Saturday, 26 May 2018

Blood Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

I'm continuing with my reviews of the fabulous Huntress/FBI series by Alexandra Sokoloff. Today it's time for the second book in the series, Blood Moon, which continues Cara's journey where book one finished up. This was another book I received from TBC Reviewers Group on Facebook in return for an honest review. I was quite new at this reviewing game when I wrote this one, so it's quite short!

The Blurb:

Twenty-five years have passed since a savage killer terrorized California, massacring three ordinary families before disappearing without a trace. The only surviving victim of his rampage was a child…who is now wanted by the FBI for brutal crimes of her own.

Special Agent Matthew Roarke is on an interstate manhunt to track her down, despite feeling torn between his dedication to duty and his sympathy for her horrific history and motives. But when Roarke’s search unearths evidence of new family slayings, the dangerous woman he seeks—and secretly wants—may be his only hope of preventing another bloodbath. He just has to find her first.

The pulse-pounding sequel to Huntress Moon is sure to leave readers on the edges of their seats.

My Review:

This second book in the Huntress series can be read as a stand alone, with all relevant details filled in, but I was glad to have read the first one beforehand.

I raced through this one - it's brilliantly written. I could feel the rising tension all the way through. I loved the deepening, complicated connection/relationship between FBI guy Roarke and the Huntress. And like Roarke, I remain conflicted about her. She is such a well written character.

As with the first book, the scene setting is beautiful - so atmospheric. The scenery is really another character, it adds so much to the story.
I can't wait to read the next book!

You can purchase Blood Moon on Amazon UK and US and in good bookshops.

You can read my review of Huntress Moon (the first in the series) here.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

I wanted to share one of my favourite reads from last year. I was lucky enough to be able to request this, and other books in the series, from the TBC Reviewers Request Group on Facebook. Reviews of the other books will follow in the next few days. If you haven't read any of them, I suggest you rectify that!

This was one of my earliest reviews, so it's a bit shorter than my current ones tend to be. Don't know if that's a good or a bad thing!

The Blurb:

A Thriller Award nominee for Best eBook Original Novel... Book 1 in award-winning author Alexandra Sokoloff's riveting new Huntress FBI series about a driven FBI agent on the hunt for that most rare of all killers: a female serial.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states...while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

My Review:

I was keen to start this series, as I had been recommended it by several people! I enjoy reading crime, thriller & suspense novels, so hoped to enjoy this, and I wasn't disappointed!

This series is a bit different - the protagonist is female! I really enjoyed learning more about her throughout the story. It's often hard not to root for her, when you know you really shouldn't!

I loved the connection which starts to build between her and the FBI Agent, Roarke, and his relationship with his partner/right hand man Epps. It is beautifully written, and the way in which the scenery and surroundings are described is very evocative - I often felt like I was there with the characters. I can't wait to read book 2!

You can buy Huntress Moon on Amazon UK and US, and in all good bookshops.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Reflections of a New Blogger

No review today. I just wanted to chat a bit about what being a blogger means to me.

So my little blog is a whole two months old today! It is very much a work in progress, and will evolve as time goes on, and I learn more. But I love it! I set it up primarily to share my love of books, and to maybe encourage folk to try an author or book that's new to them. And occasionally talk about other stuff. But for me, it's turned out to be so much more than that.

The last wee while has been a bit of a struggle for me for a variety of reasons, and the blog has been a saving grace. It's given me something positive to focus on and enjoy - as long as I don't put myself under too much pressure!I

I have read and reviewed some fabulous books, connected with readers and authors, and generally had great feedback about the blog. I've joined the most fantastic, supportive community of book bloggers, who couldn't be more lovely or helpful. I'm signed up for my first blog tour in early July, and have several more scheduled in over the summer and autumn, which is really exciting - looking forward to all of those. And I was asked to be a reader for the Bloody Scotland McIlvaney Prize, which is a huge privilege.

And that's just been in the last two months! I can't wait to see where my blog takes me, but I hope you'll join me  on the ride! Thank you for visiting and reading my posts. If you would like to sign up to follow the blog, you can do it on the home screen. It would mean the world to me.

Hugs. x

Thursday, 17 May 2018

From Bedtime On by Jean Gill

I love poetry, but don't read nearly enough of it, so I was delighted to be able to read this, Jean Gill's second collection of poetry, through the TBC Reviewers Request Group on Facebook.

The Blurb:

A delicious book full of the unexpected. Highly emotive contents.
–Writing Magazine

The second collection of poetry from award-winning author Jean Gill retains the passion and spiky humour for which she is known but has matured into a unique, assured view of our world. Her most lyrical poems reveal a sensuality that lingers in the imagination. Other poems share political insights with timeless, incisive humour.

Divided into two parts, this new edition includes the stories behind the poetry, some personal and some on the craft of writing poetry; always surprising.

