest for the most part – but I did feel it could have been cut back a little. There were times when I just wanted to get on with the story. That said, the historical detail has been meticulously researched and the narrative is full to the brim with little details that immerse the reader in late eighteenth century London. 

Clever, exciting, beautifully written, just a little bit too long – but that won’t stop me reading more by this author.