Friday, 28 August 2015

Robin Hood Demon’s Bane: Mark of the Black Arrow by Debbie Viguié & James R. Tuck

Most people must know the story of Robin Hood, and so I was super excited to hear about this new series that takes the legend and gives it an action-packed fantasy twist. 

With a darkness spreading overseas, Richard the Lionheart leaves his beloved England on a Holy mission and entrusts the safety of the realm to his brother Prince John. But the new false King brings a darkness of his own, namely in the form of the supernaturally scary Sheriff of Nottingham. 

He introduces intolerable taxes, executes anyone who disagrees with him and even inflicts illness on the people to bring them to heel. 

One small band of unlikely allies form in the face of the burgeoning terror; Robin, a feisty Maid Marian, a bard, two clergymen and a noble, who help create the legend of “The Hood” and plot ways to save England from certain destruction. 

I really liked this portrayal of Robin. He’s quite aggressive and definitely has a touch of the fey about him. Although a natural leader and hero, he still struggles to come to terms with the role, and I’m very interested to learn more about his character over the coming series. 

For me, Marian is likeable on and off; she’s brave, clever and has an honest heart, but she can also be quite stubborn and sensitive, which given her other character traits, I wanted her to be the ultimate heroine, but I guess that she has a lot of growing up to do. There is totally a spark between Robin and Marian, although with everything happening to the characters, will they ever get the chance to be together? Another thing to watch out for! 

There are lots of references to Arthurian legends and magic both natural and more occult which is a great spin on the Robin Hood tale. The Sheriff of Nottingham is a truly terrifying baddie and the good guys really have their work cut out dealing with him and his awful powers. There are many characters with their stories woven in, which sets up lots of exciting new storylines for future books. 

There’s always something happening; plenty of action to get your teeth into, with a bit of sex, gore and violence which makes this book even more fun to read. There is so much to look forward to in this brilliantly devised series, and with the epic epilogue in this first book, you will definitely be left wanting more. 

Fast paced, action packed and brimming with fantastical potential, this is a real treat for fantasy and adventure fans. I really cannot wait to read the next instalment! 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas

With the weather the way it is at the moment (rainy, windy and generally miserable) a bit of escapism has never been more needed and with The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas, I was not disappointed. 

Ruthie Collins has just split up from her long term partner. Feeling out of place and alone, she impulsively buys an Italian farmhouse online in the hopes that she can make a fresh start for herself. It’s a doer-upper to say the least, but she wants to prove to her family and her ex that she can do it. 

She has her work cut out for her when she arrives at her new home which includes a territorial goat, an overgrown olive grove and fiery neighbours who do not want her there. 

Tired of running away from her problems, Ruthie throws herself into her new project, making new friends along the way but also having to work hard to convince the rest of the community that she belongs there. 

Speaking at the Rooftop Book Club, Jo said that when writing, she likes to get the food identity of a place, and this becomes the basis of the story. Set in Puglia, Italy, The Olive Branch paints tasty imagery of fragrant olive oil, juicy tomatoes, fresh baked focaccia and the other mouth-watering delights of simple Italian food. You get a great sense of the location, not only through the food but by the setting descriptions and some traditional Italian characters that I loved to read about. 

Ruthie is one of those main characters that you can’t help but like; she’s kind of scatty and impulsive and sometimes you want to shake her to her senses, but she has a heart of gold and you do want her to get her happy ending. I’m not the biggest fan of romance, but in this book, it’s a slow build between the stubborn characters and after everything that happens, Ruthie deserves a bit of love. 

With this kind of idyllic, escapist read, it’s nice that generally things work out, especially when the road to get there is so bumpy, as in real life. Italy is one of the places I’ve always wanted to go and this book had me daydreaming even more. I was Googling masserias and trullos – not to buy online like Ruthie! – but to get a better picture of scenes in the story and after reading about such wonderful sounding food, I may have to have a go at some authentic Italian cooking as well! 

There is a fair bit about olive farming which I found very interesting, and you can tell that Jo spent time in Italy from all the research and the realistic characters. This novel is warm and funny and a perfect read to while away a rainy day. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Proposal by Tasmina Perry

This book was inspired by a visit Tasmina Perry made to Kensington Palace in 2010 where there was an exhibition about the last of the Debutantes’ in London in 1958. 

