Welcome To My Blog

Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Family Likeness by Caitlin Davies

Family Likeness

When Rosie arrives in the lives of Jonas Murrey and his two children, he can have no idea of what is to come. Because for Rosie this isn’t just about landing a new job as a babysitter; it’s an attempt to find herself in ways that will only become clear as the story progresses.

Rosie’s narrative alternates with that of a small child called Muriel who, in the 1950s, is abandoned by her mother and left to the not-so-tender mercies of the children’s home system. The two narratives are linked by a number of themes: identity and belonging; missing parents; race and genetic roots. They weave around and echo each other as the story progresses and the links between the two women and their respective situations are revealed.

As with her previous novel, 'The Ghost Of Lily Painter', Caitlin Davies has also woven in a historical strand based on reality, in this case the true story of the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle. In the novel it is seeing the portrait of Dido, a young black girl living in an aristocratic white family in the 18th Century, which leads Rosie, and Jonas’s young daughter Ella, to research and reflect on some of the issues of race, equality and identity that also feature in their own lives. By doing this the historical thread adds a different facet to the story and shines a brighter light on the central themes.

Full of intrigue and suspense this novel really does keep you guessing what its ultimate outcome will be right until the very end. Along the way it avoids taking the story in obvious directions in favour of more subtle and unexpected outcomes. A mix of compelling family story, exquisite historical detail and layers of mystery, this is a very satisfying novel indeed.

One of this summer’s must reads!

Many thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. 

You can find out more and buy a copy here.

You can find my review of Caitlin’s previous novel, 'The Ghost Of Lily Painter' on Bookersatz.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Summer Of '76 by Isabel Ashdown


Summer Of 76

I’ve seen a few comments online saying that Isabel Ashdown seems to have brought about a summer heatwave through the sheer power of her book ‘Summer of ‘76’ which recreates the hot summer of 1976. Well, I read the book just before the current heatwave started and I have to say that it made me believe there was intense sunshine and an impending drought in the outside world even when it was actually raining and unseasonally chilly.

The heatwave itself is an important plot factor in the novel. Everyone is just a bit wearier, a bit tetchier and a bit more likely to fly off the handle than they might have been otherwise. This adds a feeling of edginess to the story which is very effective.

We start the story with two of the main characters back in 1971 and then move forward to 1976 and follow the story of Luke, his parents Joanna and Richard and little sister Kitty from there. As the story starts the heatwave is just beginning to make its presence felt and as the action goes on we see both the heat and the family tensions being cranked up.

The prologue hints at one of the issues that will becoming increasingly important as the story goes on. It takes the reader into the story well because it’s obvious from the start that there is a pretty big secret that is going to surface in the course of the novel.

Set on the Isle of Wight, the novel makes good use of location. The sea, the beach, the holiday camp and the surroundings generally are pivotal to the story. But there is also a feeling of the claustrophobia and isolation of living on an island and wanting to escape as Luke does throughout the story.

I loved all the characters in this book, even the ones who were largely unsympathetic, but I think my favourites were probably Luke’s sister Kitty (an expertly drawn portrayal of a young child), his old friend Martin, his new friend Gordon, and his Gran.

As well as exploring the issues of a particular family, this novel also considers the nature of family itself and comes to some intriguing conclusions that finish the novel in a satisfying way.

This is a fabulous read and I highly recommend it.

Many thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. 

You can find out more and buy a copy here.

You can find my reviews of Isabel’s previous novels, Glasshopper and Hurry Up And Wait on Bookersatz.

Friday, 12 July 2013

A Higher Duty by Peter Murphy


A Higher Duty

Set in the 1960s, A Higher Duty is a complex tale of law, crime, passion and ambition.

We follow the fortunes of members of Bernard Wesley’s chambers throughout the book.  In particular we meet Kenneth Gaskell, who lets his emotions get the better of him in a potentially disastrous way, and Ben Schroeder, a pupil whose background threatens to make him an outsider in the privileged world of the bar.  

The story starts with a shocking incident which resonates throughout the book, but which you will probably feel differently about before you reach the end, and along the way touches on some dark areas of human life.

The author has had a career in the law and this shows in the richness of detail about life in chambers and in court which is threaded through the book. I liked this aspect of the book, and found the details convincing and absorbing.

A large number of significant characters carry the story and a couple of times during the reading I felt that I was being pulled in too many directions and that my ability to sympathise with all the characters was in danger of being diluted. However, in the end all the strands are pulled together successfully and do need to be there.

The author pulls off a very effective job of making the reader sympathise by the end with characters who at the beginning seem wholly unsympathetic. Again, this makes for a very satisfying read.

