Tuesday, 10 September 2019

CHILLS AND DYSTOPIA

I'm delighted to be reviewing two books this week: OVERDRAWN a thought-provoking dystopia by N.J Crosskey and VIOLET a chilling and suspenseful horror story by Scott Thomas.



Overdrawnby NJ Crosskey is an original and compelling dystopia, based on a chilling but plausible premise.
The novel is set in a near-future UK, where austerity is the rule, national health care is extinct and aging has become such an inconvenience that euthanasia is viewed as a patriotic act. It's a hostile, uncaring place where the length of your life is determined by how much you can afford to pay to keep yourself alive,
 The story follows two main characters: senior citizen, Henry whose beloved wife is gradually slipping away from him due to the ravages of dementia, and Kaitlyn, a young woman who sacrifices everything to keep her comatose brother’s life support switched on.
  The two characters meet and form an unusual business alliance that they hope will produce the funds to keep their loved ones alive. 
Crosskey beautifully develops the growing relationship between Henry, his wife and Kaitlyn, who has been virtually deprived of a loving family.  The bonds they forge are beacons of hope  and reminders that—even in such a cruel world—lost souls can come together and find comfort in their mutual pain.
The world the author brings draws us into is disturbing but unsettling in its familiarity, but I would have appreciated a little more world building, in terms of detail and description, to give a more vivid sense of the place. 
In the end, however, Crosskey delivers a very satisfying and tender story that shows us no matter how bleak our future might be, love will still triumph over all.
A previous reviewer remarked that this book should be developed into a TV series. I second that opinion. Overdrawn would make great viewing! 

Thanks to Legend Press for sending me an advance copy to review!

Nicola Crosskey
VIOLET by Scott Thomas


This exquisitely written second novel by Scott Thomas, author of the incredible horror novel, KILL CREEK, breathes new life into a familiar horror trope, the “imaginary friend” story. Thomas manages to straddle the line between literary and commercial appeal with an intense study of human grief that is also truly chilling.
After her husband is killed in a car crash, Kris Barlow returns with her eight year old daughter to her childhood home, a place of sad, painful memories, to recover from the grief that has shattered their lives. Soon, however, she discovers the town of Pacington is a sick, haunted place and the run-down house holds secrets Kris has tried to forget.

What follows is an intense and detailed journey into the impact of grief as well as the incredible power of the bond between mother and daughter. The author develops fresh, original characters, exposing their flaws and weaknesses and avoiding tired stereotypes. Suspense slowly builds as the narrative flips back and forth from the present where Kris attempts to deal with the trials of a decaying house, a daughter preoccupied with a strange, new "friend", and a town filled with odd, haunted souls—to a past that is lonely, dark and increasingly disturbing . The settings are so gorgeously portrayed in such lush  detail, reading the book is as vivid as watching the movie. I found myself totally immersed in Kris’s world as the story gradually and ominously builds towards an inevitable but shocking climax.
Scott Thomas

















THE TESTAMENTS by Margaret Atwood


 It's tough to step into a bookstore this week without being greeted by shelves filled with the stark green, white and navy cover that graces Atwood's highly anticipated latest novel. I'm looking forward to reading it and will be reviewing it next blog.
Happy Reading!

Sunday, 11 August 2019

GRACE'S TABLE: A FEAST OF A BOOK

I'm happy to review another book sent to me by Legend Press. This week it's Grace's Table by Australian author, Sally Piper.





Grace’s Table 

Set in Australia, this wonderfully insightful debut novel is set over the course of one day in the main character, Grace’s life. But it’s no ordinary day; it’s her 70thbirthday lunch. Over the course of the day, Grace works alongside her daughter, Susan, preparing the meal and slipping into memories about her past, mostly triggered by mundane tasks such as shelling peas or mixing gravy. 

Soon a gentle story metamorphoses into a painful study of Grace’s own difficult childhood, a tragic teenage love affair, a loveless marriage and finally a family traumatized by grief, regret and resentment, resulting from a shocking event in their past that reverberates through the following decades. Soon it’s clear that Grace is not just cooking a birthday meal, she’s fighting to keep her family from falling apart and drifting away from her.

Piper achieves this in a subtle, skilful way using the medium of food. Grace remembers her own emotionally distant mother whose only way of showing her love and expressing her creativity was through her carefully prepared and wonderfully tasty meals. Grace remembers the rare intimacy of those moments when she watched her mother whip up meringues and sponge cakes from scratch, and attempts to do the same with her eldest daughter, Susan, now a tense and anxious mother.

