Wednesday 28 February 2018

Book Review - The Woman at 72 Derry Lane by Carmel Harrington - #HolidayReading Book 15

Book 15 of 30 that I read on my holiday to Fuerteventura in December 2017

Amazon UK
Title: The Woman at 72 Derry Lane
Author: Carmel Harrington
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Harper 
Publication Date: 16th November 2017
Rating: 5 Stars

On a leafy suburban street in Dublin, beautiful, poised Stella Greene lives with her successful husband, Matt. The perfect couple in every way, Stella appears to have it all. Next door, at number 72 however, lives Rea Brady. Gruff, bad-tempered and rarely seen besides the twitching of her net curtains, rumour has it she’s lost it all…including her marbles if you believe the neighbourhood gossip.

But appearances can be deceiving and when Stella and Rea’s worlds collide they realise they have much in common. Both are trapped in a prison of their own making.

Has help been next door without them realising it?

Proving once again that Carmel Harrington is the queen of the thought provoking emotional read, this book is unputdownable, but equally quite tough reading in places. 

It follows three different stories, although it take a while for the one involving Skye to become apparent how it links up with neighbours Rea and Stella. 

All three of these amazing leading ladies, are dealing with something big. It is only fair to warn that themes included in this book include abuse, agoraphobia and the Boxing Day Tsunami, which may affect your responses to the various characters. 

I thought they were all rather brave, learning to face fears, and it becomes apparent how imporant just small acts of kindness can be to a person. 

I read this in an afternoon, barely pausing for breath, and was hooked on the superb emotional writing, impressive descriptions, and general connections I felt with all three ladies. 

This really is another example of Carmel Harrington at her best, and I am just wondering how long it will be before this book becomes a film, as I think it certainly would make a compelling hard hitting drama to watch too, as well as read. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Harper for this copy which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Fab Firsts - Q&A with Phil Brady - Blog Tour

Fab Firsts is my semi-regular feature, that is highlighting books that are firsts. When interviewing authors, it will be about their first book, as well as other firsts in their lives.

If you are an author wanting to take part in Fab Firsts then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you.

I hope you enjoy this look at a variety of hopefully fabulous firsts,.

I’m Phil Brady and my first novel, The Meal of Fortune was published recently by Unbound.

1) Can you tell us a bit about your first book?

The Meal of Fortune is the first book I have had published.  It is actually the third I have written but the first two will probably stay in a drawer with a cool flannel over them to stop them getting to excited at the prospect of being published, now that The Meal of Fortune has made it into print.   This won’t be happening.  The Meal of Fortune is a comedy thriller in which the worlds of arms dealing, espionage and TV cookery collide.  It is the first in a planned trilogy parodying the media and society’s obsession with celebrities, against a backdrop of guns, gangsters and general mayhem.  It tells the story of Dermot Jack, a failing celebrity agent and MI5 officer, Anna Preston.  Their teenage romance didn’t end well and when they’re thrown back together years later in a bid to bring a rogue Russian arms dealer to justice tensions tend to run a bit high.  As if they haven’t got enough to worry about with the arms dealer, murderous hitman and a very cross East end loan shark to deal with.  It’s meant to be fast paced and provide a few laughs along the way; not really a book that takes itself too seriously.

2) What was your original inspiration to become a writer, and to write your debut?

I’ve always wanted to write since I read The Lord of Rings as a kid.  Back then the ambition was to create whole fantasy worlds with swordfights and dragons.  I guess I’ve grown up a bit (although I still like a bit of Game of Thrones).  I spent most of my twenties viewing myself as some kind of writer in waiting, gathering life experiences that I would one day write about.  Then towards my late twenties I suddenly decided to stop messing about and get on with it.  The Meal of Fortune, which is a cookery themed gameshow featured in the book was originally a gameshow format that I developed and pitched to TV stations (none of them were interested).  Years later I remembered it and thought it would be useful for the plot of my book.

3)  How long did it take you to write your first book?

