My Top Ten Books from my first year as a blogger.

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I can hardly believe that it has been one year since I started my blog.  This was a big step for me as I have spondylosis and arthritis of the spine and suffer depression.  This was a personal journey to try to give me some structure to my life  and something to get up for in a morning.  I do not blog as often as many do but that is because I am not always able to read due to the pain.  A year on and I am very proud of what I have achieved as are my family, I love sharing my thoughts on books with other like minded people and I am very grateful for all the support I have received.

So, one year on I have narrowed down my favourite books I have reviewed to only ten (I can’t tell you how difficult that was).  My reviews of all these books can be found on my blog.  They are in no particular order, so here it goes;

  1. The Minaturist by Jessie Burton.  A beautiful piece of historical fiction set in seventeenth century Amsterdam following Nella Ortman after her marriage to an illustrious merchant.  Full of historical detail, a novel of secrets, lies and mysterious happenings, an atmospheric and compelling read.
  2. The Lake House by Kate Morton.  I do love this salt of book that has two timelines running.  1933 Alice Edevane is sixteen and looking forward to her first Midsummer Eve Party, but tragedy happens in the disappearance of her young brother Theo.  Seventy years later Sadie Sparrow is visiting her Grandad and comes upon the abandoned house and the mystery of Theo Edevane.  Kate Morton descriptive writing beings to life the house and Midsummer Party.  A beautiful story  with characters that you take to your heart.
  3. Liar Liar by M J Arlidge.  This is the fourth book in the DI Helen Grace series and has to be my favourite crime/thriller series.  Helen and her team face an arsonist who sets three fires in one night; two are a diversion and one an act of murder.  Fast paced, chilling but utterly brilliant.
  4. Light Between Oceans by M L Steadman.  Tom and Izzy live on a remote Island where Tom is the Lighthouse Keeper.  One day a boat washes up containing a dad man and a small baby.  After suffering several miscarriages, Izzy convinces Tom that they should keep the baby.  The book follows the consequences of this decision, and will leave you questioning what you would have done in their situation.  This is an emotional read so have a box of tissues ready.
  5. The Storm Sister by Lucinda Riley.  This is the second book in The Seven Sisters series, and follows Ally as she traces her roots to Norway and the singer Anna Landvik who performed at the first performance of Greig’s Peer Gynt.  I love Lucinda Riley as an author, her writing is engaging and descriptive to capture your attention.  The story is beautiful and like The Lake House is split over two time lines; the present and the beginning of the twentieth century.
  6. A Harvest of Thorns by Corban Addison.  In Dhakah, Bangladesh a clothing factory , that makes clothes for the huge American clothing company Presto Omnishops, burns to the ground killing many of the workers.  A year later a whistleblower contacts journalist Josh Grinwald about the sweat shops used by American companies.  This book opens up the pandora’sbox of the manufacture of clothes in sweat shops in the Far East.  It will make you question where you buy your clothes.  This is a compelling and erudite read.
  7. Mount by Jilly Cooper.  I was so excited when this book came out.  I first encountered Rupert Campbell-Black in Riders when I was sixteen, and over the last twenty eight years he has not lost his charm, or bad boy status.  Now he is involves in the flat racing and trying to win the top stud with his horse, the aptly named Love Rat.  As expected from Jilly Cooper there is plenty of wit, humour, sex and plenty of animals, I absolutely loved it and I look forward to he next novel.
  8. The Escape by C L Taylor.  C L Taylor is fast becoming one of my favourite thriller writers.  She takes everyday situations and turns them around so they have malice. Jo Blackmore is getting into her car after work when she is approached by a stranger who seems to know a lot about her and her family.  After a series of incidents that catch the attention of social services and the police, Jo takes her daughter Elise on the run; is she paranoid or really in danger.  A chilling plot that will keep you on the edge of you seat.  Great characters, great plot and brilliantly unexpected ending.
  9. In The Name of the Family  by Sarah Dunant.  Renaissance Italy in the sixteenth century, Alexander VI, Roderigo Borgia is still Pope; his son Cesare is a soldier fighting to control many of Italy’s city states under the umbrella of the Papal States; Lucrezia is set to marry Duke Elect Alfonso D’Este to secure Ferrara.  This book follows the Borgia family in their final years in power.  Sarah Dunant writes with passion and great knowledge of this era of history.  Through her writing she is able to bring Renaissance Italy, and all its sights and sounds to life.  She stays away from the rumours of incest and poisoning and sticks to the facts.  A masterly and erudite historical novel.
  10. Crimson & Bone by Marina Fiorato.  Like Sarah Dunant, Marina Fiorato is another tour de force in the historical genre of literature.  Here she writes about the art world of the nineteenth century.  Frances Maybrick Gill is a Pre-Raphealite artist, one night he saves young prostate Annie Stride from committing suicide.  He takes her in and she becomes his muse, and he teaches her how to behave in society, but to what ends?.  This book takes us from London, to Florence and Venice, and is a piece of art inits own right; her description and detail are precise like a peace if art.  It has a more gothic feel than her previous books; there is a darker edge to the plot of this exquisitely written novel.