Overall, I recommend this as a novel for those who enjoy crime and/or law stories complete with some excellent and unexpected touches.

Many thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more and buy a copy here.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Della Galton - Ice And A Slice

I'm so pleased to have the very talented Della Galton on my blog today. I've known Della for a few years now and not only is she a brilliant writer of short stories and novels, but she's also a wonderful writing teacher and all round fantastic person.

Della is here to tell us about her new novel. Over to you, Della.

Writing for the Market – or Writing from the Heart?
Should we write for the market? Or should we write from the heart?  If anyone has ever read my book, How to Write and Sell Short Stories, you’ll know I advise doing a bit of both.
But what should you do when you’re writing a novel?  There’s so much advice out there – lots of it conflicting. After all, it’s such a huge undertaking, writing a novel.  So much time, so much energy, so much pain – pleasure too, of course!
We are told to write within a genre. Otherwise publishers won’t buy our books. We are also told to write something that has the X Factor – what’s that exactly? Most publishers or agents can’t tell you – they just say they know it when they see it.
We are told to write what we know. But also to be a bit different.  And have you noticed that a lot of those big selling books come from completely left field. Who’d have thought that a story about a guy in a boat with a tiger would be such a best seller?
My first two novels, Passing Shadows and Helter Skelter were romances and I wrote them because: a) I love writing romances, and b) I knew there was likely to be a market for them.
My third novel, Ice and a Slice, which isn’t a romance, although it has a love story within it, wasn’t written like that at all.  Here’s how it came about.
I love writing about issues - things that affect a lot of people. They crop up a lot in my work.
I have alcoholism in my family – my father is a recovering alcoholic - so it’s an issue I’m familiar with. But I didn’t want to write a dark book about it. Or not too dark anyway.  I also wanted to write about it from a woman’s perspective.  There are lots of novels that are written about alcoholism, from a woman’s perspective, but fewer that are written about women who are alcoholics themselves.
Ice and a Slice is the story of Sarah-Jane, (SJ to her friends) who discovers she can’t stop drinking.  On the surface her life is fine. She is happily married to Tom (well at least she thinks she is – he works away so much she doesn’t often see him ).  She’s also fallen out with her sister and they no longer speak. But SJ is determined to sort that out one day.
                At least her best friend, Tania, is on her side, although lately Tania is increasingly preoccupied with her own (secret) problems.  SJ feels very alone sometimes and quite scared, but it’s not as though she’s an alcoholic, is it? She doesn’t keep a bottle of vodka by her bed. She doesn’t even drink every day – well not till the evening anyway.    
                It isn’t until she seeks the help of Kit, the hunky guy at the addiction centre, that she realises things may have got a little more out of hand than she thinks. 
SJ is by far the most three dimensional character I’ve ever created. I fell in love with her from the very first chapter.  Mostly I think because she is so flawed and so human.  And yes, she is based on someone I’m close to – although I’m not telling you who J  But one of the reasons that I love this novel  so much – and I don’t say that lightly, I’m the biggest self critic around – is because it’s the one in which I think I found my true voice.
I didn’t realise it was going to happen.  In fact, after so many years of writing, I thought I’d already found my voice – and I think I have as far as short stories go – but novels are different, aren’t they?  The canvas is bigger, the pace is different – everything is different. Although I loved writing my first two novels, Passing Shadows and Helter Skelter, writing Ice and a Slice was like being in another dimension.  It was easy to write – the words flowed out of me – I didn’t have to plan what SJ would say – she just said it. Being inside her head felt like putting on a second skin.  It was an amazing feeling.  And I’ve had some amazing reactions to this novel.   Since it came out at the end of March it’s had 26 five star reviews on Amazon.co.uk and 3 five star reviews on Amazon.com. I’ve pasted the most recent one below. Not because I want to blow my own trumpet, but because I feel humbled that Ice has touched people enough to say such lovely things about it.
I've always loved Della Galton's short stories and I have to say Ice and a Slice is a writing triumph as a novel.

I loved the characters and I can honestly say from when I started reading it I could not put it down - even to go and get a G & T with ice and a slice!

This is a book you must not miss.
My book launch for Ice and a Slice is being held on Saturday 13 July at the Red Lion Pub in Sturminster Marshall. I will be there signing books between 11 and 4. If you’d like to come along I’d be delighted to see you.
If you’d prefer to read the digital version you can borrow it for free if you’re an Amazon Prime customer. Or buy it for £1.94 (less than the price of a glass of Chardonnay) by clicking here.

If you are a little bit eccentric (as I am) you might also be interested in the fact that SJ has her own Twitter account. You can follow her here.
And also her own Facebook page. You can follow that here.
Thank you for reading.
Della Galton x