Monday, 22 June 2015

"Snow Blind" by Ragnar Jónasson.

Thanks to Orenda Books for supplying this title, in return for an honest review...

Young policeman, Ari Thór Arason, takes a post in a small fishing village in Northern Iceland.  Work is scarce and he has to leave his girlfriend behind in Reykjavik to begin his new career.  Feeling overwhelmed with the relocation, he struggles to find momentum in a a village inhabited by long term residents who are amused by his 'outsider' status.  The icy atmosphere is not just because of the weather.  Within days of his arrival, Ari Thór is investigating the death of an elderly writer who has apparently fallen after one drink too many.  As the policeman interviews the members of the local amateur dramatic society, he begins to doubt the fall was an accident.  In a close-knit community, it is proving hard to break the icy shell that seems to protect the locals, but he is determined to try.  A woman is then found, badly beaten and close to death, in her snow filled garden and the town is shocked.  The investigation leads Ari Thór deeper into the lives of the locals, and secrets become unburied, slowly but surely.  While daylight remains hidden behind a blanket of snow, and the town is cut off from the rest of the country,  a killer remains within reach.  But can Ari Thór convince the residents that it could be one of their own people?

Icelandic Noir is a new genre for me.  Similar to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, it is dark, atmospheric and razor sharp.  Ragnar Jónasson is already a huge success in Iceland and this is the first of his novels to be translated into English.   The debut is first in a series and has been treated with care by experienced translator, Quentin Bates, himself a crime writer.  While some translated works are lacking in something, this is not the case with Snow Blind.  Firstly, this is a damn good story.  The small town mentality juxtaposes with the vastness of the landscape and lends an eeriness to the overall narrative.  Secondly, the descriptive passages are stunning.  Iceland is not a place I have visited, but after reading this novel, it is a place that will haunt my thoughts for a long. long time.  The blinding white snow, the crunch of footfall, the muffled hush of the landscape and the closed-in feeling of isolation.  The complete opposite of a desert island or a city awash with people and traffic.  Thirdly, the author has described small town mentality with immaculate perception.   A 'blow-in' can be seen as exactly this for many, many years.  Sometimes decades.  They are never really trusted completely, and will always feel on the outer margins of their small society.  Ari Thór is a likeable protagonist.  Young enough to be enthusiastic, clever enough to rise above bullying and yet smart enough to question his surroundings.  He feels the white, chilly atmosphere on a daily basis but puts his feelings aside to concentrate on the job at hand.  He is aware that his presence is not automatically one that demands respect,  rather one that needs to prove itself as a valued member of the community.  The prose is delightful with moments of exceptional clarity.

   "Ari Thór glacned quickly out f the window before they were back on the office.  It was still snowing. This peaceful little town was being compressed by the snow, no longer a familiar winter embrace but a threat like never before.  The white was no longer pure, but tinged blood red.  One thing was certain.  Tonight people would lock their doors."  

Ragnar Jónasson is one talented young man.  He brings Iceland to the forefront of our minds and invites the rest of the world into the unknown depths of Icelandic Noir.  There is an old fashioned 'whodunnit' feel within the pages of Snow Blind, and at times I felt like I was playing a game of Cluedo.  Learning the relevance of particular characters slowed the pace at times, but as this is first in a series, I would anticipate an more fluid read the next time.  This is an author we will hear more from, for sure.  Now, I'm off to look up WowAir, to price flights to Iceland...

Snow Blind is published by Orenda Books and is available in paperback and ebook format

Saturday, 20 June 2015

"A Summer Breeze" by Colette Caddle. Review and 5 copies to giveaway!

A huge thank you to Colette Caddle for arranging five copies of A Summer Breeze for this Giveaway!  To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link below.  Open INT.  Good Luck!

My Review

The world of theatre can be a fickle one.  When Zoe Hall put her actor husband's career before her own, she made a huge mistake.  Now she has returned to Dublin, newly divorced and ready to start over again.  With some help from veteran actor, Terence Ross, she auditions for the role of a lifetime and holds her breath in anticipation of its outcome.  
Meanwhile, Terence's daughter, Tara, is struggling in her new role as the main breadwinner in her household.  Her husband's redundancy has affected their marriage and she wonders if she could be bothered fighting to keep it intact.  When Zoe's brother, Shane, makes contact with his old flame, things get a little more complicated. 
A tale of lost love, a missing childhood and the insecurity of actors, this novel brings the readers through the acts and scenes of the theatre world and blends it with the unfolding of some hidden secrets...

I have been a fan of Colette Caddle's work for a long time now.  Through my book blogging and reviewing, I was fortunate enough to host an author evening with Colette, here at Bleach House, and I think we will remain friends for a long time to come!  I collected my signed copy of A Summer Breeze from Eason, way back in March and was thrilled to see a little birthday greeting had been written for me inside the book, from Colette.  That said,  it was only this week that I actually got around to reading it, and with the current sunny spell in Ireland, I think I picked the right week...
This novel looks at the casting of a play written by an Irish playwright and how it moves from the early audition stages, through to script edits and finally, opening night.  The main characters are female; Zoe and Tara, but there is a wide supporting cast of males to balance the equation.  Tara is a caterer with a damaged marriage and Zoe gives her a dig out on occasion.  Terence is Tara's father, Shane is Tara's ex but also Zoe's brother.  Then there are a host of guys who are connected via Shane and his play or his childhood.  Terence encounters a few old friends along the way too, so there is definitely no shortage of characters.  A bit too many when you throw in Shane's fling in Spain, (in his ex-lovers villa) and his old friend, Adam and a quick mention of his housebound mother.  
Colette keeps the writing fluid throughout, gently paced with two main story lines.  There are hints at hidden secrets, which are not revealed until the latter part of the novel, with Shane carrying the darkness throughout.  I couldn't connect with Tara, she was very hard and emotionally detached, but considering her parents, this may have been an inevitable outcome.  Zoe and Shane were close siblings, being orphaned at a young age but leading very different adult lives.  The overall feeling of of the book is light, with some darker elements creeping in at the end, not taking away from the summery atmosphere.  Ideal for fans of Sheila O'Flanagan and Cathy Kelly... 