As family members and friends arrive for the birthday celebration, the memories become more vivid and troubling, and the interactions with her own children more bitter and abrasive, until a final family showdown results in all the hurt being laid bare and all the grievances aired.

Piper masterfully creates Grace as an unconventional, humorous and free-spirited character. A strong-willed woman who is finally forced to face her unrealistic expectations of her children and her own shortcomings as a mother. 

This incredible novel is not only a luscious and lyrical tribute to the power of food as a force to bring people together, it’s also an insightful reflection on the dynamic and powerful nature of family relationships. As Grace so aptly states:

Families were like sand dunes…. They shifted shape and position with even the gentlest of forces. Even a tiny puff – a shrug – could bring about change, move a handful of thoughts to a new understanding, a new authority. A gale, like today’s, and whole dunes – lives and futures – were relocated, reimagined.

Sally Piper
Sally Piper is an award-winning Brisbane based writer.  She is a former nurse and nurse educator, specialising in neurosurgical critical care, and has worked in both Australia and the UK.Sally has had short fiction and non-fiction published in various online and print publications, including a prize-winning short story in the first One Book Many Brisbanes anthology, The Sydney Morning HeraldThe Saturday Paper, Weekend Australian and WQ plus other literary magazines and journals in the UK. She has been interviewed for radio, been a guest panellist at literary festivals and delivered many author talks and readings.Sally holds a Master of Arts (Research) in Creative Writing from Queensland University of Technology. During her post-graduate studies she also tutored on the QUT Creative Writing program. She currently presents workshops and seminars for the Queensland Writers' Centre and mentors on their 'Writer's Surgery' program. 
If you want to check out more reviews of this book, take a look at these other great book blogs:
Happy Reading!

Friday, 2 August 2019

A SONG OF COURAGE, INJUSTICE AND TRAGEDY

A huge thanks to Legend Press who sent me a copy of Carolyn O' Brien's touching novel, The Song of Peterloo, to review. I'm delighted to be a part of the blog tour.


This compelling historical novel centres around The Peterloo Massacre, a real life tragedy of 1819, when close to 100,000 peaceable protesters gathered on St. Peter’s Field, Manchester to campaign for parliamentary reform. Nervous magistrates watched from a nearby window, then decided to read the ”Riot Act,” calling on up to 600 armed soldiers from the Manchester Yeomanry to break up the meeting, with the intention of arresting the main speaker, Henry Hunt. The soldiers, brandishing sharpened sabers, rode in among the crowd. Hundreds were injured and dozens killed, including women and children.

Carolyn O’Brien wisely uses the voice of Nancy Kay, a young mill worker, to tell most of the story, giving a distant historical event a much more human feel. Nancy lives with her young son, Walter and ailing mother, Ann, in a permanent state of grinding poverty and hunger, brought about by low wages and crippling prices. The author subtly portrays their dire situation without being heavy handed or patronizing, which often makes for heartbreaking reading. 

Nancy’s voice alternates with friends, relatives, enemies and the two widely different men who share her life that momentous summer. Nancy is an energetic, likeable, well-drawn character with a thirst for knowledge and a strong sense of justice. When she is given the chance to learn to read by her sympathetic employer, Samson, she becomes even more aware of the rampant social injustice that keeps her and her neighbours and co-workers, hungry and impoverished for life. Soon she is inspired to join the reformers in a great movement that calls for social change. Little does she know that the great protest being planned, will turn out to be a terrible human tragedy and not the triumph they hoped for.
Author, Carolyn O'Brien
At first, I found the author’s use of alternating voices a little jarring, as it interrupted the story’s narrative flow. I appreciated that this was intended to provide an interesting mosaic of differing points of view, but I found myself wanting to get back to Nancy’s voice and her absorbing story. Gradually, however, the other voices became stronger, particularly Adelaide, the snobbish social upstart and Samson, her empathetic nephew whose terrible experiences in battle showed him that all human beings should be treated with dignity regardless of social class.
Overall, I found myself rooting for the main character and her fight for social justice at a time when the poor were treated as little better than slaves, and children were forced to work in dangerous industrial situations with no concern for their safety. It’s refreshing to hear the voice of the marginalized and silenced telling the story of such an iconic historical event, especially at the commemoration of its anniversary.

The blog tour itinerary is listed below. Check out some of these amazing book review sites!



