The List that Changed My Life by Olivia Beirne

The List that Changed My Life by Olivia Beirne

 

40901450Publisher: Headline Review

Publishing Date: 22nd November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 336

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Sometimes all you need is a little push…

When Georgia’s sister is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she promises to do everything her older sibling can no longer do, resulting in a journey that will change her life forever…

Georgia loves wine, reality TV and sitting on the sofa after work. She does not love heights, looking at her bank account, going on dates, or activities that involve a sports bra. And she will never, ever take a risk.

That is, until her braver, bolder, big sister finds out that she won’t be able to tick off the things she wanted to do before turning thirty, and turns to Georgia to help her finish her list.

With the birthday just months away, Georgia suddenly has a deadline to learn to grab life with both hands. Could she be brave enough to take the leap, for her sister?

And how might her own life change if she did?

A hilarious and heart-warming journey of a lifetime, showing us what it means to really be alive.

Rating: four-stars

“The List that Changed My Life”, the debut novel by Olivia Beirne, follows Georgia Miller, a twenty – six year old woman from London, working as an assistant to a designer. Even though Georgie is a great designer herself, she now acts as a runner/organizer/general dogsbody for her boss’s wedding and wouldn’t dare to show her her designs. Georgie’s sister Amy is a fit and cheerful PE teacher, and they both share a very strong bond. It’s no wonder then that when Amy is diagnosed with MS, Georgie’s world collapses as well. Amy challenges Georgie with a bucket list, full of things that she won’t be able to do herself – they’re mostly very out of Gerogie’s comfort zone, so will she be able to do it for her sister? And how much is her life going to change if she did?

I love books about lists, probably because they (the lists) never work for me in my life. And here it was a list that was a little bit different, because it was written for somebody, not by our main character herself. It was for her, from her sister. And well, there were things that really weren’t the easiest ones to do, to complete. No wonder that Georgia was a little sceptical, and it was a real joy to read how she worked her way through all the items on the list. I liked the way the idea of the list was executed, it was this little bit different to all the other lists that I’ve read about and it didn’t feel too meh or too utilised.

Georgia herself was such a lovely and compelling character. Yes, sure, sometimes I’ve got the vibe that she’s letting other people take her life over, that Jack’s involvement into her list was a bit too much, but other than that she was a lovely, friendly young woman that loved her sister so much. She’s been constantly pushed out of her comfort zones and we know ourselves how uncomfortable it can be, but she learnt how to value her life and how to stand for herself during the time. And, let’s be honest, mostly we’re really glad that we’ve done this step, no? I really liked the relationship between Georgie and her sister Amy, though there were moments that I had a feeling that Amy was a little bit too possessive, as if she wanted her sister only to herself, as if Georgie wasn’t allowed to have her own life. It was especially apparent after Amy’s accident on the steps, and as much as I could understand Georgie, that she wanted to be as quickly as possible with her sister, I couldn’t help but felt a little disappointed at the way Amy reacted – as if it was Georgie’s duty to be around her all the time. Georgie was always there for her sister, for better or worse, and I think she deserved a little life of her own as well. But those two had a great bond, that’s for sure.

“The List that Changed My Life” was light, funny and poignant, heart – warming debut novel about love, sisterhood and about how much you are able to sacrifice for those you love, how far you’d go for them. It was emotional, and it was incredibly humorous, there was a lightness to it even though it touched upon such a serious issue as being diagnosed with MS, but it didn’t make my cry. It was about stepping out of your comfort zones and taking advantages and opportunities. It was life – affirming and also thought – provoking, showing that it’s not so difficult to test your limits and to simply enjoy and appreciate what the world has on offer. I’m already looking forward to next Olivia Beirne’s novel, she’s certainly one to watch.

 

The Cairo Brief by Fiona Veitch – Smith / Blog Tour + Extract

Hi guys, I’m very thrilled to be hosting Fiona Veitch – Smith’s blog tour stop here today. I adore Poppy Denby Investigates series and it’s only because of the lack of time here that I haven’t read “The Cairo Brief” yet – but keep your eyes peeled for my review as I’m going to read it sooner rather than later! In the meantime, though, I have a great long fat extract from the book (2 whole chapters!), so make yourself comfortable and enjoy!

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Chapter 1
10 April 1914, El-Amarna, Egypt

