Blog Tour

Blog Tour

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale. What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact, an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to change the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Publisher: Black Swan
Pages: 610 

I need to start this review with an apology as I know that I will not be able to do this book justice, so sorry about that but please do read on as I want everyone to read this book!
My only other experience of Kate Atkinson was reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum for GCSE English literature. I didn't like it. Looking back, I think I was too young to appreciate the wonderful nuances of Kate Atkinson's writing. Sadly this has led me to steering clear of this author ever since; that was until I read the intriguing blurb for Life After Life.

Gillian Flynn is quoted as saying:
"One of the best novels I've read this century."
I have to say that I feel exactly the same way. I am never giving my copy up as I know it is going to be re-read many times.
The protagonist, Ursula Todd, is born again and again on 11th February 1910. She is born into the same family each time but her life varies greatly in each instance. For example, in one she doesn't even make it through the birth; in another she develops into a young woman who assassinates Hitler thus preventing the war; in another she is a down trodden housewife and then we also see her growing up to live in Germany during the war, even finding a place in Hitler's inner sanctum.
Life After Life is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. It took me a good few chapters to get my head round the concept but once I had stopped questioning Ursula's constant rebirth, I was utterly gripped and swept away with the story. The concept though, cannot be ignored and I felt that whilst I was enjoying the story, the idea of reincarnation was constantly buzzing away in the background. I have not read a book for a long time that has given me so much to think about; a book that has made me look and question the choices I have made in my own life, the inevitable What if?
In the author's note at the end of the book, Kate Atkinson said that she had always wanted to write a book about the idea of Hitler not coming to power but she did not want it to be cliched as it so easily could. She said that she wanted to write:
"...something downright trickier, something multi layered and slightly fractal..."
I felt that she went above and beyond that; the book has so many different layers; as a reader it was a delight to be constantly presented with something new even though the book is repetitive in its nature.
There's just so much to talk about with this book, as I said, my review will not do it justice. The aspect that stood out to me was Kate Atkinson's descriptions of the Blitz in London and on the other side, the destruction in Berlin. These descriptions took up a large part of the book and they were exceptional. I thought that Kate Atkinson captured the human aspect of war; the innocent victims caught up in it. Ordinary domestic situations obliterated to extraordinary tragedy.
I cannot urge you to read Life After Life enough, I know that I will discover more and more each time I read it. I think I will be spending the next few months catching up with Kate Atkinson's other books, let me know if you have any particular favourites!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Book Review: A Gift to Remember by Melissa Hill

Daydream believer Darcy Archer works in a small bookstore in Manhattan. Just like the heroines from her favourite novels, she's waiting for 'Mr Perfect' to sweep her off her feet. Then one morning, when cycling to work, Darcy accidentally crashes into him instead...
As the sharply dressed man is taken away in an ambulance, Darcy is left holding his puppy and a gift wrapped package. wracked with guilt, and vowing to set things right, she leaps headfirst into the world of this stranger: his name is Aidan Harris and he has a passion for books, travel and adventure- and it's not long before Darcy thinks he could be The One.
But will her fantasy match the reality when Aidan wakes up? And, more pressingly, who was the gift wrapped package really destined for?
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 405 

I adored this book from start to finish. The only other book I have read by Melissa Hill is Something From Tiffanys but I will certainly be working my way through her other books now.
A Gift to Remember focuses on Darcy Archer; she is the manager of a
beautiful book store called Chalkers. She always has her head in a book and so is still looking for Mr Right but who will measure up to all of the great fictional men she has been filling her head with? Step in Aidan Harris who Darcy literally knocks over with her bike. Lying on the pavement, Darcy can see that Aidan is every bit as handsome as Mr Rochester but the problem is that due to the collision, he has absolutely no idea who he is. The book follows Darcy as she sets about helping Aidan to remember which is no mean feat but the more she does find out, the more she likes him but who knows if he is free or not to like her back.
Darcy Archer is a lovely character who I warmed to instantly (a little bit of this was because my daughter has the same name). As a fellow book worm, I very much identified with Darcy; often the people who I meet in real life do not match up to the fictional characters that I enjoy. Aidan is also a very good character; he is clearly handsome and Melissa Hill feeds the reader snippets that leave you wanting more.
A Gift to Remember has a really lively pace. I was on holiday but it still only took me just over a day to read it. Melissa Hill brought in a lot of humour through some of the smaller characters which I really enjoyed and I loved her descriptions of New York and its different establishments. A Gift to Remember is a fantastic read; it is romantic, funny and heart warming. I'm looking forward to catching up with some of Melissa's other books.

