A mother’s identity

‘The Start of Summer’ – Alison Walsh

4-star-rating

Walsh

A long, hot summer has just begun. Three new mothers gather in the park, in the shade of the trees, forming a tight circle. They keep each other close, sharing gossip, parenting wisdom and deep secrets.

Gracie appears to have adapted to motherhood with ease, but secretly she wonders if the cost – to her job and her relationship – is too high. Free-spirited Lina is a single parent by choice, but finds that her decisions have consequences, for her daughter and for herself? And shy Jane is facing the battle of her life, against the man who should be her rock, and with the echoes of a painful decision she made years before.

When a lonely new mum asks to join them, the circle opens to let her in. But Elise’s arrival provokes mixed emotions amongst the other mothers, as each is forced to confront her true self and the fact that life will never be the same again.

When I picked this up, I anticipated a light-hearted, chick flick, summer read. However, this novel offers something more as we discover how four different women struggle to maintain (and even rediscover) their identities, after giving birth.

The cover of this novel really appealed as I do like a good story set on the beach. Yet, this does not feature massively in the plot and, whilst it is a significant setting within the story, the novel is more about character development and understanding their backgrounds. Set in Dublin, I loved the infrequent references to Irish culture and I feel that this helped ground the novel to its setting. Overall, it’s a decent, winning combination as the backdrop to four different characters.

The readers follow four women who have just given birth. Three are already friends – Gracie, Jane and Lina. Elise joins the group after spotting them meeting in the park. The three women already know each other from antenatal classes and Elise expresses an intense desire to make friends and fit in. Her desperation at making a connection with these women is recognisable; not wishing to rock the dynamics of the group but also desiring a friendship with each of them.

I could really relate to Elise’s narrative and also the struggles that Lina and Gracie experience. At the same time, the writer adds unexpected curve-balls into the narrative and this helped to add extra depth to the story. Moving this beyond a typical chick flick novel, Walsh shows that there is more to this book than initially meets the eye. It was this factor that made the book most enjoyable because it felt like Walsh was doing something different.

The main feature of this novel is characterisation. We follow the different women as they struggle to find their place again in life and society. This “coming of age” drama meant that this was certainly not a funny novel but instead one that encouraged me as a reader to internally reflect on my own experiences as a mother. I really liked how contrasting all the women were and believe this will broaden the narrative’s appeal; readers will recognise different elements of themselves in the four mothers.

The different stories are captivating and simply that: different. As their relationship as a group is tested, you can still see how they are growing as individuals. I really enjoyed seeing how each of them blossomed as a result of the group friendship and delighted in learning about their backgrounds. The ending is satisfying and feels like it comes “full circle”. I like how it concludes on the beach as I feel that this justifies the cover, and even title, of the novel.

My first read by Alison Walsh and I am really glad to have had the opportunity to discover her as a writer. This was an interesting read and I will certainly look for more of her books in the future.

I received a free copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Unique

‘Skin’ – Liam Brown

5-star-rating

Skin

A strange virus is sweeping the globe. Humans have become allergic to one another. Simply standing next to somebody could be a death sentence. A kiss could be fatal. 

Angela is a woman trying to get by in this bewildering new world. Though she still lives with her husband and children, they lead separate lives. Confined to their rooms, they communicate via their computers and phones. In some ways, very little has changed. 

That is, until she spots a mysterious stranger walking through town without even a face mask for protection. A man, it seems, immune to this disease. A man unlike anyone else she knows. A man it might just be safe to touch…

This was an awesome book. Pacey, unique and imaginative, I was sucked in just from reading the blurb! What more can I say? Brown delivers a fantastic dystopian read and I hope that there is going to be a sequel.

The idea of not being able to touch anyone for fear of death is an unusual idea for a post-apocalyptic, dystopian read. It creates a powerful read as we are introduced to a family living together but in complete isolation. Trapped within their bedroom walls, this new way of living is only through the medium of the internet, text messages and any other way that is remote. No contact, no cuddles, not even sharing the same room. It is a prison and the different ways the family respond to this living situation simultaneously bonds and divides them. Whilst the parents immersive themselves in their remote working environment (wake, wash, eat, work, sleep, repeat), parenting has taken on a totally new meaning. Imagine it: remote parenting? Angela and Connor have only so much control over their children, and even then, this is limited. Amber and Charlie are a force to be reckoned with. Amber, moody teenager, appears to have immersed herself in exercise and striving to get the best school grades possible. On the other hand, Charlie is barely recognisable by his parents – both physically and morally. He hardly moves and so is described as massive, obese, and instead appears to delight in the misery caused by hacking networks and computers – even those of his family.