My Review:

Having enjoyed Jean's first poetry collection, With Double Blade (you can see my review here), I was really looking forward to this one.

It didn't disappoint. Again, as with the first collection, there were some poems that really touched me, and others that I enjoyed, but didn't necessarily give me the feels. But I love the variety of subjects, and the openness and honesty of the author. I am in awe of her ability to take an everyday situation, an object or a news item, and then weave a personal experience into it. Wonderful.

I very much appreciated the stories behind the poems which were included, and found that some of them changed the way I viewed the corresponding poems. I read each poem, then its story, then the poem again. 'Alternative Medicine' is a good example where the story very much enhanced my reading of the poem.

Other poems I particularly enjoyed were 'Housewife: A Feminine Occupation', 'No News is Good News' and 'The Green Party'. But my two favourites were 'Eternity Ring' (maybe because I'm a hopeless romantic with self esteem issues!), and also 'Sensory Compensation' as I've had blind friends so it resonated with me. This last poem also contained my favourite lines from the whole collection:

'I would not give my eyes to tune pianos
But for one brightened night to read the raised points on your skin with blind man's fingers
I might.'

If you like your poetry sharp, contemporary and challenging, then this collection is for you. Recommended.

You can buy From Bedtime On from Amazon UK and US, and from all good bookshops.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

When I started this blog, I chose to describe it as MAINLY a book blog, so I could occasionally share my ramblings about non booky things if the mood took me. This is one of those times!

Yesterday afternoon, my sons and I finally went to see Avengers: Infinity War. Now, I love me a Superhero movie, and had been really looking forward to seeing this one. I deliberately avoided articles, spoilers and trailers, so I came to the film fresh. I've kept up pretty well with the Marvel Universe stuff, but hadn't seen Black Panther and I'm a little confused about which Captain America films I've seen, but happily I had two teenage boys who were able to fill me in!

First, though, a little rant! You have to sit through so much rubbish before you can even get to the film! Half an hour of adverts, promotions and trailers! At least the trailers were fun - pity they only took up five minutes of the aforementioned thirty. And then, when we thought the film was finally starting, another advert and trailer (could almost forgive that one though as it featured Jeff Goldblum)! It's a nightmare!

Anyway, I digress. Back to the film. In short, we all loved it. It had everything you want from a Superhero movie - completely OTT story,  handsome heroes (plus a tree and a raccoon), evil villains, wry humour, brilliant CGI and epic battle scenes. All fantastic fun.

I realise that everyone, or at least those folk who want to, has probably seen the film by now, but just in case there is someone out there that hasn't seen it and wants to, I won't reveal any spoilers.

This film brings together the core group of Avengers plus some more recent additions, the Guardians of the Galaxy and one of two other key Marvel characters, and they must team up to try to save the world from the wicked Thanos.

The cast  is huge and terrific - I love Bendict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange (actually I just love Benedict Cumberbatch!), Chris Evans (with a beard!) as Captain America and Chris Hemsworth as Thor. There are some great strong female characters too - Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson, Okoye played by Danai Gurira and Gamora played by Zoe Saldana who has a particularly powerful part in the storyline. But my favourite character is Drax the Destroyer played by Dave Bautista - just so funny. And I must mention Peter Dinklage who plays a dwarf king called Eitri - who is also a giant!

The humour that we are used to from previous Marvel movies is there - as is Stan Lee's cameo. My favourite exchange was between Quill and Thor:
Quill: 'Oh, you speak Groot?' (for the uninitiated, Groot is a tree like creature, hilariously voiced by Vin Diesel, who ONLY days three words 'I am Groot'. But the way he says it carries the meaning.)
Thor: 'Yes, I learned it on Asgard. it was an elective.'
Sorry, it made me laugh - perhaps you had to  be there.

But what made this film stand out for me was that, as well as  having all the usual Superhero stuff, it had real heart, and dealt a few emotional punches along the way. There were parts of the movie that were powerful, which I wasn't expecting. This ended up being a film about family, friendship, love, loss and sacrifice. Go and see it!

Friday, 11 May 2018

With Double Blade by Jean Gill

I love poetry, but don't read enough of it. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to read some recently through The TBC Reviewers Request Group on Facebook. I am currently reading 'From Bedtime On', the second collection of poetry by Jean Gill (review to follow soon), so I thought I would share my thoughts on her first one.

The Blurb:

The antidote to Valentine's Day if you like your reading sharp, not sickly sweet.

'Jean Gill’s spiky humour makes you feel as if she’s caught you on barbed wire and yet makes you smile about it' – Mike Sharpe, Haverfordwest Journalist

Strong, fresh, vivid poems from award-winning author Jean Gill, on an astounding range of subjects including adultery, AIDS and the Mexican Earthquake. If you crossed Wendy Cope’s work with Sylvia Plath’s, Jean Gill’s poetry might be the result.