A Summer Breeze is published by Simon & Schuster and is available in TPB and ebook format, with PB released on 30th July 2015. 

To be in with a chance of winning one of five copies of A Summer Breeze, just enter via rafflecopter link below... 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Blog Tour: "The Flower Arrangement" by Ella Griffin. Review and Giveaway.

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Ella Griffin's latest novel, The Flower Arrangement, and to host a giveaway for one lucky reader.  Just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!

In Blossom & Grow, a Dublin based flower shop, Lara combines her talent for arrangements and her ability to match a flower to a customer, resulting in an intuitive bouquet of emotion.  With the help of her brother, Phil and some part time help, running the shop is her calling.  Her marriage is stale and she finds comfort in the surroundings of beautiful blooms.  Seasons change and so does the stock.  Each customer is ordering arrangements for a reason, and Lara has a knack of matching the flowers to the client.  The floral designs for weddings, christenings and new babies are full of joy and promise, while the sadness of a funeral wreath can be shrouded  in despair.  When grief hits Lara, unexpectedly, even the world of peonies and orchards can't lift her spirit.  
Meanwhile, each customer has their own story to tell.  As the bell tinkles each time a person enters the shop, the process of selecting the right ingredients for the perfect bouquet is often done unawares.  Blossom & Grow is not your average flower shop.  It is a gateway to a secret garden of solace and light...

Ella Griffin has created an oasis of floral beauty within the pages of this novel.  Each chapter is titled with a different flower, along with its meaning, and there are delicately detailed descriptions of numerous blooms throughout the book.  Each character has a link to either Lara or the shop and not all of them are buying flowers for a loved one.  Each stem seems to represent a feeling; an apology, a declaration of love, a moment of spontaneity, a marker of a special day.  Lara makes each individual arrangement with care, using her intuition to change orders slightly, add a personal touch or rearrange a customers original idea.  Her candid approach to selection the right design or scent makes her the successful florist she has become.  But her own life is taking a back seat.  Ella uses a host of characters to support her protagonist.  Family, friends and customers all play a part in the book and are a mixed bunch.  Clever writing means that the reader can almost smell the fallen petals or picture the finished product after assembly.  This is a book to inspire.  Inspire you to think positive thoughts, never judge people by appearances and learn to forgive.  The simplicity of nature and its flora are delicately lifting off the pages and, after reading this delightful novel, I defy you to walk past a bunch of flowers without touching one.  A stunning set of peony roses now adorn my windowsill, and I feel a whole lot of happiness as I look at them...

The Flower Arrangement is published by Orion Fiction and is available in TBP from 18th June.  It is currently available in ebook format.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

"A Cage of Roots" by Matt Griffin. Review from Mia, aged 11.

Thanks to The O'Brien Press for sending us a review copy of this title...

Review from Mia Madden, aged 11.

This book is about a twelve year old girl named Ayla who has been buried alive, deep underground.  Forced to eat boiled puke by horrible, spindly-legged goblins, running out of air and being threatened to be cut to ribbons, Ayla has never been so scared in her life.  Meanwhile, above ground, Ayla's three friends and three uncles have noticed her disappearance and are taking it quite seriously.  Benvy, Finny and Sean have no idea what is going on when told ancient tales, sent on quests for their lives and being lost underground before Ireland was actually Ireland.  Luckily, uncles Taig, Fergus and Lann are there to encourage, teach and guide them on their mission to save their friend.  Will they make it in time before Ayla ceases to exist?

I enjoyed this book as it was very well written.  It has extremely detailed pictures at the start of each chapter and it's in those chapters there are pages of intrigue.  It's a brilliant book, that's set in Ireland, though the main character is American.  With stories of fear, hope, loss, fun, adventure, action, battles, betrayal, mystery and triumph, this is an amazing novel with a perfect cliffhanger ending. 
I recommend this for readers age 10+.

A Cage of Roots is published by O'Brien Press and is available in paperback and ebook format.

Monday, 15 June 2015

"The Hunt" by Tim J.Lebbon

I received a copy of this title, from the publishers, in return for an honest review...

Chris Sheen enjoys nothing more than the outdoors.  An extreme athlete, he gets his kicks from running, biking and hiking.  Triathlons and Iron-man races are his only addiction and the feel of the wind on his face, as he takes his daily run, is as much part of his life as breathing.  Luckily his wife and two daughters give him the time and space to enjoy his pursuits, and working from home makes things even easier.  One morning he returns from a twelve mile run and the house is all quiet.  Too quiet.  It's a school day, so his family should be buzzing around, eating breakfast and making lots of noise.  When he realises that they are gone, and finds some blood in the shower, he knows something terrible has happened.  Pretty soon it becomes apparent that his family's survival depends on him.  In order to find them, he must partake in the most important race of his life, a deadly game of cat and mouse that leaves him stranded in the Welsh countryside with little more than a pair of trainers and a few energy bars.  Can he run fast enough, long enough or even figure out who has his family?  Will he survive the treacherous mountain terrain with a group of armed hunters hot in pursuit?  The Hunt is on...

