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Welsh Annie (Wetherby)

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Secrets of the Tower: The great mystery and passionate romance behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Secrets of the Tower: The great mystery and passionate romance behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Price: £0.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it..., 23 Mar. 2015
I'll readily admit that I'm not the most passionate reader of historical fiction, particularly when that history is 12th century. But I visited Pisa some years ago and was intrigued by the premise of this book, and always enjoy a dual time narrative - and I'm excited by the output of this exciting publisher, Bookouture, who currently seem to have a touch of gold with the books they're choosing to publish. Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix was published on 20th March in paperback and for kindle - and I must say that I absolutely loved it.

A strong woman is a strong woman whatever the historical setting, and the author has created some wonderful ones within the pages of this lovely book. Throughout the historical story, Berta is thoroughly mesmerising - I really couldn't take my eyes off her as she tangled with a man's world to achieve her dream. She's a wonderfully complex character - passionate and driven by love, but also cool and calculating in achieving what she wants. Aurelia I warmed to rather less - less sophisticated, she was sometimes too much of the petulant child to like, although I did warm to her considerably as the book progressed, and felt for her over her love for Gerardo. I also liked very much Aurelia's mother Violetta, a wonderfully caring character, with her apothecary skills central to the twists and turns of the story.

The modern story is every bit as good as the historical, and I really liked Sam - and enjoyed her growing realisation that she had buried herself as an individual, both talented and capable. Her husband Michael seemed a weakling unworthy of her - I'd have skipped away into the sunset with Dario like a flash, but I guess we wouldn't then have had much of a book.

The book is beautifully written in a highly readable way, and the Italian setting is perfectly drawn in both modern and historical settings, with sufficient detail to bring Pisa vividly to life, clearly by someone who loves it and knows it well. The dialogue flows quite perfectly - the historical exchanges are well done, with nothing jarring in a 12th century setting. The extensive research behind this book is clear, but used well - enough detail used to breathe life into the story and create the setting, never a turn-off. And above everything, this is a wonderful story - the author's note and chronology make it clear what is fact and what is fiction, but I don't think I'll ever see pictures of Pisa again without thinking of Berta and the passions that drove her.

The Girl in the Red Coat
The Girl in the Red Coat
Price: £4.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality writing, highly original story, 22 Mar. 2015
For a first novel, this is very accomplished writing - a really different story, and a story very well told. I liked the use of the two different voices - it's a device that enables you to feel and experience first hand, and although you might not entirely like her you certainly feel like a punch to the stomach Beth's anguish and devastation when her daughter Carmel disappears at a storytelling fair. You get wonderfully into Carmel's mind too - her sense of complete loss at being told what has happened to her mother, her anguish when her estranged father fails to get in touch, her childish fear of the dark in her new temporary home, her moving forward when forced to fit in with her new and very unusual family. It's certainly the story of a journey - a physical one, and the story of Carmel's coming of age against a backdrop that comes quite unexpectedly alive and makes this a book that is really difficult to categorise. Whether you see it as a coming of age story, a family drama, a thriller or something different, it's certainly a really absorbing read.

I'd like to be able to say "if you liked x, you'll love this one", but I'll admit I'm finding it really difficult to draw comparisons. It's well written - literary but accessible, very readable, well paced. There aren't many laughs, but there are some lovely smiles as Carmel grows up and finds her way. Beth's ongoing story of loss - and you really feel it with her - is very well done, and particularly gut-wrenching set against Carmel's entirely separate storyline in her new life in a different continent.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did - for the quality of the writing, for the highly original story, and for the joy that is Carmel. It might not be on my list of top books of the year, but I certainly look forward to seeing what Kate Hamer comes up with next - whatever it may be, I have no doubt it'll be an equally fascinating read.

Our Endless Numbered Days
Our Endless Numbered Days
Price: £6.64

5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional in every way, 22 Mar. 2015
Essentially, this story is one of appalling cruelty - Peggy's survivalist father tears her away from her comfortable home life, tells her that those she loves are dead and that the rest of the world has been destroyed, and they survive together in an isolated and barely habitable cabin for the next nine years. However, it is also a novel of the most exceptional beauty - some of the descriptions are so vivid that you feel them with all your senses, and the author's facility with the written word is quite breathtaking. Peggy's voice is quite perfectly captured, and adds to the novel's strength - at times she's very much a little girl, exploring her new life and making new discoveries, at other times her adult take on things takes you by surprise. There are images that will stay with me for ever - her father's making of a silent piano, his lavishing immense care on its construction, enabling Peggy to perfect the playing of the piece of music that brought him together with his concert pianist wife, was exceptionally moving. His descent into madness is well handled - Peggy's is handled more subtly, leaving a really blurred sense of reality and imagination.