 

A Life in Books with Tara Lyons

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This evening I welcome author Tara Lyons to my blog to talk about A Life in Books.  Details of Tara’s books and how to contact and follow her are at the end of the interview.

 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Hi Juliet, thanks for having me on your blog today. I’m Tara and I write crime/thriller books. I’ve always loved writing and I would have been the kid in the corner of the room with my nose in a book – either making up my own stories or reading them. After my son was born and I was made redundant, I realised I had some extra time and rekindled my love of reading. When I turned 30 in 2015, some very awesome friends gifted me with a laptop – so I now had the time and the tools to follow my dreams and started writing again. I self-published my debut solo novel, In The Shadows, in March 2016 and have co-written with M.A. Comley (The Caller and Web of Deceit: A DI Sally Parker novella). I was delighted when, in August 2016, I signed a book contract with the formidable Bloodhound Books, who published No Safe Home in January of this year. I’m currently working on the third book in the DI Hamilton Series (although both In The Shadows and No Safe Home can be read as standalones) and it will be published later this year.
When I’m not writing, my time is spent with my family – namely my very energetic four-year-old son, my less energetic eighty-year-old nan and my extremely supportive mum (we’ll leave her age out of it, as she’ll probably read this).
1. What was your favourite book from childhood

I was a huge Roald Dahl fan. I loved the imagery and characters and funny words. While I read all of them, The Witches always sticks out in my mind – I don’t know if it was because of the sheer magic of these beings existing or because maybe it was a bit scary… maybe we should have known back then that I had a darker side. What’s lovely is that I’m getting a chance to re-read them now when my son. We’ve just finished The BFG (which he loved and wanted me to read again as soon as I’d finished) and we’ve just started Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.

 

41NZW32CVBL._SX293_BO1,204,203,200_2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?

I moved on to Point Horror, Goosebumps and Sweet Valley High – which was probably early teenage years. Thinking about it, this actually says a lot about my reading habits now – I love a crime, thriller story that’s going to shock and scare me, but, every now and then, I have to break it up with something lighter. Looks like I’m the same kind of reader as teenage me.

 

 

3. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?
This is an interesting one… and I’ll have to go with Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet. I got “told off” by my form tutor because each morning before lessons started, we were expected to read a book of our choice and she caught me reading this book. However, she was soon shut down when the rest of the class backed me up and explained we hadn’t actually started this book in English class yet, I was reading it because I wanted to. It wasn’t on the reading syllabus until the following year – and I read it again. So, it’s always been a firm school favourite read. Perhaps it’s the mix of love and death and family that appeals to me.

 

4. What is your favourite classic book?41PW3nov7PL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

Has to be Jane Eyre – another book I’ve read more than once. But, if I’m honest, I can’t quite put my finger on why I’ve read it more than once, (other than Romeo and Juliet, it’s not something I’m in the habit of doing), but, I’ve just always enjoyed it. Also, it is another mixed tale, with the foundations of a love story cloaked in darkness… I see a theme here in my reading habits!

 

5. What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 5 years?

That is such a difficult question! I’ve read books that have scared me, enlightened me and made me cry… how do I choose? Okay, I can’t and I have to cheat… sorry!
Flowers For The Dead, Barbara Copperthwaite – when an author can make you feel sorry for a serial killer, that is some real talent! I almost stopped reading this book early on, because I didn’t like one of the scenes, but I’m so glad I pushed passed the horror it invoked because it was information that was needed. The style of writing, language, imagery and emotions it made me feel, has stuck with me.
Charlie & Peal, Tammy Robinson – just when I thought my tear-ducts had completely dried up, Tammy’s books were introduced into my life. They have become my light-relief stories, my palette cleanser from the many crime and thriller reads. Tammy has a way with words and I am scooped up into her beautiful world – seeing the endless ocean and star-filled night skies.
The Justice Series, M.A Comley – when you need a strong female character in your life, this is the kick-arse crime series to turn to. I’ve just finished reading the 14th book in the series and it always feels like a treat have DI Lorne Warner back in my life. It has an explosive start to the series – I read them in a matter of days, which is very fast for me, and I can’t recommend the series enough. It would make an awesome crime TV series.

 

41vyPtWV2hL._AC_US218_6. What book to you think you should read but never get around to?

I should read A Clockwork Orange because it’s been on my TBR list since I started university. I was told that a scene of the film was filmed at Brunel University, where I attended, and bought the book. When I went through my nesting stage of pregnancy all my books were taken to a charity shop (I know, blasphemy) so, I’ve been working to get some of those back – this book is one of them. Perhaps I’ll make it happen this year.