This is a novel of speed and adrenaline. Chris is the unwitting pawn in this deadly game of life and death.   A group of wealthy customers have paid for the chance to hunt and kill a human being, and Chris is their target.  The Hunt is a well organised unit, consisting of highly trained, unidentified members who have no moral code and will stop at  nothing to get to their prey.  However, one of their previous victims, Rose, managed to escape and has been watching them from a distance.  She has revenge on her mind and has no problem using Chris to facilitate it.  The novel focuses on Chris, but there are flashbacks to Rose and her traumatic experiences with The Hunt.  She is determined to seek vengeance and  has trained long and hard to do it right.  
This is page after page of thrills.  Capture, hunt, kill is the mantra of The Hunt. Fear, exhaustion, blood, sweat and tears are what that entails. Broken bones, gunshot wounds and subjection to extreme elements are the reality.  The author has taken his love of outdoor pursuits and twisted them into a narrative that is explosive.  The attention to detail is meticulous and the atmosphere is shadowy, damp and chilling, all at once.

"Chris had to tap into the endurance he had built over the years.  He knew that he had a strong engine and a fit body, but as always he had to adapt.  While his physical self drove forward, he had to remember at every moment that he and his family were in terrible danger.  Endurance sport had a huge mental factor.  Physical fitness was never enough, and now that had been complicated eben more.  But he could do it.  Anything was possible, and he had to believe that now.  Drive on, keep moving forward, keep planning and save his family." 

This is not my normal type of read, being a bit 'manly' for me, similar to 'man movies' like Taken and Die Hard, but I did race through it (excuse the pun).  The writing is sharp, snappy and to the point.  The author gets straight into the story, from page one, and doesn't slow down the tempo enough to even warrant popping a bookmark in, and taking  break.  It's fast, furious and fantastical.  For anyone who enjoys endurance sports, this is the book for you.  Tim Lebbon brings his sporting knowledge to the table and injects the adrenaline directly into the readers veins.  A must-read for lovers of 'man movies' and should be handed out at boarding gates to all holiday makers this summer. The overall experience is like jumping off a cliff, while hoping someone is there to catch you...

The Hunt is published by Avon Books and is available in ebook format on 18th June 2015, with the paperback released on 16th July 2015. 

Friday, 12 June 2015

"The Doctor's Daughter" by Vanessa Matthews. Signed paperback to giveaway.

Thanks to the author, I have a first edition, signed copy of her debut novel, The Doctor's Daughter, for one lucky reader.  Just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Best of luck!

The Blurb

A prominent psychiatrist's daughter realises insanity can be found much closer to home when she unlocks secrets from the past that threaten to destroy her future. 

It’s 1927, women have the right to vote and morals are slackening, but 23 year old Marta Rosenblit is not a typical woman of her time. She has little connection with her elder sisters, her mother has been detained in an asylum since Marta was born and she has spent her life being shaped as her father Arnold’s protégé. She is lost, unsure of who she is and who she wants to be. Primarily set in Vienna, this dark tale follows her journey of self-discovery as she tries to step out of her father’s shadow and find her identity in a man’s world. Her father’s friend Dr Leopold Kaposi is keen to help her make her name, but his interest is not purely professional and his motivations pose greater risks that she could possibly know. Marta's chance encounter in a café leads to a new friendship with young medical graduate Elise Saloman, but it soon turns out that Elise has some secrets of her own. When Marta’s shock discovery about her family story coincides with her mother’s apparent suicide, Marta can’t take anymore. None of the people she has grown to love and trust are who they seem. Her professional plans unravel, her relationships are in tatters and her sanity is on the line – and one person is behind it all.

About the author

Vanessa's debut poetry collection ‘Melodies of my Other Life’ was published by indie press Winter Goose Publishing in 2013. Since then she have been featured in several poetry publications, have won two poetry contests and have developed her fiction writing skills through training with the Arvon Foundation and mentorship from The Literary Consultancy. The Doctor’s Daughter is her first novel. She works as a freelance copy writer and marketing consultant and live in the South West of England with her husband and four children.

Twitter @VanessaMatthews

The Doctor's Daughter is available in papoerback and ebook format.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

"Under a Dark Summer Sky" by Vanessa Lafaye. US edition. Review, excerpt and Giveaway

I received a copy of this title from in return for honest feeback.  The giveaway is open to US addresses only. Enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!

Set in the fictional town of Heron Key, Florida in 1935, this debut novel mixes up fact and fiction to bring the reader through one of the worst hurricanes in history.  Not only is the sea rising to dangerous levels and the ever-changing winds confusing the weather forecasters, but the tension in the town has reached its own boiling point.  Racial prejudice is rampant and veteran soldiers have arrived in the area to help build a major bridge.  The soldiers are a mixture of black and white but are all victims of discrimination, living in squalor and treated like animals.  Things get even worse when a local white lady is found beaten and close to death following a Labor Day beach party.  The assumption of guilt falls on a former army officer, a black man, down on his luck, yet there is no logical reason for this assumption.  The law doesn't seem to apply in Florida and the voice of a black man is not going to be heard.  As the storm comes closer and closer, just who is going to face the impending chaos and who will be affected the most?

This is historical fiction at its finest.  Full of depth, despair, fear, hope, love, loss and friendship.  So many emotions are brought to the foreground, it becomes the readers world for the novels entirety. 