Unsurprisingly, this prison-like existence is suffocating and Angela’s desperation to escape the apartment and carry out neighbourhood checks, despite wearing full-blown protection suits, leads her to discover someone living, actually living, outside, and without any protection, not even a face mask. His attitude towards life and the virus causes Angela to not only begin to have serious secrets from her family, but also question her place in this new society. The seed of doubt that he plants only leads to several questions in my head that the writer doesn’t answer.

Whilst some might find this lack of information irritating, I found the book even more gripping as a result. Desperate to know the answers, I was surprised at how Brown made the ending so conclusive. There is no suggestion of a sequel, although I strongly believe that Brown has enough material to make this a success. The plot development builds pace to a crescendo and whilst I did predict some of the conclusions, the final chapter definitely made up for this.

This was an inventive and original piece of fiction. I hope Brown adds to this story at a later date and, without a doubt, I would happily read this again later down the line.

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. With thanks to everyone at Legend Press and Liam Brown for allowing me to participate in this blog tour.

 

*-Competition!*-Competition!*-Competition!*-Competition!*-

For a chance to win a copy of Skin, courtesy of ‘Legend Press’, simply like and comment on this blog post. UK addresses only. Closing date is midnight on Saturday 25th May 2019. Winner will be selected at random and contacted after the closing date. Good luck!

Author interview:

Whilst having the opportunity to read and review this book, I was also able to interview the author, Liam Brown…

So, the first question I have to ask is, is there going to be a sequel?

You know, a lot of people have asked me that. And, while I never say never… I’m not planning one any time soon. Skin is actually the spiritual (if not literal) sequel to my previous novel, Broadcast, and taken together, the two books contain my view both on where we’re at, and where we’re heading as a society. With that in mind, I think it’s time to move on to another subject. I’m not allowed to talk about my next book yet, but I can promise it’s very different from anything else I’ve written before!

Without giving the plot away, how relevant are the references to a government conspiracy?

That’s an interesting question. I think most of the characters in my novels are prone to conspiracy theories. I do like playing around with those ideas, and I certainly wanted to leave options open to the reader about the true nature of the situation. Having said that, my personal belief is probably more closely aligned with Alan Moore, who said: ‘Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.’ Which, when you think about it, is a far more terrifying prospect.

How far in the future did you envisage this book being set?

I think one of the reasons dystopian fiction is so appealing is that most of us sense that civilised society as we know it is only ever a hair away from collapsing around our ears. That this safe, clean bubble we’ve built for ourselves really is just that – and bubble – and that we could easily wake up one morning to find everything we know is gone. Climate change, nuclear war, a pandemic virus, a giant asteroid – the existential threats are endless. In fact, I feel like it takes an immense act of displacement just to get up every morning, put on a suit and act like everything is fine. So, in answer to your question, it’s set tomorrow. Or the day after that.

To me, Jazz’s boat symbolises Noah’s ark and escapism. Did you wish to feature more of his back story and his purposes within the narrative?

Yes! I think you’re the first person to pick up on that. With regards to his backstory, I did actually write a number of chapters that delved more deeply into his life before the school. But then I took them out again, as I felt it was more powerful without them. I was also keen to make this Angela’s story above all else and I wanted the reader to share her sense of intrigue and ambiguity about him.

How long did it take for you to write Skin?

It took eight months to write and twelve months to edit. In a sense, it’s probably the toughest book I’ve ever written. I guess that’s the thing with speculative fiction. There’s just so much damn stuff you can speculate on! The possibilities are endless, and so it becomes a case of whittling it down, deciding what you want to explore, and what you want to leave to the reader’s imagination.

I found it interesting that the family have similar names. How do you select the names of your characters? 

