Sunday 22 November 2015

KEEPING SAM by Joanne Phillips

4 out of 5 stars

Contemporary family drama

On Amazon UK HERE

This novel is an interesting move sideways for Joanne Phillips, who has previously been known for her light romances and cosy mysteries. Keeping Sam is an emotionally complex drama that I am sure will appeal to readers who have a preference for stories about modern day family issues.  One point I'd like to make straight away is that there is no bad language, sex or violence in this book; I know this is important to some people when making reading choices.

Following a break in and a knock on the head, single mother Kate has been in a coma for a year.  When she wakes up, she is eager to fetch her toddler son, Sam, from her parents' house.  However, she reckons without the relationship her mother, Barbara, has built up with Sam while Kate was asleep.  Kate must cope not only with her own physical difficulties, but also with the general opinion that she is not yet ready to be a full time mother to her son.  Her frustration and the feeling that there is some sort of conspiracy against her is extremely well plotted, with slightly sinister undertones that I liked very much.

As the story progresses, the strains of tension between Kate and her parents are artfully revealed.  Barbara is a most interesting character, resentful, lonely, frightened of the future; she is essentially an unlikable character, but I couldn't help feeling sorry for her because of the dull emptiness of her life, which made me want to run a mile, should I ever have to live anything like it!  Enter stage left, Kate's ex and Sam's father, the feckless Evan, who has his own agenda.

A little of the author's tendency towards the more lighthearted is introduced in the form of the delightful Marie, Kate's landlady, and her tumultuous relationship with the love of her life, Big Tony.  This is a well told and unusual story, incorporating a little mystery, too, and fans of Joanne Phillips (of which there are many) will be pleased to know that she's also added in a nice touch of romantic interest!  A most enjoyable read with that all important satisfying ending.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

WHEN DOVES FLY by Lauren Gregory

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE

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

After a slightly shaky start, I enjoyed this book a lot.  Lauren Gregory certainly knows how to keep a reader turning the pages, and I was engrossed for nearly all of it.

When Doves Fly is the story of Lily Wright, fleeing tragic family circumstances and a brutal husband, in the days of the Wild West and people striking out to make their fortune via the gold rush.  A woman alone, she struggles to make a living in the boom town of Clear Springs, Colorado, and her fortunes rise and plummet at every turn.  There are some good plot developments in this story, completely unexpected, and the atmosphere of the time and situation is spot on.

One of the biggest strengths in this book is the characterisation.  The dialogue of characters as Jessie the prostitute, the evil Silas Barnes who is out to ruin Lily, wise old girl Alice Durand (I loved her, my absolute favourite character) and the miners visiting Barnes's brothel is so very good, I kept silently applauding little bits.  When Alice was telling Lily the story of her own past, I think I was as anxious as Lily to find out all about her!  Ms Gregory knows how to write a Texan accent, a Scottish one, and many others, so incredibly well (but without being overdone) that I was reading it in the accent intended—excellent, I bow with respect!

There were a few negatives for me, though others might not agree, and they're not big ones.  I found the beginning, when Lily arrives journeys to and arrives at Clear Springs, a tad unconvincing and a little rushed through; I didn't get into the story until it went back in time to Charlotte's situation.  Lily's thoughts being actual dialogue in italics grated on me a little: 'What in heaven's name was I thinking?  I'm so dense!", etc.  I thought this would have been more effectively written as an inner third person narrative, ie, 'what in heaven's name was she thinking?'.  There's probably an actual name for the style of prose I mean, something like free indirect speech, I think, but I'm not sure. 

The only other slight negative was that the last 10-12% seemed a trifle too neatly wrapped up; I was expecting another twist and was disappointed when it didn't come, but, hey, this is Lauren Gregory's book, not mine.  So a bit of an anti-climax for me, but it was still well written and convincing. 

To sum up: When Doves Fly is a cracking read, I'd recommend it to anyone who likes these sort of stories.  I will definitely read another book by this author, a master storyteller who really knows how to spin a yarn!


Monday 16 November 2015

OUTBACK PROMISE by Maggie Bolitho

4.5 out of 5 stars

Contemporary drama, Australia

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I liked this book a lot.  Maggie Bolitho has the sort of innate gift for the written word that makes my editing/critiquing hat fall off unnoticed, allowing me to just read and enjoy, which is, of course, the best way.

Outback Promise is about the marriage of Ros and Grady.  Six years after their four year old son, Cadel, was killed in a tragic accident, their marriage has faltered, and they decide to go on a three month trip across the Australian Outback to 'find each other' again.   This story was not one that immediately appealed to me as the subject matter of a family losing a child is possibly the last I'd want to read about (I am childfree and like to read for escapism, mostly!), but the Outback aspect appealed a great deal, as it's something I'd love to do. 

I was pleasantly surprised.  The first half of the book follows one of my favourite structures: alternating chapters between past and present, to show how the characters got to where they're at now.  I didn't find the bits about Cadel's death and Ros and Grady's subsequent pain to be something I had to wade through at all, as I'd feared; Ms Bolitho's writing is clear and spare, never wordy or contrived, and it was actually very moving.