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me a review copy.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Book Review: Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives a life of enviable privilege and ease with his wife, Alice. Enviable until, one evening after dinner, Oliver attacks Alice so viciously that he beats her into a coma.
Oliver is stunned by his own actions. In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of this astonishing act of savagery, he tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades.
What unfolds is both tragic and monstrous, a story of shame, envy, breath taking deception and masterful manipulation.
Only Oliver knows what he had to do to get the life he craved and to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past finally catches up with him. 
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 231

Unravelling Oliver was a particularly interesting read. Oliver Ryan is a shocking character and I know that I will be thinking about this book for a long time. The opening line of the book immediately grabs you and draws you into the story:
I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.
At this point we don't know Oliver or Alice so you have no idea what has happened or why. The rest of the book explores Oliver's character an why he h
as physically assaulted his wife.
Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective, the only character we don't hear from is Alice. I loved this style of narration as it slowly built up a picture of Oliver and the monstrous acts he had committed throughout his life. I didn't feel that I came to any real conclusions about Oliver, he clearly suffered a loveless childhood but I didn't necessarily feel that this warranted his treatment of others, especially Alice.
Liz Nugent tells her story beautifully, it felt like quite a traditional story. She subtly built it up layer by layer; it felt effortless and it was very easy to immerse yourself in the tale.
Unravelling Oliver is an accomplished debut novel, Liz Nugent's writing is beautiful and captivating and I hope there will be more.

Many thanks to Penguin for sending me a copy of this book to review. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Book Review: The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon

Kate Fullerton, talented tea designer and no co-owner of The Tea Chest, could never have imagined that she'd be flying from Brisbane to London, risking her young family's future, to save the business she loves from the woman who wants to shut it down.
Meanwhile, Leila Morton has just lost her job, and if Elizabeth Clancy had known today was the day she would appear on the nightly news, she might at least have put on some clothes. Both need to start again.
When the three women's paths unexpectedly cross, they throw themselves into realising Kate's magical vision for London's branch of The Tea Chest. But every time success is within their grasp, increasing tensions damage their trust in each other.
With the very real possibility that The Tea Chest will fail, Kate, Leila and Elizabeth must decide what's important to each of them. Are they willing to walk away or can they learn to believe in themselves?

Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Pages: 354

The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon is a charming read. Kate Fullerton is the lead character who finds herself unexpectedly owning half of a business. It is a business that she is passionate about but Kate has been working at The Tea Chest as the head designer and she knows nothing about running a business but in her heart she knows she wants to make it work. Kate has to leave her home and family in Australia and fly to London to set up a whole new store. She ends up employing three other women, Leila, Elizabeth and her sister Victoria. She has
to trust these women to help her fulfil her vision and keep the company going.
I found The Tea Chest a little difficult to get into at the beginning as I felt that it took a while for the main characters to come together but once they did I was completely captivated by the story. All four women are extremely likeable characters and they each bring their own individual story lines which add up to a very interesting read.
Josephine Moon must have spent a lot of time researching tea; tea is one of my favourite things so I really enjoyed that aspect of the book, reading about the many different blends and ways to prepare it. I felt that this information made the story much more realistic and believable, I totally believed in The Tea Chest as a business and wanted it to succeed.
The Tea Chest is a heart warming read, I'm looking forward to reading more by this author.

Many thanks to the lovely Sam at Allen and Unwin for sending me a copy of this book to review. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Book Review: The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

He is wearing a pair of plain blue swimming shorts, otherwise he is naked before her. He is muscular, but graceful with it, balletic. He is shockingly pretty...
Each summer, Jenn and her husband Greg return to Deia, on Mallorca's dramatic west coast. This year, the arrival of Emma, Jenn's step-daughter and her new boyfriend Nathan threatens to upset their equilibrium. Beautiful and reckless, Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. As she is increasingly seduced by Nathan's youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur.
This book is tense with a capital 'T', Helen Walsh begins building the tension from the very beginning and simply does not let up. The front cover of this book is stunning but don't be fooled by the blurb; it could come across as a bit of a beach romp but it is far more complex than your average holiday bonk buster.
Jenn and Greg holiday each year on the beautiful west coast of Mallorca, this year is going to be different as Jenn's fifteen year old step-daughter is bringing along her new boyfriend, 17 year old Nathan. Emma and Nathan's arrival awakens several different feelings in Jenn; a resentment of Greg; a sadness over what life could have been, tensions and deep-rooted issues with her step-daughter and more importantly, a deep desire for Nathan which she is unable to ignore.
The tension between Jenn and Nathan is immediately palpable. Helen Walsh is so good at building up the little details, a glance here, a touch on the arm there; it all builds up to several very passionate encounters. The author is quite explicit in her descriptions of Jenn and Nathan, she shows the carnal need of both of them but then we learn of Jenn's feelings about it; how she feels about being the older woman; how she views her body and these new feelings that have possessed her.
The Lemon Grove can be quite an uncomfortable read at times but I don't think Helen Walsh had any intention of putting her readers at ease. I can't say that I particularly liked any of the characters; they all seemed incredibly selfish in their own ways.
This is the first book that I have read by Helen Walsh, I found it riveting and would highly recommend The Lemon Grove.

