Monday, 24 April 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - Jennifer Ryan

Kent, 1940.
In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.
But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.
Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.
Uplifting and profoundly moving, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.

What did I think?

I had my eye on The Chilbury Ladies' Choir when I saw it being published and I had barely added it to my wishlist before I was fortunate enough to win a beautiful hardback copy.  As a careful reader I always remove the dustjacket from a hardback whilst reading and I have to say that I got a really pleasant surprise to find a printed cover underneath of the village of Chilbury.  Full marks to The Borough Press and HarperCollins for making The Chilbury Ladies' Choir as beautiful outside as it is inside.

On turning the first page we are greeted with a notice that the village choir has closed as all the men have gone to war.  Throughout the forthcoming pages, comprising personal journal entries and letters, we meet the ladies of Chilbury who don't see why their choir has to close just because they are short of a few male voices.  So The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is born and through tears and laughter, personal challenges and German bombings, the ladies draw strength from each other.  You could certainly apply the phrase 'Keep Calm and Carry On' to Chilbury as they face each day with a song in their heart.

I loved the way this book was written with letters and journal entries of the main characters.  It surprised me how easily it flowed and I often forgot that I was reading what you would define as excerpts rather than chapters.  They are so very personal at times that we really get into the heart of the characters, warts and all.

We often hear stories of the Battle of Britain and the Normandy Landings but what about the Home Front?  The women who kept Britain running whilst the men went off to war.  I am proud to say that my maternal Grandad was part of the Normandy invasion, but what I often forget, yet remain equally proud of, is that my paternal Grandmother turned her hand to driving cranes in a munitions factory during the war.  It was said that Mary Ryles could pick up a threepenny bit with her crane.  Jennifer Ryan has subtly reminded us of the huge part played by the brave ladies of war-torn Britain and her book is dedicated, very fittingly, to her Grandmother and all the women of the Home Front.

So if you're looking to snuggle up with a good book, look no further than The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.  Read about the privileged lives and secrets of Venetia and Kitty Winthrop, the battle of the midwives: Mrs. Tilling and Miss. Paltry, but most of all the strength and camaraderie of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.  A superb debut novel filled with tears and laughter, based on real life as told to Jennifer Ryan by her Grandmother.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Lighterman - Simon Michael

The Lighterman is the third book in the bestselling series of legal thrillers starring barrister Charles Holborne. Simon Michael's follow up to the bestselling The Brief and An Honest Man, continues the adventures of criminal barrister Charles Holborne.

When Charles Holborne's cousin, Izzy, is accused of murder, Charles must dig up the secrets of the past to defend him. But brutal gangland leader Ronnie Kray will stop at nothing to get his revenge on Charles for the events of An Honest Man. Can Charles save his cousin...and his own life?

Simon Michael brings the past vividly back to life across a beautifully rendered 60s landscape, and delivers a gripping piece of thriller fiction that will excite any fan of the Britcrime genre.

What did I think?

If there is one series that I find myself recommending over and over again, this is it!  The Charles Holborne series is like a vintage wine - it just keeps getting better and better and, if it is at all possible, I think I will enjoy it even more by reading it all over again.  I was on tenterhooks for this third book in the series after Simon Michael left us with one heck of a cliffhanger in An Honest Man, so you can imagine my excitement when the author himself allowed me the enviable opportunity to read an early pre-proof copy of The Lighterman.  I switched off the phone, closed the curtains and headed off to court, fending off one interruption with the retort: 'Not now, the jury is coming back with the verdict.'

One thing (among many) that I love about these books is the complete immersion into the 1960's era.  There is no mistake that you are reading about 1960's London with a surprise cameo appearance from a famous face and the bigger part that The Krays have to play in this novel.  Before we reach the 1960's, however, we are given a glimpse into war-torn London during The Blitz with the Horowitz family heading to shelter as a bomb rips their house apart.  Charles is a young teenager who rebels when his family are transported to safety in Wales and runs away back to London where he ends up staying with his uncle and his family.  He becomes close friends with his cousin, Izzy, who is known on the river as 'Merlin'.  Charles soon finds himself working on the river as a lighterman and a bit of an amateur boxer in his spare time, with the 60's not being the first time he has found himself up against Ronnie Kray...

The flashbacks to the war gave us a brilliant insight into the Charles Holborne character we have come to know and love.  It's quite unbelievable in this day and age to think that just over 70 years ago Jewish people had to change their names to avoid persecution, with Cohen becoming Conway and Horowitz becoming Holborne.  I also loved the surprising history of Charles as a lighterman on the Thames, a far cry from the amazing barrister that he is in the 1960's.  The Thames itself feels almost alive with the hustle and bustle of barges and boats and the brave men who continued working through The Blitz, along with the Waterguards of HM Customs and Excise patrolling the river.