Some of them have meanings, others are just a subconscious thing. Jazz was easy, as he has a sort of beat-poet-impov-scat thing going on. Every time he talks I hear someone blasting a tenor horn. And, to me at least, Amber suggests a frozen life, something trapped and petrified. Angela is a reference to angels. Just the idea of someone essentially good trying their best in a broken world. Colin was… well, Colin’s just a pretty boring name isn’t it? (Sorry to any Colin’s out there.)

There’s a lot of apocalyptic and dystopian novels out there. What is your all-time favourite?

Probably Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Talk about killer opening lines: ‘It was a pleasure to burn.’ How could you possibly stop reading after that?

And finally, please can I read and review your next book?!

Yes, of course! And as I said earlier, I think you’re going to be surprised…

Family crises

‘What We Do for Love’ – Anne Pfeffer

4-star-rating

Anne Pfeffer

Thirty-eight-year-old Nicole thinks finding love is like eating carbs. Both are bad for your system. The single mother prefers to focus on a few things that she cherishes–her sixteen-year-old son Justin, her friends, and her art. 

When she convinces a major museum to show a piece of her work, and she thinks her career has finally turned a corner, her son brings home a girl, Daniela, to spend the night. Daniela’s parents have thrown her out of the house: she is pregnant with Justin’s child. Shattered, Nicole feels she has no choice but to take the girl in. 

She finds herself falling in love with Daniela, but increasingly troubled by the behaviour of the girl’s icy, tormented mum and hard-drinking, hard-fisted dad.

Nicole struggles as fear and deceit enter her formerly peaceful life. Forced to deal with people she doesn’t trust or like, fearful for the future of both her son and the grandchild they’re expecting, Nicole wonders if she can do what she tells Justin to do: always have faith in yourself and do the right thing. 

This novel shows how two crises can totally upend a family. Living in such a small house already, Pfeffer brings alive the sense of literal and metaphorical claustrophobia as Nicole, the protagonist, has to cope with a massive shift in her reality. Uncertain of the future, she has the world pressing down on her, leaving readers wondering how she will emerge from the crises.

I immediately warmed to all of the characters and found them all believable and realistic. Living in a small house, struggling to make ends meet, single parent Nicole is doing everything she can to ensure that she saves enough money to be able to fund her son’s further education. However, one day this all dramatically shifts when she learns that not only is she going to be producing a massive commission for a local business, (a ceramic display, absolutely huge, her first shot at producing something as a local artist,) but she is going to be a grandmother. Suddenly her celebratory news about her ceramic business is put on the back-burner as Nicole needs to support her son and his girlfriend with the unexpected pregnancy. The small house becomes tiny as Daniela moves in, swiftly followed by Nicole’s sister, due to her failing marriage. The pressures the Nicole experiences, both artistically and financially were successfully captured by the writer and I found I could really believe and understand what Nicole was feeling.

Pfeffer introduces a more sinister tone to the story with the involvement of Daniela’s family. At first, readers understand that her mother and father have disowned her because of the pregnancy. However, when readers learn that there is more to the situation than Daniela has already explained, Nicole, her family and friends are suddenly fearing for their safety. Now, the small house on the secluded hilltops is no longer safe; feeling vulnerable and distrustful, it is like they are awaiting the eventual climax to the story.

The relationship between Nicole and Mike is an interesting one. He is definitely the attractive protector and friend of Nicole – just the man required when things start to get hairy with Daniela’s father. As a reader, I was desperate for Nicole and Mike to rekindle their relationship and to move out of their long-established “friend-zone”. However, it is more complicated for Nicole as she is still haunted by her ex-husband’s demeaning comments and fears rejection. Pfeffer keeps the reader hanging for most of the story as to whether the two will be able to realise their true feelings for one another.

I did not expect the final plot twists and this definitely added to my enjoyment of the novel. Making the plot seem more fresh, I found this an easy read to immerse myself into. Maybe one could argue that the plot was a little obvious, but this is not a criticism and sometimes exactly what a reader is looking for when discovering a new book. I enjoyed that this was a stand-alone and not the start of the series as at times, I feel there are too many series’ on the go and never enough opportunities to complete them.

This was a satisfying, uncomplicated read that I really enjoyed. It gave a sense of escapism and I enjoyed the unusual plot twists towards the end.