We are first introduced to Amy Carrell, who is dumped right before Christmas, leaving her confused and broken-hearted. With nothing to lose, she answers an unusual magazine advertisement requesting a companion to New York.

Enter Georgia Hamilton, an elderly British aristocrat who has always wanted to visit Manhattan and so she hires Amy and off they go across the Atlantic. Amy is eager to learn lots about her eccentric new friend and it is through Georgia that we are thrown back to London in the 1950s and learn of the fated romance that changed her life forever. 

In the present day, Georgia teaches Amy the arts of elegance and etiquette that she learnt as a debutant. As Amy learns more about Georgia’s life and a family secret that has affected her for so many years, she takes it upon herself to try and mend Georgia’s broken heart, even if her help is not initially welcomed. Georgia was my favourite character; she has had such an interesting life and I loved finding out about it on this emotional journey. 

Speaking at the first Rooftop Book Club, Tasmina mentioned how she liked the idea of an old/young dynamic between the characters which influenced the story. Georgia imparts lots of knowledge and experience to Amy, but in return, she gains a different perspective and almost a second lease of life during her time spent with the younger woman. Even under such unconventional circumstances, their relationship is written quite realistically and you become thoroughly involved in the storyline. 

I adored the historic flashbacks. The Debutante scene is one I’ve not come across in fiction before and I couldn’t imagine going through it myself! But I enjoyed reading about the etiquette and the affluent parties, the social climbing and the romance of it all. Tasmina spoke to people that were part of that era and that authenticity really shows in the writing. 

The New York journey was also interesting; it’s not a place I have yet been to myself, but Georgia and Amy experienced the cultured, arty side of things, as well as some foodie treats at some New York eateries that I enjoyed reading about. 

The book ended a little abruptly for me, but I think that’s because I wanted to know more about Georgia and also see what happened with Amy’s character. Great historical details and sense of place, with romance and mystery added in, The Proposal was a fascinating and absorbing read that left me wanting more! 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Rooftop Book Club #1

Wednesday the 19th of August saw Headline and Book Ends in partnership with James Villas present the first ever Rooftop Book Club. With the theme of food and travel, authors Tasmina Perry, Stella Newman and Jo Thomas, were there to talk about their new books and were interviewed by Isabelle Broom from Heat Magazine

The venue was Carmelite House on Victoria Embankment. It’s a stunning new building and even though it rained in the end, the views were still amazing. Anyway, back to the books. After grabbing my goodie bag and cocktail, and mingling with some fellow book fans , I settled in for the talk.

Tasmina Perry spoke about her new book The Proposal, a story of love and secrets set in 1950s London in Debutante Season and modern day Manhattan. Tasmina mentioned that she liked the dynamic of a younger person learning from someone older and wiser, and with that old/young dynamic, the older person also gets a second lease of life. 

With a few career changes, Tasmina said that journalism opened many doors for her, especially regarding travel, which is something she wanted to share with her readers. 

I recently read, reviewed (and loved) The Dish by Stella Newman who spoke about her love for food and how this comes through in her books. Stella has held jobs in the food industry and all of her books have a leading character who is some kind of food professional to get a different perception of food. 

In The Dish, an anonymous food critic gets more than she bargained for when she falls for the chef of the restaurant she hates.  For me, after enjoying the mouth-watering delights of The Dish, I’m excited to read Stella’s other tasty offerings!

Jo Thomas said that when she travels, she likes to find the food identity of the place and this becomes the focal point of writing a book. Food, love and family feature in Jo’s latest novel The Olive Branch which is set in Italy. 

Jo says that “Food is a an expression of love” and I think she is totally right with this statement and I look forward to seeing how that sentiment is portrayed in her writing.

All the authors spoke about their love for food and also about travel. They have all been to some amazing sounding places; Tasmina’s digital-detox in Utah sounded very cool, Stella’s foodie getaways to Paris sounded like foodie heaven and Jo’s Italian adventure is definitely on my bucket list.