There are those of you who will be thinking "oh no, this one's not for me" - but I have to say that if you don't try it you'll be missing an immense and memorable treat and experience. I don't think I've said recently "this is one of my books of the year", but I'm going to about this one. I won't say you'll enjoy it - that's the wrong word somehow - but if you'd like to read something very different that will truly move you, and remain vivid in your memory long after you've finished, do try this one. Claire Fuller is a truly exceptional writer, and this book is quite unforgettable.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

The Soft Whisper of Dreams (Choc Lit) (Shadows from the Past Book 2)
The Soft Whisper of Dreams (Choc Lit) (Shadows from the Past Book 2)
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting, mysterious and unashamedly romantic, 20 Mar. 2015
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Although described as a "follow-on", there's absolutely no need to have read the earlier book - but for those of us who have, it's a lovely opportunity to meet Kayla and Wes again. Maddie is a strong and spirited heroine, and Alex an initially unlikely but ultimately perfect romantic lead. The story tracks the twists and turns of their relationship, but also follows Maddie's quest to find out more about her family - a quest that puts her in serious danger, with some edge-of-your-seat moments and many real surprises. The characters are well drawn, the Cornish setting equally well described: the story is by turn exciting, mysterious and unashamedly romantic, a perfect novel into which to escape for a few hours. I loved it - and, particularly for anyone who read The Secret Kiss of Darkness, the ending is absolutely perfect.

The Ship
The Ship
Price: £4.68

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful creation of a post-apocalyptic world, 12 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Ship (Kindle Edition)
The Ship by Antonia Honeywell created quite a buzz before its publication on 19 February, for kindle and in hardcover, by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. It was on a number of "books to look out for" lists - but I noticed some friends struggling with it a little, so I did approach with some trepidation.

The blurb positioned this book as "The Hunger Games meets The Handmaid's Tale", and it has to be said that the comparisons did the book few favours. Some people speculated that it was targeted at young adults - young adults would possibly enjoy it, but the sixteen year old girl at its centre certainly isn't a Katniss Everdene. In fact, I think she might be one of the most thoroughly unlikeable heroines on which anyone has ever focused a story. And what is this current trend of comparing books anyway? But whatever your feelings on reading this book - and I really enjoyed it - it's difficult to argue against the fact that it's exceptionally innovative, the product of a wonderful creative imagination, exceptionally well written and a book you certainly won't forget in a hurry.

The ship itself mesmerised me - the world the author (and Lalla's father Michael) creates is described in a level of detail that I loved. It left me with the most vivid images - the food store rooms, the clothing awaiting the people in future years, the map drawn in flour on the table as people recalled the geography of London, the ship's inhabitants gathering around the broadcasts of atrocities from home. Lalla herself I struggled with a little - her life of privilege, her obsession with home, her selfishness and single-mindedness when some flexibility would have made life more bearable for her and those around her. Her father is thoroughly fascinating, a wonderfully complex character whose unique vision created the world they now inhabit, his later incarnation as an all-powerful messiah a fascinating contrast with his pre-Ship life with his more realistic and grounded wife.

I really enjoyed this one - a wonderful creation of a post-apocalyptic world, some truly fascinating characters and situations, and a book that will stay with me for some time to come.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

Fragile Lies
Fragile Lies
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Secrets, love and illusion, 13 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Fragile Lies (Kindle Edition)
Laura Elliot - do you know, I thought that name was familiar! I've just checked my kindle and her two earlier novels, Stolen Child and The Prodigal Sister, caught my eye a while ago, and are both sitting there, awaiting my attention. But now, new book, new publisher - Laura Elliot is now with Bookouture, Fragile Lies is published in trade paperback and for kindle on 13th February, and what an exciting partnership this is going to be. I've been totally engrossed in this book for the last couple of days - anyone who likes the same books and writing as I do is just going to love it.

The book starts intriguingly and explosively. An un-named couple are having the latest in a line of illicit overnight stays in an out-of-the-way hotel when the possibility of discovery forces them to flee. The night goes from bad to worse when, following a break-in at their car, they run down the apparent vagrant who stole their goods and leave him where he falls.

The book then changes direction a little, and picks up the story of Lorraine. A successful artist, her life has been blown apart by the breakdown of her marriage, and her grief is palpable as we follow her to her new home in Trebawn, where she spent her childhood summers. Initially unable to do much more than stare out of the window or walk on the beach, boxes still cluttering the house, we watch as she starts to rebuild a life for herself and her daughter, supported by the wonderful community around her. We hear about her childhood - when arguments could be forgotten with a knock on the caravan window the following morning - and about her growing up, with close and fierce friendships and the passion of youth.

Lorraine's story is interspersed with the thoughts of the distraught father, Michael, sitting at the bedside of his son, waiting - perhaps in vain - for him to come out of the coma in which he was left on the night of the hit-and-run accident. Again, we hear some background to his life - a son used as a pawn by his mother, lives falling apart every bit as painfully. And we feel his desperation to find out who did this dreadful thing to his son.