 The author has included an informative historical note at the beginning of the book, which explains the whole idea behind the veterans of Heron Key.  This is a real help to the reader, and adds more depth to the characters that are introduced along the way. 
From page one, where were enter the world of Missy and Selma, (both black servants in a racist town, full of wealthy, bored and dishonest white folk), the novel reaches out and sucks you in.  The blacks are plodding along, never expecting change, afraid to dream of a different world,  The whites are, for the most, miserable.  Money may buy them nice homes and cars, afford them access to the finest dressmakers and cooks, yet it can't buy love or genuine respect.  It is hard not to draw comparisons to Katherine Stockett's The Help or The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, as they both lovingly told of the relationships between blacks and whites in past times.  However, this novel also has aspects which are reminiscent of The Color Purple.  Strong, female characters, fighting to exist for the sake of their families, friends and their own sanity.  It shows how women have, and still do, have to fight that but harder to find their inner happiness.  The double weight of being black, and a woman, is not a new concept in literature, but  Vanessa Lafaye has cast a new light on it.  What concerned the women of this era more?  The search for independence, love or education?  The love they felt for the white children they were raising was heartrendingly real.  The love they felt for their husbands and brothers was intense, deep and long lasting.  This book looks at how these women and children were treated when a storm raged through at fatal intensity.  It also juxtaposes this storyline with a look at some of the white residents, who hide behind their pale exteriors and masks of contentment.  .  The Kincaid family, barely able to look at each other, the town doctor, lonely and broken, the country club ladies and gents, who drip with dishonesty and the general store owner who just wants to prepare for the storm.   
The characters are hopping off the page on a regular basis.  There are quite a lot of them, but once you get past the initial introductions, each has a part to play in the overall narrative.  The writing is superb.  Blending the many worlds within Heron Key to a believable and atmospheric ideal.  Chapter pacing is just right, historical facts not overloaded and yet there is a balance between the storm, the cultural angle and the love story.  It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel, such is the standard, and I cannot recommend this enough.  A wonderful blend of history and fiction, finely tuned research and warm writing style, makes this ideal for fans of Sue Monk Kidd and is definitely a book that should be bought, read and savoured.  It will linger in many readers minds, as shall the memory of the victims of the 1935 hurricane.  A stunning, striking and sensual debut. A complete joy to read. 

Under a Dark Summer Sky is published by Sourcebooks and is available in paperback.  

This novel was also released in UK/IRL, earlier this year, with the title Summertime.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author

Vanessa Lafaye is a Florida native, now living in the UK.  She has worked for nearly 30 years in academic publishing, for Oxford University Press, Blackwell Publishing, and Wiley.  She has published numerous articles in British broadsheets, and several short stories.  She lives in Wiltshire. This is her first novel.

