Friday, 8 May 2015

Taking a blog break

Hi everyone, I won't be blogging for a while because I'm currently dealing with a health issue. Please enjoy my back catalogue of posts in the meantime.


Friday, 1 May 2015

Review of Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly

Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly re-imagines the life of the poet Ameilia Lanyer (1569-1645) who was rumoured to be the Dark Lady of Shakepeare's sonnets, she was also the first Englishwoman to be published and recognised as a professional poet.

Aemilia was the mistress of Henry Carey (first cousin of Elizabeth I of England). When Shakespeare meets Aemilia he knows he's met his match, as her challenging verbal dexterity lights up his wit. Their passion burns within these pages, as does Aemilia's frustration as she struggles to be accepted as a professional writer among his peers.

When such a passion becomes disillusioned it turns into rage. I found myself fuming with Shakespeare, which wasn't a feeling I thought I'd ever have about a writer whose skill as a wordsmith is something I admire, but his behaviour towards Aemilia in this novel is not remotely admirable as he succumbs to the green eyed monster known as jealousy. 

Henry believes Aemilia is pregnant with his child and arranges the marriage between Aemilia and her first cousin, court musician Alfonso Lanie. O'Reilly has imagined what lay behind that miserable marriage and what life may have been like for Aemilia as she fought to survive with her young son in a world that was consumed by disappointment, death, disease, fear, loss, love and hope. 

Shakespeare lets Aemilia down in the worst way yet she finds a way to rise above her fate in order to protect the life of her child, Henry. She's been a mistress to a man ruled by the court of Elizabeth, a mistress of a married man whose gift with words does not match his actions and she's been a wife of a neglectful man. All of whom leave her craving independence from ever having to rely on a man again. The last straw for Aemilia is when she feels her son is threatened by three women who come to collect on her father's bad debts after his death. 

The Elizabethan age was a time of magic and witchcraft. Afraid for her son and unable to ask for help due to having been let down before, Aemilia casts a spell to draw a demon to aid her and Lilith appears, Adam's equally furious first wife from the Bible (according to Jewish folklore). Lilith manipulates Aemilia, drawing on her fury as a frustrated woman and frightened mother to persuade her to write a play and what emerges is 'The Tragedie of Lady Macbeth'.

Aemilia knows the work is strong enough to launch her writing career but Shakespeare soon puts a stop to that as he rewrites it as 'The Tragedie of Macbeth' to critical acclaim. Blinded by anger and almost out of her mind at the injustice Aemilia seeks revenge, but is at risk of losing everything that matters to her.

I absolutely adored Dark Aemilia, this is an incredibly atmospheric novel of star-crossed lovers in the Elizabethan age. O'Reilly's writing ignites every scene: evoking sights, sounds and smells, you may find yourself reaching for a tissue to cover your mouth and nose as she takes you through the grim horrors of the plague. The novel stirs up a cauldron of emotions, casting a spell over the reader until you're completely absorbed by Aemilia's determination to survive, to exceed the expectations of others and society's limits. Dark Aemilia a is a unique, imaginative, well-researched, absorbing and unforgettable reading experience.

Just released in paperback and published by Myriad Editions.
I bought a hardback copy from Waterstones when the novel was published last year.
Follow the author on twitter: @sallyoreilly.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Win a signed copy of The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

This competition is now closed. 

Today I'm pleased to be giving away a signed copy of The Crooked House by Christobel Kent as part of the official blog tour. 

The Crooked House is infused with a sense of menace that creeps along the pathways of the past to the present and is an excellent novel of psychological suspense that's well worth winning. 