 

7. What do you consider to be your favourite book?

I think the one that really encouraged my reading (and maybe even writing) in a certain genre was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I used it for my university dissertation – though that was about journalism in books – and I took so much more from it. Capote had researched a real-life murder case that happened in Kansas in 1959 and reconstructed it in this book. Capote didn’t just focus on the crime, but the events leading up to it, how their lives came together and the effect it had on all those involved. Last week I ordered myself a paperback copy from Amazon and I’m really looking forward to re-reading this one.

8. Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?51nVlh3dfoL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_

Unfortunately, yes. The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango, which had been translated by Imogen Taylor. Perhaps I just got a bit lost in translation, but I just couldn’t get to grips with it, which is a shame because it’s described as a witty and dark crime thriller. I’m sure loads of people will love it, but it just wasn’t for me.

 

9. If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have with you?

Oh… so, so hard! I’m sure I should be clever and say a book by Bear Grylls, but I know I wouldn’t be able to eat fish and creepy crawlies, so I might as well have some good books to take my mind off the hunger. My answer will probably change each time I’m asked it but, right now I’m choosing: Peter Kay’s autobiography to give me some laughs on those lonely nights (I’ve assumed I’m alone on this stranded island) and I’ll take In Cold Blood, so I get some uninterrupted time to actually re-read it!

10. Kindle or Book?
Both… I have mountains of paperbacks and some are very special to me as they have been signed. However, I will admit to using my kindle much more for reading and lately the books have taken a backseat.

 

 

 

 

Tara’s books are available to buy now.

http://www.bloodhoundbooks.com/

http://taralyonsauthor.blogspot.co.uk/

http://facebook.com/taralyonsauthor

 

The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley

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Synopsis

Faye has just completed her degree in interior design when she finds herself jobless and boyfriend-less.  While debating what to do next she receives a surprise phone call from her old college friend Charlotte who now lives in Sardinia and is married to Italian hotelier, Fabio.

When Charlotte suggests that Faye relocate for a month to house-sit, Faye wonders summer break in sunny Sardinia might be the perfect way to recharge her batteries and think about her future .  But then Charlotte tells Faye that there’s something more behind the sudden invitation: her friends Marissa and Alessandro are looking for a designer to renovate a crumbling old theatre they own in the scenic village of Deriu.  The idea certainly sounds appealing to Faye, but little does she know what she is letting herself in for if she accepts this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Review

The Little Theatre by the Sea has the perfect combination of sun, sea, sand, scandal and Sardinia.  It is well written book that really captures the sights and sounds of Sardinia as well as its turbulent history.  Rosanna Ley’s  descriptive writing brings the Island to life and is demonstrative of the research done for this book.

The chapters divide the narrative of Faye in Sardinia, facing the challenge of the theatre renovation and the hostility of the locals, with her parents marriage that is falling apart.  I found her parents story very touching; it brought to the fore that as children of whatever age, we do sometimes forget that parents are people too, with a life separate to that of their children.  I think Abe and Molly represent a demographic of their time, getting married due to a pregnancy , keeping problems to themselves and staying together for the sake the children.  After retirement they suddenly find themselves spending more time together and slowly all those repressed feelings come out and boil over.

Faye was a character I really admired for following her dreams by leaving her secure job as a PA to go to university and study Interior Design.  Her enthusiasm for her new job really comes through in Rosanna Ley’s writing.  There is obviously a love interest in Alessandro, the dark, brooding secretive gorgeous Italian, who blurs the line between client and something more.  There are also many secrets among the other residents of Deriu, who are not all on board with the renovations for reasons of their own; Pasquale, who acted at the theatre and whose father was the caretaker; Enrico Volti who also wants it left alone due to a feud with the Alessandro and Marissa concerning ownership of the theatre.

The theme of renovation, the past and the present working together runs throughout the narrative.  In the Theatre there is the balance of keeping the original architecture but including some modern elements to bring it up to date to suit modern needs.  It is also apparent in the mix of Deriu, the old historical village merged with newer buildings of the growing village, as well as with the residents; family feuds from the past continuing the present and the mistrust of anyone new to Deriu.  Ade and Molly have to let go of past mistakes to give them a chance of a future together;  we all need to renovate our lives at some point to take us into the future.

The Little Theatre by the Sea is the perfect summer read; it has a beautiful setting; interesting characters and a engaging story line full of romance, heartache, secrets, and some surprises.  Pure escapism for the summer.

House of Names by Colm Tóibìn

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Synopsis

Whilst waiting to set sail and join the armies fighting in the Trojan War, Agamemmnon angers the goddess Artemis when he kills a sacred deer. As punishment Artemis changes the wind direction preventing Agamemmnon from sailing.  To appease the gods, Agamemmnon is told he must sacrifice his eldest daughter Iphigenia.  He brings his wife and daughter to his camp under the pretence that he is marrying Iphigenia to the famous warrior Achilles.

This event sets the family on a path of violence that turns wife against husband, and children against the their mother.  The following years see a family fragmenting; Electra distrusts her mother, and the only son, Orestes, is sent into exile.  It will be up to Electra and Orestes to right the wrongs of the past, even if it means  they too must use violence.