Excerpt from Under A Dark Summer Sky

Chapter 1

The humid air felt like water in the lungs, like drowning.  A feeble breeze stirred the washing on the line briefly but then the clothes fell back, exhausted by their exertion.  Despite the heat, they refused to dry.  The daily thunderstorms did nothing to reduce the temperature, just made the place steam.   Like being cooked alive, Missy thought, like those big crabs in their tub of sea water, waiting for the pot tonight.  
                She bathed the baby outside in the basin under the banyan tree’s canopy of shade, both to cool and clean him. His happy splashes covered them both in soapy water.  Earlier that morning, asleep in his new basket, his rounded cheeks had turned an alarming shade of red, like the over-ripe strawberries outside the kitchen door.  You could have too much of a good thing, Missy knew, even strawberries.  This summer’s crop had defeated even her formidable preserving skills and the fruit had been left to rot where it lay. 
                The peacocks called in the branches overhead.  Little Nathan’s cheeks had returned to a healthy rose-tinted cream colour, so she could relax.  With a grunt she levered herself off the ground and onto the wooden kitchen chair beside the basin, brushed the dead grass from her knees. No one else around, only Sam the spaniel, panting on the porch.   Mrs. Kincaid had gone to see Nettie the dressmaker, a rare foray from the house, and Mr. Kincaid was at the country club, as usual.  He had not slept at home more than a handful of nights in the past few months, always working late.  The mangroves smelled musky, like an animal, the dark brown water pitted with the footprints of flies.
                Nathan started to whimper like he did when he was tired.  She lifted him out of the water and patted him dry with the towel.  He was already drowsy again so she lay him naked in the basket in the shade.   With a sigh she spread her legs wide to allow the air to flow up her skirt and closed her eyes, waving a paper fan printed with, ‘I’m a fan of Washington, DC’.  Mrs. Kincaid had given it to her when they came back from their trip.  Mrs Kincaid had insisted on going with her husband, to shop.  Their argument had been heard clear across the street, according to Selma, who didn’t even have good ears.
                Even so, Selma knew everyone’s business, before anyone else  Selma knew when Mrs. Anderson’s boy Cyril lost a hand at the fish processing plant, even before Doc Williams had been called.  She knew that Mrs. Campbell’s baby would come out that exact shade of milky coffee even though Deputy Sheriff Dwayne Campbell had the freckles and red hair of his Scottish immigrant ancestors.   She just knew things, and Missy had no idea how.
                Selma had helped when Missy first went to work for the Kincaids ten years ago.  She showed Missy where the best produce was to be found, the freshest fish.  People told things to Selma, private things.  She looked so unassuming with her wide smile and soft, downturned gaze.  But Missy knew that those eyes were turned down to shield a fierce intelligence, and she had witnessed Selma’s machinations.  Missy was slightly afraid of Selma, which gave their friendship an edge.  Selma was that bit older, and had more experience of things generally.  She seemed able to manipulate anyone in the town and leave no trace, had done so when it suited her.  After Cynthia LeJeune criticised Selma’s peach cobbler, somehow the new sewage treatment plant got sited right upwind of the LeJeune house.  It took a full-blooded fool to cross Selma.
                Missy sighed, stroked Nathan’s cheek.  His lips formed a perfect pink O, long lashes quivered, round tummy rose and fell.  Sweat soaked her collar.  When she leaned forward, the white uniform remained stuck to her back.   She longed to strip off the clinging dress and run naked into the water, only a few yards away.  And then she recalled:   there was still some ice in the box in the kitchen – no, the “refrigerator,” as Mrs. Kincaid said they were called now. She imagined pressing the ice to her neck, feeling the chilled blood race around her body until even her fingertips were cool.  They would not mind, she thought, wouldn’t even notice if she took a small chunk.  There was no movement at all in the air.  The afternoon’s thunderclouds were piled like cotton on the horizon, greyish white on top and crushed violet at the bottom. 
                I’ll only be a minute.
                Inside the kitchen it was even stuffier than outside, although the windows were wide open and the ceiling fan turned on.  Missy opened the refrigerator, took the pick to the block.   A fist-size chunk dropped onto the worn wooden counter.  She scooped it up, rubbed it on her throat, around the back of her neck, and felt instant relief.  She rubbed it down her arms, up her legs.  She opened the front of her uniform and rubbed the dwindling ice over her chest.  Cool water trickled down to her stomach.  Eyes closed, she returned it to her throat, determined to enjoy it down to the last drop, when she became aware of a sound outside.
                Sam barked, once, twice, three times.  This was not his greeting bark.  It was the same sound he made that time when the wild-eyed man had turned up in the back yard, looking for food.  Armed with a kitchen knife, Missy had yelled at him to get away, but it was Sam’s frenzied barking that had driven him off.
                “Nathan,” she groaned, racing to the porch.  At first she could not comprehend what her eyes saw.  The Moses basket was moving slowly down the lawn towards the mangroves, with Sam bouncing hysterically from one side of it to the other.  She could hear faint cries from the basket as Nathan woke.  She stumbled down the porch steps in her hurry, and raced towards the retreating basket. 
                Then she saw him.
                He was camouflaged by the mangrove’s shade at the water’s edge, almost the same the green of the grass.  He was big, bigger than any she had seen before.  From his snout, clamped onto a corner of the basket, to the end of his dinosaur tail, the gator was probably fourteen feet long.  Slowly he planted each of his giant clawed feet, and determinedly dragged the basket towards the water. 
                “Nathan!  Oh God!  Someone please help!” she screamed, and ran to within a few feet of the gator.  But the large houses of the neighbors were empty, everyone at the beach preparing for the Fourth of July barbecue.  ‘Sam, get him!  Get him!’
                The dog launched himself with a snarl at the gator but the reptile swung his body around with incredible speed.  His enormous spiked tail, easily twice as long as the dog, surged through the air and slammed into Sam with such force that he was flung against the banyan tree.  The dog slid down the trunk and lay unmoving on the ground.
                “Sam! No! Oh, Sam!” 
                The gator continued his steady progress towards the water.   Missy swallowed great gulping breaths to hold down the panicky vomit rising in her gut. Everything seemed to happen very fast and very slow at the same time.  She scanned the yard for anything that would serve as a weapon but there was not even a fallen branch, thanks to the diligence of Lionel the gardener.  The gator had almost reached the water.   Missy knew very well what would happen next:  he would take Nathan to the bottom of the swamp, and wedge him between the arching mangrove roots until he drowned.  Then the gator would wait for a few days or a week before consuming his nicely tenderized meat.
                And then she imagined the Kincaids’ faces when they learned the fate of their baby son, what they would do when they found out that a child in her care had been so horribly neglected.  The gator’s yellow eyes regarded her with ancient, total indifference, as if she were a dragonfly hovering above the water.  And then suddenly the panic drained from her like pus from a boil and she felt light and calm.  She was not afraid.  She knew what she had to do.  That precious baby boy will not be a snack for no giant lizard. 
                She stood. Her thoughts cleared.  Despite the ferocious mouthful of teeth, she knew that most of the danger came from the alligator’s  back end.  She began to circle nearer the head.  She need only spend a moment within the reach of that tail, which was as long as she was tall, to snatch Nathan from the basket.   If she succeeded, then all would be well.  If she failed, then she deserved to go to the bottom with him.  The gator had reached the water line.  There was no more time.
                Movement on the porch.  Suddenly Selma was running down the lawn towards her, loading the shotgun as she ran. 
                ‘Outta the way, Missy!’ she cried, stomach and bosoms bouncing, stubby legs pounding.  Missy had never seen Selma run, did not know that she could.   ‘Outta the way!’
                Missy threw herself to the ground, hands over her head.  Selma stumbled to a halt, regained her balance, feet spread wide apart, stock of the gun buried between her arm and her bountiful chest.  
                ‘Shoot it, Selma!’ yelled Missy, ‘for the love of Jesus, shoot it, NOW!’
                There was an explosion.  The peacocks shrieked and dropped clumsily to the ground and fled for the undergrowth.  The air smelled burnt.  And there was another smell, like cooked chicken.  Missy looked up.  Selma was on her back, legs spread, the gun beside her.  The baby was screaming. 
                ‘Nathan,’ Missy whispered, scrambled to her feet.  ‘Nathan, I’m coming!’
                The gator was where she had last seen it.  Well, most of it was there, minus the head.  The rest of the body was poised to enter the water. 
                ‘Oh, Nathan!’  He was covered in gore.  It was in his hair, his eyes, his ears.  She scooped the flailing baby from the basket and inspected his limbs, his torso, his head, searching for injuries.   But he was unhurt, it seemed, utterly whole.  She clutched his writhing form to her, made him scream louder but she did not care. ‘It all right, honey, hush now, everything gonna be all right.’
                ‘The baby?’ asked Selma, propped on her elbows.  ‘Is he—?’
                ‘He fine!  He absolutely fine!’
                ‘Thank the Lord,’ said Selma, wincing as she got to her feet, ‘and Mr. Remington.’  She rubbed her shoulder.  ‘Helluva kick on him though.’
                Missy said nothing, just cooed and rocked Nathan with her eyes closed.    He still cried, but fretful, just-woken crying, and it was a joyous sound to hear.  Her uniform was stiff with blood transferred from his little body.  She looked up suddenly.  The Kincaids would be home in a few hours to get ready for the barbecue, and when they learned what nearly happened, she would be fired.  And that might not be the worst of it.
                 ‘Missy,’ said Selma firmly, ‘come on, we got a lot to do.’
                She felt cold under the hot sun.  ‘Oh Selma, I’m done for.’
                ‘Listen to me, girl, this ain’t the biggest mess I’ve seen, by far.’   She shook Missy by the shoulder.  ‘Come on, now pay attention.  First we get him cleaned up, and that basket too.’  She scrutinized it with a professional eye.  ‘Yeah, this ain’t too bad.’
                The bundle at the base of the tree stirred, emitted a soft cry.  ‘Sam!  He alive, oh Selma how bad is he?’  He had been an awful trial as a puppy, eating the legs right off the living room furniture and weeing in Mr. Kincaid’s suitcase, but Sam had been Missy’s only companion most days. 
                ‘Give me a minute,’ said Selma.  She bent over the dog, stroked his ribs, felt his legs, his head.  ‘Nothing broken,’ she pronounced, ‘Just knocked out.  Be some bad bruises, I’ll give you something for that.’ She straightened.  ‘Call him.’
                ‘Sam, here boy!  Come here, Sammy!’  The dog’s eyes opened slowly, he raised his head, whimpered as he struggled onto his front legs, then straightened his back legs.  ‘Good boy, Sammy, good boy!’    Missy could not look at the carcass by the water’s edge.  ‘What about…what do we do with…that?’
                ‘What do you think?’ Selma was already striding towards it with great purpose.  ‘We eat it.  By the time my people is done here, won’t be nothin’ to see but a few peacock feathers.’

