Friday, 31 May 2013

Flappers by Judith Mackrell

The 1920s was a liberating era for many young women. They instigated daring fashions and short hairstyles, smoked and took drugs, and experimented with their sexuality like never before. Flappers follows the stories of six remarkable women who all dared to push the boundaries of their style, their careers and their personal lives, in a time of consumer expansion, the rise of the celebrity and accessible travel, even in the midst of war. 

Diana Cooper, daughter of a Duchess, was a society girl in London, who volunteered as a nurse for the war effort, much to the horror of her mother. After the war, she then went on to pursue an acting career. 

Nancy Cunard also came from a wealthy English family and had an equally bad relationship with her mother. After leaving her unhappy marriage, she strived to be a published poet, but after travelling, her strong views and writing led her into political activism. 

Tamara de Lempicka was forced to leave Russia due to the war. She relocated to Paris with her sullen husband and young daughter where she reinvented herself as an artist, creating a place for herself in the art world and putting her past struggles behind her. 

L-R: Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard and Tamara de Lempicka

Tallulah Bankhead was an American wild child who left home at an early age to make a name for herself as an actress. She became the outspoken pet of the stage and screen stars and her crazy antics gained her a legion of unruly female fans. 

Baby of her family, Zelda Fitzgerald flirted and partied her way through life, even after her marriage to The Great Gatsby author Scott Fitzgerald, when they became a celebrity couple.  Zelda wrote stories and articles of her own but was often eclipsed by her husband’s career. 

Josephine Baker grew up in a deprived American neighbourhood but always dreamed of being a dancer. She worked very hard to forge a performance career for herself despite being persecuted for being black. After moving to Paris she managed to become quite a celebrity and despite facing some racial abuse on her travels, she became a much loved star. 

L-R: Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker

Across England, America, France and other parts of Europe, all of these women lived trail blazing lives fuelled by societal change and uninhibited ambition. Some became wives and mothers but first and foremost they were pioneering females set on creating their own identities. Some of their stories interlink and the sheer number of recognisable names from history – writers, actors, royalty and artists – that they interacted with is unbelievable. Although their stories didn't always end happily, all of these women are incredible icons of their time. 

I found all of their stories hugely interesting and emotionally moving at times. I thought that all of these women, and others like them during this time were brave and admirable. Flappers is an eye-opening and inspiring read steeped in cultural history, burgeoning feminism and all the glamour of a glittering decade.  

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher

Ordinary girl Sophie May lives in a normal village with her mother and works in the local teashop. She is seemingly content with her humble lot in life, although she is keeping a huge secret. 

Her life is turned upside down when a film crew takes up residence in her village for filming, and Hollywood heartthrob Billy Buskin unexpectedly comes into her life and sweeps her off her feet. They fall in love, much to the surprise of everyone around them and she moves to London with him. 

However she soon finds herself out of place in his glamorous world and she is increasingly unhappy having held back on her own dreams in place of his goals. Their relationship is put to the test when the press get hold of her secret and Sophie must decide what is best for her own happiness. 

I must admit that it took me a little while to warm up to Sophie May’s character but by the end half I admired her decisions and courage of conviction when faced with the trials and heartbreak put before her. I really enjoyed how the influence of those around her – namely Molly, the teashop owner (and my favourite character) – built her up to be the strong minded but morally rooted person she was by the end. 

The idea of the showbiz world colliding with everyday normality was well portrayed and stories like this always give you that glowing shred of hope that extraordinary things really can happen to anyone. Romantic and insightful, I thought that Billy and Me was a charming read and I hope there are more books by Giovanna to come in the future. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Deadbeat Makes You Stronger by Guy Adams

Old friends Max Jackson and Tom Harris used to be actors. Now Tom owns a jazz club called Deadbeat, where the pair are often to be found of night, propping up the bar and setting the world to rights. 

One such night, as they stumble home, they come across a group of men loading a coffin into the back of a van. Even in their intoxicated haze, they wonder why someone would remove an occupied coffin from a churchyard at night, especially when said occupant is still breathing.

Still possessing a taste for the theatrical, Tom insists they investigate and drags poor Max along for the ride, as they scheme and blag their way into trouble. As they begin their investigations they start to uncover a horrifying plot as well as revealing to the reader their own secrets.

