Book review: April and May by Beth Elliott

31687444April and May by Beth Elliott
Publication date:
 25 August 2016
Genre:   Historical, Romance
Length:  200 pages
Published by:  Endeavour Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 4 out of 5


Description:

Love knows no limits…

When they met in London in 1799, Rose Charteris and Tom Hawkesleigh fell instantly in love.

But disapproving families and misunderstandings came between them, and the romance was over as quickly as it started.

Five years later, Tom is working for the Turkish ambassador in Constantinople and he runs into Rose once again when they cross paths in the ambassador’s quarters.

Now a widow, and a fiercely independent woman, circumstances mean that Rose has no choice but to work with Tom on a top secret and dangerous document for the Sultan.

Work in Constantinople becomes increasingly perilous, with spies from all sides desperate to find out what is planned.

Even back in London, danger is not far away.

Rose also has the burden of finding her place in high Georgian society, as well as trying to decide between the increasing charms of both Tom and ambassador Kerim Pasha.

Will Rose be able to evade the increasing threat to her well-being that her work has led to?

And will she succumb to her desires and give Tom back her heart?

Spanning the magical lands of Constantinople and the traditional streets of London, April and May is a heart-warming tale of a love that knows no boundaries.

My Thoughts:

I downloaded a kindle edition of this book using my KindleUnlimited subscription.

I don’t normally read romance novels, but when the Endeavour Press newsletter landed in my inbox, and I saw the cover art, I immediately clicked the link to the Kindle store.  Yup, I was totally suckered in by the book cover, despite a lifetime of the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” being seared into my brain.

I’m so glad I did.  Whilst this is a romance novel, it’s also a political thriller, albeit told from the point of view of someone whose only connection to political circles is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Crucially, for me, the romance aspects of the plot are in no way overly sentimental, and entirely relatable.

The point of view switches between the two main characters, Rose and Tom, which lets the reader in on the misapprehensions of each of them.  How easy it is to assume the worst when you only hold half the story.

Events unfold at a page-turning pace, and I couldn’t wait for the next moment I could pick up my Kindle to read more.  After finishing the book, I was left with end-of-book-blues.  Happily, Endeavour Press has more titles in their Regency Romance series, and Beth Elliot also has other Regency era romance titles.  I think they will become my new choice for holiday reads.

April and May is an effortless and engaging read that would make a great holiday, weekend or commute/lunch-break read.

 

 

Book Review: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

386282Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Publication date:
  01 May 1990
Genre:   Sci Fi & Fantasy
Length:   416 pages
Published by:  Corgi, Transworld, Penguin Random House
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 5 out of 5

Publisher’s Summary:

“Armageddon only happens once, you know. They don’t let you go around again until you get it right.”

According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – the world’s only totally reliableguide to the future, written in 1655, before she exploded – the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea…

People have been predicting the end of the world almost from its very beginning, so it’s only natural to be sceptical when a new date is set for Judgement Day. This time though, the armies of Good and Evil really do appear to be massing. The four Bikers of the Apocalypse are hitting the road. But both the angels and demons – well, one fast-living demon and a somewhat fussy angel – would quite like the Rapture not to happen.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist…

My Thoughts:

This is book is a battered and well-loved paperback that I bought years ago.  I think it might be the fifth copy I have purchased.

 

The last time I bought a copy of this book was around five years ago.  I was about to start work on a theatre production with a renowned and highly respected sound designer.  I was very nervous about meeting him.  The first thing he said to me was “there aren’t many cues in this show, I hope you’ve got a good book.”  I pulled Good Omens out of my bag, and said “I’m all set.”  He grinned and we instantly bonded over our mutual love of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman books.

 

It’s just that kind of book; the kind where, if you meet someone who hasn’t read it, you’ll be compelled to lend it to them (that’ll be the last you see of it – they’ll keep it forever), and if they have read it you’ll instantly be friends for life.

 

As you’d expect from such a writing partnership, it combines Terry Pratchett’s ironic, witty, satirical and clever observations of the absurdity of humanity with Neil Gaiman’s special way of twisting the ordinary into the extraordinary, and putting words of profound wisdom into the mouths of babes.  It’s impossible to identify which bits of the book is written by whom; the writing is a seamless blend of the two, and it works perfectly.

 

It starts with a stormy night and a plan to switch babies at a maternity ward.  The forces of Good and Evil are meddling with human affairs, and it’s not clear what they hope to achieve or even whose side they are on.

 

Crowley and Aziraphale have their orders, but neither are sure if their bosses really know what they are doing.  After four thousand years of being colleagues (sort of) they are more inclined to trust each other’s judgement.

 

Anathema Device lives her life by a book of Nice and Accurate Prophecies.  You can’t blame her; it is frighteningly on point.

 

And then there’s Adam and the Them.  In some ways they remind me of the kind of kids that you’d find in a Blyton story, but there’s something more real about them than that.  In amongst the idyllic childhood is a mischievousness, and some canny views on the way the world should be.