‘You’re starting to smother me, darling, you’re faded and boring, my dear. It’s my turn to play with another and your turn alone with your fear.’

Divided into two parts, this new edition includes the stories behind the poetry, some personal and some about world events; always surprising.

My Review:

This is the first poetry book I have ever written a review for, and it's really hard! Reading poetry is such a personal, subjective experience, more so than when reading a novel, I think.

There were some poems in this collection that touched me, some I really enjoyed, and some that I wasn't so keen on. And that's fine. I very much appreciated how honest and open the author is, and how her experiences shape her work. There is a little story behind each poem included, and they were invaluable. I read each poem, then the story behind it, then the poem again. And often the second reading of the poem would be profoundly different from the first, because I know the story behind it. 'After The Mexican Earthquake, 1985' was a good example of this, and became one of my favourites in this collection.

I also enjoyed 'Birthday Present For My Father', 'Equality' and 'The Three Wise Monkeys', amongst others. My least favourite were the Arthurian ones - they are well written, but just didn't speak to me.

I write the occasional poem, but struggle to write about anything other than what I feel or have felt, e.g. love, loss, sadness etc, so it can get repetitive. I can't look at a tree and write a poem about it. So I was interested in and inspired by Ms Gill's ability to intertwine her own feelings with something external, knitting an Aran jumper, for example.

One teeny tiny niggle - I would have liked the story behind each poem to follow immediately after the relevant poem, to save me jumping backwards and forwards on my device. But that's just a little thing.

A cracking collection.

You can buy With Double Blade on Amazon UK and US, and in all good bookshops. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Unbroken by Madeleine Black

After taking a few days to hang out with family, I'm going to spend a couple of weeks sharing some of the reviews I wrote before I started the blog.

I decided to start with this one because it's one of the most powerful books I've read.

The Blurb:

For many years after that night, my memories of what happened after he held the blade to my throat and threatened my life were fragmented... difficult to piece together. It was too extreme, too violent for me to understand.

Violently gang-raped when she was thirteen years old, and raped three more times before the age of eighteen, Madeleine has experienced more trauma in her life than most ever will.

Living in a state of shock and self-loathing, it took her years of struggle to confront the buried memories of that first attack and begin to undo the damage.

Yet, after growing up with a burden no teenager should ever have to shoulder, she found the heart to carry out the best revenge plan of all: leading a fulfilling and happy life. But the road to piecing her life back together was long and painful. For Madeleine, forgiveness was the key. True forgiveness takes genuine effort. It is the ultimate act of courage.

In Unbroken, Madeleine tells her moving and empowering story, as she discovers that our lives are not defined by what knocks us down - they are defined by how we get back up.

My Review:

This review has taken me a while to write, and I'm still not sure that I've done it justice!

Even if this wasn't well written, which it is, I would still have rated it very highly for the courage of the author.

Madeleine Black was violently attacked and raped by two 18 year old boys when she was just 13, and was raped three more times before she was 18. This book is her memoir, and tells the story of those events and her subsequent journey to recovery. It's a difficult read in places, as you might expect given the subject matter, and it's heartbreaking in those same places. But it's also inspiring and very powerful.

The initial rape is described in detail. I don't consider myself easily shocked, but I certainly was at what Madeleine went through. I cried for that wee girl. I have no idea how she even got up after it - shows her strength even then. For those of you who are concerned, there is a warning before the details are given, and you can skip them if you wish.

She didn't tell anyone about it for a long time, didn't really understand what had happened or why she behaved in particular ways afterwards, and didn't remember all the details for years, so great was the trauma.

Her recovery took years and involved counselling but also some alternative forms of healing. I cried again at how far she has come, and how this book shows that she is so much more than a rape survivor.

I think this is a book that everyone should read. It shows how awful people can be, but also how strong and resilient we can be. And I really hope that this book encourages other victims of abuse and rape to speak out and seek help.
Me with Madeleine and fellow author and rape survivor Winnie Li. 

You can purchase Unbroken on Amazon UK & US and in all good bookshops.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

A Fractured Winter by Alison Baillie

I was very pleased to get a copy of this book from the TBC Reviewers Request Group on Facebook. I have had the pleasure of meeting Alison a couple of times and was looking forward to reading her work. I haven't yet read her previous book (shame on me!) due to my ridiculous TBR pile, but I intend to remedy that very soon! I am also delighted that I managed to grab Alison before she arrived at Newcastle Noir to ask her a few questions.

The Blurb:

A missing girl.

Threatening notes.

Sinister strangers.

Olivia's idyllic family life in a Swiss mountain village is falling apart. She thought she'd managed to escape the past, but it's coming back to haunt her.

Has somebody discovered her secret - why she had to leave Scotland more than ten years ago?