The whole story is so much fun. Even with the gory parts and the mystery, the prose is effortlessly slick and entertaining. Tom and Max are very amusing as narrators and I enjoyed their jesting, love-hate bromance of sorts. I also liked the motley crew of club workers and Tom’s gentleman friends the pair surrounded themselves with; some stupid, some clever, some strong, but all loyal and useful in their own way. 

I always love a London setting and with this tale; with the banter, gangsters and dark humour, it read like something Guy Ritchie would turn into a movie. After the story, there was a preview of book two, Deadbeat Dogs of Waugh and I really can’t wait to get my greedy little hands on it! Very witty and seriously cool, this is a unique detective story you should definitely try. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Penance by Dan O'Shea


Picture the scene. A seemingly harmless old lady is leaving confession at her local church when she is instantly shot dead by a sniper from a highly skilled, near impossible shot. 

This is how Chapter One of Penance begins. That gives you a startling glimpse of the shocking, highly technical gun murders which come fast and furious over the course of the story. 

The guy responsible for solving the case is Detective John Lynch, the son of a murdered cop who starts sifting through decades of criminal conspiracies and city secrets. He finds himself looking for the truth not only about the sniper murders but also about the death of his father, trying not to get himself or his loved ones killed in the process.

I haven’t read a crime novel this raw and gritty for a while; even with the trips back in time to the roots of the corruption, I found this to be a modern and fast-paced read. John Lynch is an intelligent, strong lead and I really liked his relationship with journalist Liz Johnson; a potentially disastrous coupling of police and press but these two make it work. There is an extensive cast of interesting characters; law abiding citizens and their polar opposites all living their lives in the chaos of the city. 

Full of powerful people and their even more powerful secrets, Penance is a complex thriller, perfectly set against the Chicago city backdrop. A must read for die hard crime fiction fans. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Afterlife Academy by Jaimie Admans


What happens after we die? It’s an age old question with infinite possibilities! In this YA novel, if you die whilst in school, you end up at the Afterlife Academy, where lessons include Redemption, Haunting and Maths (because even ghosts need maths!). 

Riley Richardson finds this out after she is killed in a car accident which also claims the life of school geek Anthony, and they arrive at the Academy together. The school and world that they find themselves in is completely devoid of colour and everything is in shades of grey. 

Everything that is apart from Riley, who for some reason is still in full colour, from her highlighted hair to her precious rose necklace. Having been pretty and popular at her living school, Riley suddenly finds herself disliked and an outcast in the dead one. Whereas Anthony, the boy she and her friends used to bully, settles in straight away much to her annoyance. Riley seems unable to adjust and sorely misses her boyfriend, friends and family, and so she begins to look for ways to leave the Academy. 

My favourite character by far was the demon dinner lady that befriends Riley; despite appearances (she has bright red horns!) she is sweet and kind and provides the students with whatever food they could wish for. The idea that when we die and go on to somewhere else and are able to eat whatever we want makes me drool with gluttonous thoughts! 

I really enjoyed some of the ideas within the school, including the ghostly headmistress with the tragic back-story and Charlie, the vampiric pumpkin. Funny and heart-warming, I thought that Afterlife Academy was a very entertaining read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Naughty Girls Book Club by Sophie Hart

When cafe owner Estelle Humphreys finds that her finances are failing, she decides to start up a book club to bring in more business. Enter a varied cast of lovable characters: retired, reluctant lady of leisure Sue, feminist Gracie, married teacher Rebecca and shy student Reggie. 

After their first book club read fails to spark their imaginations, they decide to choose an erotic bestselling sensation for their next discussion instead. This proves to be quite popular at the following meeting and so the book club keep erotica as their theme to discuss every meeting. Some of the book group titles include Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, 80s bonkbuster Lace by Shirley Conran and Riders by Jilly Cooper. 

As time goes on the book club bond as friends and learn that what they read about can be influential in their private lives. I really enjoyed the characters’ own individual stories and the blossoming relationships they form via the book club. 