Thursday, 4 July 2019

WHEN FICTION BECOMES REALITY

This was my April! Two weeks in Spain and Portugal travelling across gorgeous, sunny Andalusia, followed by the pristine beaches of the Algarve for the last few glorious days. Then two weeks in England mostly staying in the north-west and north-east and finishing it all with a family reunion, a moving ceremony to commemorate the coal miners of Hetton, and the chance to be a real life Pitman's Daughter along with many other relatives and friends who are also pitmen's daughters!
Here's a little journey through some of the places we visited.


Beautiful Malaga harbour. You can get a ferry from Malaga to Tangier, Morocco that takes you about 5 hours to get there.

     
Downtown Malaga is incredibly beautiful. What better way to spend an evening than dinner and wine  beside the stunning cathedral, nicknamed "La Manquita" (the one-armed woman!) due to its missing second tower. Spicy shrimp piri piri and grilled anchovies with plenty of olives on a warm Andalusian evening! 
The Roman Theatre, Malaga dates back to the 1st century BC and is the only ancient ruin left in Malaga. Situated at the foot of the famous Alcazaba Moorish fortress, it was buried under rubble for centuries, then a 1951 excavation unearthed the ruins and the theatre was restored starting in 1995. It was reopened for performances in 2011.
The timeless Moorish palace, The Alhambra in Granada was filled with spring blossoms and flowers. A magical sight from every angle!


The pristine beaches of Portugal's Algarve region are absolutely breathtaking, but the water was still a bit  chilly to go further than my ankles! This is taken near the town of Lagos.

Back to England and down at the Albert docks in Liverpool, visiting with the Fab 4, John, Paul, George and  Ringo.

I really want this house in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria! This beautiful town has a Victorian marketplace and some of the most breathtaking views in the country, including Ruskin's view (see below) which the poet, John Ruskin declared was "One of the loveliest views in England...I do not know a place more naturally divine."
Ruskin's view.


Now to Durham City, my birthplace and home of the most beautiful cathedral in the world! The sight of the cathedral nestled among the trees, above the River Wear, has been called one of the most stunning and mystical views in the world. The cathedral has been used as a backdrop for some of the Harry Potter movies and lately for an Avengers Infinity Wars movie.


 This beautiful statue of an older miner comforting a new boy on his first day in the mine, is called "Men Don't Cry" and was created by sculptor, Ray Lonsdale as a tribute to Hetton's mining heritage. I was proud to stand with all the other pitmen's daughters (and sons!) to see the statue unveiled and to read the nameplates that held the names of all the Hetton-le-Hole men who worked the mines. My father, grandfather and uncle were all named. You can watch the video by my brother, Ken Horn, on Facebook.Click here to view. Hope you enjoy!

By the way, for all you summer readers out there, here are a few great beach reads for you:


LETHAL WHITE by Robert Galbraith

The fourth of Robert Galbraith's (aka J.K Rawlings) Cormoran Strike novels does not disappoint fans of this series. Though the plot is a little more complex and the action not as gory as the others, there's plenty going on regarding Robin's relationship with her new husband and her continuing chemistry with her eccentric boss!


NEVERHOME by Laird Hunt

This incredible novel about a woman who leaves her husband and her farm to dress in men's clothes and become a soldier in the Civil War, is so compelling I could barely put it down. Told in a unique, honest and unsentimental voice, it covers a little known aspect of the Civil war and pays tribute to the many women who made a contribution to the campaign.


A WORLD ELSEWHERE by Wayne Johnston

Another amazing novel by Johnston, this one tells the story of young Landish Druken, a Newfoundlander who attends Princeton and befriends George Vanderluyden, the son of a rich and powerful American family . Years later after Landish's father cuts him off without a penny, Landish adopts an orphan child and turns to his rich friend for help. Vanderluyden, now the new heir to the family fortune, invites him to his massive estate in North Carolina. Landish discovers his friend is at the head of his own strange and twisted empire and is unwittingly drawn into a family mystery that centres around a murdered child. Compelling reading!



Wednesday, 16 January 2019

LAUGHING INTO 2019

Happy New Year to everyone and hope you're all looking forward to a great year of reading! I thought I'd start the year off on a lighter note with some book recommendations that will get you in a happy mood to face the rest of the winter.
After a steady diet of psychological suspense, I felt the need to switch things up and find some humour out there. Hope you find something here that will appeal.



ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson writes with the kind of sly, ironic wit that makes the characters burst out from the pages of this complicated and multi-voiced crime novel. This is the second book that features ex-army, ex-cop, ex-private eye and newly retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie, who naturally can't stay away from the world of crime. When he travels to the Edinburgh Festival with his actress girlfriend, he witnesses a violent road rage incident in which a timid writer of "jolly English" crime novels becomes an unlikely hero by throwing his laptop at the antagonist and scaring him off. The incident sets off a string of brutal murders which inevitably draws Jackson Brodie into the mystery and gets him into a whole lot of trouble before resolving the case.
What makes Atkinson's Jackson Brodie books stand out is her character-driven writing, and the hilarious, self-deprecating humour that makes the reader laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of the human condition. While it's not a classically structured crime novel, Atkinson's sparkling wit more than makes up for any structural shortcomings.
By the way, if you enjoy this book, I'd highly recommend her other Jackson Brodie novel, Case Histories as well as Started Early, Took My Dog.



BORN INTO IT by Jay Baruchel

Normally I don't feature non-fiction books in my blog, but I had the distinct pleasure of attending An Evening With Jay Baruchel at my local bookstore. One stop on Baruchel's promotional tour for his new, quirky and hilarious book, Born Into It, an entertaining treatise on extreme hockey fandom.
Known for his edgy and offbeat film roles in Tropic Thunder, Million Dollar Baby, This Is the End with stars such as Seth Rogan and James Franco, Baruchel is also a talented writer and director. I also discovered that he's a charismatic, funny and engaging speaker especially when it comes to one of his burning passions - hockey and his team of choice - the Montreal Canadiens. Baruchel sees hockey as something more than a sport - it's a uniquely Canadian political and cultural institution. He also rediscovered his love of hockey in later years as a way to come to terms with the turbulent relationship he had with his troubled and drug-addicted father. An outsider since he was a kid, Baruchel also found hockey gave him a way to feel like he belonged to something bigger than himself - a family of sorts, united in their love for the team and the game. Hearing him read the section entitled Why I hate the f***ing Maple Leafs (a nod to the fierce rivalry between the Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs) was enough to make me buy the book and highly recommend it to anyone who loves crazy, wacky humour from a guy who always stays on the edge.



Happy Reading!

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

BACK TO BLOGGING

It's been at least six months since I wrote a new blog post, so I thought I'd better get back to it before it's too late.
I've been reading lots and writing even more. The good news is that I've been doing major revisions on one of my novels, which has finally caught the attention of a publisher. But - more on that in later blogs!!
I thought I'd ease back into the blog by highlighting some great books I've read that I hope you'll enjoy too.
Here goes:



THE CURIOSITY by Stephen Kearns

This debut novel tells a powerful emotional story while posing profound questions about scientific ethics and how far science should go in playing "God."
Dr. Kate Philo embarks on a scientific project run by the egotistical Dr Erastus Carthage, a man more interested in money and self-promotion than actual scientific discovery. They travel to the Arctic in search of small plankton-like creatures frozen in the ice, with the intention of bringing them "back to life" with groundbreaking new techniques that have worked on other expeditions. In the process, they uncover the body of a human frozen and preserved in the ice. Heedless of the possible consequences, Carthage insists they transport the body back to Boston where they successfully "reanimate" him and discover he was Jeremiah Rice,  a former judge who remembers everything about his life until he plunged into the Arctic waters in 1906.
News of the Lazarus Project soon spreads resulting in a media frenzy and massive protests by religious fundamentalists. In the meantime, Kate tries to reconcile the importance of the scientific discoveries with the realization that Jeremiah is a vulnerable human being, transported into a bustling future he can barely understand. Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, their relationship intensifies and soon Kate is questioning where her loyalties lie and how she can protect Jeremiah from exploitation.
This well constructed story is told from several viewpoints, though I found Kate's and Jeremiah's the most interesting and convincing. Jeremiah's quest to understand modern technology was very believable and made for some gently humorous moments. In the end the story makes clear that though humanity may have advanced further in terms of having more "toys" at our disposal, we have still essentially remained the same greedy, egotistical, compassionate, curious, loving creatures we always were.



THE SECRET SCRIPTURE by Sebastian Barry

For me, the main attraction to Barry's books is his glorious prose. His books are so lyrical and filled with gorgeous language you almost forget you're reading a novel. This particular story is centred around Rose McNulty, approaching her 100th birthday as a long-time resident of the soon-to-be-closed Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital. Dr. Grene is charged with assessing the residents to determine who can return to the community, but when he comes to interview Rose, his fascination grows as he attempts to discover why she was actually admitted and - in the process come to understand some difficult truths about his own life and relationships. Told from both Rose and the doctor's point of view, the haunting and poignant story of Rose's life emerges, though Dr. Grene's research of hospital records unearths a different version of events. Rose's own story, hidden under the floorboards of her room tells of Ireland's changing character, the dominance of the Catholic church and the terrible power wielded by priests and the patriarchy over a young, uneducated, impressionable girl forced by poverty and ignorance into circumstances she cannot control. Barry also focuses on the haziness of memory and how truth can be a fluid, changing thing that is impossible to determine.