Below is an extract from the novel:

Thirteen Years Ago
When it starts again she is face down on her bed with her hands over her ears and she feels it more than hears it. A vibration through the mattress, through the flowered duvet, through the damp pillow she’s buried her face in. It comes up from below, through the house’s lower three storeys. BOOM. She feels it in her throat.
Wait, listen: one, two, three. BOOM.
Is this how it begins?
Leaning on the shelf over the desk, wooden letters spelling her name jitter against the wall. They were a present on her seventh birthday, jigsawn by Dad, E.S.M.E. The family’d just moved in, unloading their stuff outside this house they called the crooked house, she and Joe, as the sun went down over the dark marsh inland. Creek House to Crooked House, after the tilt to its roofline, its foundations unsteady in the mud, out on its own in the dusk. Mum was gigantic with the twins, a Zeppelin staggering inside with bags in each hand. We need more space now, is how they told her and Joe they were moving. It was seven years ago, seven plus seven. Now she’s fourteen, nearly. Fourteen next week.
Ah, go on, Gina had said. Just down it. Then, changing tack, You can give it me back, then.
Esme’s been back an hour. She isn’t even sure Joe saw her pass the sitting-room door, jammed back on the sofa and frowning under his headphones: since he hit sixteen he’s stopped looking anyone in the eye. The girls, a two-headed caterpillar in an old sleeping bag on the floor, wriggled back from in front of the TV, twisting to see her. Letty’s lolling head, the pirate gap between Mads’s front teeth as she grins up at her, knowing. She mouths something. Boyfriend. Esme turns her face away and stomps past.
Mum opening the kitchen door a crack, leaning back from the counter to see who it is. Frowning like she can’t place her, she gets like that a lot these days. What are you doing back? Esme doesn’t answer: she is taking the stairs three at a time, raging.
Outside the dark presses on the window, the squat power station stands on the horizon, the church out on the spit that looks no bigger than a shed from here, the village lights distant. Make all the noise you like out here, Dad’s always saying, no one can hear.
Hands over your ears and never tell.
On the bed she lies very still, willing it to go, to leave the house. Whatever it is.
Her hands were already over her ears, before it started. Why? The boom expands in her head and she can’t even remember now. All she knows is, she was standing at the window, now she’s on the bed.
She grapples with detail. She heard a car. There were voices below in the yard and, after, noises downstairs. Something scraping across the floor, a low voice muttering and she didn’t want to deal with it, with his questions; she flung herself down on the bed and the tears began to leak into the pillow. She would have put on her music but she didn’t want him to know she was back.
Now. A sound, a human sound, just barely: a wounded shout, a gasp, trying to climb to a scream that just stops, vanishes. And in the silence after it she hears breathing, heavy and ragged; up through three storeys and a closed door, it is as if the house is breathing. And Esme is off the bed, scrabbling for a place to hide.
On the marsh behind the house there are the remains of an old hut with a little rotted jetty. The tide is beginning to come up, gurgling in its channels, trickling across the mud that stretches inland, flooding the clumps of samphire and marsh grass and the buried timbers. Behind her the house stands crooked in the wind freshening off the estuary.
The lights of the police cars come slowly, bumping down the long track, an ambulance, the cab lit. It is three in the morning but the inky dark is already leaching to grey behind the church on the spit. One of the coldest June nights on record, and it takes them a while to find her. She doesn’t make a sound.
If you found this chapter as intriguing as I did and would like to read the rest of the novel, here's the link to buy it.

Finally, just in case you need a little bit more convincing that this novel is not to be missed, here's my review.

Check out the other bloggers on the tour for more giveaways and to find out more about The Crooked House by Christobel Kent. Published by Sphere.

The competition is open readers in the UK and Ireland only and closes at midnight (UK) 28 April 2015. Good luck everyone!

We had nine competition entries:
Tracy Shephard
Lovely Treez
Essex Reader
Linda Hill
Jo Hutchinson
Ann Bradley

And the winner is Lenziegal! Congratulations, I hope you enjoy reading it.

Thank you to everyone who entered the competition and to everyone who shared or read this post, you've all helped to raise awareness of the thrilling read that is The Crooked House by Christobel Kent.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Review of Disclaimer by Renée Knight

Catherine has been sent a novel with the disclaimer ‘any resemblance to real persons living or dead’ crossed out in red, but as she reads the book she recognises herself and is terrified by the thought of an event that happened 20 years ago coming back to haunt her.