Review

The House of Names is a beautiful retelling go the Greek Tragedy of Agamemmnon and The Curse of the House of Arteus.  Agamemmnon’s story is was first told in Homer’s Odyssesy and was part of Ancient Greek Theatre.  Anyone who has had to read a greek play will be glad to hear that Colm Tóibìn does not include a chorus.  The story is narrated by Agammemnon’s wife Clytemnstra, his younger daughter Electra and son Orestes.  Each bring their own thoughts to the story as we see their inner thoughts as to what has happened to them.

The prose, as expected by a writer of Colm Tóibìn’s standing, is lyrical, elegant and stylish in its observations and descriptions.  He really brings the character’s to life and even makes the reader have some sympathy for Clytemnstra, and even begin to see her reasoning, behind her actions.  He portrays her many sides; a loving mother, a frightened woman, a wronged wife, a seductress, a murderer and a ruthless leader with feeling and empathy.  I really liked the character of Electra, she kept her head, watched from a distance, gained intelligence and peoples trust without having to resort to violence herself.

The books title House of Names refers to the Agamemmnon’s palace where the names of the dead were not to be mentioned inside its walls.  I found it very refreshing to see another of the famous Ancient Greek Myths given a new lease of life.  I think it is important to keeps these stories alive; not only are they brilliant stories but also have a morality to them, in this tale it is a very relevant moral that violence cannot appease violence.

The House of Names is a book of love, tragedy, loss and is full of drama.  A sophisticated,  exquisite book that will transport you back to Ancient Greece.  A delightful and engaging read, another brilliant book from Colm Tòibìn.

A Life in Books with Chloe Greene

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This evening I welcome author Chloe Greene, who writes under the name Chloe Hammond, to A Life in Books.

 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I am happily married, forty two, and live by the sea in South Wales with our two rescue dogs, and my fat and fluffy cat I am convinced is going senile. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression about three years ago, and that crisis taught me to value myself and my creativity better. Now I write to soothe and reward myself, although my writing is often based on the nightmares my anxiety brings. My first novel, Darkly Dreaming, Book 1 of The Darkly Vampire Trilogy was first conceived from a collection of nightmares I had.
Visit my website- www.chloehammondauthor.com and you can read or listen to my journey, as I have an indepth radio interview I did that you can listen to. It also includes my blog and the link to sign up for my newsletter & access a free sample chapter. I’d love to hear any feedback you might have on things you’d like to see on my website, or things you’d like me to blog about.

 

 

1. What was your favourite book from childhood?51yfLYGx46L._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_
I can’t choose just one! I didn’t have a T.V growing up, so although I struggled with my reading and writing, and remain a slow reader, reading was, and still is, my greatest pleasure. I especially loved the Nancy Drew mysteries- I loved reading about an intelligent and independent girl who got to have all these amazing adventures, and was supported and respected by the adults in her life. My other big passion as a child was anything to do with horses, and the Silver River Brumbry series was one I especially loved, with the horses living wild and free.

 

2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?

By my teenage years I had moved onto horror and Dark Fantasy. I started on John Saul, and progressed to Stephen King. I related far too well to Carrie! I discovered Anne Rice and Terry Pratchett when I was at university, and my love of Pratchett has never faded.

 

516lGRk3F0L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_3. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

I loved ‘On The Black Hill’, by Barry Hines. I think my English teacher helped as she was such a good teacher, but Barry Hines is (was?) brilliant at descriptive writing, so although not a huge amount happens, I was absorbed by the descriptions of village life. However it is Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra that I quote from most often- ‘Those were my salad days, when I was green of judgment’ or ‘Not know me yet?’ And ‘Oh happy horse, to bear the weight of Anthony’ is one of the subtlest rude lines I’ve ever read.

 

4. What is your favourite classic book?

Black Beauty. That book made me sob my eyes out when I was ten. I still can’t think about Ginger too much now. I read a lot of the classics when I lived in France for six months, because English novels were terribly expensive, apart from a range of the classics I found for ten francs (£1). That was how I stumbled across John Cleland’s notorious Fanny Hill, and well- after that Fifty Shades really didn’t impress me. My favourite classic author however, is Zora Neale Hurston. Her novel, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is exquisitely written as well as being a fascinating slice of social history.

 

5. What would you consider to be one of the best books you have read over the last 51jawXcPVVL._AC_US218_5 years?

Again, just one? It would have to be ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver. She is another author with an utter genius for turning social history into a fascinating story, and this book exposes some shocking slices of the U.S.A’s history that I had to google to confirm genuinely happened they are so unbelievable. Heartbreakingly, they did. If you haven’t read Barabara Kingsolver, grab them all quick- she is one of those authors who teaches you to think and question, while keeping you enthralled by the story.