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Anne Pfeffer bio:

Award-winning novelist Anne Pfeffer grew up in Phoenix, Arizona reading prodigiously, riding horses, and avoiding rattlesnakes and scorpions. After living in Chicago and New York, she escaped back to the land of sunshine in Los Angeles. She has worked in banking and as a pro bono attorney, representing abandoned children in adoption and guardianship proceedings. Anne has a daughter living in New York and is the author of four books in the YA/New Adult genres.

Anne Pfeffer 2

Whilst having the opportunity to read and review this book, I was also able to interview the author, Anne Pfeffer…Anne Pfeffer 1

Nicole very much compartmentalises her life in order to deal with things. Is that something you find you also do?

Maybe a little.  It’s useful to compartmentalise your mind to stay focused on a certain job or task until it’s done.  Nicole, however, does it to the point of denial— her way of avoiding things she doesn’t want to deal with.

Nicole’s creative outlet is her pottery and ceramics. Aside from writing, what other creative hobbies do you have?

I have what I guess I would call serial creative outlets.  For the last ten years, it’s been writing, which I don’t think  of  as a hobby.  Before that, I painted ceramics  and did scrap-booking.  Also a brief foray into knitting, which never really took hold!

Nicole’s household becomes very strained during the story – to be expected! How do you think you would cope in Nicole’s situation?

I guess the same way I always deal with stress—try to stay calm and think through what I have to do.  Gather information.  Make a plan. Try to put my kid’s needs first.

I might be a bit more analytical about it than Nicole was.  She’s more the emotional artist type.  Also, I’d be more of a scaredy-cat under those circumstances, more like Caroline.  Nicole doesn’t frighten easily.

The reveal about Daniela and her mother was unexpected. What inspired you to take the plot in this direction?

It just sort of came to me.  When I started the book, I wasn’t planning on taking the direction it eventually took. When I thought of it, though, I realised it worked really well for my story. Sorry, I’m not saying much because I don’t want to give out spoilers.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I try to make them age appropriate, i.e. I figure out the decade my character was born in and give them a popular name for that time.  I also make it country specific, ie. I often consult lists of popular names in the United States.  Viviana, being Chilean, has a verified Hispanic name, as does her daughter, Daniela.

Finally, I try to choose names that are distinct from one another in the novel—names that start with different letters, have different stresses and numbers of syllables, etc.  Nicole, Justin, Caroline, Mike, and so forth.

For our readers out there, what is your favourite, under-appreciated novel?

Hard to say.  One book I really liked that I’d never heard of was Indigo Girl, a terrific historical fiction novel set during the American Revolution.  Whether that book is genuinely  under-appreciated or not, I don’t really know.  It was just new to me.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

I knew Kryptonite had to do with Superman, but I had to look it up in order to answer this question.  These days, my writing Kryptonite is my physical condition.  It has become increasingly hard on my hands, arms, and shoulders to sit at a computer and type.  It hurts!

I’m going to have to learn how to write aloud, if I can find some better voice-recognition software than Siri, which seems to dislike me.

Nicole struggled to feel inspired for her ceramics display. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Getting started. My first draft, and even the second, are awful, because I don’t know what I’m saying. .  I find a blank screen very hard to fill. My character’s voice is all wrong: I don’t know her yet. My action gets written and re-written, because I haven’t nailed down the plot yet.

Then at some point, I hook into it, and it becomes fun. I know who my characters are and how the book will end. That’s the best part of writing.

 

 

War story

‘Prodigal Avenger’ – Tim Moynihan

3-star-rating

Avenger

A Covert Rescue Mission No One Expects to Succeed–Who will survive?

Special operator Jake “Snake” Drecker insists on a mission across borders to eliminate a brutal terrorist cell. They may or may not also be holding an American missionary hostage. But the intelligence is sketchy, the objectives vague, and the chance of success slim. Jake’s boss and old friend, Lieutenant Colonel Mike “Pancho” Sanchez, wonders at the mysterious motivation behind his best soldier’s decisions. That the CIA seems willing to sacrifice both the team and the hostage only adds to the mystery, forcing Pancho to dig deep to discover the truth behind the missionary’s past. And time is running out as Drecker drags his team on a quixotic rescue operation into the very belly of the beast–a mission Drecker and Pancho both know they cannot survive unscathed.