As we have come to expect with Simon Michael's books there is a gripping court case to follow.  This time it's personal as Charles defends his cousin, Izzy, who is accused of murdering a Waterguard.  The truth behind this case is heartbreaking and Charles must defend Izzy without the truth coming out, whilst also keeping one step ahead of The Krays who have taken a keen interest in him.  He might be able to run, but he can't hide as The Krays' eyes and ears reach far and wide.  Leading nicely into book 4 and another chapter for Charles Holborne as he finds himself struggling to stay on the side of respectability.

Whilst reading, I considered whether this could be read as a standalone novel, although couldn't understand why anyone would want to just read one of these magnificent books.  I think the author gives just the right amount of back story from the previous books to not only enable any reader to enjoy this book on its own but to encourage them to pick up the first two books.

I really can't recommend these books highly enough.  If you think Grisham is the king of courtroom drama, think again as Simon Michael has definitely raised the bar (no pun intended).   It's so realistic that you forget you are reading fiction; it's a proper edge of your seat courtroom thriller and with Ronnie Kray involved, absolutely anything can happen.  Read it or regret it!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Life Between Us - Louise Walters

Tina Thornton's twin sister Meg died in a childhood accident, but for almost forty years Tina has secretly blamed herself for her sister's death. During a visit to her aging Uncle Edward and his sister Lucia, who both harbour dark secrets of their own, Tina makes a discovery that forces her to finally question her memories of the day her sister died. Who, if anyone, did kill Meg?

As Tina finds the courage to face the past, she unravels the tangled family mysteries of her estranged parents, her beautiful French Aunt Simone, the fading, compassionate Uncle Edward, and above all, the cold, bitter Aunt Lucia, whose spectral presence casts a long shadow over them all. 

A Life Between Us is a beautifully evocative story of a family torn apart at the seams, which will appeal to readers who enjoy family sagas and modern-day mysteries.

What did I think?

This was a very intriguing book that looked very innocent from the cover but contained a darkness inside that I could never have imagined.  It's a past and present story whereby we learn of Tina and her Aunt Lucia's stories.  Both as heartbreaking and painful as the other but for very different reasons.

Tina blames herself for the death of her twin sister, Meg.  She cannot let go of her sister and hears her voice clearly when she regularly visits her grave.  Tina is so engrossed at Meg's graveside that she doesn't notice the mysterious woman in the green coat who seems to be taking an interest in her.  Who is this woman and why is she interested in Tina?

Lucia is Tina's bitter old Aunt and it is no surprise to learn that she was horrid as a child.  She doesn't forgive her little brother William for being born on her darling brother Edward's birthday.  Poor little William suffers at the sneaky hands of Lucia and when big brother Edward finds out what is going on, he takes a softly softly approach with Lucia when she really could have done with a clip around the earhole.

The stories intertwine nicely as Tina talks about Meg in therapy and flashbacks show us Lucia's life as she grows up.  Lucia grows up a little too quickly and as she plays with fire she does indeed get burnt.  I found some of these scenes hard to read but that just shows the depth of emotion that was present in the writing.

A very well-written and addictive book, A Life Between Us surprised me at every turn.  I found myself engrossed equally in both stories, which is rather unusual for me as I usually prefer one timeline over another.  It is shocking at times but compassionately so, ensuring that the reader is made aware of the butterfly effect of one badly made decision.  

I chose to read to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Friday, 21 April 2017

When Life Happens, Don't Blink - Sarah Buhrman

This is an anthology of tales both fiction and fantasy. Some are shorts, some are excerpts. All are about people living life as it is handed to them. Sometimes people make the best of an unusual situation. Sometimes people take the reins of their lives and things go horribly wrong. But strength is found in those who have the courage to look life in the eye... Don't Blink!

What did I think?

I won an e-book copy of When Life Happens, Don't Blink on Facebook and although short stories aren't really my cup of tea, I picked it up when I was looking for a quick read.  It was indeed quick, probably only around 30 minutes, and the stories are quite varied and very unusual.