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Extract Tour - "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" by David Shafer. Part 2 & Giveaway.

Extract Tour - Part 2

Thanks to Penguin Ireland, I am delighted to be part of this extract tour for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer.  Every day this week, different blogs will post extracts from the opening pages of this intriguing novel.  For part 1, please go to For tomorrow's extract, please check out  

The Blurb

David Shafer's acclaimed Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A brilliant, visionary and deeply human cyber-thriller

Deep in the forest near Burma's border with China, a young woman sees something she wasn't supposed to see.

In Portland, Oregon, a troubled young man crashes his bicycle on his way to work - and then gets fired.

In New York, a famous self-help author goes on daytime TV - and suddenly conceives 'a book that would take him beyond talk shows'.

What connects these three people - though they don't know it yet - is that they have come to the attention of the Committee, a global cabal that seeks to privatize all information. And each of them will, in their different ways, come to take part in the secret resistance struggle spearheaded by a scarily clever hacktivist collective - a struggle built on radical politics, classic spycraft and eye-popping technology. Along the way, they are forced to confront their own demons, reconsider their values, and contemplate the meaning of love, family, friendship and community. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is at once a page-turning thriller, a deeply absorbing psychological novel, and a visionary exploration of the possibilities and hazards of our online lives.

Out now in paperback and e-book

Extract - Part 2

Leila let the tedium flow around her like lava while she filled her pad with notes that would help her get through the next week of this frustrating job. Her title was director, in-country, Myanmar/Burma. But back in New York there was a country director, Myanmar/Burma. The silliness of the titles should have been her first clue that Helping Hand was a bush-league NGO. Though deep-pocketed, apparently—HQ was two floors of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. They’d hired her to do the advance work on what they said would be a twenty-year commitment to public health in northern Burma. She was supposed to be establishing a country program!—and her New York bosses said it like that, like she was a general in a tent or something, when what they really meant was rent an office, buy some desk chairs, and find out who else was working there and what wasn’t getting done. But beyond that, her two or maybe three New York bosses couldn’t even agree on what the Burma mission was. One of them thought Helping Hand should be identifying strong female candidates for full-ride scholarships to the school of nursing at Boston College. Another one thought the organization should be setting up village-based primary-care health clinics. Mainly her bosses sent her conflicting e-mails and sabotaged one another’s goals.

And in truth, Leila had herself underestimated the difficulty of achieving anything in a place like Myanmar. She had done war-torn, she had done devastated, but this living-under-tyranny thing was a superbummer. The Myanmarese (Myanmartians, she called them in her head; the stenoglyph was an M with an ovoid helmet and antennae) spent all their energy protecting what little they had or avoiding persecution; there was nothing left over for hope. And no one on the outside cared that much, or was even sure of its name. Was it called Burma, which had something to do with Orwell? Or Myanmar, which sounded like a name cats would give their country? The rest of the world just avoided this place, as on the street you’d avoid a stinking, pantsless drunk—because where would you even begin?