 

6. What book to you think you should read but never get round to?

I read the existential therapist, Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’, and it was the most hope filled book I’ve ever read, despite the grim and horror filled circumstances he wrote in. Viktor was a prisoner in a Nazi camp when he realised that hope is what keeps people alive. I want to read his other books, but his writing is translated from German, and it’s quite chewy going, so I keep putting it off. I have a dream of rewriting his books into a more accessible format one day, so everyone can enjoy the uplifting message he offers.

 

7. What do you consider to be your favourite book?5149oUsQ2IL._AC_US218_

You keep doing this. I really can’t choose between ‘The Book Thief’ is so delicate and loving, in such a clumsy and brutal way, I cried and cried; or Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Poisonwood Bible’ which made a profound impact on me emotionally, by exploring the impact of the West’s greed on Africa, as well as the impact of emotional abuse on a family. Stunning.

 

 

8. Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?

Plenty. I’m a slow reader, and there are so many amazing books out there that I refuse to waste my time reading a book that doesn’t grab me within the first chapter. If it’s really badly written I rarely get past the first page.

 

9. If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have 51YV4XegrvL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_with you?

I am not someone who rereads books, so I would need two really thick books I’ve never read before. Maybe something really heavy going like ‘War and Peace’ so they kept me going until I was saved, I go a bit bonkers without anything to read. When I was in France, before I found the shop selling the classics in English, I was reduced to reading the sports pages in a week old Guardian newspaper at one stage, and you don’t get more boring than that!

 

10. Kindle or Book?
Paperback every time. I can appreciate the benefits of so many books in such a small space, and portability etc, but I just don’t feel connected to the ebooks like I do to a paper book. I read some research the other day that people do read a digital page much slower than a paper page, so that probably impacts on my ability to enjoy ebooks. For me lending a beloved book is a big part of the pleasure, chatting about character and plot and language are the things I do with my very best friends.

 

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Darkly Dreaming:Book 1 of the Darkly Vampire Trilogy is available to purchase Amazon now.

The Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale

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Synopsis

Sometimes friendship springs from where you least expect it.

Minnie has lived in the beautiful but dilapidated Rosemount house for her whole life.  Watchful and perceptive, she now finds herself looking back through the decades to a painful secret that has guarded since her teens and which has shrouded her life with sorrow.

Max lives opposite Minnie on the housing estate which was built in Rosemount’s grounds, and has grown up happily with his single mother.  She has begun a new relationship and suddenly life is starting to change.

As each of them tell their stories, Minnie with her resurrected childhood journal, Max by chatting into a dictaphone, they see each other through their bedroom windows and slowly and hesitantly an unlikely friendship begins to form; a friendship that will help Max come to terms with the present and table Minnie, finally, to conquer the ghosts of her past.

Review

The Comfort of Others is a beautiful book of friendship, forgiveness and hope.  It is well written with a prose that engages the reader and enables the story to flow seamlessly throughout.  The story is told in alternative chapters in the first person by Max and Minnie.  I really liked the way that Max’s chapters were in normal text and Minnie’s, through her writing, in Italics;  it distinguishes the old of writing things in a journal or diary, to the modern of Max speaking into his dictaphone.  The old and new is a theme throughout the book; the selling of Rosemount grounds in the 1960’s for social housing, the expectations of women and pregnancy in the 1960’s to today, change in family dynamics.  This theme is apparent in the relationship between Max and Minnie, she shows him the past through antiques in the house and he teaches her about the modern world.

Kay Langdale characterisation is discerning in her ability to write with such detail and feeling for both Max and Minnie.  Each character is treated with empathy and understanding, in bringing their personal stories to life.  Max and Minnie’s interaction is heartwarming, they are able to bridge the generational gap and just see each other for who they are.  One thing that I did note is that neither gave a name to the person that was causing the heartache:  Max refers to his mum’s boyfriend as ‘he’ throughout the book and it is not until the final chapter that he is given name.  The same applies to Minnie who never gives a name to her baby, again just referred to as ‘he’.  This lack of personalisation is a coping mechanism, if a person doesn’t have a name then do they really exist.

The Comfort of Other’s deals with some very difficult issues; rape, teenage pregnancy, single parent families, and the  blended family.  All are treated with compassion and understanding in what are issues that cause contradictory view points.  All arguments are dealt with fairly and I found the different outlooks really interesting and refreshing, so many books only portray one side of the story.  For all the difficult issues this book is about how friendship can cross the the generational gap and that problems are better spoken about than bottled up.

I really enjoyed this novel and its honesty of feelings and human characterisation.  The story line is subtle, insightful and beautifully narrated by Max and Minnie.  This book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time , a charming read of the power of friendship.

In The Name Of The Family by Sarah Dunant

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Synopsis

Italy 1502, Rodrigo Borgia has been Pope for eleven years and his family’s star continues to rise in Italy.  His son Cesare is head of an army and is ruthlessly taking over many of Italy’s city states in the name of the Pope and Church.  His daughter Lucrezia is also playing her part in this take over of Italy.  She is to marry for the third time to Duke Elect Alfonso d’ Este of Ferrara, thus bringing Ferrara into control of the Papal States.