Two brown-cloaked figures picked their way through the half- filled trenches and incomplete excavations of the ancient city. Without its centuries-old shroud of desert sand, Akhetaten lay shivering and exposed in the shameful moonlight, filtering down from the carved cliffs to the east. From the cliff face, hacked and hewn, the likenesses of the heretic pharaohs Akhenaten and Nefertiti stood sentinel over the valley where, three and a half thousand years before, they had built a city to worship Aten, the golden sun.
But tonight it was Iah, the silver moon, that ruled the shadowlands below, where the city of the dead was being reclaimed by the living. To the west of what the foreigners called “The Dig”, the Nile snaked through fields and farms, an artery of life to the villages dotted along the plain.
The cloaked, trespassing figures were a twin boy and girl of around seventeen who lived in one of the nearby villages: Et-Till Beni Amra. At least they used to. Now they were at boarding school in Cairo, far, far to the north, and only came home during the holidays. Their parents were the only people in the village able to afford to send their children away to school, an enormous expense and – so the villagers whispered as they tilled their crops – a wasteful one, particularly on the girl. But the twins’ illicit family business – secretly passed down from generation to generation – had been doing well in recent times, thanks to the Europeans swarming over the carcass of Akhenaten like pale flies. The children with whom the twins now shared dormitories in Cairo talked behind their backs and called them graverobbers. But their father preferred the title “antiquities dealer” and now, since he had been so well paid by the German professor, his children were able to write his profession in German, English, and French.
The girl had been reluctant to come on the moonlit adventure. It had been fun to dig around in the ruins when they were children, but now she understood the consequences of being found with reclaimed artefacts. She’d heard stories of locals being beaten and imprisoned for theft. The Egyptian Antiquities Service issued licenses to excavators on a seasonal basis. For the last seven years the license had gone to Professor Ludwig Borchardt and his team. No one else was allowed to dig there – no rival European archaeologists and most definitely not a pair of young Mohammedans. Never mind that the girl’s family had been digging and selling the fruit of their labour for a hundred years before Borchardt came. Her father had been hired by the German as a consultant and had sworn to stop his own black-market business in return for a substantial salary. But her brother refused to adhere to the agreement. “It’s our people’s heritage,” he had argued, “like the crops of the field and the fish of the Nile.”
So, on this weekend which the Christians called Easter, when her father was in Cairo with his German employer, her brother had coaxed her to join him in a little subsistence looting. “For old time’s sake,” he had grinned. Reluctantly, she agreed. After she helped her mother wash up and read her younger
siblings a bedtime story, she donned her cloak, preparing to join her brother for an evening walk.
The mother assessed her twin children. The boy looked as cock-sure as always. But the girl… there was something bothering her. “You don’t have to go,” the woman said to her daughter. “Not if you don’t want to.”
“I – well – I –”
Her brother interrupted before she could finish, putting his arm around her and ushering her to the door. “Don’t worry, mother, I’ll look after her. She’s just a bit out of practice, aren’t you?”
The girl couldn’t deny this. She nodded half-heartedly.
“Hmmm,” said their mother, wiping her hands dry on her apron. “If I didn’t know the Europeans were away I might be more worried.”
“Worried about what?” asked her son, as he too pulled on his cloak. “We are just going for an evening stroll. And if we happen to walk past the old city… well…” he grinned and kissed his mother on her forehead.
“Watch out for Mohammed and his dog,” said the mother. “He’s usually asleep on the job, and he owes your father half a dozen favours, but you never know…”
“We will,” said her son as he and his sister picked up their sacks – containing ropes and tools – and headed out into the night.
Half an hour later the twins were at their pre-selected destination: the remains of an ancient workshop that had belonged to a man called Thutmose, the personal sculptor of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti. Two years ago the German team, guided by the twins’ father, had unearthed the ruins of the sprawling facility and found a bust of the beautiful queen, with only one eye. The sculpture had now been sent to Berlin. But it wasn’t the only work of art retrieved. There were dozens of half-finished statues and bits of broken limbs in a series of storerooms and trash piles. And – so the twins knew – a secret underground chamber where the sculptor had kept his most precious work. Their father had declined, so far, to tell his new employers about the chamber. But rumour of its existence had been passed down in the family from generation to generation.
“I still don’t understand why Papa hasn’t told the Germans about it yet,” said the girl.
“Perhaps they haven’t paid him enough,” observed the boy. He struck a match and lit a small hurricane lantern he’d taken from his sack, then ranged the lamp in a wide arc over the trenches and roped-off squares of earth. “But it’s only a matter of time until someone finds it.”
“And you think you know where it is?” asked the girl.
The boy nodded. “And so do you. Do you remember that rhyme grandpa used to sing?”
The girl’s face lit up in the light of the lamp. She smiled, remembering fondly the old man with skin like dried parchment. “One palm, two palm, between the trees, there’s Old Tut’s treasure, so please don’t sneeze!” She giggled, just like she used to when she was a child.
The boy grinned. “The thing is, I don’t think it was just a rhyme.” He pointed to a small copse of palm trees about thirty paces west of the perimeter of the workshop dig. A pair of trees were set slightly apart from the rest. “What do you think?”
The girl’s almond-shaped eyes opened wide. “That’s a bit of a stretch.”
The boy shrugged and walked towards the trees. “Worth a dig, though, don’t you think? Won’t do any harm.”
The girl scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of the old
watchman and his dog. It was all clear. She sighed, shifted her sack from one shoulder to another, and followed her brother. “Can’t do any harm, I suppose…”
“Hey! Looks like someone’s already been here,” called the brother. The girl broke into a run and joined her sibling under the palms. He ranged his lantern over the area to reveal a hole in the ground, which had previously been hidden by rock and scree. The siblings both knew that this is how the entrance to Thutmose’s workshop had been found: under a pile of rubble. But around this entrance were footprints in the sand – human and animal. The girl got down on her knees and peered into the hole, gesturing for her brother to shed light on it. He did and the girl could make out a steep tunnel, wide enough for a medium- sized man to squeeze into, angled down into the darkness. “Do you think someone’s down there now?” she whispered.
“I doubt it,” said the boy. “If the Europeans had found it already, they would have blocked the area off and put guards on it until they came back from their Easter break.”
The girl nodded her assent and cocked her ear, trying to pick up any sounds that might be emanating from the underground chamber. “I agree about the Europeans. So that means it must be one of our people.”
“Yes, but I doubt they’re still there. Look, these footprints don’t look fresh. He poked at the faded tracks with his sandal, then grinned. “The Europeans wouldn’t be able to get a clear print from these,” he said, reminding his sister of the graverobber who had been caught and convicted on another dig by the famous archaeologist Howard Carter, who photographed footprints leading from the scene of the crime and matched them to a suspect.
“What do you want to do then?” asked the girl.
The boy put down his lantern on a nearby rock and shuffled his sack off his shoulder. “Go in, of course. Even if someone’s been here before us, there’ll still be lots to see. And good luck to them if they have! Better one of our people than a foreigner.”
The girl couldn’t disagree with that. So, with one more scan of the area above ground to prove they were most definitely alone, she helped her brother tie a rope securely to a palm tree and thread it down the hole. From experience, she knew that in all likelihood the entrance was not above a dead drop and was most likely a steep ramp. But also from experience – and family stories – she knew that the ramps could be treacherous. Great Uncle Kadiel had lost his footing at one of the tombs on the cliff face forty years ago and broke his back in the fall. So they tied a second rope and knotted it around her brother’s waist – as their father had taught them – and made him lean back to see if it held his weight. It did and before long he slithered through the hole and made his way down, using the first rope as a guide.
The girl waited in the company of the twin palms, standing sentinel beneath a canopy of stars.
“It’s too tight to stand,” a muffled voice called after a few moments. “But I can crawl. I’ll give three tugs when I reach the bottom. If there’s anything to see, I’ll give another three tugs; if there’s nothing here, I’ll only tug twice.”