I don’t tend to read war stories but, as readers of my blog may know by now, I tend to grab anything that comes my way! I love the excitement of discovering new authors and reading material that I wouldn’t have normally picked; broadening my horizons and enriching my reading experience. Prodigal Avenger does just that and whilst I have rated it an average three stars, think this is a well-written novel.

My rating reflects my overall enjoyment of this book. I don’t tend to read war stories because I find them heavy going and sometimes difficult to follow. They don’t tend to pique my interests and honestly, this is the same for Prodigal Avenger. However, this convincing, vivid story made me feel like I was reading a novel by Andy McNab or Chris Ryan – if I had read books by these authors, of course. Well-written, I felt this was an informed and educated story, reflecting the writer’s own military background.

The use of military jargon in this novel makes it a dense read. Nonetheless, Moynihan thankfully provides a glossary at the end – very helpful throughout my reading! This broadens the appeal of the novel and, being just shy of 300 pages, means that readers who are moving into this genre, shouldn’t be put off by what this book has to offer. Having seen Mcnab and Ryan books in bookstores, they have always seemed pretty chunky books. Yet, structurally, Prodigal Avenger is a relief because not only is it relatively short, but the chapters are brief as well. This means it is easy to read alongside your main book and one you can dip in and out of, should the topic become quite dense.

Moving on to the plot itself, I found parts of it exciting and unpredictable. There is a fair bit of chatter, but this is needed to establish the plot. I could not find myself engaging with the main character, Drecker, but wonder if this is as a result of his military-style, reserved nature. The narrative shifts between different viewpoints and the writer cleverly provides background stories to one of the key characters. This definitely added to my enjoyment of the story and helped it all make sense to me. The manner in which Moynihan closes the novel suggests to me that he can create a series with this story, but this remains to be seen.

If you like your army, military stories, then this is certainly not one to be ignored. You would find it difficult to imagine that this is fiction and not fact, and it is credible that Moynihan does not bombard readers with gore and killings. It feels like a factual story but is not, and the informed manner that Moynihan creates this book makes it a credible read. On the other hand, if you do not usually read books of this genre, then perhaps you may feel persuaded to try something a bit different.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Abstract

‘Farzaneh and the Moon’ – Matt Wilven

3-star-rating

Farzaneh

When N meets a charismatic outsider called Farzaneh, he realises that something has been missing in his life. They fall for each other and begin an intense and passionate relationship. However, Farzaneh starts to isolate herself, becoming obsessed and embroiled in her mysterious connection with the moon.

N is forced to reappraise everything he knows, searching for meaning and identity while he violently collides with the limits of intimacy and love.

This was an unusual read and different to some of the recent books I have read. I enjoyed the journey that the novel takes you on, but struggled with the abstract nature of the plot.

The first part of the novel focuses on how Farzaneh and N meet at university. I enjoyed how Wilven brings alive the university culture and recognised many of the stereotypical characters that N encounters. The depiction of university life – social and studies – is very accurate although the writer throws in N’s drug use and how this impacts his studies. When Farzaneh and N first meet, it is very idyllic, with the exciting rush of young romance. However, as the novel progresses and the story moves into the second and third parts, this romantic bloom soon fades into something else.

Farzaneh’s growing obsession with the moon and her eventual fasting is much alike Pagan beliefs. Indeed, the trip to Stonehenge and the spiritual intensity that Farzaneh displays reflects the desire to reconnect with nature and the cycles of the moon. Her neurotic character makes it difficult for her to maintain her relationship with N; whilst I admired her traits, the starvation and lack of human contact made her ideologies verging on the absurd. For me, this spiritual development in the story I had most difficultly in following, as it becomes more abstract and reflective.

My favourite part of the story, despite it only being a small section, was the trip to Venice. Having visited this city, I feel that Wilven really brings the city to life in his writing. I could relate to N’s commentary of the place and his interactions with the environment were to be expected. I only wish that there had been more attention to this part of the story.

It is interesting that we never discover N’s name. Despite being the narrator, he was nameless and I saw how none of the characters interacting with him ever refer to him by his name. This provides an interesting element to the story and left me forever wondering what it could be.

The closing of the novel was totally unexpected as the plot reaches its crescendo. It reaches a natural conclusion and I feel that the ending was satisfying. As N tries to reconnect to Farzaneh on her level, the intensity of the story rapidly builds. It is an ambiguous ending and one that enhances the abstract nature of the story, leaving readers to draw their own final conclusions.