THE WIDOW by Fiona Barton

If you're looking for a quick read that also qualifies as a page-turning psychological thriller, this book  will definitely work for you. Told from differing points of view this is the story of Jean Taylor, recently widowed and now being interviewed by go-getter journalist Kate about her husband, an accused pedophile who dodged child kidnapping charges several years earlier. Jean was always the dutiful wife, turning a blind eye and always staying loyal despite her husband's growing addiction to "nonsense" on the internet. But now he's dead she doesn't have to keep her mouth shut any more. The story jumps back and forth between the various players and slowly uncovers the truth about Jean's life,  her husband and herself.
A well-written page turner that poses some interesting questions about loyalty, duty and control within the close confines of a marriage.

Monday, 2 April 2018

IS IT SPRING YET? AND SOME RIVETING READS.


I'm sure many people across North America and Europe are asking themselves when Spring is actually going to arrive. From snowstorms in the most unlikely places to extreme and unrelenting cold, the prospect of warmer weather is exactly what we're all longing for.

Though I did manage to get away to the sun for a week in lovely Los Cabos, Mexico it was painful to come back home to another 2+months of freezing cold.




Over the next couple of frigid months I stumbled across a few terrific books you can read on these last cold nights before spring. Here goes:

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A.J FINN



After reading a couple of disappointing psychological/suspense thrillers, it was a refreshing change to read one that's skilfully - at times, beautifully written. A.J. Finn's debut novel is impossible to put down once you've entered the narrow, messed-up prison of Dr. Anna Fox's life. The plot is as dark and twisty as the best Hitchcock movies, the language smooth and the suspense intense. The real tour de force in this novel, however, is not the surprise ending - which I predicted quite early on in the novel - it's the absolutely in-depth portrayal of a brilliant but depressed, alcoholic woman afraid to step outside her front door. A woman torn between crippling fear and the moral imperative to do what's right after witnessing a terrible crime. A woman so muddled by alcohol and prescription medications that she can't even trust her own recollections. I was surprised to discover that A.J Finn is actually the pen name of Daniel Mallory, an executive editor at Morrow, the publisher of the book. I could be sarcastic and say it helps to know people on the inside, but this book is so well written I'd like to think it would have been published if the author hadn't been an insider. A great book!

FAITHFUL PLACE by TANA FRENCH



Another masterful suspense/crime thriller by the great Tana French. Set in Dublin in the first decade of the new millennium, it's the story of undercover cop Frank Mackay. A guy who pulled himself out from the poverty stricken tenements of Dublin and escaped the clutches of his abusive parents. He's forced to return and face them again when the suitcase belonging to Rosy, his missing first love turns up in an abandoned house on his childhood street. Twenty years before they were planning to run off together to England. The story then follows Frank's quest to find the killer. With its incredible characterization, authentic dialogue and major plot twists and turns, this is a book that can't be put down once you've started it.

THE NEWS OF THE WORLD by PAULETTE JILES


This historical Western tale is a small but gorgeously written story filled with vividly realistic settings and unforgettable characters. After the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through Northern Texas giving live readings from national and international newspapers to audiences hungry for any news of the outside world. During one of his stops he's asked to escort a ten-year old orphan back to her extended German family. Orphaned by Kiowa raiders, she was adopted by the tribe. She's lived with them so long she embraced their lifestyle and doesn't want to leave. 
When the captain meets her she refuses to communicate and mourns the loss of her Kiowa mother. He reluctantly agrees to take her and embarks on the long and dangerous trek. What follows is a beautifully rendered account of how he wins her trust. Forced to dodge all kinds of trouble to reach the end of their journey and facing many dangers, the girl becomes attached to this wise and grandfatherly figure and he begins to worry about what lies ahead of her when she's returned to her aunt and uncle.
The author hails from San Jose, Texas as does the Captain who recalls the old days there as a dreamy, sepia tinted place of grand mansions and old Spanish families. Based on real case studies, the author presents a riveting study of the behaviour of captive children adopted into Native American tribes. Interestingly, the majority did not want to return to their original families and if they did, the results were often tragic.

On the subject of suspense fiction, my romantic suspense novel LILAH has a new cover more fitting to the mystery genre. Designed by Adriatica at adriaticacreation.com.. Check out her gorgeous covers!