 

Add in the four horseman (horsepeople?) of the apocalypse, and events quickly descend into delightful chaos.

 

There are so many moments in this book that I love, that make me smile, laugh out-loud, or murmur in agreement at a well-observed absurdity, that to list them would be to give away too much.

 

If you haven’t already read this book, what are you waiting for? Get a copy, and get reading.  If you haven’t read it for a while, read it again.  It’s an old friend worth catching up with time and time again.  Either way, read and enjoy.  And then tell me your favourite bit(s).

 

Book review: The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

cover94051-mediumThe Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles
Publication date:
 09 February 2017
Genre:  Sci Fi & Fantasy, Teens & YA
Length:  368 pages
Published by:  Bloomsbury Childrens, Bloomsbury Publishing
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:

Every day, Zoe struggles to keep going. The cruel winter took her father’s life and left her angry and brokenhearted. As she carries her little brother through a snowstorm that could kill him in minutes, her only thought is finding shelter. The cabin beyond the woods is far from the place of safety she hoped it would be, but it is there that she meets a man whose muscular body marked with strange and primitive tattoos hints at an extraordinary story. He has the power to light up the lake, and with it, Zoe’s world.

Zoe calls the stranger X. He is a bounty hunter, tormented by the evils of his victims that course through his veins. X has never felt anything but hate, until he meets Zoe. She shows him what his heart is really for, and if they can find a way to be together, just maybe his pain can help Zoe forget her own.

This high-stakes, heart-pounding romance will leave readers breathless for this break-out new series and its sequel.

My Thoughts:

I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for providing me with this copy.

This is one of those YA books that I think will prove a hit beyond its target demographic.  It is told from the point of view of teenager Zoe, and like her, it is compelling and feisty.

All heroes/heroines should have admirable qualities (according to Aristotle), and Zoe meets this requirement whilst still being a normal teenager.  She argues with her mum, doesn’t do as she’s told, spends a huge amount of time Snapchatting and messaging her friends, and only has passing respect for authority, but she also carries the trials in her life bravely, looks after her little brother, explores caves, and has a fierce idea of fairness and loyalty.

I loved X, and his story.  To say much would be to give away a great deal, but through his story good and evil fight against each other, and the question of how bad a person must be to deserve the harshest of punishments comes up in different guises.

The romance between Zoe and X is wrapped up in a plot worthy of a thriller.  I enjoyed every second.  The plot is twisty, and had lots of nice, unexpected turns.  It would make a great read on a rainy day; you’ll feel like you’ve run to Hell and back again, exhilarated and slightly out of breath, without having to leave your armchair.

Book review: After the Blue Hour by John Rechy

cover96224-mediumAfter the Blue Hour by John Rechy
Publication date:
 07 February 2017
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)
Length:  224 pages
Published by:  Grove Atlantic, Grove Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:

John Rechy’s first novel, City of Night, an international bestseller, is considered a modern classic. Subsequent work asserts his place among America’s most important writers. The author’s most daring work, After the Blue Hour is narrated by a twenty-four-year-old writer named John Rechy. Fleeing a turbulent life in Los Angeles, he accepts an invitation to a private island from an admirer of his work. There, he joins Paul, his imposing host in his late thirties, his beautiful mistress, and his precocious teenage son. Browsing Paul’s library and conversing together on the deck about literature and film during the spell of evening’s “blue hour,” John feels surcease, until, with unabashed candor, Paul shares intimate details of his life. Through cunning seductive charm, he married and divorced an ambassador’s daughter and the heiress to a vast fortune. Avoiding identifying his son’s mother, he reveals an affinity for erotic “dangerous games.” With intimations of past decadence and menace, an abandoned island nearby arouses tense fascination over the group. As “games” veer toward violence, secrets surface in startling twists and turns. Explosive confrontation becomes inevitable.

My Thoughts:

I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with this copy.

I had not read John Rechy before reading this book, and so had no preconceptions of style or story.  The book is written from the point of view of John Rechy, presented as a character, rather than literally the author himself.  However, the opening of the book is written as an author embarking on a holiday, after receiving correspondence from his publisher (Grove Atlantic) and so, even before the story had begun, I was questioning how autobiographical this book would turn out to be.  This question did not get answered through the course of the book, rather the book hints one way, and then the other, leaving you constantly in doubt about how much is autobiographical truth, and how much is imaginative fiction.  I still have no idea if the real John Rechy was invited to a private island by an admirer of his work (although instinctually, for reasons I can’t articulate, I’m inclined to think he was), and if the candid conversation and risky games really took place.  It is hard to draw the line to between ‘actually happened’ and fictional extreme.  This feels entirely intentional, and certainly adds to the intrigue of this book.

This is not a book for the weak-stomached.  At all times is graphic, frank, candid.  It does not seek your approval or judgement, it just is.