Something a bit different, it was hard not to get engrossed with the story as my curiosity was piqued to see what would happen. However, the abstract nature and spirituality within the plot wasn’t totally appealing to me, leading me to give this story a three star rating.

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. With thanks to everyone at Legend Press and Matt Wilven for allowing me to participate in this blog tour.

Farzaneh and the Moon Blog Tour Banner.jpg

*-Competition!*-Competition!*-Competition!*-Competition!*-

For a chance to win a copy of Farzaneh and the Moon, courtesy of ‘Legend Press’, simply like and comment on this blog post. UK addresses only. Closing date is midnight on Monday 20th May 2019. Winner will be selected at random and contacted after the closing date. Good luck!

Author interview:

Whilst having the opportunity to read and review this book, I was also able to

Matt Wilven.jpg

interview the author, Matt Wilven…

How did you create the complex character of Farzaneh? What inspired you?

For me, Farzaneh was a vehicle to express a lot of the darker aspects of first love and growing up – and the types of idealism you have to leave behind in order to adapt to the modern world. I wanted her to be fiercely independent and driven by conflict, undermining the emotional commitments ordinary people make and over-analysing everyone and everything. I also wanted her to crave a connection with nature to counterbalance what she perceives as her absolute separation from others. Her alienation is neurotic though, and rooted in the grief of losing her parents. She finds it extremely difficult to integrate – into relationships, ideologies, and, ultimately, the world. For me, she was an anti-hero – somebody who you agree with in theory but also find incessant and exasperating. Everything is difficult with her – but only because she has a deep and powerful drive to be honest and exist as her true self (something we can all relate to). Hopefully, you should understand why N loves and supports her, and want them to be together, but be desperate to intervene too.

Would you be friends with N and Farzaneh?

Unfortunately, I think I may have passed the point where I could walk down the street with a couple of students and people think that they were my age-appropriate friends. For their part, I’m sure they would think I was quite square and dull. They have got their whole lives ahead of them and are only just beginning to make any kind of existential compromises. I’d certainly spend an afternoon on the grass with them if they would let me. I think dark young outsiders are fascinating and full of interesting thoughts and feelings.

Why did you choose not to give N a name? Any indications what it would be?

It just slowly became apparent that he did not have one. It never came. Then it felt right that it wasn’t there. For the most part, it was rooted in the fact that N is a ‘positionless’ character – and his life becomes the consequence of that negation. He decides to exist in relation to Farzaneh. He cannot form an identity outside of her. Before they meet, his friend Jake constantly teases him about his pretentious undefinability – which is actually more about him being lost and directionless. He is only ‘found’ when he meets Farzaneh and his whole story starts and ends with her.

What did you edit out of this book?

Almost everything. This novel was first drafted over ten years ago. It was set in a different city, in a different decade, it was three times as long and the narrative (now three years) stretched on for over ten years. To say that it has had a few lives is an understatement. I’ve lost count of the different finished states it’s been in. The only thing that remained, in every draft, was a couple of outsiders in love, a young woman with a dark but electric heart and a quest to avoid the modern world.

Your descriptions of Venice are very vivid – have you visited?

I went once when I was twenty-one, so about fifteen years ago now. Most of the detail in this version of the novel was just down to research but, funnily enough, in its very first incarnation, the novel was called “Island of the Dead” (yes, I now realise that this sounds like a zombie film) because the climax of the dramatic action occurred on the island cemetery in Venice. There used to be more Venice in the book so maybe some of this has trickled through.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

My study.

To read, which do you prefer: stand alone or a series?

I’ve never read a series so I’m not really qualified to answer. There’s a sci-fi series by Ursula K. Le Guin that’s on my radar. I enjoy all the Kurt Vonnegut novels with Kilgore Trout in too – but they’re not sequential. Overall, I think variety is too important to me. Big series of eight hundred page books seem a bit foreboding – it’s like you can see the amount of life you’re going to lose to them. It’s definitely not something I’m writing off. I’d love to have the time and the patience to get into a big series – but I suppose I’m much more drawn to stand alone novels. I like the idea of something being singular and complete – where the meanings are resolved.

How many hours a day do you write?