With the Rooftop Book Club ticket, you got to choose one of the three novels to have in your goodie bag. Having already read The Dish, I chose The Proposal, but after hearing just as many good things about The Olive Branch, I had to buy the book on the night to complete the set!
After the brilliant talks and Q&A session, I got to meet Jo and Tasmina to get my books signed (Stella, who celebrated her birthday that night, was much in demand!). All the ladies were so friendly and genuinely funny and I really cannot wait to get stuck in to all of their books.

Despite the rain, I managed to grab a few pics of the amazing view and shoot a little video too! It was a great evening filled with fun, bookish talk in a lovely location and I can’t wait to see what the next event has in store. For all tweets, photos and news on this event, check out #RooftopBookClub. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

I’ve read quite a lot of books set in Paris recently, yet the imagined version in this book is unlike any Paris you’ve ever read about before. Set in the aftermath of the Great Magicians War, Paris is practically a ruin, where the grand magical houses hoard their magic and power from other rival houses and those on the streets survive in gangs. 

There are three main character stories interwoven in this complex tale. There is a newly fallen angel who starts off naïve but has an untold power, a human alchemist with a dangerous addiction and a past that is fast catching up with her, and a young man from the Far East wielding a mysterious power of his own. 

The three characters become linked by one of the Houses, Silverspires, and when an unknown entity begins a terrifying killing spree that threatens the survival of Silverspires and all of its inhabitants; the characters all face their own personal challenges, and the head of the house must make some difficult choices to ensure the safety of her people and keep the house from falling to her rivals. 

This supernatural fantasy is pretty intense and complex, and my little description above only scratches the surface of actual events. At first, it took me a while to get stuck in; there are lots of characters and a rich magical history that you really need to pay attention to, but once you get the gist, the story kind of flows and keeps you reading.

I’ve never been to Paris (yet) but this imagining paints stunning imagery of gothic cathedrals and grandiose buildings that bear the scars of war, and the murky waters of the Seine where a dragon kingdom staves off ruin. 

The prose itself is written as elegantly and as grandly as the old-world styled location and its “angelic” characters, which had a great impact on the overall storytelling. However I think my favourite element was the stranger from the Far East, who brings his own intriguing history and mythology into the story, injecting some colour otherwise dark and deceptive events.  

I’ve mentioned magic a lot and touched on mythology, but this book is also part murder mystery, with dashes of drama, religious exploration and supernatural suspense. With so many layers to the story, there are almost endless possibilities in terms of storylines and as there are some questions left unanswered, I really hope there is a sequel set in this wondrous world the author has so skilfully created. 

A decadent and amazingly creative read, The House of Shattered Wings is not for the faint hearted but is a literary feat of imagination that will astound readers of this kind of cross-genre novel.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

A couple of months back I was thrilled to attend the UK Black Eyed Susans event and got to meet the lovely author herself. As I knew the book wasn’t due for release until this month, I saved it until now, although once I started it, I finished it in almost one whole sitting! 

We are introduced to two versions of the main character. There’s teenage Tessa who is the only survivor of a serial killer, who is having sessions with a doctor during the build-up to the trial of the man accused of the horrific crimes. 

There is also present day Tessa who is haunted by the emergence of black-eyed Susan flowers planted at her home which suggests that the wrong person is behind bars for the events that happened all those years ago. 

With the help of the lawyer working to get a seemingly innocent man freed from death row and a brilliant forensic scientist who is re-examining the evidence, Tessa strives to unravel the mystery once and for all in a deadly race against time. 

I think the use of such a vibrant yet creepily-named flower as the icon for the crimes in this book was sheer genius (and the cover looks great!).  I enjoyed the forensic investigation aspects of this book. The bone and DNA evidence was very fascinating, and I know that the author consulted a leading expert in this field, as well as many other specialists to make the narrative more realistic. 

There are parts about the significance of drawings as an aid to remembering traumatic / criminal experiences, which I especially liked as this was what my University dissertation was based on, so that gave me another level of attachment to the story. The use of the execution date for the present day scenes adds to the excitement as there is a very real deadline for all the players involved. 