I loved their differing opinions on the books they read and have even added some of their choices to my own to-be-read pile, and the book also offered some extra recommended erotica at the end. Some parts were laugh out loud funny and the sex scenes were cheeky and light-hearted. I really felt for all the cast in this story and loved how it all ended. Overall I thought this was uplifting and very entertaining; a naughty pick-me-up tale about raunchy literature, trying new things and finding happiness. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy


Student Patrick Gamble lived a seemingly normal life until the day he embarks on a plane journey of which he becomes the only survivor. Meanwhile, teenager Claire Forrester finds herself alone and on the run when an unknown government agency storms her home and murders her parents. 

There is civil unrest throughout the country and humans and lycans turn against each other, with disputes ranging from arguments over territory to full scale racism against lycans. For years, most werewolf communities have been controlled with drugs or sometimes through more violent means. But a radical group of lycans is fighting back and they begin to stir up a revolution via savage recruitment, outright murder and terrorist acts. Their actions result in extremist groups on both sides which is fuelling the fires of war.

President Chase Williams has strong views about lycans and has many policies based on getting rid of his perceived enemy, but in a twist of events, he finds himself turning into what he despises most. The main characters’ stories slowly tie together in an intelligent and action packed thriller. 

Set in America, this story is powerfully told with memorable characters and clever plot lines. There is lycan history, fascinating science and supernatural-slanted politics, all of which made for explosive reading, and demonstrated the depth of research and writing skill that made this incredible novel come to life. Red Moon is gory at times and wildly imaginative yet scarily believable. This book literally blew me away and I really hope there are more books to follow. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne

After enjoying Tanya Byrne’s first novel Heart-Shaped Bruise, I was elated to receive an advance copy of Follow Me Down. In this thrilling UKYA story, sixteen year old Adamma Okomma has just moved to an old English boarding school from New York.

On her very first day she meets the infamous Scarlett Chiltern, the unofficial queen of Crofton, and the pair soon become firm friends. However, Scarlett is full of secrets and as a guy wheedles his way into Adamma’s affections, she finds herself keeping secrets of her own and putting her friendship with Scarlett in danger. 

Narrated by Adamma, the story is told in alternating chapters from when the girls first meet, counting down to Scarlett’s disappearance. I really enjoy Tanya Byrne’s style of writing; drip-feeding you information and twisting the story round and round until everything suddenly ties together at the end in a dark eureka moment. 

In this story, I particularly liked the inclusion of Adamma’s Nigerian heritage. The press release for the novel makes a good point about how you are more likely to find a teen book about a zombie than a black girl. As a female of colour myself, it was actually very refreshing to read a book where the main character is coloured, and I found myself Googling some of the African terms to satisfy me curiosity. The two leads, Adamma and Scarlett, both had strong voices and I really like that in female characters. 

Dark and complex, Follow Me Down is a wickedly addictive read about friendship, obsession and betrayal and is definitely not to be missed.  

Monday, 6 May 2013

My Sugarman Carrot Cake


I recently read The Secret Supper Club by Dana Bate and really enjoyed the main character’s passion for food and cooking. In the story, Hannah Sugarman loves baking and dreams of starting a catering company. The book even has some recipes at the end, one of which I even attempted. But the novel inspired me to go a little further than the recipes it provided. In the story, Hannah’s signature dish is her carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Before reading the book I had never eaten or made a carrot cake. Ever. So after a little kitchen experimentation I produced my own carrot cake recipe.

Ingredients:

For the sponge:
·         350g plain flour
·         300g caster sugar
·         4 large eggs
·         100g finely grated carrot
·         375g butter, softened
·         80ml buttermilk
·         2tsp vanilla essence
·         1tsp baking powder
·         1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
·         ½tsp ground nutmeg

For the frosting:
·         250g cream cheese, softened
·         375g icing sugar
·         90g softened butter
·         Ready to roll, coloured fondant icing and/or icing pens to decorate (optional)

1.       Preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F/Gas Mark 4. Grease two cake tins.
2.       Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla essence until creamy.
3.       Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, mixing a little after each addition.
4.       Gradually beat in the dry ingredients. Then stir in the grated carrots. Divide the mixture equally between the two prepared tins.
5.       Bake for 50-60 minutes or until both sponges are golden and cooked through. Then allow them to cool.
6.       Beat together frosting ingredients until smooth and creamy. Place one of the cool sponges onto a plate. Spread with about a third of the frosting. Place the second sponge on top and spread the remaining frosting on top of the cake.


I used ready-made orange icing to make little carrots and a green icing pen for the stalks but this is optional.