And where was that stupid little colonel? Leila was running low on anti-impatience techniques. The room seemed to have been designed to distill boredom and discomfort and focus it on the occupant. It was like being under some sort of time-stretching ray. There was the stippled layer of dust on everything; there was nothing to read but the No Smoking sign; there was one plastic fan in the corner, its electrical cord shorn off as if with a serrated knife. Smells seeped from the wooden benches and plastic blinds—cigarette smoke and greasy food and the vapors emitted by anxious humans.


To be in with a chance of winning a PB edition of #WhiskyTangoFoxtrot please enter via rafflecopter link below.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

"Girls On Tour" by Nicola Doherty

Many thanks to for supplying a review copy of this title (which I proceeded to leave on an aircraft, but that's another story)...

Poppy, Lily, Maggie and Rachel.  Four girls, some attached, some not. All seemingly content with their lot but open to suggestions.  The girls are young, ambitious and game for a laugh.  Five different trips abroad and each character gets individual attention, culminating in a grand reunion in Manhattan.  There is Poppy in Paris, Lily in LA, Maggie in Meribel and Rachel in Rome.  Great food, fancy drinks, fashion galore and some romance thrown in.  All the right ingredients for a fantastic summer read...

Originally written as separate ebook novellas, this book combines the stories of the four girls, linking them seamlessly into a complete package.  Nicola Doherty has written the ideal sunlounger book, and I speak from experience!  On a recent short break, I was instantly transported to the light and humorous world of these four friends.  Paris came to life with less emphasis on its culture and more on the atmosphere, LA dripped with its golden, perfectly toned residents, Meribel sparkled with its off-piste antics and Rome zipped by like a vespa through its historical streets.  The stories are light, fun-filled and ideal for a lazy day by the sea.  No extra thinking is required and the pages practically turn themselves.  The characters vary enough to lend a realistic feel to their journeys and there are plenty of laughs.  As the girls left each destination, I felt I was also leaving.  A great way to travel, without the expense!  If you have a holiday booked, add this to your shopping list.  It should be on a shelf right beside the sun creams, in my opinion...

Perfect for fans of  Sophie Kinsella, Niamh Greene and Fiona Gibson.

Girls On Tour is published by Headline Review and is available in paperback and ebook format.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

"Missing Ellen" by Natasha Mac a'Bháird.

Best friends since junior infants, Maggie and Ellen do everything together.  Just like most teenagers they have sleepovers, go to the local teen disco, share clothes and make-up and rarely think further into the future than the following weekend.  All this changes when Ellen's father leaves the family home and shatters the family's existence.  Ellen struggles with the change and Maggie watches as her friend spirals out of control, unable to help her.  A new older boyfriend means Ellen moves in different circles and while Maggie continues on with her school work in the run-up to exams, Ellen seems more interested in the worlds of bars, nightclubs and booze.  The girls friend, Liam, is the only other person who can see Ellen's deterioration and Maggie wonders how her recently absent friend would feel about the new closeness between Liam and herself... 

This YA novel explores the boundaries between childhood and adulthood.   There are many books about this period in a teenagers life, but not all of them get it right.  There are moments when a young woman changes, not only physically, but mentally too.  These moments can be hard to pin down, usually blurring the instances of first love, sexual awakening or desire for independence.  Natasha Mac a'Bháird has taken an ordinary friendship, in an ordinary town, added in the (now common) separated parents and shown how a young, happy girl can become so unhappy that she becomes almost unrecognisable, to even her best friend.  The departure of her father, and the new woman in his life, affects Ellen a lot more than she lets on.  Her mother is in the depths of despair and is therefore not available to notice the change in Ellen.  However, Maggie can see it.  She tries to reason with her friend, but she is too angry, too bitter and is too far gone.  Unusually, the school that the girls attend seem unaware of anything untoward and Maggie struggles to contain Ellen's wild side.   The novel starts at the end; Ellen is gone and Maggie is writing her feelings down, diary style, sharing her dreams that Ellen is off somewhere having a ball.  The writing is undercut with loneliness and guilt, with Maggie feeling uneasy about moving on without Ellen around.  The author slowly reels in the reader, through clever technique and limited characters, meaning that the story of Ellen becomes part of our world, our narrative.  There us a gaping hole in Maggie's world since Ellen left, but the beginning of that hole began with a crack.  This novel shows how the smallest crack can become a serious fracture if not treated with care. 
This talented Irish author has written a wonderfully moving read, not reliant on pulling at heart strings, like many YA books do.  It tells a story, one that could have had many different endings.  Just like real life...

Missing Ellen is published by O'Brien Press and is available in paperback and ebook format

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

"Searching For Steven" by Jessica Redland. Review and author feature.

When Sarah Peterson accepts her Auntie Kay’s unexpected offer to take over her florist’s shop, she’s prepared for a change of job, home and lifestyle. What she isn’t prepared for is the discovery of a scarily accurate clairvoyant reading that’s been missing for twelve years. All her predictions have come true, except one: she’s about to meet the man of her dreams. Oh, and his name is Steven.
Suddenly Stevens are everywhere. Could it be the window cleaner, the rep, the manager of the coffee shop, or any of the men she’s met online?
On top of that, she finds herself quite attracted to a handsome web designer, but his name isn't even Steven...

During this unusual search, will Sarah find her destiny?