Yes, hmmm… Can we skip that one.  Too long is the answer.  Too much messing about writing and re-writing and the not looking at it for months (and sometimes years) at a time.  In all it took me over 10 years from start to finish, although in my defence I have a full time job and have had two children in that time. That’ still too long though.

4)  If you could do anything differently in retrospect, what would you change about your debut, or how you went about writing it?

I think you can always go on tweaking and tinkering and there is a time when you just have to stop.  I still wake up with ideas of how I could change The Meal of Fortune.  Then I remember that it is finished and published and there is nothing more I can do.  The one thing I would definitely do different is write it faster.  Life gets in the way of writing.  There isn’t much you can do about that so you just have to go with it and be disciplined and make time.

5)   Was your first book self or traditionally published, and how did you go about making that decision?

I published with Unbound, a crowdfunded publisher, which is kind of half and half I guess.   Once Unbound have agree to publish your book, you then have to crowdfund the costs of publication.  This varies depending on format – e.g. eBook, paperback or hardback.   I cannot recommend Unbound highly enough.  The input I had from my editor Rachel was invaluable in shaping and refining The Meal of Fortune. Definitely check them out  They’re allowing a lot of authors who cannot find a traditional publisher to get published and I’m hugely grateful for the opportunity.  I spend over a year trying to get an agent without any success before I decided to give Unbound a try.  I was actually sitting in a cafĂ© with my two children when the email came in saying that they wanted to publish the book.  It was a pretty special moment (although it still doesn’t excuse looking at my phone when I am out with my kids!).  One thing that helped too was a change of title.  It wasn’t initially called The Meal of Fortune and I only changed the title just before I sent it to Unbound, maybe that swung it.

6)   Do you have any tips for other first time authors?

Probably the sort of tips that everyone gives, keep at it, don’t give up, be disciplined and make time to write.  And get ready for rejection.  It took over 15 years from me first putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) on my first novel to finally getting my third published. Some will get lucky but the mere mortals like me have to be in it for the long term. 

Tell us about your first…

7)   Book you bought

Can’t remember, the one that had the greatest impact on me as a child was Lord of The Rings.

8)   Memory

Burning my stomach on a radiator at our house in Scotland.  We moved from Scotland when I was five so I guess I must have been about four.

9)   Person you fell in love with

Properly?  My beautiful and fantastic wife Megan.  Then my two children when they came along.

10) Holiday you went on

A trip up to London with my parents when I was about seven.  I particularly remember the ice cream shop with 30 different flavours.  I think I’d only tasted vanilla and raspberry ripple before that.

11)  Prize you won

A spot the ball competition in a newspaper when I was about eight – £250. My parents put the money in the bank for me and wouldn’t let me spend it.  Not sure I every actually saw the cash but given everything they’ve done for me I’m quite relaxed about that.  Not sure I was at the time though.

12)  Album you purchased
Giles Smith’s talks about this in his brilliant book Lost in Music, saying that people always claim the first record they bought was something cool that reflects their musical tastes.  I’m not sure about albums but I used to tell everyone the first single I bought was Ghost Town by The Specials but it was probably Shuduppa Your Face by Joe Dolce or something by Shakin’ Stevens

13) Sport you enjoyed participating in

Football.  I still love it now and play although I am getting a bit old.

14) Embarrassing moment you can remember

Sadly there are just too many of them.  It was probably during that awkward adolescent period when I spotty and gawky and working out how to deal with girls.

15) Pet

We had a cat when I was very young.  I can’t even remember its name now.  It went missing when I was about five and I remember dragging my mum around fields and woods near our house to look for it.  She was very patient and humoured me, even though she must of known it was already road kill.

16) Time you were in trouble

I was about eight and some friends of mine and I picked some wheat from a farmers field (actually we took a whole black bin bag full of it).  The plan was to plan it plant the seeds in my friends garden and make bread.  It was only a sack full from a whole field.  The farmer didn’t see it like that.  Cue visit from the police and my friend’s mum tipping the bag of wheat over her back fence and everyone trying to act all innocent.  My parent said they weren’t angry, just disappointed.  Actually I’m fairly sure they were angry.