Also, my cake was not overly carroty, so if you would prefer your cake with a little more veg, then up the grated carrot quantity to about 200g.

My cake turned out quite delicious (if I do say so myself!). If anyone tries this recipe I would love to know how you got on.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Dead Silence by Kimberly Derting


When a person is murdered it leaves a unique imprint on both the killer and the victim. Teenager Violet Ambrose has the ability to detect and sense these marks and is part of a special investigative team that use her gift to catch killers. However, after she acquires an imprint of her own, she strives to ignore the pulls of the dead and lead a normal teenage life with her boyfriend Jay.

Fate has other ideas, as Violet discovers the mutilated bodies of a family in their own home where the killer has left his own physical mark, a bloody cross on the wall. With the macabre symbol as her only lead, she starts her dangerous pursuit of finding the killer and puts not only herself but her friends at risk. 

It took me a little while to get into the book because I hadn't read the previous novels and felt a bit out of touch with the characters. During the story Violet is making some new discoveries about her power via her grandmother’s journals which really endeared me to her character. The brief perspectives from the killer throughout the novel also served to hook me into the story and then I couldn't wait to see how it all ended. 

The idea of Violet’s power used to catch killers, and the nature of the special team she is involved in have certainly intrigued me and I think I’ll have to go back and read some of the previous books in the Body Finder series. I thought that Dead Silence was kind of Supernatural meets X-Men and I found the story overall thrilling and enjoyable. 

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Plague Nation by Dana Fredsti


Hordes of undead have been defeated in Redwood Grove, California, but it looks as though the outbreak has failed to be contained. Spread from a virus known as Walker’s Flu, it seems set to sweep the nation. 

Enter zombie-butt kicking heroine Ashley Parker, whose tongue is as sharp as her sword. She is a “wild card”; part of a select few who are immune to the virus and gifted with enhanced speed, strength and senses. She has joined a military organisation trying to contain infected areas. 

As well as taking out very zombie she can find, Ashley and her colleagues undertake a dangerous mission escorting the very doctor that started it all to San Francisco lab in a bid to discover a cure. However it is not just zombies that Ashley and her colleagues need to worry about, as a more human enemy seems set to sabotage their plans. Huge responsibility is placed on the wild cards because if they fail, not only could they lose the ones they love, but the contagion could spread across the world. 

This is not just a thrilling zombie novel; it is also jam packed with pithy one liners and peppy geek humour. There are lots of references to popular culture and Ashley Parker is both sassy and smart, which provides huge entertainment factor alongside the buckets of gore and gunfire. Plague Nation is the second book of the Ashley Parker zombie trilogy but fear not if you haven’t read the first book (I haven’t), you can dive straight in and it doesn't detract from the story. Ashley Parker is to zombies as Buffy is to vampires, and this is an ideal read for horror/humour fans.

If this has whet your appetite for a slice of entertaining zombie action then have an exclusive read of Chapter Two!


Plague Nation, by Dana Fredsti. £6.99, 26th April 2013, Titan Books.

This blog post and extract was posted as part of the Plague Nation blog tour, celebrating the release of Dana Fredsti’s new novel. For the opportunity to win a copy of the book, simply tweet:

“I would like a copy of Plague Nation @TitanBooks @danafredsti #plaguenation”