There are 7 short stories, with 3 of them being excerpts.  I really liked the opening story, Sugar Daddy, and the penultimate story, Hell on Earth, which couldn't be more different.  In Sugar Daddy we take a sneak peak at the unconventional relationship between Janice and John.  Everyone will take something different from this story, but for me it was a case of 'you don't know what you've got til it's gone' and how sad it is when you don't express your true emotions.  Fast forward from Sugar Daddy to Hell on Earth and we meet an even more unconventional mixed-race family - mixed race being part demon, part human.  Although you could draw a deeper meaning from the mixed-race, I found it fun and lighthearted, showing that one person's 'hell' can be another person's 'heaven'.

A quirky collection, When Life Happens, Don't Blink, is worth picking up if you're looking for something a little bit different.  I think the author has some very diverse writing skills and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another piece of her work.

My rating:

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Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Circus - Olivia Levez

Why would a girl who has everything want to run away and never be found?

Willow has staged runaways ever since she was a little girl. She has everything a young person should want: a rich daddy, clothes, money, a pony and a place at a prestigious boarding school. In reality, she has everything except the thing she really wants: a father who cares enough to find her.

Aged sixteen, on the eve of her father’s wedding, she ruins the bride’s dress and escapes through a window, determined never to return. Her missing mother was a circus performer, and Willow wants to follow in her footsteps. But the performers she meets don’t want her. When her last bit of money is stolen by Suze, another runaway girl she thought she could trust, Willow becomes really homeless. Then Suze comes tumbling back into her life and a desperate Willow has to decide whether to trust her all over again . . .

So begins their frightening, exhilarating odyssey though hunger, performance, desperation and dreams. Will they both survive and will Willow make it to the circus of her imagining?

Olivia Levez takes you into the very heart of a girl who wants so hard to be lost, but saves herself through a powerful friendship and the awakening of a need for home.

What did I think?

Although I don't read a lot of YA novels, I was introduced to Olivia Levez when I read her remarkable debut novel, The Island.  So when faced with the question: 'There's a new Olivia Levez book out - do you want to read it?'  The answer, without hesitation, was 'Yes please!'

The Circus introduces us to Willow Stephens as she snips the buttons off a wedding dress, on the day that 'The Handbag' is due to marry Willow's Dad.  Willow doesn't hang around for the fallout, she already has her bag packed and plans to follow in her mother's footsteps by running away to join the circus.  Willow can't remember her mum, all she has is a dog-eared photograph of her with a snake around her neck and part of a word '...stings'.  With fate lending a hand, Willow completes the word and heads to the place where she feels that she is finally getting closer to her mother, and to a place where she belongs.

Willow meets Suz, a street performer, when Suz steals all of Willow's money.  Willow walks the streets looking for Suz but when she finally finds her, her money is gone, leaving Willow penniless and homeless.  Despite this, the unlikely pair forge a strong friendship as they struggle to find food and shelter in order to stay alive.  Willow is fearful of being recognised as her face is all over the news, and her Dad is offering a hefty reward, so she alters her appearance as much as she can and calls herself 'Frog'.  Then one day Willow meets some real circus performers who ask her to join them, but they don't have any room for Suz.  Willow is faced with making a tough decision that ultimately has devastating consequences, but one which forces Willow to finally see how much she is loved.

Olivia Levez has not only raised the bar with The Circus, but has swung from it in a glittering gold costume; whereas The Island was unusual with some chapters containing only one powerful word, The Circus really stands out as the star attraction.  It was heartbreaking as Willow searched for somewhere to belong and we learned more of her past - she has run away several times before, trying to get her Dad to notice her.  She had everything she could ever want in her privileged life, everything except the only thing she wanted - her Dad's attention.

The Circus is a wonderful story of family, belonging and unlikely friendships that had me captivated from the tempestuous start to the emotive and uplifting finale.  I felt like I was on Willow's journey with her and I was surprised to find how emotionally invested in the story I was.  A powerful, uplifting story that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone who has ever felt lost and ached to be found.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Classic FM Musical Treasury: A Curious Collection of New Meanings for Old Words - Tim Lihoreau

There are all sorts of people, events and sounds that exist in the musical world for which there are no words. We have been sadly bereft of a satisfactory way to describe the contortion of a singer's mouth when reaching for the high notes; the audience member who leaves a concert halfway through the grand finale; or that person who places one finger in their ear and raises their eyes heavenwards when they sing.

Tim Lihoreau neatly solves this problem in The Classic FM Musical Treasury. Having scoured the UK for place names with a musical bent, he has created a charming collection of humorously inventive, musically themed meanings. From choral singing to rock concerts, opera and orchestras, this quirky book will delight music fans everywhere.

What did I think?