The chapters featuring Catherine’s torment and determination to keep her past a secret are alternated with those of a retired teacher, a lonely widower whose voice seethes with resentment and a desire for revenge.

Everything in Catherine’s world appears to be perfect: she’s an award winning documentary maker, she has a great husband and they’ve just moved into a new home together. They also have a son who has a job in a shop and who has recently left home for the first time to live independently. 

But all is not as it appears. There are undercurrents of tension within the marriage and Catherine’s has a rocky relationship with her son. These are brought to the fore as she tries to discover who wrote the novel and why they are so determined to wreck her carefully constructed life. 

However, the resentful widower is determined that the truth should come out, as he has lost so much while Catherine appears to have everything.

Both characters exhibit dislikable characteristics but for very different reasons, as Knight twists the plot around the perception of the term ‘disclaimer’ in relation to human behaviour. 

A disclaimer is a statement that denies something, especially responsibility, and that’s why this novel is so brilliant. Everyone in it makes a disclaimer: some because they have taken a situation at face value, some because of a need to protect and others because they don’t want to face the truth, because to face the truth would mean they would have to take responsibility for their actions.

Disclaimer is one of those novels that will make you think for days after you’ve turned the last page. This gripping and well conceived novel put me through an emotional wringer. I was in tears by end as every character finally understood what they were and weren’t responsible for, and what it had cost them.

Disclaimer is published by Transworld. With thanks to NetGalley and Transworld for the review copy.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Review of Rise by Karen Campbell

Justine is on the run from her psychotic partner in Glasgow and is drawn to Kilmaccara in the Scottish Highlands when she sees the ancient stones in the landscape and experiences a strong sense of recognition, a sense of something ancient and eternal that has been missing from her life.

The local priest turned councillor, Michael, is also haunted by something he can’t explain. He’s also moved to Kilmaccara with his wife, Hannah, and their two children for a fresh start. 

A series of events leads to Justine working for the couple and looking after their younger son while the elder is in hospital. Tensions rise in the household as Michael confides in Justine while Hannah senses she can’t be fully trusted. Meanwhile Justine is contending with the weight of the lies she has had to tell in order to stay safe.

The colloquial language roots the novel in Scotland, Justine has a dry, sarcastic, quick fire wit that she shares with new friends but tends to suppress around Hannah. A flawed and troubled character, Justine is likely to snap when pushed and it’s due to this tendency that she ends up putting the people she most cares about in danger.

Michael’s mental health struggles are depicted with sensitivity and care. He is a haunted man for many reasons. He’s trying to come to terms with a crisis of faith while being troubled by visions of a Ghost and fighting against plans to build a wind farm in the area. 

Hannah is also fighting her own demons as she tries to come to terms with the guilt of an an affair with another man. She has become increasingly distant towards Michael just when he needs her most to be there for him. 

All this tension is set against the Scottish referendum. The novel asks what does the past say about the true nature of character? Can change really be for the better? How much is assumed and how much is known? Are prejudices so deep rooted that truth of a situation cannot be tolerated and accommodated? Is it possible to rise up and be accepted for who you really are? What are you prepared to sacrifice in return for sanctuary?

Through Justine we learn to appreciate the contrasts between the Scottish landscape and its people, and that its history is deeply rooted and always will be regardless of how many wind farms are built, or referendums fought. There is freedom to be found in fighting for a just cause and in discovering alternative ways to work together for a better future, as Justine discovers when she opens up to others, finds acceptance and lets go of the things she cannot change as she pins herself to the landscape of Kilmacarra.

With thanks to Bloomsbury Circus for the review copy.
Follow the author on twitter: @writercampbell

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review of Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Well, this novel lives up to the hype of being a read-in-one-sitting-page-tuner! I was hooked and horrified from the first line as I was introduced to Oliver who had just finished brutally beating his wife, Alice. 