17)   ..choice of alternative career if you weren’t an author

I am not really sure I can call writing my career yet as it’s not the day job yet.  I work in marketing and PR and that’s been really enjoyable. But if I really could choose I’d be a full time writer.  I’m working on it.

18) …time you had any independence

I grew up in a small seaside village in Kent and then a small town in the Lake District.  As kids we had a lot of independence and would just go off on our bikes for whole days, only coming home when it was dark.  My children’s childhood is so different.  Lots of things organised and laid on but no real freedom to go and mess around in the woods, lights fires build go-karts and float old tractor inner tubes down the river.  Not sure things have got better.

19)  …toy that you recall loving

Probably my bike.  It gave me the freedom to go anywhere I wanted. There was probably some long forgotten bear or cuddly rabbit before that though. 

20)        … time you felt like an adult

Probably when I got my first real pay packet.  It was the summer before I went to University and my dad had got me a labouring with a company that was building a nuclear power station.  I’d only ever had a paper round before and earned about £6 a week.  Dad told he I’d get about £70 a week but when I got my payslip it was £370.   

21)        … time you realised you were good at something

I was always quite little at school. I could run fast but I was rubbish in a fight.  My tactic to avoid getting beaten up was to try to make the bullies laugh.  It worked.  Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to have a bit humour in my books.

22)        Dish you cooked

My mum thought I needed a stock dish before I went off to Uni.  She taught me how to make Lasagne (the height of Italian sophistication in Northern England in the late 1980s). I proudly offered to make it for my new flatmates on our first weekend at university and then slightly less proudly presented a greyish brown sludge about four hours later.  Hopefully I’m a little better at it now.

23)       … time you were really scared

Some other kids shot at me with an air rifle when I was about ten.  They were a long way away and I am not sure the gun could even shoot that far but it was pretty scary all the same.

Thank you so much Phil for taking the time to answer my questions. 

The world of arms dealing, espionage and TV cookery collide in this fast moving comedy caper.

Failing celebrity agent Dermot Jack thinks his luck might have turned when a mysterious Russian oligarch hires him to represent his pop star daughter. 

Disaffected MI5 officer Anna Preston is just as happy to be handed the chance to resurrect her own career. Little do they know that their paths are about to cross again after seventeen years as they're thrown together in a desperate attempt to lure a notorious arms dealer into a highly unusual trap. 

Hard enough without having to deal with the lecherous celebrity chef trying to save his daytime TV career or the diminutive mafia enforcer who definitely has his own agenda. Then there's the very impatient loan shark who 'just wants his money back'. 

And Anna's bosses are hardly playing it straight either. But one thing's for sure. There'll be winners and losers when the Meal of Fortune finally stops spinning. Oh, and another thing, Anna and Dermot are absolutely not about to fall in love again. That's never going to happen, OK?

Purchase from Amazon UK 

AUTHOR BIO:  I was first inspired to write when I read Lord of The Rings as a child. Back then the ambition was to create a whole fantasy world with dragons and sword fights. Sadly George RR Martin seems to have cornered that market, so I now try to comedy thrillers set in the (almost) real world instead. These feature spies, gangsters, vicious (if feckless) criminals, washed-up private detectives and daytime TV presenters. The Meal of Fortune is my first published novel. It is the first in a planned trilogy of comedy thrillers parodying society’s obsession with celebrity.

The follow-up, Tinker Tailor Solider Chef, sees the characters reunited in an attempt to foil a plot by the world’s most secretive intelligence agency (The Belgians) to bring the UK economy to its knees. The final book, centres on a referendum in Wales to decide whether the country should sell itself to an international technology giant for use as a conveniently located tax haven. It will be loosely based on the hilarious 80s film Local Hero.

My main rule in life is to never let tomato ketchup touch any food that is green. I am yet to work out any deep meaning behind this and suspect it is not the soundest of principles by which to live your life. But it’s better than quite a few I’ve come across down the years. Best not to get started on that one though.