This debut from Jessica Redmond is a little slice of chick-lit heaven.  It has all the right ingredients; humour, romance, set-backs, misunderstandings and lots of best friend advice.  Turning the pages of this novel is like picking up the phone to catch up with your childhood friend, who you haven't seen for a while.  It's comfortable, heartwarming and endearing.
Sarah is far from perfect.  She worries about her weight (don't we all), settles for the wrong men and depends a lot on her two best friend's opinions.  When she relocates to her hometown, leaving her London life behind, she begins the search for Steven, which results in some hilarious encounters.  Through it all, she has friends Elise and Clare, who are polar opposites but who have Sarah's best interests at heart.  Aunty Kay is a wonderful character and I wish she was part of my life! 

The writing is light, warm and flows nicely.  Like all Rom-Coms, there is predictability, but the humour and clever character interaction keeps you hooked.  The florist shop sounds divine and the local pubs and restaurants, featured in the book, make Sarah's hometown seem idyllic.  

I am now officially a fan of Jessica Redland and can compare her with authors like Sophie Kinsella, Jenny Colgan and Claudia Carroll.  Here's to another great women's fiction writer on the block...

Exclusive Author Feature: The creation of Searching For Steven

My debut novel, Searching for Steven, is now available in both paperback and eBook formats. My debut eBook novella, Raving About Rhys, was also released last month so it’s a very exciting time for me right now as I experience my dreams coming true.
When I started to write, I was very clear on my premise for Steven: heroine receives a clairvoyant reading which predicts that she’s about to meet the man of her dreams called Steven. I knew that I wanted my heroine, Sarah, to become a bit obsessed in her search for Steven. I knew that she’d have a couple of best friends and that one would believe in the predictions (Elise) but the other wouldn’t (Clare). I also knew there’d be a HEA. How I was going to achieve this, though, was a bit of a mystery!
I confess that I didn’t plot out Steven. It didn’t even enter my head to do so. My strategy was simply to write and see where it took me. Looking back, this was an exceedingly time consuming approach, but I think it was the best approach for me at the time because it helped me find my voice and the process I wanted to follow for working on future novels.
The beginning of Steven caused me no end of problems. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I had about forty or fifty different starting points. One version started with Sarah phoning a telephone clairvoyant and another started with her meeting a clairvoyant face to face. It then struck me that it didn’t make sense for Sarah to become obsessed about searching for Steven when there was no evidence to suggest that this would come true. The clairvoyant reading needed to be an old one and everything else mentioned on it needed to have come true, making the final prediction about meeting Steven more plausible. Therefore, I couldn’t start with a reading being given, although I did start with various angles of discovering or listening to the reading.
I knew that Sarah was going to leave her home and boyfriend, Jason, in London and start afresh back home on the North Yorkshire Coast where she’d run her Auntie Kay’s florist shop. Initially, I planned that she’d inherit the shop because Auntie Kay had died. I had loads of starting points around this – receiving a phone call that Kay had died, attending the funeral, attending a will reading, having a drink with Elise and talking about what was in the will reading – to name just a few of them. At the time, I met with a writing friend on a weekly basis and we reviewed each other’s work. She made the point that it was a shame that Auntie Kay had died as she sounded like a great character. I’d been thinking the same. I’d really grown to like her, but I needed Sarah to run the shop. What if Auntie Kay retired instead of died? That would work! So all the starting points involving Kay’s death were scrapped too.
Other variations of the start included a chapter based at work where Sarah’s manager suggested that she should probably end her relationship instead of hiding out in the office every night to avoid spending time with Jason. Another had her in primary school meeting Elise for the first time. Another had her on a tube journey home encountering a hen party and realising her relationship with Jason was never going to lead to marriage. I had a sub plot of failing to be considered for promotion as the starting point. And pretty much every other scenario you can think of!
When my edits came back from my publishers, So Vain Books, my heart sank when they wanted me to change the beginning. The story started with a thirteen-year-old Sarah finding her Uncle Alan’s dead body. It was certainly a dramatic start to the story, but I’d had a few reservations as to whether it set the right tone for the rest of the book. So Vain felt exactly the same, but they loved the backstory about Uncle Alan and suggested where this could be incorporated instead. I’d written a previous chapter in which Sarah went out for a meal with boyfriend Jason expecting a marriage proposal only to receive something very different and very unexpected. It needed a few tweaks, but this provided a much more fitting start to the book and I finally felt like I’d overcome my nemesis. The changes suggested by So Vain Books were absolutely spot on.
The ending of Steven wasn’t quite as challenging to write. I get frustrated with books that seem to rush the ending so it was very important to me that this didn’t happen in mine. I knew from the outset who the hero was going to be, but how they finally got together was something that also had several variations, although nowhere near as many as the beginning. I also wanted to make sure that I tied in the clairvoyant reading at the end and either proved or disproved it.
The idea behind Steven is based on a real-life experience in which I received a prediction from a clairvoyant that I was going to meet and marry someone called Steven, but so is something that happens near the end. This time I’ve borrowed from an experience that my older brother, Mike, had. I don’t want to say too much about this as it would be a huge spoiler for anyone who is planning to read Steven but, for those who’ve already read him, it’s linked to the gift Sarah is given in the final chapters. It seems fitting that the novel both starts and ends with something that really happened.
When it came to writing the sequel, Getting Over Gary, I planned, planned and planned some more. It didn’t stop me changing a few things along the way, but we’re talking tweaks and minor changes instead of fifty different starting points. Phew! I’m not sure I could go through that again!
Thank you so much for having me as your guest. Happy reading everyone J

Searching For Steven is published by So Vain Books and is available in paperback and ebook format

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