Into the orbit of this powerful family comes Niccolo Machiavelli, a diplomat from the state of Florence employed to try and keep Cesare as a friend rather than a foe.  Spending time with Cesare, Machiavelli gets tutored in the art of warfare, power, politics and discovers the lengths Cesare will go to in the name of the Pope.  What Machiavelli learns during his meetings with Cesare will later be the foundation to his seminal work The Prince.

Renaissance Italy is place of political turmoil, a board in which the French, Spanish and the Borgia’s are all fighting for power.  Become swept up in this tumultuous  period of history where everything is to play for in a land of beauty.

Review

In The Name Of The Family is probably the perfect novel for me,  I studied this era of Italy’s history as part of my Art History Degree so reading this felt I was visiting old friends, and familiar places.

Sarah Dunant’s research and knowledge of this period is second to none.  Her attention to detail in her descriptions of places and settings is so detailed and precise that you feel you are there,  you can see what the characters see;  the figures in frescos and the Duke of Urbino’s studiolo are brought to life.  The same attention to detail goes into her characters, she has a talent in being able to breath new life into them and make them accessible.  The Borgia Family is one that has been written about many times over the years both in fiction and non fiction.  But Dunant stays away from the popular myths surrounding the family and instead humanises them and just tells a story without all the gossip and rumours, rather like what Hilary Mantel has done for Thomas Cromwell.

The time period this book is set in has so many opportunities  for a writer as it was a time of great change in Italy, with some very big characters.  Sarah Dunant’s writing style  engages the reader, from the beginning and her use of language makes this an easy and enjoyable novel to read.  The plot moves a long quickly and has something for everyone, intrigue, violence, romance, passion, death and political machinations, as well as beautiful settings.

Sarah Dunant has previously written novels set in Renaissance and with this new book she has to be one of our countries leading historical authors.  It was after reading her first Renaissance novel The Birth of Venus that I finally decided to enrol at the Open University for a degree in Art History.  If you enjoyed this novel I urge you to try her previous books, like this they are beautifully written, full of detail and brilliant plot lines.

In The Name Of The Family is a masterpiece of a novel, with all the beauty of a Renaissance painting, full of detail that will transport you to sixteenth century Italy.  Sarah Dunant captures the true zeitgeist of the period, this is a must read for fans of historical fiction, an outstanding novel.

A Life in Books with Marina Fiorato

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Today I have a very special edition of  A Life in Books.  I am very excited  and honoured  to welcome one of my favourite authors Marina Fiorato to my blog.  I recently reviewed her latest book Crimson & Bone which is a brilliant.  If you missed my review I have included it at the end of this post.

 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I am half-Venetian. I was born in Salford in Greater Manchester and
raised in the Yorkshire Dales. I am a history graduate of Durham, Oxford
and the University of Venice. At uni I specialised in the
study of Shakespeareʼs plays as a historical source. After
University I studied illustration (I still illustrate my books) and worked as a bit-part actress to put myself through art college. I designed tour visuals for rock bands including U2 and the Rolling Stones. I was married on the Grand Canal in Venice and live in North London with my husband, (film director Sacha Bennett) my son and my daughter.

 
1. What was you favourite book from childhood?81YVXyLGTIL

I have to cheat here and say there are seven – it’s The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I loved the idea of new worlds created by a pen but somehow found Narnia so much more accessible than Middle Earth. With Narnia I got the feeling that a book cover was a door into a new world, and as I got older I realised that’s true of every book. Now I’m reading the series to my own kids and I’m so happy to be revisiting them.

 
2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?

By the time I was a teen I’d become interested in history so my staples then were stories of strong women in historical contexts. I loved Katherine by Anya Seton, which is the story of John of Gaunt’s mistress Katherine Swynford, but my all time favourite was Shield of Three Lions by Pamela Kaufman, about a young baroness who goes on the Third Crusade with Richard the Lionheart.

 

41LeqTGDk8L3. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

I loved Persuasion by Jane Austen, (which I did for A level) and still do. In some ways it’s the most obscure (and possibly the least filmed) of the Austen canon but I love it for that. I like the idea of love lost and regained, and how love is sometimes a matter of timing – what was wrong in your twenties might be right in your thirties. Which brings me to my favourite set text ever (not a book though!) which is Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice and Benedick had an unsuccessful youthful romance, then got together again when they were older, just like Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot. I loved Much Ado so much that when I became a writer I wrote the prequel to the play, my novel Beatrice and Benedick.

 

4. What is your favourite classic book?

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It’s got everything: adventure, imprisonment, rags-to-riches, redemption, revenge. I really think it is as close to the perfect novel as anyone’s going to get.