I live in London with my fantastic wife and two remarkable children and didn’t vote for BREXIT
Twitter @philbradyuk

Monday 26 February 2018

Book Review - The Moment of Truth by Shari Low - Rachel Reads Randomly Book #88

Amazon UK
Title: The Moment of Truth
Author: Shari Low
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Purchased
Publisher: Self Published
Publication Date: 26th February 2015
Rating: 4 Stars

Laney Cochrane loves her life.
With her friends Millie and Tash, she runs a proposal agency, organising the perfect setting for their clients to pop the question. 
Finding that forever love is something Laney knows all about. Her marriage to Cameron is blissfully content and she has never doubted they’ll live happily ever after.
Then Cara Deacon walks into their office.
When Cara enlists their help to set up a romantic engagement to her boyfriend, they visualise a breathtaking scene under a moonlit Manhattan sky.
Laney’s excitement rises, until she realises that the man Cara intends to marry has the same name as her own husband.
Cameron Cochrane.
A bizarre coincidence? Identity theft? A cruel joke?
Or is Cara’s dream about to become Laney’s worst nightmare?
The only way to know for sure is to plan the proposal and see it through to the end.
But whose heart will be left intact after… The Moment of Truth?

I really enjoyed this book although I have to say I felt sorry for Laney almost the whole way through it. I have no idea how she had the strength of character that she showed, and I don't know many people who if in her position would do what she did. 

For Laney along with best friends Millie and Tash run Perfect Proposals an agency to help set up incredible, romantic proposals to give loved ones a proposal to remember. Imagine the girls surprise when they had one of their rare female clients come in, and give the name of her fiancee to be, to be very familiar. 

For he has the same name has Laney's husband. 

I loved this story of female friendship, and the three very distinct personalities of the girls, who I enjoyed getting to know that bit better, as some chapters focused on one of them individually.  Tash is a complete tonic, her outlook on life is so refreshing, and added quite a lot of the laughs for this book. 

The Moment of Truth had me on tenterhooks to see just how it would all resolve itself, when the moment of truth was revealed.   

Loved the characters and the writing, and its another incredibly entertaining book from Shari Lows back catalogue which I am really enjoying working my way through. 

Thanks to everyone that votes for this book this week, another excellent choice, bring on this time next week! 

Rachel Reads Randomly - Vote #89

Thank you everyone for your input last time. The results of the last vote were:

0 Votes -   Sugar Mummy by Simon Brooke
1 Votes - Six Foot Six by Kit De Waal
2 Votes  - Secrets by Debbie Viggiano
2 Votes -  Finding Margo by Susanne O'Leary
5 Votes - The Moment of Truth by Shari Low

Thank you everyone that did take part this week, The Moment of Truth was incredibly enjoyable. I was a bit surprised that there wasn't more interest in the selection, I am starting to think that noone has ever heard of half the books I have on my master TBR!

So this year I've decided instead of changing what part of the TBR I randomise each week, I'm going with at least until I get bored, books released in the current month - so for the next few weeks all the options will be books released in February - that is February from whatever year they were published! (At least based on the publication date I put on my master spreadsheet). Should give all books a few chances to get picked over a year and be slightly quicker for me to set up!  

Below is my initial theory for this feature, and then a bit further, what you are all waiting for... This weeks's vote! Enjoy!

I am also awful at deciding what book to read next, as I often have about 10 titles or authors jumping into my brain at any time, shouting at me to read them, and I tend to worry I have made the wrong decision while reading a perfectly good book. I am hoping this will save me having to make at least 1 choice a week, while possibly providing a review to the site of a book you all either love or are curious about yourselves. 

So what I am proposing, is my lovely loyal readers of Rachel's Random Reads, select one book for me to read a week, and I will post the review the following week. 

This week's random numbers are...

And the books these numbers correspond to are...

So the 5 choices with my gut feeling responses are:

8 - Lavender Lane by Christina Jones - I absolutely love this author, and can't believe there are still back catalogue books from her that I haven't read. 
10 - Betrayal by Danielle Steel - I tend to really enjoy this author, but haven't read any for ages. She is iconic and tends to write easily readable and absorbing stories. 
33 - The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes - Another huge named author, that I really haven't read as much as perhaps I would have liked from. I know nothing about the book though. 
43 - The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs - This is the first book of a series, I read one book by her years ago and enjoyed enough to buy a few on my kindle and then never read it! 
47 - The Anniversary by Various - Selection of short stories all by some of my favourite authors I believe in one easy to real collection. 