This is a wonderful character driven story, with the most vividly drawn characters both major and minor. Lorraine hooked me in from the very first encounter, through her efforts to build the relationship with her daughter, equally damaged by the break-up and a typically complex teenager. The author allows us into her head, and we share in her thoughts and emotions. I loved her early story too - her childhood and adult friendships, with Virginia, Razor/Ralph and Adrian at their centre. The author has a real gift for characterisation - Virginia transforms quite perfectly from the "vampire bitch" of her youth into the serene and highly competent business woman, Ralph from singer with a punk band with his edge of dangerousness into the driving force of the advertising agency he runs with Adrian.

But above all, this is a wonderful story incredibly well told, full of secrets, love and illusion, lies and revenge, which will keep you gripped well into the early hours - well, that's what it did to me anyway! The writing is wonderful - superb descriptions of the settings, dialogue that flows beautifully and realistically, with emotions you feel with all your being, exceptionally well drawn characters, twists and turns and revelations, and an ending that is absolutely perfect.

I'm always wary of "if you liked" comparisons, but I found real parallels with the writing of Liane Moriarty, Lucie Whitehouse and Zoe Heller. The story - although developed in a totally different style and direction - also recalled Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. But comparisons really aren't appropriate or necessary, other than in encouraging you to read it - Laura Elliot is a wonderfully talented writer. I'll most certainly be going back to read her two earlier novels, and am looking forward keenly to seeing what she comes up with next.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Bookouture for my advance reading e-copy.

Second Life
Second Life
Price: £7.12

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a read I enjoyed, 12 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Second Life (Kindle Edition)
Did everyone read Before I Go To Sleep? I did - and I loved it as much as you probably did. You might have been to see the film too - spotting the parts where the film didn't follow the book, marvelling at Nicole Kidman's limited range of facial expressions, debating whether Colin Firth was the right choice to play the husband - and wondering if the plot gaps that were so visible in the film were there in the book too (surely not!). That book - the author's first - received such stellar acclaim that it was always going to be a hard act to follow, and I couldn't wait to read Second Life, to be published on 12th February by Doubleday.

I very rarely review a book I didn't enjoy, but I'm going to be honest about this one - this review will quickly be overtaken by others from people who loved it - and say that this wasn't the book for me. There were a few reasons for that. The whole premise of Julia's addictive personality and the way she got into the online chatrooms was fine - maybe not particularly original, but well handled. But the way she acts thereafter - I know you sometimes need to suspend disbelief when reading a thriller, but this woman makes one bad decision after another, not changing direction when every rational bone in her body tells her to do so, putting her family and life on the line way beyond the limits of credibility.

But I decided to roll with it, see where the story went. The writing is fine - keeps you turning the pages. The family relationships, the interactions with friends, Julia's relationship with the bottle - all well enough done. Had the sex scenes had more of an erotic edge, I guess the book could be read on that level - but they didn't quite hit the mark for me. I found Lukas' dramatic personality change considerably less than convincing too. And as for the twist at the end - I flipped back through the book to see if I should have seen it coming, but the clues really just weren't there.

Am I being harder on this one because of the book that came before? Would I have liked it better had it come in a plain brown wrapper rather than with the fanfare of trumpets and the author's name on the cover? I'm not sure really - I think I actually might not have read it through to the end. On the author's name alone, I'm sure this book will be an enormous best seller - but I'm sorry to say it wasn't a read I enjoyed.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Doubleday for my advance reading copy.

The Doll's House: DI Helen Grace 3
The Doll's House: DI Helen Grace 3
Price: £3.66

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really excellent, 12 Feb. 2015
I'm not really much of a series reader - with a few noteworthy exceptions like Peter James' Roy Grace novels and Nicci French's Frieda Klein series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Helen Grace book by M.J. Arlidge, Eeny Meeny, but less engaged by the second, Pop Goes The Weasel. I'm so glad though that I continued to read with the third book, The Doll's House, published in paperback and for kindle on 12th February by Penguin. This was one of those books that keeps you up into the early hours, and I really loved it.

The story is very strong - a body found buried on a beach by a young family on a day out, the body of a young girl with dark hair, bright blue eyes and a bluebird tattoo on her shoulder. And it soon becomes clear that the girl was the victim of a serial killer, one who starves his victims to death, all with a similar appearance - and missing girl Ruby Sprackling also fits that profile. The story itself is darkly chilling, all the more so because we view it through Ruby's eyes as she tries to stay alive.