“All right!” called the girl as loudly as she dared. They appeared to be alone, but old Mohammed and his dog were still unaccounted for…
It must only have been five or ten minutes, but it seemed like twice that before the rope between the tree and the hole jerked… three times. The girl let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. There’s something there… he wants me to come down…
She looked around once more – still no sign of the watchman and his dog. She wasn’t surprised; he was a known slacker. The
heavens only knew how he managed to keep his job. Some said he knew secrets the Europeans wouldn’t want divulged – secrets about questionable practices on the dig that didn’t quite align with the terms of license granted by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities in Cairo.
She tugged the rope three times to indicate to her brother that she’d got the message, tied a rope around the tree, and securely fastened it around her waist before approaching the entrance to the underground chamber. On her haunches she pulled up the hood of her cloak and tucked the stray hair from her plait behind her ears. She’d only just washed her hair that morning and didn’t want it full of muck from the tunnel. Then she sat on her bottom and worked her way, feet first, into the hole. There was no need to go head first; her brother had traversed the route before her and wouldn’t have called her down if there was any obstacle in the way. And besides, she was more confident keeping her head up, rather than down, just in case she needed to pull herself back up the rope with no one above ground to help her.
She held her breath and shimmied into the hole, then down the tunnel, which had sufficient clearance that the ceiling only intermittently brushed the top of her head. She stopped a metre or two below the surface, braced her ankles against the sides, and felt around with her hands. Someone, a long time ago – Thutmose himself perhaps? – had lined the tunnel with timber and overlaid it with compacted clay. The clay lining had cracked and crumbled in places but remained largely intact. The girl mumbled a prayer of thanks for the ingenuity and industriousness of her ancestors.
“Are you coming down?” A call from below.
“Yes,” she answered and continued her downwards shimmy, pushing herself up onto her hands and propelling her bottom forward to her knees in a caterpillar motion. “How far?” “About 20 metres! Can you see my light?”
Yes, she could; there was a dim glow below her. Her brother
had lit the lamp he had taken down with him. “Yes!” she affirmed, then: “What can you see?”
“Piles of stuff!” Her brother’s voice bubbled with excitement. “It’s not a tomb –”
“Didn’t expect it to be.”
“No. But it looks like this was where old Tut stored his funerary artefacts. The ones that would be used for burial.”
“Of Nefertiti and Akhenaten?”
“Possibly. We’ll see when you get down. I haven’t gone too far in… Ah, there you are. You’re getting slow in your old age.” The boy held out his hand and helped his sister upright at the bottom of the ramped tunnel. She took it then gave him a playful punch on the shoulder.
“You’re fifteen minutes older than me!”
“And always fifteen minutes ahead of you too!”
She punched him again.
“Ow!” yelped the boy but didn’t retaliate. Here, surrounded
by vases, chests, sarcophagi and amphora – with who knew what kind of treasure inside – they put their sibling high jinks aside.
The girl took the lantern from him and traced a wide arc around the chamber. She let out a long whistle. “It looks like there are other chambers leading off from this one.”
The boy agreed. “At least one; there’s an entrance over there. I haven’t been through yet. Thought we could start here.”
The girl nodded her agreement, put down the lantern on top of a carved stele leaning against the wall, and started to investigate. The stele – possibly a grave marker – was inscribed with hieroglyphics. The twins were learning to read the ancient script in their Classical civilization classes at the academy. The
girl traced her finger over the shapes, mouthing the words as she went: “The sun and the moon, the day and the night, wed forever in celestial splendour. Akhenaten and Nefertiti shine on your people, divine ones, shine.” The girl gasped and raised her face to her brother. “It is them! This will fetch a fine price on the black market!”
The boy grinned. “Of course we can’t take too much… we’ll never get away with it… but I don’t see why we can’t take a couple of small pieces and then let Borchardt know when he gets back with father… we’ll have to leave the stele, too heavy… besides it identifies the find… but something smaller…”
He lifted the lid on one of the painted wooden chests. Inside, in a bed of straw, was a set of gold-plated amphora, perhaps intended to hold sacred oil. “Hang on,” he said, his fingers raking through the straw, “this is fresh… it’s fresh straw!” He reached for the next chest and it contained statuettes – possibly by Thutmose himself. But these too were neatly packaged in fresh straw.
“Why’s it fresh?” he asked.
The girl’s stomach clenched. “Oh no…” She too opened a chest and came face to face with a burial mask of gold leaf, blue enamel, and black jet that looked very similar to the bust of Nefertiti, discovered elsewhere on the dig two years earlier. But what struck the twins more than the exquisite beauty of the pharaoh queen was the nest of fresh straw and modern linen wadding in which it lay. “Someone’s been here before us,” the girl whispered.
“Yes,” agreed the boy, “and it looks like they’re packed and ready to go.”
“We need to report it,” said the girl. “This doesn’t look like a casual looter. It’s organized. It’s… pssst! Where are you going?” The boy was picking his way through the treasure-filled chests heading to the back of the chamber. “I’m just going to stick my head in here.”
The girl stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t think we’ve got time. What if they come back?”
“Just a few minutes more,” said the boy and continued on his quest. As there was only one light the girl had a choice of staying there in the dark or following her brother. She sighed and, with a humph, joined her sibling. They had been right – there was another chamber, this too filled with chests, vases, statues, stele, and amphora. And in the middle was a stone sarcophagus. It was incomplete, with only the first layer of chiseling evident in what would eventually be an intricately carved design. The twins weren’t surprised. Thutmose had abandoned his workshop when the city itself had been evacuated after the death of Akhenaten. Much of the finds on the dig to date had been of unfinished or discarded pieces, though still of immense value to historians, antiquarians, and collectors of ancient art.
The boy took hold of the lid and heaved. It shifted slightly but didn’t budge. “Give me a hand, will you?”
The girl snorted. “You won’t find a mummy if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“I know!” said the brother. “But I’d like to see where one might lie. I’ve never seen inside one, have you?”
The girl admitted she hadn’t. There were a couple at the Cairo Museum, but she had never got around to visiting. When you lived a stone’s throw from an archaeological treasure trove, seeing the artefacts in the musty confines of a museum wasn’t quite so enticing. So she shrugged and leant her strength to her brother’s effort. With a few heaves and pulls the heavy stone lid began to pivot. When they’d moved it about 45 degrees they stopped and the boy picked up the lamp from the floor. He held it aloft and gasped. There, staring through the opening,
was the grimacing face of a dog, its teeth bared, its eyes wide and lifeless. The muzzle was matted with blood. The girl knew that if she reached out and touched it, it would still be sticky to the touch – it looked that recent. “It’s the watchman’s dog! Who would do this?”
The siblings stepped back from the sarcophagus and drew closer together. The girl slipped her arm around her brother’s waist. She was not a sentimental girl, but the thought of a poor animal being killed and hidden like this made her feel sick. Hidden… hidden… “And why would they hide it?”
“And where’s Mohammed?” The boy’s voice was hollow. He took a step towards the sarcophagus.
The girl knew immediately what he was going to do. “Don’t! Let’s call someone. The police at El-Hag Kandeel…”
But the boy was undeterred. He passed the lantern to his sister, then climbed up onto the edge of the stone coffin and positioned his backside on the rim. He pressed his heels against the edge of the lid and used the strength of his legs to push. The lid gave way and fell to the earth floor with a deathly thud. And there, as the siblings both feared, was the body of Mohammed the watchman under the corpse of his faithful dog.
The twins screamed, their voices merging as they had on the day they were born, and they ran from the chamber as fast as they could. The girl had the presence of mind to snatch up the lantern and was a step or two behind her brother as they fled towards the tunnel. But waiting for them, in the outer chamber, were two men, one an Egyptian police officer, the other a European.
“Mohammed! The watchman! His dog!” the boy cried in Arabic.
“Arrest them,” said the European in English.
“But we haven’t done anything!” cried the girl. Her protest was met with a blow to the head and the last thing she heard was her brother calling out her name.

Chapter 2
London, Thursday 8 December 1921
“Miz Denby! What do you know about Queen Nefertiti?” Poppy looked up from her Remington typewriter – where she had been bashing out a theatre review – to see her editor stalking towards her with what looked like a press release in hand. Since returning from a trip to New York earlier in the year, the diminutive newspaperman had taken to walking around with a noxious Cuban cigar clenched between his teeth, adding to the already foul atmosphere of the fourth-floor newsroom. He clambered onto a spare chair near her desk, his short legs dangling a foot off the ground.
“Nefertiti,” he said again, pronouncing it “Nay-fur-toy-toy” in his New York accent.
“Hold on,” said Poppy, then swiped the carriage return twice, typed ENDS, and turned her attention to her editor.
“Who or what is ‘Nay-fur-toy-toy’?” she asked, reaching out her ink-stained hand to take the sheet of paper Rollo passed to her.
Rollo grinned at her attempt at a New York accent and then, in affected Queen’s English, articulated “Ne’er-for-tea- tea,” before slipping back into his usual drawl. “She was some Egyptian broad. A pharaoh queen. Married to a fella whose name I can’t pronounce.”
Poppy scanned the press release.
Dear Mr Rolandson, you are invited to report on the auction of the death mask of Queen Nefertiti at Winterton Hall, Henley-on-Thames, on Saturday 10th December. The auction will be part of a longer clay-pigeon shooting weekend – weather permitting – and will be attended by luminaries in the world of antiquities and archaeology, both local and international. Your readers might also be interested to know that on Friday evening, a séance will be held, led by Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle, at which an attempt will be made to contact the spirit of Queen Nefertiti.
The release then went on to give a brief history of Nefertiti and to state that the mask had just recently come to light, the general consensus being that it had been stolen from a dig in Egypt in 1914, under what were described as “murderous circumstances”.
Poppy raised her eyebrows. “Murderous circumstances? What does that mean?”
“Damned if I know,” said Rollo, and stubbed out his cigar in the soil around Poppy’s precious potted begonia. She glared at him. “Sorry,” he offered, then picked out the stub and plopped it into an empty tea cup. “You really should get an ash tray, Miz Denby.”
Poppy bit back her you really should respect other people’s property and said instead, “So, are you going?”
“It’s short notice, but yes. And I think you should come too. Technically, it falls into the art and entertainment brief – particularly with Conan Doyle in attendance; you might be able to get an interview.”
“What’s this about a séance?”
Rollo rolled his eyes beneath his shaggy red brows. “Another one of his spiritualist stunts, I suppose.”
Poppy pursed her lips. “Quite. I wish he’d stick to his detective stories. They’re far more sensible.”
Rollo grinned. “But not half as newsworthy. Which is why this Maddox fella thinks we’ll be interested. And he’s right.”
“Well, I’m not interested in the least.”
“Hocus pocus not Christian enough for you?” asked Rollo with a grin.
Poppy swivelled in her chair and looked Rollo squarely in the eye. “There are two ways of looking at this. Either they’re a hoax and people are being duped, or they are actually talking to the dead – which, in my book, is a very dangerous thing to do. Dabbling with the spirits can lead down sinister paths.”
“Spirits that don’t exist.”
“You have no evidence of that.”
“Neither do you.”
They held each other’s gaze. Poppy and Rollo had been over
this ground before. She believed in God. He did not.
“Well, Miz Denby, hopefully you can admit that whether it’s a hoax or real, anything involving Conan Doyle is newsworthy.
And you would be professionally remiss to ignore it.”
Poppy lowered her eyes. He was right. She had a job to do. She cleared her throat and then scanned the press release again. It was signed by Sir James Maddox, Baron of Winterton. “Do we know anything about Maddox?” asked Poppy, indicating
that she was most firmly back “on the job”.
Rollo leaned back in his chair, his plump belly straining
between the parallel lines of his scarlet braces. “I’ve heard the name. Yazzie has mentioned him before. He was a friend of her father’s, I think. Some kind of maverick archaeologist collector type. A bit like that Carnarvon fella.”
“The one that’s looking for King Tut’s tomb?”
“That’s the one,” said Rollo and took the press release back
from Poppy. “I think I’ll ask Yazzie to come as well. She might be able to give us some insight into the Egyptian angle. And she might want to bid on the mask… She’s got quite the art collection, as you know.”
Poppy brushed a stray blonde curl behind her ear and avoided meeting Rollo’s eyes.
“What?”
“Nothing. I just thought you and Miss Reece-Lansdale were no longer – er – well – no longer stepping out together.” She straightened a pile of notes on her desk.
Rollo cocked his head to one side. “I don’t know if we were ever ‘stepping out together’. But no, whatever you’ve heard, Yazzie and I are still friends. She’s a fine lady.”
What Poppy had heard was that the famous female barrister, the Anglo-Egyptian Miss Yasmin Reece-Lansdale, had been forthright enough to ask the editor of The Daily Globe to marry her. And he had turned her down. But it was none of her business. What was her business was a possible story involving Arthur Conan Doyle and a valuable Egyptian artefact that was somehow associated with a murder… A shiver ran down her spine. “Apologies Rollo. Yes, I’d love to come on the weekend with you and Yazzie – in a professional capacity, of course.” Annoyingly, she felt a slight blush creep up her neck.
Her editor laughed. “Goodo. And I’ll ask Danny Boy too,” he winked. “In his professional capacity, of course.” Rollo heaved himself off his chair and stood at Poppy’s side, his head barely reaching her shoulder. His eyes expertly scanned the typescript in her machine. “Is this the Ivor Novello / PG Wodehouse collaboration?”
“It is,” said Poppy. “At the Adelphi.”
“Any good?”
Poppy whisked out the sheet and passed it to him. “Very
funny, as you’d expect. Jolly music too.”
“I might give it a go. If you’re finished with this why don’t
you go down to the morgue and pull some jazz files on the main players at the Egyptian weekend. And I’ll telegraph Maddox to expect a group of us from the Globe.” He paused, his eyebrows furrowed. “Bet we’re not the only press he’s asked.”
“Lionel Saunders from the Courier?” asked Poppy as she stood up and straightened her calf-length Chanel grey skirt – all the rage in office wear for the working lady – and shrugged into the matching jacket.
“You can bet your bottom dollar on it,” observed Rollo. He wagged a finger at Poppy. “We’d better make sure we get the scoop on him. Do as much research as you can, Miz Denby, and I’ll see if Yazzie knows anything about these ‘murderous circumstances’. Her brother Faizal is with the Egyptian Antiquities Service, did you know?”
Poppy didn’t. She didn’t even know Yasmin had a brother. The editor and reporter parted ways, promising to touch base later in the day.
Down in the morgue, Poppy hung her jacket and matching cloche hat next to a huge black great coat, which had previously seen action on the Western Front. The coat belonged to Ivan Molanov, the archivist of The Daily Globe. Ivan was a refugee from communist Russia who had met Rollo Rolandson in a military hospital in Belgium during the war. At Poppy’s request, Ivan had dug out the jazz files on Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle, James Maddox, the archaeologist Howard Carter, and his backer, George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon. Poppy didn’t know whether Carter and Carnarvon were going to be at the shooting weekend, but as they were currently the most famous Egyptologists in the country, she thought their files might contain some useful background material. She also asked Ivan to look beyond the jazz files – which contained mainly celebrity gossip – to the subject clipping files.
“Do you have anything on Egypt in general? Or this Queen Nefertiti?”
“Nay-fah who?” asked Ivan.
Poppy wrote down the name on a piece of paper and gave it to him. Ivan held it in his huge paw-like hand and grunted. “Thees ees not a library, Mees Denby. Go to the British Museum. Beeg library there. Lots of Egyptian artefacts too. You ever see a mummy?”
Poppy admitted that she hadn’t. She was a frequent visitor to the British Library, but in the eighteen months she had lived in London she had never ventured into the bowels of the museum which shared the same premises. History did not interest her that much, and most of her time – work or leisure – was taken up attending art exhibitions, book launches or theatre and cinema shows. She was, after all, the arts and entertainment editor of the Globe, not a historian. However, this new story, which she had labelled “The Cairo Brief” in bold letters at the top of her notebook (she had initially called it “The Pharaoh Brief ” but wasn’t confident she could spell it), was about ancient art. She felt a little out of her depth.
“Yes, that’s a good suggestion, Ivan. I’ll head over to the museum when I’m finished here.”
Ivan left her to her research. First off she opened the file on Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle. Actually, it was two files in one, as the file of Jean Leckie, long-term mistress of the famous detective fiction writer, was slipped into her lover’s when they
finally married, the year after the death of Conan Doyle’s first wife. Sir Arthur, Lady Jean, and anyone close to them denied that they’d had a physical affair, but no one denied that they had been in love for at least a decade while the first Mrs Conan Doyle became increasingly infirm with tuberculosis. It was partly due to Jean, apparently, that Arthur became embroiled in spiritualism, which avid readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories struggled to understand. Conan Doyle had previously been a doctor and gifted his scientific mindset to the forensic genius of Holmes. However, as Poppy read on in the file, she realized that this was just a veneer. The real Conan Doyle was just as interested in the metaphysical as he was in the scientific, having become a freemason thirty years earlier. He had also written articles on psychic phenomena, which he claimed to have observed in his children’s nanny. When he married Jean in 1906 and she professed to have the gift of contacting the dead and communicating their messages to the living through automatic writing, Conan Doyle became increasingly active in the spiritualist movement. Poppy noted that his first published work on spiritualism was in 1916, the year after one of his nephews was killed in the war. Poppy swallowed hard. That’s the same year Christopher died…
Poppy’s brother Christopher had been a voracious reader of the Sherlock Holmes stories and had used his pocket money to buy The Strand magazine and kept it hidden under his mattress. Knowing their parents would disapprove of wasting good money on what they would have thought “bad literature”, he swore Poppy to secrecy. A few years later, when Christopher died, she felt she needed to continue keeping his secret. But when she went to his room to retrieve the stash, their mother was already there. She had pulled the mattress off the bed for beating and found the collection of story magazines. They now lay around her as she knelt on the floor, her shoulders heaving as she sobbed. One of the magazines was clutched to her breast as she wept out her anguish for her lost child. Poppy did not speak; she just turned around and left her mother to her private grief. Later, she returned to the room, but the magazines had all gone.
Poppy closed her eyes to suppress the tears that were beginning to well. Pull yourself together, old girl; there’s work to be done. Poppy turned a page in the file to find a clipping from The Strand dated December 1920. The article, written by Conan Doyle, was in defence of the girls from Yorkshire who claimed to have photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden. Poppy smiled as she looked at the whimsical photograph, considered a hoax by experts and academics, but widely believed by the general public. This article by the author of Sherlock Holmes had much to do with the popular acceptance of the fairy hoax, as the public seemed to struggle to differentiate the unimpeachable fictional detective – who could never be fooled – from his more fanciful creator.
The next page in the file held an article written by Rollo Rolandson, lampooning Conan Doyle for his defence of the photographs and quoting Daniel Rokeby, The Daily Globe’s resident photographer, who explained how the photographs had been staged and faked. Poppy remembered Rollo and Daniel working on the piece last December. Golly, had it been a year already?
Poppy trailed her finger along Daniel’s name. Last December Poppy had believed she and the handsome photographer might soon be married. But here they were, twelve months later, and there was still no ring on her finger. Their relationship ebbed and flowed like the tide, and for three whole months, when Poppy was in New York with Rollo, she thought it might be over forever. But on her return Daniel had been waiting for her…
Poppy pulled herself up again: stop daydreaming!
She read through her notes on Conan Doyle and decided
that she had enough to go on for now. She was fascinated to meet the man in the flesh – as well as his wife; although the idea of speaking to someone who spoke to the dead was a little troubling. Claims to speak to the dead, Poppy reminded herself. Surely, the whole thing was a hoax. Not to mention un- Christian! Nonetheless, she was intrigued to see what actually happened at a séance. Despite her qualms, Rollo was right: it would make for a fantastic article.
The next file was on Sir James Maddox, whom Poppy had never heard of before. There wasn’t much in the file, as Maddox appeared to spend much of his time abroad or on his country estate, Winterton, and did not come up to London much. There was, however, a photograph of Maddox and his wife, Lady Ursula, at the opening of an exhibit at the British Museum. He was a beefy, balding man, sporting a moustache and wearing one of those curious Ottoman hats – a fez, Poppy thought it might be called. His wife was more conventionally dressed, her unsmiling face giving nothing away. The notes added little to what Rollo had already told her. Maddox was a gentleman archaeologist and world traveller, with an extensive collection of Egyptian, Roman, and Greek antiquities. There was, however, one newspaper clipping that gave a hint of something slightly controversial. It was from the Times, dated August 1914, reporting that Sir James Maddox had been asked to step down from the board of the Egyptian Exploration Fund. A representative of the board had told the Times it was due to concerns that had been raised about Sir James’s “methods of procurement of certain antiquities”. The representative declined to give more specific details and Sir James was “not available for comment”. It was a short article, covering a mere three column inches. Poppy was very surprised the journalist hadn’t dug deeper. There was clearly a story there… but, perhaps the outbreak of the war that very same month had caused the story to be spiked – or it had been longer and the sub-editor had cut it for space. She checked the by-line on the article – Walter Jensford. She’d never heard of him but made a note of it.
Poppy closed the file and checked her watch – nearly one o’clock. Time for a spot of lunch then I’ll head over to the British Museum. She hadn’t had a chance to read the Carnarvon and Carter files. “Ivan,” she called out to the archivist. “Can I take these with me please?”
Ivan said she could and made a note in his meticulously kept record book as Poppy slipped her jacket over her white silk blouse. “You should wrap up warm, Mees Denby. I see it is starting to snow.” Poppy glanced out of the third-floor window, overlooking Fleet Street. Down below, horse-drawn vehicles jostled for space with motorcars, and pedestrians pulled up their collars against the cold. Ivan was right; it was starting to snow.

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The Survivors by Kate Furnivall / Blog Tour

The Survivals by Kate Furnivall

 

 

41100508Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publishing Date: 29th November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 448

Genre: Historical Fiction

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Hardcover | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Discover a brilliant story of love, danger, courage and betrayal, from the internationally bestselling author of The Betrayal.

Germany, 1945. The Allied Military Government has set up Displaced Persons camps throughout war-ravaged Germany, to house the millions of devastated people throughout Europe who have lost everything. Klara Janowska is one of these. In her thirties, half Polish, half English, born and brought up in Warsaw, she fought for the Polish Resistance, helping to sabotage the Nazi domination of her country. But now the war is over and she has fled Poland with her 8 year-old daughter, Alicja, ahead of the advancing Soviet army, leaving her past behind her.

Or so she thinks.

She and Alicja are detained in Graufeld Camp, among a thousand strangers who have flooded into the protective custody of the British zone in Germany. She is desperate to get to England, her mother’s native country, but she has no identity papers. She needs to escape, at any cost.

This unstable world becomes even more dangerous when Klara recognises someone else in the camp – Oskar Scholz, a high-ranking member of the German Waffen-SS who terrorised Warsaw. Forced together in the confined claustrophobic space, the two of them know terrible secrets about each other’s past that would see them hanged if either told the truth. Both want the other one dead.

But the most displaced element in the camp is the truth. In a series of unexpected twists, the real truths finally emerge and drastically alter the lives of all.

An unforgettably powerful, epic story of love, loss and the long shadow of war, perfect for readers of Santa Montefiore and Victoria Hislop.

Rating: five-stars

Klara Janowska and her ten – year – old daughter Alicja have managed to survive the horrors of WWII, however the terror is not finished yet. They find themselves in Germany, in the Graufeld Displaced Persons Camp, where they are waiting for any news on their move to England, as Klara is half – English. At least they have a roof over their heads and something to eat there but still it’s not a safe place. especially as one day Klara catches a sight of a man, and it makes her blood run cold – they used to know each other, and he knows her secrets – Klara knows he’s a danger to both of them, her and Alicja. Will they manage to move to England before something terrible happens? Will they be safe? Or must Klara take matters in her hands and get rid of this man…? Will she loose all, after coming this far?

This book was closer to my heart than you could suppose. I was born in Poland and lived in Poland for almost 30 years, and the history, and especially the WWII was a very important part of my education, but not only this, I think it is normal when you’re growing up you want to know more about things and events that touch upon you, and so not only did I read many memories of the war, I also was in Auschwitz and well, if you haven’t been there I think it is impossible to imagine the immensity of the loss, of cruelty, of lives being sent to death. Hence this book, with its topic, was really close to my heart, my grandparents were all in the war and though they didn’t recount enthusiastically about those times they let slip some stories, and believe me, I won’t be able to forget them. And this is probably why I’ve immediately felt the atmosphere of the novel, I fell for the characters and felt with them and experienced together with everything they experienced.

I loved the character of Klara. She was a woman who knew what she wanted and she was not afraid to kick asses when necessary, she had fire in her and she was not afraid to cause troubles. She was incredibly resourceful and determined, she was to finish what she started no matter what. Her story was gripping, thrilling, incredibly sad but also full of hope. Having read many book about World War Two, it still made me feel anger and shock at all the situations and events Klara and her daughter Alicja had to endure.

Kate Furnivall is absolutely one of my favourite authors and every new release of hers is as excellent as the last one. I can never be sure which period of time the author is going to focus on this time and it is brilliant, as no matter which one it is, it is always absolutely perfectly researched, full of details and little things that made those times. It’s the same with “The Survivors” – even though I know much about WWII, about pre- and afterwar times, I don’t think I have ever heard about the displaced persons camps – they were for those who survived the war but lost their homes and families. It was shocking and so desperately sad to see that, even after the war, with all its atrocity and desperation, there were still people who haven’t learnt better – the author told things how they really were, brutally honest, highlighting all the ups and downs of living in the camp, though there were rather mostly downs.

It was incredible, unforgettable story full of intrigue, uncertainty, manipulation, danger, betrayal but also unconditional love and hope. The author’s writing is so beautiful and elegant and I was involved in this book right from the opening pages. There was a brilliant mystery added to the plot, and also we were left with all the secrets surrounding Klara – to be absolutely honest, I allowed myself to wonder once or twice if Klara is really who I’m thinking she is, or if there is more to her than meet the eye. The author has really done the secrets in the best possible way, we’re left till almost the very last moment to discover what it was that happened. And this is not all, as in the last few chapters Kate Furnivall presents us with such unexpected twist, I really didn’t know what to think, if I should cry or be happy, and she really left me with my mouth hanging I really didn’t want this book to end, to leave those unforgettable characters behind. “The Survivors” was a moving, emotional, poignant and heartbreaking but still with hope for humanity,  powerful read about courage, full of tension that made me feel afraid for Klara and Alicja – I wasn’t sure what’s going to happen when I turn the page, and it is the best kind of tension, believe me. Highly recommended!

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The Importance of Being Aisling byEmer McLysaght & Sarah Breen / Blog Tour

The Importance of Being Aisling

by Emer McLysaght & Sarah Breen

 

 

41433629Publisher: Michael Joseph

Publishing Date: 15th November 2018

Series: OMGWACA # 2 (read my review of Book 1 here)

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 384

Genre: General Fiction (Adults), Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

Synopsis:

You can take the small-town girl out of the big city – but can you take the big city out of the girl?

Job. Flat. Boyfriend. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Aisling (seems) to be winning at life. But life has other ideas.

Fired. Homeless. Dumped. Tick. Tick. Tick

When everything comes crashing down around her, moving back in with her mam seems like a disaster.

But might returning to her roots provide the answers Aisling’s looking for?

Rating: five-stars

In “The Importance of Being Aisling” we’re back with our beloved character created by two authors, Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, and I couldn’t be more happier to be reunited with her. She’s still deeply grieving after the tragic loss of her beloved Daddy but she tries to go on – well, she’s back with John, so it’s not so bad, right? However, she’s being made redundant at PensionsPlus. Elaine and Ruby are getting married, so she’s forced to look for a new place to live which in Dublin is simply impossible. To top it all, yes, she’s back with John, but where is this sparkle…? The butterflies…? Her mum is not coping well and it looks like she’ll be selling the farm. Might Aisling need to go back home, to Ballygobbard, then? How will she cope with mum, unemployment, John being in another city? But maybe Ballygobbard can offer her more than she thinks is possible?

 I love Aisling, I think it is impossible not to love her. She’s so nice and so kind and also so genuine in being nice and kind, there is not a drop of falsity in her and this makes her an outstanding character. I love that she’s so proud of being herself, of her heritage, of coming from a little town in Ireland, and I love her sense of humour and simply the way she is. She knows how to party and she knows when she should stop, she knows probably all recipes in the world and I’m sure she also knows how to get any stain out. 

There are so many brilliant things happening in this book, guys, we can’t say that Aisling’s life is boring, oh no. She’s made redundant so she needs to consider what to do next, her relationship with John is not this what she was thinking it is, there is the cracking and epic visit to Las Vegas and she’s always able to get up, shake off and built a new life for herself, and I simply adore her for this. Aisling is such a queen of being organized, I am sure that no matter what can happen she’d be prepared for it and have it in her bag.  I loved how important her family and friends were to her and how much she stressed it, it doesn’t happen often that the characters REALLY put them first and act according to this.  She’s such a brilliant friend as well, the girls are so supporting and they can count on each other, and it feels so genuine, honest and real. This friendship is actually one of the best points in this book,  going strong and it’s certain, and it is so lovely the girls are always open to people becoming their friends, and taking it all, with ups and downs, supporting each other’s backs. They’re all the kind of characters that I’d got to know and love with all my heart in Marian Keyes’s books – the Irish families and people are the one and only in the world, they respect each other but also mercilessly pull their legs, their humour is so sharp and intelligent, their observations so spot on and life approach so relaxed – and I’ve got all of this in this book, and it was so brilliantly entertaining. 

It was a great joy to be back with Aisling, and I really hope there is more of her to come. She’s so practical and so serious in being practical, it’s simply impossible not to fall for her. She’s funny without trying too hard to be too funny, which only makes it so entertaining, and the way she takes all things so seriously  is overwhelmingly heart – warming. I personally think that what makes Aisling such a brilliant, exceptional character is the fact that maybe we are not complete Aislings ourselves (although…),  but there is much of Aisling in every single one of us. 

It was actually really hard to write this review because there was not a single thing in this book that I didn’t like! I loved the characters, I loved the setting, I loved the events and I adored the humour – what’s more to love, right? “The Importance of Being Aisling” was a brilliant, uplifting story about trials and tribulations in life, about friendship and family and being there for each other, also touching upon some heavier issues this time – there is the short but expressively written issue of bullying, domestic violence and sexual abuse which I appreciated so much and I think the authors tackled in the best possible way. This book, as well as the character of Aisling, was heart – warming, uplifting, funny and poignant. The supporting characters were a huge part of this novel and they were equally comic, craic, believable and they felt so full of life good people. A special and magnificent novel about girls’ power and women’s empowerment and sisterhood, inspiring and so important nowadays. I hope for many more Aisling’s stories to come!

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One New York Christmas by Mandy Baggot / Blog Tour

One New York Christmas by Mandy Baggot

 

 

42180340Publisher: Ebury Press

Publishing Date: 15th November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

Genre: General Fiction (Adults), Romance

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

A festive break in New York

Lara Weeks is planning the perfect Christmas with her long-term boyfriend Dan until he drops a bombshell. I don’t know my Christmas plans yet. I think I need some space . . .

Pooling their funds together, best friend Susie persuades Lara to head to the Big Apple for a festive trip. In the snow-clad streets of New York, will it be break-up or breakthrough this Christmas? And will Lara get her happy-ever-after with the man of her dreams . . . or will she stay single for the season?

 

 my-review

Mandy Baggot’s Christmas offerings are always a treat, well, there wouldn’t be Christmas without her book, no? “One New York Christmas” has exceptionally gorgeous cover and it teams together two of the best things: well, yes – Christmas, and New York. It takes us on a journey from a rural, peaceful Appleshaw in Wiltshire to the city that never sleeps, and moreover, at the most wonderful time of the year. Lara, our main character, loves her town and she also loves Christmas, and is looking towards it, especially as she’s going to spend it with her boyfriend, Dan. Dan,  however, has other plans and decides they need “a break”, during which he’s going to travel to Scotland. With another woman. Here you go. Lara’s best friend Susie decides that Lara needs to make Dan jealous, and to do she needs to start tweeting some celebrities and get a reply from them (this is the bit that I didn’t fully get, to be honest, as I wasn’t sure how should it help). They both end in New York, in the company of Seth, an actor from Lara’s favourite series, who’s much more than meets the eye.


Lara was such a colourful, interesting character, and I liked her from the very first mention that she’s a lorry driver. I mean, how clever? How many lorry driver female characters have you met? Exactly! What I also liked in her was the fact that she just bitten the bullet and wasn’t afraid of trying, confronting, seeing – it was so refreshing, after so many heroines that simply bury their heads in the sand and wait for the problems to somehow disappear. Also, she was not a skinny – minnie swishing her blond hair around type of character, she was more of a tomboy – the lorry driving! – which made her seem a much more stronger person that she in fact was, but she wanted us to see the stronger version of her as well. I adored her passion and her love to her family. If you think about it, she’s really a kick ass, our Lara, fierce, bouncy and almost fearless. She’s not afraid of climbing trees, she rescues animals and she stands for herself or the things she believes in. Well, unless it comes to her love life. Then she lost her head, which is only understandable.

I also really appreciated the character of Seth, who, for once, was full of uncertainty and vulnerability, and was not a macho or too full of himself. There was warmth to him and I truly fell for him and I just wanted all the good things happen to him. His story added tons of seriousness to the book but the way Mandy Baggot tackled his issues was really great and she brilliantly captured him, and his coming out of comfort zones and confronting the past.

The supporting characters, both in the US and back in England, blend in brilliantly and complement each other in a great way.

I simply loved the descriptions of New York. They were so vivid and full of details and the fact that the city was seen through Lara’s eyes for the first time made it even more exciting and beautiful. The author has so easily transported us to New York, brought this place to life, made it jump off the pages.
The story, however, dragged a little too much for my liking. I wanted action and things happening, and I got too much of the characters’ inner indecisions and monologues, and it bothered me a little. Lara was also an adult and well, I just don’t get this whole checking and showing and posting your life to the social media, to looking for comfort there, looking on Facebook at what it is your boyfriend is doing, checking there your relationship status – I mean, do I live in reality or do I live through social media? No, thank you. And I also missed this Christmas vibe – yes, the book was festive enough but this sparkle, this vibe wasn’t there. It was also this little bit too predictable, you could see things coming a mile off, but oh well, yes, I could live with this. Also, referring to Aldo as “almost – brother” made me grit my teeth – either he was a brother, or not, no matter if he was adopted or not. And the regular reminders of Lara being so unusually a truck driver were not so necessary. Mandy Baggot’s writing style is like a hot chocolate, drawing you in and you simply want more and more of it. It’s easy to follow, inviting and full of humour – though it took me some time to get into the book, no reason probably, just one of the things, and as I’ve already mentioned, it was a little too slow, especially at the beginning. It gained speed a little more in New York, when Lara and Seth started sight – seeing.

Altogether, “One New York Christmas” was a festive, funny and romantic read, full of unforgettable scenes, both funny and poignant. It’s not as good as Mandy Baggot’s “One Wish in Manhattan” that was a fantastic, festive novel that I loved with all my heart, but it’s a nice enough, light – hearted book with a hidden depth. A lovely story about family dynamics and following your heart, full of heartbreak, hope, romance and happiness, it’s a great way to cosy yourself in a blanket on a dark, cold evening. Recommended!

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Every Colour of You by Amelia Mandeville

Every Colour of You by Amelia Mandeville

 

 

38393699Publisher: Sphere

Publishing Date: 15th November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

Genre: General Fiction (Adults), Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Hardcover

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Living back at home and spending most of her time behind a checkout till, it’s fair to say things aren’t going quite as Zoe had planned. But she’s determined to live every day to the full, and she’s spreading her mission of happiness, one inspirational quote at a time.

Since his dad died, Tristan has been struggling with a sadness that threatens to overtake everything. He can’t face seeing his friends, can’t stop fighting with his brother, and as much as he pretends to be better, the truth is he can’t even remember what ‘normal’ feels like.

One person can change everything.

When these two meet, Zoe becomes determined to bring the missing colour back into Tristan’s life. But the harder she tries to change the way Tristan sees the world, the more she realises it’s something she can’t fix – and in trying to put him back together, a part of her is beginning to break . . .

A novel to break your heart and put it back together again – Every Colour of You is the debut novel from Amelia Mandeville, with heart-wrenchingly relatable characters, big emotions and an unforgettable story.

Rating: two-half-stars

Zoe and Tristan meet at the hospital and they paths start to cross in the most unbelievable ways. Tristan is suffering from depression and his world is this of a very dark colour, and meeting Zoe brings rainbow colours into his life. Zoe is also determined to help him raise again after the sudden death of his father – but the more she tries the more reluctance she meets. Also, her own world starts to crumble around her – are they both going to find what they’re looking for? Will the fall apart or maybe will they manage to pick themselves up?

Zoe was a complex and complicated character but instead of falling for her, she just annoyed me. I do get where she was coming from and why she was like this, but her being SO chirpy, SO bouncy, SO relaxed was just too overwhelming. On the other hand, even without knowing till the very end what it is that she has, I did care about her. There was simply something in her that made her outstanding. However, I couldn’t connect with the characters so in the end I really couldn’t care less what’s going to happen to them. Tristan was so overdone with his image of “bad boy” that eventually I found myself rolling my eyes at him. I guess we were supposed to fall for him and to sympathize with him, but well, I simply didn’t like him. Sure, the author has done a brilliant job in capturing his character, him being so torn and troubled – I can’t deny this and I don’t want to deny it. But altogether he was not likeable for me.

I appreciate what the author tried to achieve with her writing, and also I must say here that her writing style is really good for a debut novel. It was thought – provoking and full of questions that were actually aimed at the readers which was really exceptional and different, as it truly makes you think. I just couldn’t shake off the feeling that the author has tried much too much to deliver a book with messages of love, second chances and not taking life for granted. It was too obvious, too strongly emphasized and while I really appreciated what she tried to do here, it just was too obvious for me and simply didn’t work for me. Theoretically, this book had it all, a poignant plot and it touched upon many important issues, such like depression, health conditions, death and grief and maybe it’s going to work for younger audience, I personally think Ms Mandeville tried too much and overdone it. It felt very repetitive and slow.

Overall, too overplayed, too dramatic, too much. However, the author deserves a standing ovation for choosing such heavy topics for her debut novel. There is the issue of having two dads as parents, which was tackled in such a light, forthcoming and charming way; of course the issue of depression and the way it affects whole families; the issue of living with a heart condition and not being sure how long you still have to live. You can easily see that the author has done her homework, as she writes about details that we wouldn’t notice but that often define people suffering from depression. Perfectly describing the rawness of mental and physical illness, therefore full of emotions, the most deepest and raw ones. Sadly, not for me.

 

Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of death by M.B. Vincent

Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death

by M.B. Vincent

 

 

38745714Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publishing Date: 18th October 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Welcome to Castle Kidbury – a pretty town in a green West Country valley. It’s home to all sorts of people, with all the stresses and joys of modern life, but with a town square and a proper butcher’s. It also has, for our purposes, a rash of gory murders …
***Fast-paced and funny, this is a must-read for all fans of a classic murder mystery – think The Vicar of Dibley meets Midsomer Murders ***

Jess Castle is running away. Again. This time she’s running back home, like she swore she never would.

Castle Kidbury, like all small towns, hums with gossip but now it’s plagued with murder of the most gruesome kind. Jess instinctively believes that the hippyish cult camped out on the edge of town are not responsible for the spate of crucifixions that blights the pretty landscape. Her father, a respected judge, despairs of Jess as she infiltrates the cult and manages, not for the first time, to get herself arrested.

Rupert Lawson, a schooldays crush who’s now a barrister, bails her out. Jess ropes in a reluctant Rupert as she gatecrashes the murder investigation of DS Eden. A by-the-book copper, Eden has to admit that intuitive, eccentric Jess has the nose of a detective.

As the gory murders pile up, there’s nothing to connect the victims. And yet, the clues are there if you look hard enough.

Perfect for fans of MC Beaton, this is cosy crime at its most entertaining and enthralling.

Rating: three-stars

Jess Castle finds herself back in a place she was steering clear of – home, in Castle Kidbury. She’s just suddenly left her job at Cambridge and reluctantly came back. Her relationship with her father, the Judge, is not the most closest one, and she finds her hometown incredibly boring – that is, until there is a murder and a body of a local man is found. It doesn’t look like a normal assassination, it looks more like crucifixion, which – very conveniently – is Jess’s speciality, so she starts to act as the unofficial consultant to the local DS Eden. However, the body count increases, the more pagan symbols appear and everyone becomes a suspect. So Jess has not only to try to solve the murder but also try to refurbish her relationship with her father, and eventually decide what it is she wants to do with her life.

I really liked the small town atmosphere, this specific community spirit that the authors have captured in a great way. In Castle Kidbury everyone knows everyone and knows everything better – that is, until a murder happens. Or two. Or even more. There was a bunch of quirky, bouncy characters that I, unfortunately, felt unattached to. However, they were all really different and interesting and I think that more than often we have to take them with a pinch of salt.
It is written in a very detailed way, with attention to details, not only when it comes to describing the murder scenes. It was really easy to imagine the town and the characters and the authors have way with words. It was also incredibly well researched, with a solid historical and religious background. The banter between the characters was truly enjoyable, especially the witty and clever exchanges between Jess and DS Eden – they were quick, sharp and humorous, especially when they were interrupted by DC Knott.
I have no idea who and why could the be the assassin. The authors have done a great job pulling wool over our eyes, with complicating things, and making almost everyone in the book a suspect. However, I am not sure if I’m really satisfied with the ending, I think after being introduced to all the paganism, symbolism etc I was expecting a different ending. On the other hand, it was surprising, unexpected and twisty, so what’s not to like, right?

However, this book confused me. It dragged on, and it simply couldn’t keep me hooked. I skipped passages because they were not engaging. This story didn’t work for me, didn’t sit with me. I loved all the gory details, and the idea for the plot, but all the other things, the characters just made me feel confused, they were somehow not complete. I am disappointed with this, as I was sure that this book, written by MB Vincent, who’s actually a married couple and one half of this couple belongs to my absolutely favourite authors, is going to be a real cracker for me. The romance aspect was a little askance, I’d say, and it didn’t feel too natural and realistic, especially in this story. It seemed that Jess wanted it much more than the male character, that she somehow forced him to blossom into her. There was a little of will they/won’t they but it was for sure not like all the others that I keep reading in my books, but it just felt underdeveloped and ragged.

Altogether, “Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of death” is a brilliant mixture of sharp humour, murder, mystery, gory details and also some romance. Regardless of the terrible murders, the story is told in a light and warm way, and I’d dare to call is a cosy murder. It was different, an unique read that was like a breath of fresh air and I’m really sorry it didn’t work for me. However, I do hope there is more to come from this author(s).

 

Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland by Heidi Swain

Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland

by Heidi Swein

 

 

40013831Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publishing Date: 1st November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

After calling off her engagement, Hayley, the Wynthorpe Hall housekeeper, wants nothing more than to return to her no-strings fun-loving self, avoiding any chance of future heartbreak. Little does she know, Wynbridge’s latest arrival is about to throw her plan entirely off course . . .

Moving into Wynthorpe Hall to escape the town’s gossip, Hayley finds herself immersed in the eccentric Connelly family’s festive activities as they plan to host their first ever Winter Wonderland. But Hayley isn’t the only new resident at the hall. Gabe, a friend of the Connelly’s son Jamie, has also taken up residence, moving into Gatekeeper’s Cottage, and he quickly makes an impression on Wynbridge’s reformed good-girl.

As preparations commence for the biggest event of the season, the pair find themselves drawn ever closer to one another, but unbeknownst to Hayley, Gabe, too, has a reason for turning his back on love, one that seems intent on keeping them apart.

Under the starry winter skies, will Gabe convince Hayley to open her heart again once more? And in doing so, will he convince himself?

Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland is the perfect read this Christmas, promising snowfall, warm fires and breath-taking seasonal romance. Perfect for fans of Milly Johnson, Carole Matthews and Cathy Bramley.

Rating: three-stars

Hayley is engaged and to be married soon, but at her engagement party she discovers that her boyfriend hasn’t been faithful to her. As things are also not at the nicest at home, she decides to take an offer of moving into Wynthorpe Hall, a place that she’s been working in for a long time already and that she loves. She just wants to forget and move on. But, as is turns out, she’s not to be the only one new resident to the Hall. Jamie’s friend Gabe is joining the family too. They’re both not interested in a relationship but they feel comfortable in each other’s company – however, can it be that fate has other plans for them?

I have a confession to make. Even though I have some of Heidi Swain’s book, this one, “Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland” is the first novel by this author that I’ve read. I’ve heard such great things about Ms Swain’s books and I thought, well, it’s highest time to read it. I was a little afraid, to be honest, as the novels are part of series, set in the charming Wynthorpe Hall and the surrounding village, afraid that I’d missed too much and won’t be able to keep on track. But no worries, guys, it really felt as reading a stand – alone book. There were enough background info to deduce what’s happened in the past to understand the whys and whats of the characters.

Our main character Hayley was a quirky, fierce girl who knew what she wanted. I’m sure it was properly explained in one of the previous books, the whole situation with her family and especially father but I was just thinking, oh boy, what must have happened for him to be so cruel towards his daughter, to be so cool, rejecting and not interested. The relationship between Hayley and her mother was also a bit enigmatic for me, it didn’t seem to be lots of love there, and it made me really sad. I definitely have to read the other book to get into the heart of their story. Hayley was hard on the outside, she had a big mouth but let’s be honest, she was really soft inside and she had a heart in the right place. And it was not a wonder that she was like this, what with her past that made her so out of reach and also short – tempered but if you get your time to get to know her, you’ll understand her motives. She may not be the easiest character to immediately like but this feeling comes really quickly, and I truly fell for her.
Gabe’s background history was incredibly sad and it made my heart break. He was an interesting character, what with him blowing hot and cold all the time, and yes, it started to be irritating, but then came the moment when he explained what has happened in the past and well, it changed my feelings a lot. There were many layers to him, as well as to Hayley, and I liked that their characters were not so straight – forward.

But, after reading so many brilliant things I was expecting something really brilliant. For me, however, it was just a normal story – it was nice, yes, but it didn’t wow me, I’m really sorry. It’s probably my fault, as I went into this book with very high expectations. Please don’t get me wrong, it was a cosy, lovely, Christmassy read, of course it was but I didn’t find there anything that would make me feel like so many other reviewers felt about it. I loved the idea of the Winter Wonderland and would love to read much more about it. I was also in awe how, short and sweet, they were able to organize it. OK, to be honest, I think I’d rather have many more chapters about it because it seemed a truly magnificent, fabulous and festive event. It was simply the best part of the book, enchanting and amazing. The rest – simply – didn’t wow me as much as I think it would.

The writing style was light and not too complex, and there was warmth to it. The story was lovely and lovingly interspersing few threads and the author touches upon some very sensible and poignant issues, though she isn’t going too deep into them. I really liked and appreciated the way the author has decided to write the romance here, the ongoing will they/won’t they – yes, it was there, but it was not too overwhelming, not too long and the characters didn’t make you feel desperate to bang their heads together. There was some romance in it, heartbreak and secrets, and the setting was simply gorgeous. I’m really happy that I still have other Heidi Swain’s books to dive into.

 

The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

 

 

41589390Publisher: Pan

Publishing Date: 1st November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 480

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book:  Paperback

 

 

Synopsis:

Set on the scenic fjords of Norway, The Christmas Lights by bestselling author Karen Swan is a moving Christmas tale of love and heartbreak.

December 2018, and free-spirited Influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans. Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth. Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen.

June 1936, and fourteen-year old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .

The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.

Rating: five-stars

“The Christmas Lights”, set in the beautiful and raw Norway, introduces us to a bunch of different characters. Bo and Zac are living the dream life, being the Wanderlusters who share their adventures on Instagram with their 9 + million followers. There is also Lenny, their photographer and manager who organizes all the trips and schedules. After their recent trip to Samoa they are travelling to the remote shelf farm in Norway to spend Christmas there. The owner of the farm is Signy – an older woman who’s going to change the lives of the threesome.

As usual, this book also starts with a chapter set in the past that ends with a cliffhanger and the story slowly unfolds, brilliantly and cleverly intertwined with this of Bo and Zac’s. This was the story of Signy, Anders’s grandmother, the owner of the shelf farm where our trio is staying. Back in 1936, Signy has experienced unforgettable summer when she worked with other girls as milkmaids, away from their families, there where the pastures were the greenest. I loved how the author put us up to different kinds of danger with those two subplots, and I must say that both of them had me on my tenterhooks.

I’ve mentioned it thousand times already, and I’ll repeat myself, that Karen Swan is my auto – buy author. What I absolutely adore in her books is the fact that her characters are so diverse, so different to each other, and their jobs are always unusual. This time Bo and Zac turned their lifestyles into job, they’re already a brand with over 9 million followers on Instagram. They walk the earth together with their photographer and their lives look so colourful, inspirational and perfect on photos, as they visit places that you won’t find on the tourist maps, spending at least a month or longer at their chosen place, to get the feeling of it, to turn into locals, as they don’t want to be perceived as the usual tourists. No, they’re Wanderlusters and they want to experience authenticity. But – are their lives really so perfect? Without cracks? The author has so gently hinted that Bo’s life is getting out of her control, and yes, I immediately fell for Bo, I liked her and didn’t want anything bad happen to her. The way she realises there is so much more to life than followers and sponsors makes her character so much more believable. And also, what made me like her even more is the fact that I have a feeling that at the end she’s chosen the right things for her. It hurt to see that she can’t trust anybody, how she tried to be heard by those closest to her and how she was left alone in all of this. That is, alone but for Anders, but it turns out that he also has a terrible secret – is there a single person that Bo can trust, who would understand her?

It was a read with a rather slow pace but there was not a single moment that it felt flat or uninteresting for me. On the other hand, I enjoyed the descriptions of the setting, the harsh nature of Norway, so raw and virginal and beautiful – yes, Karen Swan is the queen of choosing the most beautiful settings for her novels, and what I love is the fact that they’re not fictional places. They’re secluded, solitary but real and simply gorgeous. Another bonus is that she always adds truly interesting facts about those places and I couldn’t help but googled shelf farms – they’re brilliant. The setting is just fantastic and the author eloquently and vividly brings all the places she writes about to life. I’ve read some books set in Norway, and also some describing the Northern Lights but “The Christmas Lights” overdoes them all with its descriptions, the gorgeous, wild and austere nature of Norway.

I, however, immediately guess the “who”. For me it was obvious and there was no other option, even if the author has tried a little to put wool over our eyes at the end, trying to complicate things a little, to point us in other directions, but this is the one thing that she didn’t manage. Was it disappointment? To be honest, no. Not at all.

Of course we can’t forget the big elephant in the room – Karen Swan writes about the problems and dangers of living through social media, and I liked the way she has tackled this issue. We have Zac and Lenny, who live only through the numbers of followers and nothing is impossible for them, no matter how dangerous it is. Then we have Bo, whose eyes start to open and she starts to notice the dangers and issues of being in the centre of attention. And we have Anders, whose idea of living is totally different. Yes, Zac and Lenny come across a little obsessed and shallow, at least for me, as I do realise that the grass is not always greener on the other side and there are limits for what you can do to increase the number of your followers and your sponsors.

“The Christmas Lights” was a story full of action, hiking, gorgeous settings and characters full of personality – characters that are annoying, that have their flaws and secrets which only makes them much more interesting and believable. The author has also brought closer the Norwegian history and its present, traditions, habits, the language, food and drink. There was intrigue, danger and it was festive enough to get in the spirit of Christmas, this all brought to life through Karen Swan’s vivid, alluring and engaging writing style. A novel about relationships, loss, grief, love and adventures, living on the edge, full of heartbreak and hope. It’s much more than about finding your own strength, it shows that everything is possible, and it had me totally and completely hooked. Highly recommended!

 

The Insider by Mari Hannah / Blog Tour + Extract

Hi guys, and first of all, apologies. My stop on Mari Hannah’s blog tour was yesterday and I can’t express how sorry I am for not being able to post on my destined date – having some health problems I just wasn’t able to do this. But I have a brilliant extract from the book for you today – put your feet high and enjoy!

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THE INSIDER – EXTRACT

1

It was the news they had all been dreading, confi rmation of a

fourth victim. For DS Frankie Oliver, the journey to the crime

scene brought back memories of her father driving her around

Northumberland when she was a rookie cop, pointing out the

places where he’d been called to investigate serious incidents

throughout his own police career, giving her the benefi t of

his advice along the way. He’d been doing this since she was

a kid, only with less detail, leaving out the unspeakable horrors

the locations represented. Back then, they were words.

Just words. Narratives that, if she were being honest, excited

her in ways they should not. And then there was the night

he stopped talking: an experience etched on their collective

memory forever more – a night too close to home.

Flashlight beams bobbed up and down, illuminating sheets of

horizontal rain. The detectives stumbled along the Tyne Valley

track, heading east on the Northern Rail line linking Carlisle

to Newcastle. No light pollution here. Under a dark, forbidding

sky, it was diffi cult terrain, rutted and sodden so close

to the water’s edge. The swollen river thundered by, a course

of water liable to fl ash fl ooding. Red alerts for the area were

a regular occurrence. At midday, Northumberland’s monitoring

stations had warned of a serious threat to those living

nearby. If the Tyne rose quickly, Frankie knew they would be

in trouble. Many a walker had slipped into the water here by

accident.

Few had survived.

Lightning forked, exposing the beauty of the surrounding

landscape. A high-voltage electric charge, followed by the

rumble of thunder in the distance, an omen of more rain to

come. The lead investigator, Detective Chief Inspector David

Stone, was a blurred smudge a hundred metres in front of

her, head bowed, shoulders hunched against the relentless

downpour.

Mud sucked at Frankie’s feet as she fought to keep up, two

steps forward, one back, as she tried to get a purchase on the

slippery surface. Her right foot stuck fast, the momentum of

her stride propelling her forward, minus a wellington boot.

She fell, head fi rst, hands and knees skidding as she tried

to stay upright. Dragging herself up, she swore under her

breath as brown sludge stuck to her clothing, weighing her

down.

Unaware of her plight, David was making headway, sweeping

his torch left and right in a wide arc close to Eels Wood. He

had one agenda and Frankie wasn’t it. With a feeling of dread

eating its way into her gut, she peered into the undergrowth

blocking her passage. Where was a stick when you needed

one? As she parted the brambles, there was an ear-splitting

crack, a terrifying sound. Before she had time to react, a tree

fell, crashing to earth with an excruciating thump, unearthed

by a raging torrent of water fi ltering off higher ground, its

roots unable to sustain the weight of a century of growth,

landing metres in front of her.

Frankie blew out a breath.

Only once before had she come closer to violent death.

Hoping her luck would hold, she vaulted the tree and

ploughed on. From an investigative standpoint, the situation

was grim. Had there been any footprints adjacent to the line,

they were long gone. As crime scenes go, they would be fi ghting

a losing battle to preserve evidence, assuming they ever

found the body spotted by an eyewitness, a passenger on an

eastbound train. Where the fuck was it?

Frankie expected to see the dragon ahead, a wide-eye LED

searchlight used by emergency services, an intense beam of

white light guiding her. As far as the eye could see there was

no light visible, other than the beam of David’s fl ashlight.

Worrying. Exasperating. Frankie couldn’t be arsed with this.

Pulling her radio from her pocket, she pressed the transmit

button hoping her link to Control wouldn’t be affected by the

appalling weather. It would be a heavy night in the control

room, for sure.

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