 

5. What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 551ayUL2eVUL years?

Gosh. That’s a tough one. I’m lucky enough to get given a lot of books to read because people ask me for cover quotes, which is lovely. Sometimes I don’t get the time to read them but one I’m very glad I did was Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon. It tells the story of the little-known holocaust of the Romany people through the prism of a young Romany boy trying to escape the Nazis. It’s devastating, beautifully written and unforgettable.

 

6. What book to you think you should read but never get round to?

The Bible. A few years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to read it, as I thought I really should read the world’s most-read book. I put it on my phone and I read a verse or two when I can, but I’m still chewing through it! The Old Testament can be pretty hard going but then you will come upon a beautiful phrase or saying and go ‘That’s where that came from!’

 

A1P3EMHTd0L7. What do you consider to be your favourite book ?

This is such a tricky question, but if I had to choose one I’d say Maia, by Richard Adams (the author of Watership Down). I tell anyone who will listen that it was the precursor to Game of Thrones. It’s a wonderful book, over a thousand pages long, the story of a slave girl caught up in a tussle between seven different kingdoms. Very few people have read Maia and when I find someone who has it’s like meeting a long-lost friend.

 

8. Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?

The Bible! But I’m determined to do it. Unfortunately I already know how it ends.

 

9. If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have71roI2R7hqL with you?

Maia so I could bring a whole new world with me. And The Count of Monte Cristo because Edmond Dantes might give me an idea of how to get off the island.

 

10. Kindle or Book?

Real books in my house. Kindle in my suitcase.
Thank you very much! It’s been a pleasure to answer your questions. Love Marina x

 

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Synopsis

London, January 1st 1853 Annie Stride is standing on the parapet of Waterloo Bridge in desperation, in exactly the same place her best friend Mary-Jane committed suicide a few months earlier. She is a penniless, homeless, prostitute who is also pregnant, she sees death as her only choice. Just as she is about to throw herself into the icy, dark water of the Thames a hand reaches out to stop her; Francis Maybrick Gill, a pre-Raphaelite artist.

Francis takes Annie back to his house where her makes her his model and muse for his paintings, and in doing so makes her beauty famous throughout London Society. Annie is elevated from prostitute to a lady able to mix in polite society. From the pre-Raphaelite’s of London to the Renaissance masters in Florence and Venice, just how long can Annie’s past stay in the past, and will there be a price to pay for this new life.

Review

Marina Fiorato is one of my favourite historical novelists. Her books regularly combine my favourite subjects; history, art and Italy all of which are part of Crimson & Bone. This book has a slightly darker, more gothic feel to it than her previous novels. To stay with an art metaphor this novel is like a Caravaggio painting; the light and focus draw your eye to the main characters but the darkness surrounding them is always threatening to encroach on them.

The plot is similar to Pygmalion in that Frances Maybrick Gill takes Annie and raises her up in society by teaching her how to behave, speak and act like a lady. As a character Frances seems the hero of this book in his saving Annie from her death and giving her a chance at a better life, but there is something that makes you feel uncomfortable, that he is not all that he seems.

Annie has a hard start to life, begging and stealing from when she was a child, but she hasn’t let it destroy her spirit. After her brush with death we see that her heart is in the right place and there is a warmth and gentleness to her character that evolves during the book. She also shows an aptitude for learning and is a willing student is her progression form prostitute to lady. It is from Annie’s perspective that the story is told, her progression in life and her feelings for Frances. As well as Annie, Mary Jane who was Annie’s best friend, opens each chapter telling her story leading up to her death.

Marina Fiorato’s writing is beautifully lyrical in her use of language. The prose flows seamlessly which makes it pleasurable and easy to read. Her descriptive writing of London, Florence and Venice is captivating, you are transported back to the mid nineteenth century with its sights, sounds and smells. I also enjoyed her evocation of the art works, both pre-Raphaelite and Renaissance. Through language she brought the paintings to life which isn’t easy, which enriched the reading experience. If you are interested you can of course look up the paintings on the Internet, but remember Francis Maybrick Gill is a fictional character although his subject matter was commonly painted by other artists.

The Crimson & Bone is an erudite and exquisite read. Full of detail with a plot that will keep you engaged from the first page to the last. This is historical fiction at its best.

A Life in Books with K A Richardson

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This evening I am excited to welcome local crime author K A Richardson.  Kerry has just released the fourth book in her North East Police Series, please see below for details.

 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

My name is Kerry-Ann Richardson and I live in the north east of England. I’d always wanted to work for the police and so decided to do my crime scene science degree which I passed in 2008 – I pretty much immediately started working as a Crime Scene Investigator and when I’d been working about 2 years I went to see a psychic. He asked me a very important question. Why wasn’t I writing? I’d always written since being a child but never really though about pursuing it professionally and life kind of got in the way. He made me realise though, that I missed it and inspired me to go back to uni and get my masters in creative writing. I passed this and used the first 15000 words of my first novel for my dissertation. I then went on to finish that novel, and kept on writing, ended up getting my first publishing contract with Caffeine Nights, then was offered a further contract with Bloodhound Books.