Publisher: Tinder Press
Pages: 275

Many thanks to Georgina for sending me a review copy of this book, it is out now. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

BLOG TOUR: That Vital Opening Line by Faber Acadamey Tutor: Shelley Weiner

The Faber Academy Creative Writing Summer Blog Tour is kicking off today here on Dot Scribbles. The Faber Academy provide courses for all types of writing, they have been supporting writers since 1929, take a look at their website for some fabulous courses and advice.

I am the first stop on the blog tour but I have included the blog schedule below so that you can follow it throughout the week. Today, Shelley Weiner, a Faber Academy Tutor who has a wealth of experience, discusses her thoughts on That Vital Opening Line:

How far can an enticing opening line go towards selling your novel? In the innocent days when writers were advised to kill their darlings and to show rather than tell, the first sentence or two were seen to be vital. Now we know differently. We try and understand our darlings and are acutely aware that both filicide and streaking can land us in jail. As for that vital, lucrative opening sentence – in our current state of financial uncertainty, it takes a far more than a cute phrase to loosen the purse strings of a punter, publisher or not.
‘But wait!’ you say. ‘Where would Tolstoy have been without that immortal opening to Anna Karenina – you know, that stuff about happy families etc...? Or Moby Dick without that resonant “Call me Ishmael”?’
I wonder. Had I, in a position of fiscal power, come upon the words, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged ...’ I might have yawned and thought, maybe not. Orwell’s ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ on the other hand – that, without a doubt, is striking. It’s chicken and egg, though. What came first, the initial hook or the rich fictional terrain in its wake?
In my experience, it’s the latter. Only once the novel itself has achieved substance, its shape settled and its tone confirmed, does an apt opening line tend to occur.
Nestling between that snappy first line, though, and the long-haul fictional journey that demands suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, is the opening scene. And here it is vital that the stage (and parameters) are set for what follows. This scene serves as a kind of contract with the reader, setting the tone for what follows and promising that particular characters, in a particular place, at a particular time are important. Hence the vital questions I encourage new writers to ask of their novel opening:
-                Why here? Is the setting for this first scene significant in the story?
-                Why now? Is this the best point of entry to the story? What is special about this particular time – is it a high point? A low point? A crisis?
-                Why these characters? Readers assume that a character on page one will feature largely in the chapters to follow and might feel a little cheated to discover that the pretty young girl who arrives with the tea trolley, say, is neither victim nor perpetrator but a casual employee who pops into the novel, never to be heard of again. 
All the above, however, doesn’t preclude the importance of that essential hook for a reader, who has to be somehow intrigued. It’s one of those ineffable qualities, like charm or charisma. An irresistible invitation to share a secret? Something strange ... ?
And so, while the first line may not be quite enough to sell a novel, the initial few paragraphs certainly can. Unless, like Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, you’re immortalised primarily for a seven-word opening to a novel few have read. Paul Clifford (1830) begins with the words that ‘Peanuts’ beagle, Snoopy, plagiarised for years. Even Snoopy, however, couldn’t get past the first phrase, for the tortuous sentence in its entirety reads: ‘It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.’

Shelley Weiner is an acclaimed novelist, short-story writer, journalist and creative writing tutor at Faber Academy. Her summer course ‘The 5 Day Short Story’ begins on 4 August. To view the summer programme visit @FaberAcademy

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Book Review: You're the One That I Want by Giovanna Fletcher

Maddy, Ben and Robert have been inseparable since they met in the school playground. They've stuck together through thick and thin, feeling safe in the knowledge that they have each other.
So when Ben falls hopelessly in love with Maddy, he decides to keep it quiet for the sake of their friendship. Until Robert swoops in and kisses Maddy- irrevocably fracturing things between them as the kiss turns to love.
But when Robert and Maddy's love turns sour, can Ben continue to say nothing? And can Maddy choose between her two best friends?
You're the One That I Want is Giovanna Fletcher's second book and I thought it was even better than her first, Billy and Me which I really enjoyed.
Maddy, Ben and Robert have been the best of friends since primary school. As they get older and hormones are raging, Maddy and Robert become a couple and Ben's love for Maddy becomes a deep secret which he shares only with his Mum. When Robert and Maddy have relationship trouble, Ben has to decide whether to tell Maddy how he really feels, risking his friendship with both of them.
Each chapter is told from either Maddy or Ben's perspective. This diary-like style really suited the story as the reader gets to know both characters intimately and we are privy to their private thoughts and feelings.
I felt that Giovanna Flethcher captured each stage of their relationship so well. I loved the parts from their childhoods but then it became more complex and emotional as they grew up and friendship turned into other feelings for all of them.
This book reminded me a little of One Day by David Nicholls but I actually thought it was more interesting by adding the love triangle element. I was completely torn  by who I wanted Maddy to be with, both Robert and Ben truly love her and I could completely understand her conflicting feelings for both.
Giovanna Fletcher is particularly good at drawing you into her story and making you care about the characters she has created. You're the One That I Want is a very entertaining book, the characters are very likeable and there are enough twists and turns to keep you reading; I would highly recommend.

Many thanks to Katie at Penguin for sending me a review copy.

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