Now this is on interesting looking selection, with two typically big name authors who have had massive writing careers, plus other books that I want to read too. I have no idea which will win, I'm not even sure which I want to win based on initial instincts!  Have fun picking using whatever criteria you wish! 

As I was grabbing the covers from Amazon, since google image search is being annoying, I couldn't help but notice that 4 out of 5 of these books I bought in late 2014 or early 2015 - it probably is about time I should read one of them!!

And authors, if its your book up on this feature, feel free to take part, vote for yourself, or stir up excitement amongst your fans! 

Pick your favourite or the one you most want me to review, or just the one you are curious about, and leave me a comment below, before midnight on Wednesday. 

I look forward to seeing what I will be reading over the weekend, courtesy of you all. 

The explanation if you haven't seen the feature before. 

How is this going to work?

Every Monday, I am going to have a post like this, which is going to have some choices on it. I am planning on using to select 7 random numbers, to coincide with my spreadsheet of unread books.  

I will from that produce a list of hopefully 5 books, I reserve the right to veto any books, and will give reasons for them, if it occurs.

I will take screenshots and post them, of the chosen books, and also give you my instinctive reactions to the choices (without checking blurbs or any other info about them, which could be interesting as there are probably many forgotten about books on my spreadsheet!). 

Your task is to post a comment on this post, with the book you would like me to read this week. At midnight on Wednesday I will take a tally of the votes and the book with the most, I will read and review for the following Monday, where you will also get a new choice post. 

In the event of a tie, I will chose which one appeals most, for the Monday review, and possibly try and read and review the other to appear when I can. 

I am hoping this will provide some variety to the books appearing, and will let me potentially read or discover some great authors that I have wanted to read but not got around to yet.

Sunday 25 February 2018

Book Review - The Heart of the Garden by Victoria Connelly

Amazon UK
Title: The Heart of the Garden
Author: Victoria Connellly
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: 22nd February 2018
Rating: 4 Stars

Morton Hall, with its beautiful, ruined grounds and its reclusive mistress, Emilia Morton, is full of mysteries. For freelance editor Anne Marie, the wild garden has become a serene and secret refuge from her loveless marriage. The only other regular visitor is Cape, the hall’s part-time gardener, who is forbidden to tend to anything except the magnificent maze or to meet his enigmatic employer.

When Emilia dies, Cape and Anne Marie are astonished to find themselves among an unlikely group of villagers named in her strange will. Morton Hall, including its dazzling art collection and once glorious grounds, can belong to the community forever, but only if they work together to bring the garden back to life within a single year.

As they try to put their differences aside to restore the tangled grounds, long-buried secrets are unearthed. Can the past be forgiven as hope and new love begin to bloom?

Another fabulous book from Victoria Connelly.  I really felt as though I got to know Morton Hall and its gardens in great detail. 

I loved finding out about the gardens, and seeing what Anne Maries and the others would discover in there next as an unlikely group of strangers inherit the Hall and their first task is to sort out the garden as it was rather overgrown.   

Learning about the different members of the group, and seeing how alliances were formed and even new friendships was inspiring and comforting. A complete mix of personalities but they do have things in common and it was lovely to see. 

There are three main storylines and characters.  We have Emilia whose story in the 80s we are told, of young love and its through that you start to understand a lot more about Morton Hall and its history and the Morton family. 

There is Anne-Marie who is in a tricky marriage and I don't think much of her mother either. She was going to the gardens of Morton Hall even before this rather strange group inheritance and no one ever really noticed she had gone. 

Then there is Cape who is the hall's gardener, and his daughter Poppy who also had a really enjoyable storyline. 