 
1. What was you favourite book from childhood?A1rmHeVNuKL

The Enchated Wood by Enid Blyton. I still love it now – it made me realise that books could take me to a whole other world!

 

 

2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?

I was an avid reader as a youngster, often getting through 20 books a week. And thanks to my mum teaching me to read at a young age, I pretty much read everything in the library children’s section by about 10. I moved on to reading mills and boon – the intrigue ones as I liked the adventure as well as the romance and then I progressed to adult crime novels early in my teens. I remember reading a lot of Dick Francis, Patricia Cromwell and Jonathan Kellerman back then.

 

 

3. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It was the first book that made me cry – and I mean hysterically sobbed to – I loved it so much. I read it multiple times through school and have read it many times since. Steinbeck did an amazing job of drawing me into the story and cramming so much great writing into a small book.

 

 

61p8VGBpSsL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_4. What is your favourite classic book?

I was never really into the classics like Jane Eyre etc – but I did always love Macbeth if that can be considered a classic. And I’ve always been a massive fan of A Christmas Carol by Dickens.

 

 

 

5. What would you consider to be one of the best books you have read  over the last 5 years?

Had as in read or had as in published? Read I’d say The Treatment by Mo Hayder which was absolutely brilliant. I loved how dark it was. I love the wandering man character.

 

 

6. What book to you think you should read but never get round to?

The art of war – I’ve always fancied it and have it in hard copy but something else always takes precedence.

 

 

7. What do you consider to be your favourite book ?51igCwWmJ-L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

It’s far too hard to choose just one! I love all of my Enid Blyton Collection (over 200 including a first edition) – and I’ve got a 1928 edition of Sherlock Holmes which is my prized possession. But there are so many amazing authors around currently – it makes it impossible for me to pick one. I love Karen Rose, Mo Hayder, Howard Linsky, Eileen Wharton, Danielle Ramsay and Sheila Quigley – among about a million others.

 

 

8 Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?

Yes – I got to the age I am by loving reading and I used to force myself to read anything I started – but now if I can’t get away with it I put it away. There are too many fab books to waste time on one you’re not enjoying. And that’s not me saying it’s the authors fault – it’s seriously not. It’s just down to my taste.

 

 

9. If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have 41JW9klWimL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_with you

My Sherlock Holmes book – and probably the Dark Minds anthology – I contributed to it but it’s a collection of 40 amazing short stories – the other authors who contributed all write in different styles which is just great.

 

 

 

10. Kindle or Book?

Both. Kindle for holidays but books have my heart. Kindles just don’t smell the same.

 

 

 

Books:
Escape (short story)
With Deadly Intent (book 1 in north east police series)
I’ve Been Watching You (book 2 in the series)
Time to Play (book 3 in the series)
Watch You Burn (book 4 due out May 2017)

Social media:
Facebook: KA Richardson
Twitter: @kerryann77 or @KArichardson77
Website: www.kerryannrichardson.com

It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

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Synopsis

Kate, Jenny and Aubrey meet when they become roommates at one of the Ivy League Universities.  They are a strange match coming from such diverse backgrounds, but soon become inseparable, sos much so that the become known as the ‘triplets’.

Twenty years later, on a cold dark evening one of them is standing on a bridge, someone is with them telling them to jump, to end their life.  How did it come to this, what happened to destroy their friendship.  That evening can end only one way, with murder, but whose murder and why?

Review

It’s Always the Husband is marketed as a crime, thriller, mystery.  But it is not one of those thrillers that grabs you and makes you hold your breath in suspense at what is going to happen, full of heartstopping moments.  The crime at its centre is the murder of one the three main characters, and with several characters having the means and the motive the readers interest is engaged.

It is well written with a great opening chapter that will grab your attention and set the scene for the rest of the book.  The main themes of this book are about friendships, how they are made and how they are lost.  I would say this is about a toxic friendship, where one friend leads the other two astray  by being a bad influence and the consequences of that friendship.  The three main characters, whilst interesting in their interactions with each other and their different views of what university means to them, they are air stereotypical.  Kate is the New York socialite.  She is pretty, blonde, slim a rich party girl funded by daddy.  Jenny is a local girl from a hispanic family who own the towns hardware shop.  She wants to study hard and do well in life, she is the sensible one of the group.  Lastly there is Aubrey, she is from Las Vegas.  She was raised by her mother who worked as a waiter but had a drink problem.  Never being popular at school she idolises Kate and all she stands for.

This book is a book of two halves.  The first part concentrates on the friendship the three girls and how it becomes hedonistic and spirals out of control until it eventually implodes.  The second part is the crime part, after one of them is found dead.  It was interesting to see their interaction as adults, all three had secrets they were keeping and motive to kill each other.  As it came to its conclusion I was pretty sure who did it but I was proved wrong, which I quite liked to be honest, it stopped the plot being too obvious.

Its Always the Husband  is a puzzling ‘whodunit’, a book full of secrets and scandals;  an enjoyable read.