But in addition to that, we have the continuing struggles of DI Helen Grace - a complex and fascinating character, wrestling with her history of horrific abuse, fighting against the prejudiced views and downright dislike of her senior officers, sometimes not acting as professionally as she should. I particularly liked her relationship with her pregnant DC Charlie, drawn into the story, her complex dealings with her tormentor Jake, and her interactions with grieving father Daniel.

The background and motivation of the serial killer is exceptionally well done - made wholly believable, almost sympathetically drawn. And Helen's new team is quite fascinating - the competitiveness of the female officers who have to fight to be seen, her young black second in command working to gain the approval of his father.

The story is quite perfectly paced, the tension unremitting, and it all builds to an explosive climax:, an over-used expression it might be, but this book really was quite impossible to put down. When I wasn't reading, it was constantly in my thoughts - I was almost afraid something would happen to Ruby while I wasn't watching.

Well done M.J. Arlidge - you'd almost lost me there for a while, but I now can't wait for the next in the series. And there's not too long to wait - the fourth in this series, Liar Liar, is due out in September.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Penguin for my advance reading e-copy.

A Vintage Wedding
A Vintage Wedding
Price: £6.17

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious, 12 Feb. 2015
This review is from: A Vintage Wedding (Kindle Edition)
Every so often, there's something wonderfully pleasurable about setting aside the latest psychological thriller or challenging literary "must read", and escaping into the world that Katie Fforde creates so well. A Vintage Wedding is Katie's 21st novel and is published by Century (Random House) on 12th February in hardback and e-book formats.

If you've read any of the author's books before, this one will delight you, delivering everything you are expecting and hoping for. I'm a bit of a Katie Fforde fan, but if you've never read her books before, and like your reading deliciously light, with romance, thoroughly likeable characters (and some you might like less), some twists and turns, a beautiful Cotswold setting, light touches of humour and a heart-warming story, you really can't do much better.

Lindy is a single parent, struggling financially while bringing up her two young boys but surrounded by her supportive family. Beth is jobless, staying in a gifted holiday let while working out how she can turn her life around, escaping from her controlling mother, and organising her sister's wedding. Rachel works as a self-employed accountant, living in her perfect white home ("wevet" on the Farrow and Ball paint chart), not lighting her wood burning stove for fear of spoiling its perfection, sleeping between pristine high threadcount white sheets and polishing her white bath.

But when rough-round-the-edges Raff delivers Rachel a load of logs, Charlie from the farm sells Beth a slightly smelly van for £300, and the girls decide to set up their enterprise organising on-the-cheap weddings, things are about to change for them all. Throw into the mix a dilapidated church hall and an unexpected brush with the music industry, add a surrounding community who pull together to provide support, reintroduce Beth's horrendous mother - and you have everything you need for a really lovely read and a few hours' total feel-good escapism.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

Not Forgetting The Whale
Not Forgetting The Whale
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly perfect, 12 Feb. 2015
ack in 2013 I discovered a book that left a profound impression on me, but that very few of my book-appreciating friends seemed to notice. That book was The Coincidence Authority - read my review here and you'll see how much I loved it. So I was really quite excited when I saw that John Ironmonger had a new book on the way - Not Forgetting The Whale is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson on 12th February in hardback and for kindle - and even more delighted when I managed to get my hands on a pre-release e-copy.

When you anticipate a new release so keenly, you sometimes prepare for disappointment - books sometimes have a tendency to frustrate, to let you down. But not this one - this is one of those rare books that I'll be thrusting into the hands of friends and urging them to read it, it's so thoroughly perfect.

Joe Haak washes up naked on the beach at St Piran in Cornwall, and is taken into the heart of the community of 397 people who live there: a fin whale seen in the bay is washed up shortly afterwards, and the village pulls together to return it to the sea. This is when we first start to meet the individuals who make up the community, and what wonderful individuals they are, all drawn in vivid detail. From the curmudgeonly retired doctor who provides Joe with a home, to the rigid vicar and his flighty wife, the nurse from Senegal with the beautiful singing voice, the perceptive primary school teacher, the beachcomber, the naturalist, the writer of romantic novels - they're all drawn quite perfectly.

Joe was formerly an analyst with an investment bank in the City where he designed a computer programme - Cassie - capable of predicting ailing stocks by analysing news sources and identifying links and impacts. Details of his former life are told in flashbacks as he adapts to his very different life in St Piran, and are thoroughly fascinating. Joe fled when Cassie predicted a global catastrophe, and the village pulls together to survive the challenges that follow.

The story is thoroughly wonderful, the characterisation absolutely entrancing, and the themes around networks and communities and the unpredictability of human nature quite unforgettable. I guess you'd call it a post-apocalyptic novel, but overall I found it a fascinating exploration of how a very specific community of people react to a global event, and how people's resilience and capacity for love will always surprise you. If you enjoy your books a little quirky, a little different from the norm - well, you're going to love this one.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers W&N for my advance reading e-copy.

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