Find out more about the book and the tour at: www.titanbooks.com/plaguenation

Plague Nation: Chapter Two


Plague Nation by Dana Fredsti - Chapter Two

We entered Licker Up through the front door, which was ajar. I took point, hitting the light switch as I stepped in. Even with the bright sunshine outside, the interior of the store was gloomy—not enough windows to let any real light in. Tony and Kai followed close on my heels.
Broken bottles lay scattered on the floor, their contents blending together in a brew that smelled like the afterhours of an especially rowdy frat party, thankfully minus the vomit. Still, it made my eyes water.
“What a waste,” Kai said, kicking a broken bottle of Maker's Mark.
“Plenty still left, bro.” Tony hefted a still sealed one and tossed it to Kai.
I gave them both a look.
“Later, okay?” Truth to tell, I was tempted to grab one of the many unopened, unbroken bottles of booze myself. And maybe I would, to enjoy it after we were safe back at Patterson Hall. With that thought in my head, I tucked a bottle of a forty-dollar Napa cabernet into my knapsack. If the owner of the store turned up alive, I'd settle my account later.
Other than the broken bottles, Licker Up looked clear. No gouts of blood, smears of viscera, or random body parts. It was a refreshing change. We went aisle to aisle, wincing at the smell of way-overripe cheese in a cooler that had long since lost its power.
“That is ripe, señor,” muttered Tony.
As soon as he spoke, a creaking noise drew our attention to the back of the store.
Holding a finger up to my lips, I made my way as quietly as possible to a small hallway that had three doors off of it, each bearing a little plastic sign labeling them restroom, office, and stockroom. The three of us stood quietly, and listened.
All was quiet.
I cracked open the restroom door, reluctantly taking a deep inhalation. I got a whiff of an ammonia-based cleanser that seared my sinuses, but no Eau de Zombi. Letting the door shut, I turned toward the office and gestured to Tony, who smirked and strolled over to the door, opening it with a casual air that made me want to punch him. A familiar urge, that.
While he checked out the office, I went over to the stockroom door and pressed my ear against it. I didn't hear anything, but for some reason my Spidey senses were tingling.
Not satisfied, I knocked.
“Hello?”
A moan sounded from behind the door. Suddenly something started scratching and pounding on the other side. Stepping back, I looked at Kai, jerking my chin in the direction of the commotion. I backed further away, giving him room, and he kicked the door inward.
The smell of rotting flesh immediately assaulted my nostrils. Doing my best to ignore it, I slipped inside, and found a male zombie in a red Licker Up vest sprawled on the floor, knocked there by the door's impact. Even in the gloom I could see pieces-parts were missing from its face, neck and arms, and the remaining flesh was a greenish-gray with black goop oozing from the wounds.
Before it could get to its feet, I stepped in and thrust the tip of my tanto into its left eye socket. It only stopped when it reached the back of the skull. Then, putting my foot against its shoulder, I shoved hard as I pulled the blade out. A lovely sucking sound accompanied my movement.
Yuck.
“He's been chewed on pretty good,” Kai observed.
I nodded. “Which means he either got bitten and crawled in here to die, or—”
There was a crash, and three zombies stumbled out from behind the shelves stacked high with cases of hard liquor, beer, and wine—two of them in store uniforms, and a young woman in blood stained jeans and a T-shirt proclaiming “I'm a Princess,” the words outlined in rhinestones.
No, you're a zombie, I thought, giving her a permanent frontal lobotomy. Does it make me a bad person to admit I kind of enjoyed it? I mean, unless you're Honey Boo-Boo, who the hell would wear something like that?
While I took care of Princess Z, Kai dispatched the other several skull-shattering blows to the zombie's cranium, using his crowbar with a casual aplomb that spoke of a lot of repetition. Suddenly a wave of self-consciousness swept over me. It brought my own callousness close to home.
“Doesn't it worry you that we're getting used to this?” I asked, wiping my blade on the leg of my pants.
Kai shrugged.
“I'd rather get used to it,” he said, “than need a therapy session every time we have to put one of these things down. And maybe if one of these people I'd known what to do, they'd still be alive, you know?”
He had a point, but it still bothered me that killing had become so routine. I looked at the floor and shook my head. There was no easy answer to any of this. Maybe normal emotional responses had to be tossed out the window when the dead walked the earth....But it still sucked.
Kai and I checked out the rest of the stockroom, finding puddles of blood and bits of flesh, but no more bodies, ambulatory or otherwise. Tony was waiting for us in the hallway, flipping through an old Licker Up newsletter. Irritated, I smacked it out of his hands.
“Hey!” he protested.
“Did it ever occur to you we might’ve needed your help in there?”
He shrugged. “I didn't hear any screams.”
This time I clipped him on the back of his head.
“By the time you hear them, it might be too late.”


Plague Nation, by Dana Fredsti. £6.99, 26th April 2013, Titan Books.

This review and extract was posted as part of the Plague Nation blog tour, celebrating the release of Dana Fredsti’s new novel. For the opportunity to win a copy of the book, simply tweet:

“I would like a copy of Plague Nation @TitanBooks @danafredsti #plaguenation”

Find out more about the book and the tour at: www.titanbooks.com/plaguenation