The Outback trip starts approximately half way through and at first I worried that I was about to read pages and pages of emotional zig-zagging, but it picked up quickly, with two notable highlights: a ghastly couple called Nestor and Max who they met at one campsite (I loved them, a terrific piece of writing, they were drawn so perfectly I could actually see them!), and an encounter with a couple of poachers.

I very much enjoyed reading about the trip.  My favourite characters tended to be the secondary ones, but they all 'worked'.  I didn't particularly warm to Grady, and only a little more to Ros, who I found a trifle self-absorbed, though this isn't a criticism of the book; Ros is a woman with much 'baggage', and she began to understand herself better as the story came to a close.  There was one incident near the end that really spoke to me.  Grady had been out on a boat with friends, she'd stayed behind because she suffered from seasickness.  Afterwards she was expecting him home and wanted to do the romantic dinner thing, but he stayed in the pub, having a rip-roaring time with his friends.  He wanted her to join him, but she said no, because it didn't fit in with her idealistic image of how their evening would be.  I wanted to shout at her, "Go!  He wants you to be there, think about what he wants and be spontaneous!" ~ because Grady didn't want a 'romantic' meal, he just wanted her to join him.  

I was completely absorbed in the story all the time I was reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well-written, contemporary, relationship-based drama.  I'll certainly read more by this author.

Saturday 14 November 2015


4 out of 5 stars

Contemporary drama/mystery

On Amazon UK HERE

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

Courtney and Eddie were high school sweethearts who married young and split up over Courtney's desire to start a family.  Courtney moved to California and became a successful force behind the scenes in the music industry, while Eddie opened a bar and became a 'love 'em and leave 'em' type.  A school reunion brings Courtney, now trained as a psychiatrist, back home to Blue Lake...
I've read another of Cynthia Harrison's books, Lukes #1 Rule, and I felt the same about this one ~ her writing is so readable, almost conversational.  It's very American, in a way that I like, as it highlights the differences between English and American language and attitudes in that the books are about ordinary, small town people.  I loved this passage, with Eddie commenting on Courtney's engagement ring from her California lover: 'Huge stone.  Not the kind of ring people wore round here, no matter how much money they had.  Sucker was the size of a quarter.'  Or one of the gossipy, narrow minded school reunion guests, when Courtney considers 'setting up shop' in Blue Lake: 'Nobody here needs a shrink.  Well, Spence had issues, but he's from downstate.'

There are two stories running through this, one being the complex relationship between Courtney and Eddie, and the other a revenge scenario between camera girl Lily and bad experience in her past.  I was most interested in the former, but the two come together to make this more than just a contemporary romance/drama.

Ms Harrison's writing is clear and honest, with emotional statements that appear to come from the heart.  'Why does youth squander happiness like there is a never-ending supply?'  Courtney is a terrific character, I believed in her completely; a well drawn main character will always make a novel a 'page turner'.

Luke's #1 Rule by Cynthia Harrison reviewed HERE 

Saturday 7 November 2015

THE LADY'S SLIPPER by Deborah Swift

5 GOLD Stars

17th century drama

On Amazon UK HERE

Wonderful, wonderful, I adored this book.  I read the stand alone sequel over a year ago, always meaning to get to this too, and the author very kindly sent me a review copy.  I loved it so much I think I might have to read the sequel (The Gilded Lily) again!

(part of) The blurb:

The year is 1660.  The King is back, but the wounds of Civil War remain.  In rural Westmorland, artist Alice Ibbetson has become captivated by the rare Lady's Slipper orchid. She is determined to capture its unique beauty for posterity, even if it means stealing the flower from the land of the recently converted Quaker, Richard Wheeler. 

Fired by his newfound faith, the former soldier Wheeler feels bound to track down the missing orchid. Meanwhile, others are eager to lay hands on the flower, and have their own powerful motives. 

Margaret Poulter, a local medicine woman, is seduced by the orchid's mysterious herbal powers, while Geoffrey Fisk, Alice's patron and former comrade-in-arms of Wheeler, sees the valuable plant as a way to repair his ailing fortunes and cure his own agonizing illness.

The story is told most adeptly from many points of view: Alice, Richard, Margaret (I loved her section) and the troubled Geoffrey Fisk... also his son, Stephen (who begins to reject his upbringing in favour of the ways of the Quakers), the sly maid, Ella, and a couple of others.  Each character was so well portrayed that I could imagine him/her immediately.  The plot is unusual and well thought out, the strands work together so smoothly.  I was completely absorbed in the past while reading this, taking it slowly, stopping to imagine the setting.  A bonus was the part on board ship at the end; I've long been fascinated by seafarers of this time

Love, love, love Deborah Swift's writing; I'm just sad that I've read all her books now, and have to wait for her to write another!   

The Gilded Lily reviewed HERE

A Divided Inheritance reviewed HERE

Shadow on the Highway reviewed HERE

Spirit of the Highway reviewed HERE

Past Encounters (written as Davina Blake) reviewed  HERE