'I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.'

Oliver takes detachment to a whole new level. He is a calculating, cold, withdrawn, predatory and manipulative character who seems incapable of appreciating the trail of emotional destruction he leaves in his wake.

The novel begins with Oliver's downfall from beings a successful children's writer to a wife beater. In order to unravel Oliver’s complex character the reader is introduced to the lives he’s touched over the years: chapter by chapter each person reveals their shock at his brutal behaviour towards his wife and their impressions of him.

The tone of each voice is unique and distinctive as they talk directly to you, it’s as though they are confiding in you alone, enabling you get a strong sense of each person’s character and motives. Through these shared confidences, which are interspersed with Oliver's interpretation of events, the reader begins to put the jigsaw puzzle of Oliver’s life together and unravel the horrifying and devastating secrets he has locked away from prying eyes.

Oliver is a victim of child neglect that goes unchecked and unchallenged. He enters adulthood with no real understanding of human relationships and a strong sense of shame, with a feeling of never being good enough. Oliver's cold detachment is a form of self-protection that ultimately fails him, as his unspoken desires and fears overwhelm him. Oliver is not the only character to suffer from a perceived prejudice, through their contact with him other characters have to face their own truths and some face unfathomable situations from which they never recover.

Unravelling Oliver is a cleverly constructed novel of psychological suspense: a fast-paced, dark and disturbing yet compulsive read with a thought-provoking conclusion. I’m not remotely surprised that Unravelling Oliver won the 2014 IBA Crime novel of the Year Award.  

With thanks to Catherine Ryan Howard at Penguin for the review copy.

Follow the author on twitter: @lizzienugent and check out the author’s website.

A special delivery

This morning I was disturbed by the sound of something struggling to get through my letter box and decided to go and take a look. A Postman was bent double on the other side of the door, caught up in a tug of war in an effort to deliver my mail. The poor chap had underestimated the thickness of a parcel and it was jammed halfway through the letter box, unable to move forwards or backwards.  

Upon seeing me through the glass my Postman took a quick breather. He then put one foot on my doorstep, wrapped both hands around the parcel, braced himself and started to twist the parcel from side to side, in the faint hope that it would slide back out. He stopped at the sound of tearing, his eyes growing wide with horror at the thought of damaging my delivery. So there I am calling through the front door that it's all okay and trying to push the parcel out towards him from my side. By this point my Postman was sweating and I found myself wondering how many times he's had to put himself through this torture before. 

Finally he falls back, the packaging rips and my Postman is left holding part of the wrapping aloft in one hand and the bit containing a book in the other while looking slightly dazed. Meanwhile I opened the door.

'I'm sorry about the packaging but I think it's okay,' he says. 

I have to admit I was more worried about the flushed state of him than the torn parcel. 

'It's alright, don't worry about it. The packaging's just thicker than you thought.'

As I thank my Postman, he points to where the packaging slopes narrower along one side, too tired from the hard won battle to say that this was why he thought it would go through the letter box. Seeing that I can empathise with his dilemma, my Postman hands me the parcel, puts the broken packaging in the bin, wipes his brow with his sleeve, grins and says: 'I'll not be trying to do that again.' Then readjusts himself and carries on with his round. 

I watch him for a few seconds, just to make sure he's okay while quietly admiring his remarkable recovery, then close the door and go into the lounge to unwrap the rest of my parcel. Behold the completely undamaged beauty that my marvellous Postman fought so hard to deliver this morning!

My fingers tingled as I slid this novel out of the packaging, it feels like a work of art, I suspect I'm in for a great read.

I'd like to say thank you to Bloomsbury's Madeleine Feeny for sending me The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild for review and a big thank you to my determined Postman, and all the Postmen and Postwomen who deliver parcels for book bloggers every day of the week. I have a new appreciation of just how hard that can be at times!