As well as a brilliant premise, the writing style keeps you hooked and at times is quite unsettling. I think it takes a lot of skill to be able to unnerve a reader like that, so hats off to Julia for writing such a gripping and atmospheric story that had me jumping every time I heard an unexpected noise. 

This book will draw you in and have you second guessing yourself page after page. Black Eyed Susans is probably one of the most cunningly clever and gripping thrillers I’ve read in a long while and I would recommend this as one of my top reads of the year so far.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Reader for Hire by Raymond Jean

As a reader, every now and then I like to get out of my comfort zone and go for something a bit less mainstream or something I wouldn’t immediately pick. Translated fiction is a great example of this and I was thrilled to win a Peirene Press competition to win one of their translated novels. 

I picked Reader for Hire by Raymond Jean (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) as I had heard good things about it and drawn in by the premise. 

Marie-Constance has a beautiful voice and so she advertises her services as a paid reader in the local newspaper. Her first client is a paralysed teenager, who despite his disabilities, is almost transformed by the power of the books she selects for him. 

In a short while she gathers a small group of diverse clients who all require her reading talents for very different reasons. They include an elderly yet eccentric former Countess who adores the revolutionary works of Karl Marx, an overworked businessman who has no time to read and a wily young girl for whom she is part reader, part babysitter. 

Marie-Constance carefully selects the material for each of her clients and often returns to her old tutor for guidance. In this process, the reader is immersed in a world of literature, and for me, I was exposed to many works and authors I hadn’t heard of. Maupassant comes up a lot and although I’ve never read any, I want to now, if only to get a greater sense of what the characters experience. 

It sounds like a simple premise; reader arrives and reads a book, but Marie-Constance’s meetings often have their own drama which was the fun, sometimes darker twist on the story. To me, Marie-Constance was a strange character; an unusual mix of academic yet irresponsible, sensual but reserved and I found her story all the more alluring for it. 

I found that the storyline kind of crept up on me and engaged me without me realising it. It ended a little abruptly for my liking, although that may just be because it’s a fairly short book and I wanted more of Marie-Constance’s literary sojourns. 

Cosmopolitan described Reader for Hire as “A book that will make you want to read more books” and I don’t think I could have put it better myself. This short yet powerful novel is a wonderful tribute to reading and literature that will make you want to expand your literary horizons all the more.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Dish by Stella Newman

I’m all about the foodie books at the moment and after a sweet experience last month, I was after something a little more sharp and savoury, which I totally got with this great read. 

Reeling from the betrayal of her husband and subsequent breakdown of her marriage, Laura moves back to London and gets a job with her late mother’s former boss at his independent publication. 

In addition to being his PA, she snags a role as a food critic and reviews new eateries anonymously in her monthly column The Dish. With a former career in coffee and a general passion for food, Laura has experienced taste buds and a unique way with words that keep the readers coming back for more. 

When an extravagantly priced new restaurant is opened in the capital, Laura can’t wait scope out the joint and try the famed food. But after a horrific experience in a vulgar environment with bad service and awful food with outrageous price tags, she really goes to town on her review holding nothing back in preparation for next month’s issue. In a twist of fate, she finds herself torn between the professional anonymity of a job she loves and keeping secrets from a chef she is falling for which makes for a rollercoaster of a story. 

I really loved Laura’s narration; from her work life to her private life but mostly her brilliant way of describing food! Seriously, I felt like I’d pulled up a chair and was sharing a meal with her. I like reading about food anyway but some scenes were actually mouth-watering! I didn’t always find her character likeable (quite frustrating at times!) but she is down to earth and has the acerbic wit that I do enjoy in a lead. 

There were lots of great characters alongside Laura and I also liked that it was set in London with locations I’m familiar with, so both of these factors made me enjoy the story even more. Once the main storylines were set up, I thought that they might be a bit predictable, but actually they weren’t so I liked that it kept me on my toes!

I’ve not read a Stella Newman book before this one, but if her previous novels are half as tasty as this then I am seriously missing out! A delectable morsel of a book full of food, fun and some good old fashioned life lessons too, The Dish is a delightful addition to a hungry reader’s bookshelf.