The Heart of the Garden really does show how gardens can heal people, bring them together and give even the least green fingered amongst us a good sense of belonging.   Really enjoyable book that I had a good time reading. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for this copy which I reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 

Saturday 24 February 2018

Book Review - Inspector Chopra and the Million-Dollar Motor Car by Vaseem Khan

Amazon UK
Title: Inspector Chopra and the Million-Dollar Motor Car
Author: Vaseem Khan
Format reviewed: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: 1st February 2018
Rating: 5 Stars

An enchanting Baby Ganesh Agency short story: a million-dollar car is missing. Chopra has two days to find it, or the gangster who bought it will not be happy.

The Premier No.1 Garage is the place to go in Mumbai if you want a luxury car. Even Mumbai's biggest gangster shops there - he's just ordered a classic race car worth millions.

But now the car is gone. Stolen from a locked room, in the middle of the night.

Who stole it? The mechanic who is addicted to gambling? The angry ex-worker? The car thief pulling off one last job?

And how on earth did they make it vanish from the locked garage?

Inspector Chopra has just days to find the culprit - and the missing car - before its gangster owner finds out ... and takes violent revenge.

Although I have been aware of the Quick Reads program for a few years, it has taken me until this year to actually get around to reading one of these books and I'm impressed. 

This is the first book Iv'e read also by Vaseem Khan but with this well crafted mystery made sure it won't be the last either.  

I spent the book scratching my head as to how a million dollar car can just disappear and enjoyed watching Inspector Chopra racing around Mumbai and the surrounds to try and solve this mystery. 

I had a whistlestop tour of Mumbai and had a feel for what life is like in India, while meeting assorted characters.  For a short story there were quite a lot of characters but it was all really easy to follow and the story was told in a logical fashion. 

However easily my favourite character was Ganesha, as lets face it you don't get baby pet elephants that often in fiction, and this one seemed especially smart and in tune with Inspector Chopra, a rather unique detecting partner. 

Really enjoyed this introduction to the series, and look forward to reading more books by Vaseem Khan in the future. 

Friday 23 February 2018

Book Review - Cold Blood by Robert Bryndza - #HolidayReading Book 14

Book 14 of 30 that I read on my holiday to Fuerteventura in December 2017

Amazon UK
Title: Cold Blood
Author: Robert Bryndza
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Bookouture
Publication Date: 20th September 2017
Rating: 4 Stars

The suitcase was badly rusted, and took Erika several attempts, but it yielded and sagged open as she unzipped it. Nothing could prepare her for what she would find inside…

When a battered suitcase containing the dismembered body of a young man washes up on the shore of the river Thames, Detective Erika Foster is shocked. But it’s not the first time she’s seen such a brutal murder…

Two weeks earlier, the body of a young woman was found dumped in an identical suitcase. What connects the two victims? As Erika and her team set to work, they quickly realise they are on the trail of a serial killer who has already made their next move. 

Yet just as Erika starts to make headway with the investigation, she is the target of a violent attack. Forced to recover at home, and with her personal life falling apart, everything is stacked against her, but nothing will stop Erika. 

As the body count rises, the case takes an even more twisted turn when the twin daughters of Erika’s colleague, Commander Marsh, are suddenly put in terrible jeopardy. The stakes are higher than ever before, but can Erika save the lives of two innocent children before it’s too late? She’s running out of time and about to make a disturbing discovery…there’s more than one killer. 

Brilliantly gripping, Cold Blood will have you hooked from the first page and holding your breath to the heart-stopping and shocking ending. 

Another excellent addition to the Erika Foster series. This time though the book felt quite different. 

There was as always the emphasis on Erika and how the police were dealing with trying to solve the crimes and catch the killer. 

Then at the same time we have the story as told by the villain, in a way that almost had me feeling compassion.  For various reasons this section seemed a lot fuller and larger than normal but it was an interesting story. 

I loved seeing how this series progresses and this time the crime spree was really difficult to work from, if it wasn't for the other part of the book I wouldn't have had a clue!

Full of graphic description and rather disturbing scenes, this is further progression of the larger storylines for these characters. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Bookouture for this copy which I reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 
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