Usually zero. I spend much more time editing. However, I think most people consider editing to be writing. If so, that’s something I do for hours and hours. All the time. Constantly. There’s never a guiltless minute off for a writer who likes to edit. Long creative sessions are precious but rare – and all concept of time goes directly out the window as soon as they arrive so it’s hard to keep track.

What inspires you to write?

I could spend a couple of years answering this so I won’t try to surmise entirely. When it comes to writing and inspiration, I suppose I try not to let one come without the other. Expressing yourself through writing is a simple but strangely brave thing to do. It feels like a positive calling; creating meaning, reaching out to other people, putting something together so that others can transcend the everyday. My deepest motive probably rests on some great reading experiences – of feeling truly found by a voice – and wanting to send a new voice back out.

Finally, what has been the best money you ever spend as a writer?

The writing economy is a great equaliser, because doing it costs very little and everybody starts at the same point. Writers are very lucky in that respect. Our ‘kit’ (a pen and a piece of paper) is usually something that we already have knocking about in a drawer. Computers and devices are obviously a big part of it now, and they cost serious amounts of money, but, generally speaking, I prefer to do first drafts longhand. With a pen and paper, you’re lured into the narrative. Ink moves forward, not back. And once you’re in it, it’s the best money you’ve never spent.

 

Brilliant historical read

‘The Catherine Howard Conspiracy’ – Alexandra Walsh

5-star-rating

Catherine Howard

What secrets were covered up at the court of Henry VIII …? 

Whitehall Palace, England, 1539 

When Catherine Howard arrives at the court of King Henry VIII to be a maid of honour in the household of the new queen, Anne of Cleves, she has no idea of the fate that awaits her. 

Catching the king’s fancy, she finds herself caught up in her uncle’s ambition to get a Howard heir to the throne. 

Terrified by the ageing king after the fate that befell her cousin, Anne Boleyn, Catherine begins to fear for her life… 

Pembrokeshire, Wales, 2018 

Dr Perdita Rivers receives news of the death of her estranged grandmother, renowned Tudor historian Mary Fitzroy. 

Mary inexplicably cut all contact with Perdita and her twin sister, Piper, but she has left them Marquess House, her vast estate in Pembrokeshire. 

Perdita sets out to unravel their grandmother’s motives for abandoning them, and is drawn into the mystery of an ancient document in the archives of Marquess House, a collection of letters and diaries claiming the records of Catherine Howard’s execution were falsified… 

What truths are hiding in Marquess House? What really happened to Catherine Howard? 

And how was Perdita’s grandmother connected to it all? 

THE CATHERINE HOWARD CONSPIRACY is the first book in the Marquess House trilogy, a dual timeline conspiracy thriller with an ingenious twist on a well-known period of Tudor history.

Set in Tudor times and shifting back to the present, this historical novel gives us an insight into the life of Henry VIII and his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. However, as Perdita begins to discover, the history that we know and understand about Henry and his wives may not be all that it seems…

Reading this book really reminded me of a Barbara Erskine novel. The time shifts and immense character detail helped to bring both time periods alive. At the same time, this was not densely historical and did not become a heavy-going read. Both time frames were equally gripping and I loved the way that the writer often left each period on a cliff-hanger of a discovery, keeping me gripped throughout.

This was an unusual take on a well-known time of history. Whilst I have never studied it in depth, I know of quite a few tales. However, this historical read was fascinating and I could easily imagine this as a period drama on television. Effortlessly immersing myself into the sixteenth century, the writer brings readers on a similar journey of discover that Perdita is experiencing in present day. The excitement of unravelling the mystery and conspiracy surrounding Catherine Howard was well developed and I really appreciated the writer’s craft, even if it is entirely fictional.

I found the Pembrokeshire grounds so idyllic when reading about Perdita’s inheritance. The countryside and the estate that the house sits in sounded wonderful and magical – totally appropriate for a mermaid myth! Just like her characterisation, the writer brings this Welsh setting alive and I think Perdita’s feeling of being overwhelmed makes both her and the grounds even more appealing to readers. To be honest, I just wanted to go and visit this place for myself once the book had finished.