I listen to Tim Lihoreau on my short drive to work each morning and I love puzzling over his carpe diem clues, so I was delighted when I received a copy of his new book to review.  The Classic fM Musical Treasury looks like a book you could dip in and out of but as soon as I started to read, I knew I didn't want to miss a thing and ended up reading it cover to cover in a 24 hour period.

If somebody had told me I would read a dictionary, I would have laughed my socks off but this treasury is more like a dictionary than a book, albeit a very readable dictionary.  I continually laughed out loud, desperately holding onto my socks at times, and found myself sharing excerpts with my family.

There is something for every music lover in this book, from finding out a name for Freddie Mercury's famous second-skin jumpsuits to the hilariously named hole on the back of a recorder.  As a one-time violin student, I almost spat out my cup of tea when I read about the contents of the fidder's hamlet, although I have to say that I kept fruit polos in mine!  As a regular listener of Classic fM, I've also been known to play a solo game of kedlock feus and I bet many others do this too.

I have so many favourites from this book that I couldn't possibly list them all, but I remember fondly the carfury in my old Yaris who wasn't as much of a Bryan Adams fan as I was but probably jumped out of its skin like I did by the odd chidden on the CDs it chose to let me play.  Think I'm talking gobbledygook?  Take my word for it, you need this Classic fM Musical Treasury in your life!  Don't read it in public though, as you are liable to have involuntary outbursts of laughter.

Read it in one go, or dip in and out, this is a Musical Treasury to be treasured and referred to again and again.  Amaze your friends at the pub when you tell your friend to stop that annoying tapnage as you describe walking the cadger path on a visit to town, before your return to jingle street.  Great fun and a fabulous gift for the music lover in your life.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Abattoir of Dreams - Mark Tilbury

The past is never far away.
Michael Tate has not had an easy life. With his father in prison, and his mother dead, Michael was sent to Woodside Children’s Home.
Now an adult, Michael wakes up in hospital from a coma suffering from amnesia and paralysis. Confused and terrified, he is charged with the fatal stabbing of his girlfriend, Becky. He also learns he attempted to end his own life.
Detective Inspector John Carver is determined that Michael is sent to prison.
With no way of defending himself, Michael is left in his hospital bed awaiting transfer to remand.
But then strange things begin to happen and his childhood comes back to haunt him.
Can Michael ever escape the past?
Will he ever discover the truth about Becky’s murder?
And why is DI Carver so eager to make him suffer?
The Abattoir of Dreams is a bitter sweet story of murder, innocence and abuse.

What did I think?

A lot of readers were excited when Abattoir of Dreams came out and having read it, I can see why.  I chose this as my kindle loan book for the month but I wouldn't have hesitated to buy a copy just to get my hands on it to find out what everyone was raving about.

Michael Tate is in hospital with amnesia, accused of killing his girlfriend, Becky.  Although he has no memory of events, he must have done it as everyone tells him so.  In order to escape capture after killing Becky, he apparently jumped off the roof of his building and is left paralysed from the waist down.  Lying in his hospital bed, he thinks he must have overdone the painkillers when he sees an emergency door appear in his room.  A door that only he can see.  Where did it come from and where does it go to?

As an invisible force lifts him from his bed, puts him gently in the wheelchair and pushes the emergency door open, Michael is wheeled back to his past.  Think Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, except Michael doesn't know who has come back to visit him - who desperately wants him to remember what happened in the past?

WOW!  What an AMAZING book.  I knew it would be good, as all the book bloggers said it was, but I didn't expect it to be THIS good.  It went in directions I never expected, breaking my heart in two at times and had tears rolling down my face in laughter at others.  I can't look at a catflap without bursting into fits of laughter, imagining Michael and his friend, Liam, crawling through.

Michael had such a hard life and the friendship he forged with Liam saved his life on more than one occasion.  It just shows that no matter how bad your circumstances, something good can come out of adversity.  Not that I am condoning what happened to Michael and Liam, but the friendship that the boys had was second to none.  They helped each other more than they can ever imagine and my heart swelled with feeling for both of them.

I loved the tangible flashbacks in The Abattoir of Dreams.  It felt like two books in one, both equally as good as the other, so a bumper prize for anyone who reads it.  Who is the ghost of Michael's past?  I couldn't have told you straight away as I had to read the end twice with crying so much!  Michael's story really got under my skin and I admit to finding it difficult reading at times.  The world is indeed cruel.

Awesome, heartbreaking and amazing The Abattoir of Dreams is a spectacular book that should not be missed.  Completely unique and unusual; I was completely enthralled from start to finish.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon