Wednesday 30 December 2015


3 out of 5 stars

Family Drama

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon US HERE

Reviewed by me as part of Rosie Amber's Review Team 

This is a complex, emotional family drama set in America's Deep South, in the 'Magnolia State', Mississippi.  I believe this is the author's debut novel, and 10% of royalties go the the Polycystic Kidney Foundation.

Kate Thayer is a thirty year old widow who runs a horse farm that belongs to the family, and lives in the family mansion along with her grandmother, Katherine.  Early on in the book she begins to unravel the lies she has been told all her life, about her parents and grandparents, and the servants who live and work on the estate.

I am interested in American social history and the stark differences between the states in this vast continent, and do like a bit of family intrigue.  I cannot say much, as it would give the plot away, but I did find the age-old prejudices that still exist between races in this part of the world, interesting to read about.

At first I couldn't connect with the characters at all, but they began to emerge from one dimension as the novel progressed.  I found it a bit heavy going, with little to suggest a life for any of the characters outside the drama; if it wasn't for people using their cell phones and a few references to Obama, the story could have been set at any time over the past forty or so years.  The other downside, for me, was the curious punctuation; for some reason, the author has used two small en dashes (--) in place of semicolons, brackets, em dashes, ellipses, and some commas.  There is a certain amount of 'telling not showing', ie, the omniscient narrator stating what a character's personality is like rather than letting the reader assess it for him or herself, via dialogue, expression and action.

The plot is an unusual and unexpected one; it made me think of those 1980s American blockbuster mini-series.  That isn't a complaint—I loved them!  It's certainly thought-provoking, and provided a good insight into the North-South divide that, clearly, still exists.

Monday 28 December 2015

GETTING BOOK REVIEWS: Easy, ethical strategies for authors by Rayne Hall

4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Marketing, non fiction

On Amazon UK HERE

If you're a self-published or indie press published author who has contemplated buying reviews, joining reviewing groups or doing review swaps, or if you've been googling 'book bloggers' and are not sure where to start, consider spending 99p/$1.49 on this before you go any further! 

I've read a couple of Rayne Hall's other advice books, and what I like about them, this one included, is that she pulls no punches.  If you've been at the marketing-your-own-books game for a while, you'll probably cringe at some of it, thinking "Ouch, I did that" - as does Rayne; she tells you about the mistakes she made so you don't make them too.  This isn't theoretical advice; this is the real thing, from someone who's been there, done that, and bought the 'I've been scammed' t-shirt.

The book goes deep into the dos and don'ts of review-getting practices I knew nothing about, like review agencies and reviews via blog tours, though I imagine her experiences will be of great interest to others who have contemplated using them.  Best of all, she tells you exactly why you shouldn't join reviewing groups, swap with other writers, and pay for fakes ~ or even do unofficial 5* swaps with friends (you know, when Writer A thinks "I'll give Writers B, C and D 5* so that they'll all give me 5* back").

When Rayne asked me to contribute to the book, she specified that I should write about how I get reviews, rather than say what not to do, and when I read the whole thing I understood why; people buy books like these to find out how to get positive results, not just to be told all the things they're doing wrong!  There are plenty of good, practical suggestions, with positive action you can take.  As with all advice books I didn't agree with all of it; I don't like the idea of asking for reviews on social networking sites, whereas Rayne finds it works well for her; however, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it, and she advises you of the right ones.  I also felt that finding and building relationships with book bloggers could have been explored more - I love them, and often read several posts a day, as both a reader and a writer.

As with all works of this nature, there will be some advice within that doesn't gel with how you work, but you adapt to suit you, and I think you'll find some real gems; I am putting one piece of advice into action today!   If you've been looking at others' books and wondering how come they've got 40 reviews when you've only got 2, or if you're just starting to self-publish and haven't got a clue how to go about it, or even if you've got a fair number of reviews but would like more, I'd recommend this book.

Please note: I contributed to this book at the request of the author and confirm that I have no financial interest in it.  I was supplied with a review copy at my own request.

Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall reviewed HERE

AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE: Over The Hill goes back to Nepal by Jo Carroll

5 out of 5 stars

Travel Memoir

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

All profits from this book's modest price go towards Jo's project to build a house for one family in Nepal who are currently living in a heap of rubble due to the earthquake - so it's money well spent for that reason alone!  If you would like to read more about this, you can do so on her blog, HERE

Aside from this, though, it's a delightful book.  Jo has become one of THOSE writers - I'll always buy a new one by her, straight away.  Despite the house project, this is not a depressing book by any means.  It's an enchanting depiction of the people of Nepal, of the country itself, and I think anyone reading this will long to visit themselves (I just wish I could!).  I love how Jo portrays the kind, generous local people with such a love for their country and their determination to maintain their way of life.

There's a lovely bit when Jo visits an eco-village in the mountains that made me long and long to go there; oh yes, and the bit when she sees the sunrise over Annapurna South, and her descriptions of the monsoons, the market, the sadness she felt on seeing how a country so dear to her is so empty of tourists, causing economic problems to the country, when there is so much still to see.... I thoroughly enjoyed it all.  It's touching, funny, informative, inspiring, an altogether fascinating afternoon's read, and Jo Carroll is a pretty admirable woman (she does all this alone; she's a grandmother).

Buy it!

From the Inside Looking Out reviewed HERE

Over the Hill and Far Away reviewed HERE

Sunday 20 December 2015

THE LAST KINGDOM (Book 1) by Bernard Cornwell

5 GOLD Stars

Saxon/Viking adventure

On Amazon UK HERE


Okay, I'll admit it, I only started reading this after seeing the TV series recently.  I haven't read any Bernard Cornwell before, just watched the Sharpe series because it starred Sean Bean... and what a treat I have in store for me!  I love discovering a new writer, especially when they've written a stack of books.

(If you haven't seen the TV series, it's about the Danes' invasion of England in the 9th century.  The main character is a young ealdorman (earl) of Northumbria who is kidnapped by the Danes, and struggles with his identity as he lives amongst both peoples.)

If you're as unfamiliar with the author's work as I am, you'll want to know if it's as good as the TV, right?  YES, yes, it is, it's even better.  I love the way Cornwell writes; it's so 'easy-readable', and flows along ~~~~ :)  I adore Uhtred already, and reading this made me long to live in the Dark Ages even more than I always have done (I feel it is one of my spiritual homes).  Most of all, of course, it made me want to be a fearsome warrior.  Not a warring West Saxon (although I did like Leofric), but a brave man of the shield wall, of Ragnar's tribe!

The Last Kingdom is educational about the times, with some processes described in intricate detail.  If the book was written by an unknown author and the 'rules of writing' crew got their hands on it, they'd say these were 'information dumps', or something, or that the writer was being self-indulgent and eager to stick all his research into the book rather than weaving it into the story unobtrusively, but who cares; it was fascinating, because if you're a truly talented writer you can pull anything off, and anyone who wants to know more about life in these times could learn as much from this as any history book about the people of the Dark Ages.

If you've seen the TV series recently you'll remember the bit near the end when the Danish ships are burnt; in the book it's riveting, I read it about three times.  I've just downloaded the second book and think I may just have to have a little look now...

Sunday 13 December 2015

My Top 24 Books of 2015

I've read over 100 books this year, so this was no easy task, although the top ten was simpler: they're the ones to which I gave my rare 5 Gold Stars. 
 I started off doing a Top 20, but there were a few I just couldn't decide between ~ so, here's my...

....the reading of the following took place between January 1st and December 12th, 2015...

I haven't included more than one book by the same author; instead, I chose my favourite, but mentioned any others I've read/reviewed this yearLists such as this are all about personal taste, of course, and so much depends much on preference of genre; there are plenty of other very good books on this blog, to which I've given 4* ~ you can find them all HERE.

Okay, here goes!  For the full review of each book, click the title.  I've added a note to say how I discovered it, because I think this is interesting for writers, readers and book bloggers alike.

**Numbers 24~11 are in no particular order**:

Australian family drama 

Discovered: A choice from those submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team; 
I review for Rosie's blog as a member of the team. 

Financial/psychological thriller

Discovered: Got to know the author via Twitter, I'd read her first one and liked it.

Plantagenet historical fiction 

Discovered: Another Rosie's book review team choice.

by English Historical Fiction Authors

Historical anthology ~ non-fiction

Discovered: A tweet!

1950s Family Saga.

Discovered: Got to know the author via Twitter.  This is the middle part of a trilogy, and my favourite of the three; there are links to my reviews of the other two parts at the end of this one.  

Zombie apocalypse  (US)

Discovered: Amazon browse, the cover of the first one in the series caught my eye, then I read the next three.  I liked Mad World, the third one, best.  You can see the review of the first, Broken World, with links to the others HERE

 1980s northern England miners' strike drama

Discovered: I read a review by a fellow member of Rosie Amber's Review Team that made me want to buy it.

Fantasy assassin adventure ~ novella

Discovered: Another choice from the reviewer's list on Rosie Amber.  This year I have also read Thief's Gambit by this author, review HERE.

16. SURVIVING THE EVACUATION: Book 1: London by Frank Tayell

Zombie Apocalypse (UK) 

Discovered: Amazon browse.  I've read four others in the series, links to which are on the review for this one.  I liked this one and the fourth best. 

Travel Memoir  

Discovered: I won the author's second book in a blog competition last year, and liked it so much I bought her first one, too.

Contemporary drama/musician

Discovered: I read an article by the author on an unrelated subject, on a book blog.  Something about the way she 'talked' made me think I'd like her fiction writing too, so I read the blurb for her book and the subject matter appealed very much.

Gritty Geordie crime drama

Discovered: Our mutual proofreader told me it was really good, so I bought it when it came out!

Family drama/Afghanistan

Discovered: I read an article about it, by the author, on the same book blog where I read about Living By Ear (the discontinued but still in existence A Woman's Wisdom), and thought it sounded like something I'd love to read.

18th century murder mystery

Discovered: A choice from Rosie Amber's review team reading list.  Have since bought his next book, not read yet.

And now......the countdown begins!

 ~~~~ The Top Ten ~~~~

It was hard to put them in order of preference, but I think a countdown is more fun, don't you?  Adds a bit of tension to the proceedingsSo I struggled and hummed and hahhed, and here it is.....

Post apocalyptic drama (pandemic), Northern Ireland

Discovered: Got chatting to author on Twitter, I asked to see his book.  Happened to be in a current favourite genre, and I liked the look of it ~ ker-ching!  Have since reviewed his second one, The American Policeman

Native American history 

Discovered: I've read lots of Zoe Saadia's books, discovered via her blogs on Twitter, and think the Peacemaker series is the best thing she's done, and this is the best of the series.  Links to her other books are on the review above, and I've also reviewed The Peacekeeper.

Dark humour, contemporary drama ~ novella

Discovered: I got to know the author via the internet about eight years ago, through our mutual interest in writing, amongst other things, and always hoped he'd publish something because he's one of the most genuinely talented writers I've come across.  I read the first part of this last year, loved it, and this is even better.

Alternative history ~ Tudor fantasy 

Discovered: I got to know the author on Twitter because of our mutual interest in the Tudors, and read the first part of this trilogy last year.  The links to Court of Conspiracy and Taste of Treason can be found on the review above; the trilogy got better as it went on, this third part was definitely my favourite.

Vigilante crime drama/thriller

Discovered: I'd bought it after reviewing the first in this series, Kill Line (link on the review on above), for Rosie's blog, and I chose that after a review by another member of the team made me want to read it.  Robert Leigh subsequently submitted it to Rosie's review team list, so I reviewed it for her blog, too.  Oh, and our mutual proofreader recommended it, as well!

Getting exciting now....!

~~~~ The Top Five ~~~~

Historical fiction ~ the early years of Elizabeth I

Discovered: Got to know the author on Twitter because of our mutual interest in the Tudors.  I read a few of her stories on Wattpad and loved them, so I leapt on this when it came out.

Sci-Fi, post apocalyptic drama, UK

Discovered: Rosie Amber was asked to review this but it wasn't her sort of thing so she asked me if I'd like to read it.  I'm so glad she did!  I've since bought and reviewed the sequel, Forbidden Alliance; the link is on the above review.

Now it's really getting exciting....

~~~ The Top Three ~~~

by Mark Barry. 

Violent contemporary drama

Discovered: I 'met' Mark Barry when he asked me to appear on his blog, then thought I would try one of his books.  I have read four of them now, and this is the best one, by far.  This year I have also read his book Ultra Violence; links to all of his that I've read can be found in the review above.  Highly recommended!


Second Place...

My runner up and silver medallist is a two-in-one, really, because she writes under two names, Davina Blake and Deborah Swift.  I've read several of her books this year and it was so hard to choose which one, for this list, because I love them all, but in the end I went with...

World War II and 1950s drama

Discovered: via Twitter, I can't remember exactly how, I think I read an article on her history blog.  For this list, I was torn between the above book, and The Lady's Slipper, in her Deborah Swift guise; links to my reviews for all her historical fiction can be found HERE.

Drum Roll....

And the Gold Medal goes to.....

~ My Favourite Book of 2015 ~

Victorian Murder Mystery

Discovered: Twitter, I believe... I think she commented on one of my blog posts!  I read the first of this series, Diamonds & Dust, last year, and didn't think anything could top the second, Honour & Obey, but this did.  Even if you think a Victorian murder mystery isn't your thing (which is what I thought), you should buy this NOW.  This is talent!

I do hope this has been of interest to you, not least of all how I found each book.  I'm so glad I offered to be a part of Rosie Amber's team, and that I've got involved with so many book blogs this yearUnless writers have a traditional publisher behind them or have limitless funds for promotion, it's a constant struggle, in this deluged market, to get our books in front of readers, and for readers to sort the wheat from the chaff; if everyone who looks at this list bought just one of the books....!!