The relationships between the various characters on the island is where the action is in this story.  Asking what is truth and what is exaggeration is constant as John Rechy tries to figure out the personalities of his hosts.  Everything seems to be a game, but at the same time is so detailed and convincingly executed that you question if it isn’t something more serious or sinister.  This particularly true of Paul.  It is never quite clear what his motive is for inviting John to the island in the first place, or for then relaying his sordid love life, with shocking and violent sincerity, to John.

I found it to be an interesting read, deeply unsettling (as I suspect it is meant to be), and something I couldn’t drag my eyes away from.

If you want something gritty to get your teeth into and don’t mind coming out the other side feeling slightly shaken and a little weird, I recommend giving it a read.

 

Audiobook review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

51cmeqw2tdl-_sl300_The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Release date:
 15 March 2012
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)
Length:  9 hours 57 minutes (Unabridged)
Narrated by:  Rachel Joyce
Published by:  Random House Audiobooks
Available at:  Audible.co.uk,

My Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Publisher’s Summary:

Winner: New Writer of the Year – Specsavers National Book Awards 2012

When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof, or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking – to save someone else’s life.

Jim Broadbent has starred in a huge range of films, from British favourites including Bridget Jones and Hot Fuzz, to Hollywood blockbusters such as Moulin Rouge, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the Harry Potter films. In 2001 he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Iris. Most recently he starred as Denis Thatcher opposite Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady.

©2012 Rachel Joyce (P)2012 Random House AudioGo

My Thoughts:

I purchased an Audible.co.uk download of this audiobook through my Audible.co.uk monthly subscription.

Whenever I still have a whole week to go until my Audible subscription renews, and I’m craving a book to listen to on the train, while I’m walking, to keep me company while I’m gardening, this is the audiobook I keep returning to.

It’s a gently told story, but not to be underestimated for that reason.  Jim Broadbent is the perfect narrator.  I can easily imagine him being perfect casting for the role of Harold, if this book were ever to be transformed into a film/TV drama.

It starts so simply with a man, just doing the same thing he always does every day.  Each unremarkable numb day.  He gets a letter from an old friend, and that sets in motion something in Harold’s mind that I think he can’t even articulate at that moment, never mind predict the end result.  He writes a reply and then walks to the post box, and then decides to walk to the next post box, and then just keeps walking and walking and walking.

To begin with it seems that walking is giving him room to think.  It soon becomes apparent that in many ways Harold is walking away from his life, and then himself.

It’s one of those books where publisher’s summary doesn’t do justice to the places the book takes you.  An ordinary slightly dull man, living his ordinary slightly dull life, does one little extraordinary thing and the ramifications turn out to be huge.  This unassuming man who seems to think when all is said and done he is a waste of space and oxygen, is shown that he does have value.  More than that, he inspires other people, is briefly a media sensation, does something quite beautiful.  At the end of it all this is a remarkable man who has faced up to the pain of his past, and can at last move forward.

It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think.  I thoroughly recommend it as a wonderful weekend listen/read.

 

Audiobook review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

61q7rd1eu9l-_sl300_The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Release date:
 03 July 2014
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)
Length:  12 hours 02 minutes (Unabridged)
Narrated by:  Jessie Burton
Published by:  Audible Studios
Available at:  Audible.co.uk,

My Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Publisher’s Summary:

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways. Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall? Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

Jessie Burton was born in 1982. She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked as an actress and a PA in the City. She now lives in south-east London, not far from where she grew up.

©2014 Jessie Burton (P)2014 Audible Studios

My Thoughts:

I purchased an Audible.co.uk download of this audiobook through my Audible.co.uk monthly subscription.

I first heard about this book at last year’s London Book Fair, where it was held up as an example of effective marketing launching a debut novel.  It’s been on my to-be-read list ever since, and finally it’s moment came.

I hadn’t bothered to read the publisher’s summary on Audible before I downloaded and began listening, so beyond a glowing recommendation from an exhibition, had no idea what to expect.

As the story began, I really wondered what kind of a book it was going to be.  The beginning is very gentle, even though Nella is only a girl as she arrives at her husband’s house for the first time after a wedding arranged by her mother.  She is only seventeen, still a child really, and has a head full of romantic notions about her new life.  Her illusions are quickly shattered by both her husband’s aloofness, and the sharp cold tongue of her sister-in-law.

Told in the naive understanding of a girl who thinks she should be a woman, events unravel at an increasing rate, secrets leaking out as it picks up speed.

No one is what they seem, and all are hiding a compromising secret.

There is so much in this book: romance, deceit, social prejudice.  For me, the most striking thread through the book is the story of a young girl who finds herself in a situation which is markedly different from the one she thought she had agreed to.  As she finds herself wondering who she can trust, if everyone has been deliberately misleading her, she is forced to grow up, and find the maturity and strength to bravely take charge of an increasingly out of control situation.

I won’t go into detail about the ending, for fear of ruining it for anyone who goes onto read/listen to the book after reading this, but it a brave and unexpected ending executed extremely well.  It left me with that “wow” feeling.

It is great to hear that this book is to be made into a BBC three-part drama.