This was not a surprising story in the fact there were no sudden twists and turns, but I think this helped to make the read even more enjoyable. The plot gradually develops over time, providing different strands to the suspected conspiracy surrounding one of Henry VIII’s wives. It’s a great change to the books I have read recently and I found the period element really enjoyable to read. This is the first of a trilogy and it is clear where the second book will continue on however, I do feel that this was perfectly executed and not a way of prolonging the plot. I hope that the next book in the series continues in this unique theme of historical accuracies and I look forward to will happen to Perdita and her discoveries. My only criticism is that the book isn’t released until the summer, so I am going to have to wait a while before seeing how the story develops! (And, Alexandra Walsh, if you are reading this, please please consider me to review the second novel for you!)

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. With thanks to everyone at Sapere Books and Alexandra Walsh for allowing me to participate in this blog tour.

The Catherine Howard blog tour poster (final).png

Author bio:

From tales spun for her teddies when she was a child (usually about mermaids) to film scripts, plays and novels, Alexandra Walsh has always been a storyteller. Words are her world. For over 25 years, she has been a journalist writing for a wide range of publications including national newspapers and glossy magazines. She spent some yearsAlexandra Walsh pic (002) working in the British film industry, as well as in television and radio: researching, advising, occasionally presenting and always writing.

Books dominate Alexandra’s life. She reads endlessly and tends to become a bit panicky if her next three books are not lined up and waiting. Characters, places, imagery all stay with her and even now she finds it difficult to pass an old wardrobe without checking it for a door to Narnia. As for her magical letter when she was 11, she can only assume her cat caught the owl!

Alexandra’s other passion is history, particularly the untold tales of women. Whether they were queens or paupers, their voices resonate with their stories, not only about their own lives but about ours, too. The women of the Tudor court have inspired her novels. Researching and writing The Marquess House Trilogy (Book One: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy) has brought together her love of history, mysteries and story telling.

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‘Driftwood’ – T.L. Wright

1-star-rating (1)

Driftwood

Sleep is one of the few companions Aaron Hart has left and even its choice visits have become less frequent. 

Shadowed by a disquiet and haunted by the loved ones he has committed to earth, his limbs twitch fitfully in slumber, insulated by a makeshift blanket of words. Yet when a shrill cry pierces his fractured rest and the world as he knows it threatens to unravel, he will do anything but deny his aid.

A quiet voice cautions where there is one, there will be many, and the many will want to be led. 

For on this night, the sky promises as many monsters as stars.

Hushed hours breathe flesh upon shadow and an evil as old as time itself stirs as the fine gossamer veil of our mortality begins to fray.

Before dusk can haunt empty silhouettes, Aaron will discover there are others. 

Others who will rise for what is just. Others who hide themselves in plain sight yet are anything but ordinary and one who stands apart, a gatekeeper, a bridge between this world and the next. 

One made of equal parts cloth and bone, flesh and dirt. 

One who will teach them, that what is dead, cannot die.

It is difficult when I have read a book and I can only provide it with a 1-star rating. I know that writers put in a massive amount of work when producing a book and it is not something that I could personally do myself. However, despite baring their souls, becoming vulnerable to reviews, both good and bad, I cannot do any more with this novella. I could not understand it, did not see where it was going, and found it so disjointed and ambiguous, that I was jolly relieved this was a short story.

I think this book is about a crazy mermaid-type creature who is preparing to kill more people. But this is just a guess because I found the story so difficult to follow. The plot kept jumping around between characters and action, meaning there was little development and detail. Don’t get me wrong, some of the descriptions are very powerful and horrific, with some lovely language choices; this does little to raise the level of the story as a whole.

I found the number of characters confusing and the erratic references to their backgrounds did not help. It would have been beneficial if the writer had taken more time to establish the characters and their place within the story. There is a lot of suggestion within this novella and whilst “show, don’t tell” works for many a story, here, there is too much left to question. The vagueness and ambiguity meant that as a reader, you did have to work very hard to determine the meaning of the scenes before you. I thought that there was more mental effort required here than reading a Charles Dickens classic!

I’m not too sure what genre this book falls into. There were elements of fantasy and horror but, sad to say, ridiculous moments too. I just couldn’t get it. I rarely, rarely, never finish a book but this time, I nearly found my match. I am so sorry T.L. Wright, but I could not see where this one was going and how this could be made into a substantial series. To make this more enjoyable, there needs to be a lot more detail on the plot, more answers and far more characterisation.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.