What is her connection to Marie, a lonely schoolgirl in a Yorkshire seaside town, and Lucy, a student at a Scottish university?

A story of the shadows of the past, the uncertainties of the present and how you can never really know anybody.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book. It's a slow burner, set mainly in Switzerland, but with flashback chapters to Scarborough and Edinburgh. I thought the sense of place was terrific. I have never been to Switzerland, but it was so well described, I almost feel like I have been. And I loved finding out about the various Swiss traditions.

I liked Olivia, the central character, but thought she was too trusting, particularly taking account of the missing girl and the threatening notes. But she was clearly just trying to make connections, be accepted, after her formative years which were full of rejection. I was conflicted about Christian. I spent much of the book disliking him for his selfishness and the way he treated Olivia, but them when it really mattered, he was there.

There are several more characters playing important roles in the story so I won't mention them all, but they are all beautifully described. I particularly loved Stevie, the aging, faded rockstar!

I found it hard to put this book down because I wanted to know what happened. The whole thing has a slightly sinister feel to it helped, I think, by its setting. I certainly didn't guess what Olivia's secret was, or what had happened to the missing girl - I was particularly shocked about that. In a good way!

This book is very atmospheric, and touches on self doubt, emotional abuse, rejection and cults. It builds well towards the conclusion, throwing in a few red herrings along the way, and is populated by well described, well rounded characters. Highly recommend.

Mini Q&A:

I caught Alison just before her appearance at Noir At The Bar in Newcastle - the start this weekend's Newcastle Noir - to ask her a few questions.

1. Please can you tell us a little about your journey to writing.

I've always loved writing and reading and had the idea for my first book in my head for thirty years before I actually wrote it. It was only when my sons had moved out of the house and I stopped working full-time that I had time to begin writing. When I first started, I went on two Arvon courses, which helped give me the confidence to believe I could actually write a book. I also met other writers there, particularly Sarah Ward and Tana Collins, who have become my great friends and have been very supportive. I originally only wrote Sewing the Shadows Together for myself, but was encouraged to publish it. After that I was hooked on writing, and had to begin my second one immediately because I loved the process of creating another world so much.

2. You have young grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated. Is it hard for you to write a storyline where young children are or might be in danger?

Because the fear of losing children is such a basic emotion, I think it’s a very powerful subject for a novel and one which I must admit I am also drawn to as a reader. I think every parent, and grandparent, knows the moment of panic when you don’t know where your child is. My younger son often wandered off and there were a couple of occasions when he disappeared for a short time. I will never forget that terrible feeling of fear, desperation and helplessness. Now I literally never let my grandchildren out of my sight when I’m looking after them (but the oldest one is only five so they don’t protest about this yet).

3. This book touches on the subject of cults. How did you research the topic?

I was once nearly drawn into one myself! When I was accompanying a group of Swiss students on a language stay at a school on the south coast of England, one of the teachers there invited me back to the house where he lived. I soon realised it was a very creepy set-up with some very strange people. The teacher had been living with them since he was a young teenager – he was in his thirties by that time. The ‘leader’ gave me a book about their beliefs, which I still have, but I got out of the house as quickly as I could and didn’t go back. I later heard that the whole group moved to Italy shortly afterwards.

I’ve also read several books about people who have been brought up in cults and am fascinated by any news reports of people living in them, of which there have been quite a few recently.

4. This is your second book. For those that haven't read it, can you give a wee synopsis of your debut, Sewing The Shadows Together.

Sewing the Shadows Together is set in Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and South Africa. It’s about the brother and best friend of a young teenage girl who was murdered more than thirty years before. They’ve both been emotionally scarred by the death and when they meet at a school reunion they feel a connection. They grow closer as the man who was convicted of the murder is proved to be innocent, and suspicions fall on family and friends in the search for the real murderer. Many dark secrets from the past are uncovered before the truth finally comes to light.

Many thanks to Alison for taking the time to answer my questions. Enjoy the weekend!

About Alison:

Alison Baillie was brought up in the Yorkshire Dales, but has always felt Scottish. Her parents were both from Scotland and, as soon as she could, she went back there to study English at the University of St Andrews. After a year in Finland she taught English in several Edinburgh High Schools. She then moved to Switzerland, where she still lives, but her heart will always be in Scotland, where she goes as often as possible. She loves travelling, reading crime fiction, going to crime writing festivals and being with her family and friends. In 2015, her first novel, Sewing the Shadows Together, set in Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and South Africa, was published. To find out more about her and her books, visit her website or follow her on Facebook at Alison Baillie Author or Twitter alisonbailliex.

You can buy A Fractured Winter on Amazon UK and US, and in all good bookshops.

These Lost & Broken Things by Helen Fields

I am thrilled to be on the blog tour for this historical thriller from Helen Fields. This isn't a genre I go to very often but I knew He...