Review: Blog Tour – War Orphans by Lizzie Lane

war-orphans-cover“If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency. If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.”

Joanna Ryan’s father has gone off to war, leaving her in the care of her step-mother, a woman more concerned with having a good time than being any sort of parent to her.

But then she finds a puppy, left for dead, and Joanna’s becomes determined to save him, sharing her meagre rations with him. But, in a time of war, pets are only seen as an unnecesary burden and she is forced to hide her new friend, Harry from her step-mother and the authorities. With bombs falling over Bristol and with the prospect of evacuation on the horizon can they keep stay together and keep each other safe?

What I Thought:

War Orphans is what I would classify as a lovely book. I read a lot of crime fiction, so to read a story with some heart is a very nice change!

Joanna is a determined little girl, who is abominably treated by her stepmother, and finds comfort in an equally determined puppy. Despite her deprivations and the very poor conduct of her stepmother, she keeps her strength and spirit to help her puppy survive – making new friends along the way.

The supporting characters, including Joanna’s caring young teacher are a world away from Joanna’s own domestic situation, but they have heartaches of their own, made worse by the continuation of the war.

It really isn’t spoiling anything to say that the book wraps up to the reader’s satisfaction and War Orphans is a rewarding, heart-warming read.

War Orphans is out now in paperback (Ebury Publishing).

I was sent a copy of this book as part of the War Orphans blog tour and in return for an honest review.

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In Memoriam: James George Jupp, died 23/9/1916

A short break from all the regular bookish things to allow me to put my Family History hat on.

I’ve mentioned in quite a few posts (mostly A-Z Challenge) some of my research into my family history, and today is remarkable in my family tree as 100 years ago today, my Great, Great Grandfather – James George Jupp – was killed in action in the First World War.

A farrier by trade, James Jupp was living in Richmond, where he completed an entry for the 1911 census. James and his wife Louisa had, at that time, 6 children which included my Great Grandmother, Dorothy.

At some time after the start of the First World War, James Jupp enlisted in the Royal Artillery as a Shoeing Smith. Given his age and marital status, it seems unlikely that he would have been called up for service – he was 46 at the start of the war – so I can only think that he volunteered.

After looking at the war diary for ‘C’ Battery of the 187th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery at the National Archive, I was unable to pinpoint the exact circumstances of his death on 23rd September 1916, but I corresponded with some WW1 historians – namely Andy Smerdon, an expert in the use of horses and mules in WW1 – and they managed to come up with a likely scenario for his death. The concensus was that James Jupp was posted with a Battery and travelling with them to shoe horses in emergency situations, many times under fire. It was likely on one of these occasions, that he was shoeing a horse with another Smith when they were hit by enemy fire – apparently over 700 Shoeing Smiths died in similar circumstances – and the site of Jupp’s burial, alongside only one other member of his Battery indicates that they were killed closeby and buried there with regular combat troops.

As you can from this Streetview, the area is quite open, so there would be little cover from enemy fire.

The site of this burial is at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery (managed by the CWGC) as shown below:

View Larger Map

As part of my research, I was able to find a photo of James Jupp’s CWGC grave online, along with some general views of Caterpillar Valley.


No doubt this is just one of many, many family stories about ancestors killed in WW1, especially with the centenary currently ongoing, but I feel a much closer connection to those events of so long ago, knowing that my family was involved.

If you are especially interested in stories of those who died in the First World War, Lives of the First World War is working to make sure all those killed are remembered.


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Review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

img_20160921_200401In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomach-ache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of beasts.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose . . . it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

What I Thought:

Wow! What a start to a series! A twisted plot that is full of mystery alongside the fantastical setting, with a veritable buffet of strong, inspirational women, I was absolutely hooked to Three Dark Crowns.

All three Queens must fight for the throne, but only Mirabella has shown any of her power – surely she is the obvious Queen of choice? Whichever Queen succeeds, her representatives will coax, scheme and bribe to get themselves to the Queen’s right hand and everyone seems to have an agenda.

The personal lives of each of the Queens and their retinues are explored here, each showing moments of intimacy and love, and others of grisly determination and violence to either claim the throne or flee from it. Three Dark Crowns is a multi-dimensional epic – I can’t wait for more!

Three Dark Crowns is published today (22nd Sept) by Macmillan Children’s Books and comes in one of three stunning paperback versions. I was sent the Naturalist cover, which represents Queen Arsinoe; the others are the Elemental (Queen Mirabella) and the Poisoner (Queen Katharine).

I was sent a copy of Three Dark Crowns in exchange for an honest review.

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Books I’m Excited About in September

We’re already half way through the month, so I thought I’d do a quick run-down of September books that have so far caught my eye.

Keith Stuart’s fantastic A Boy Made of Blocks (pub. 1st Sept).

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex
He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam
Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other…


Some good, old-fashioned rompy fun with Jilly Cooper’s latest Rutshire Chronicle, Mount (pub. 8th Sept)

In Jilly Cooper’s latest, raciest novel, Rupert Campbell-Black takes centre stage in the cut-throat world of flat racing.

Rupert is consumed by one obsession: that Love Rat, his adored grey horse, be proclaimed champion stallion. He longs to trounce Roberto’s Revenge, the stallion owned by his detested rival Cosmo Rannaldini, which means abandoning his racing empire at Penscombe and his darling wife Taggie, and chasing winners in the richest races worldwide, from Dubai to Los Angeles to Melbourne.


Kendare Blake’s thrilling and dark series opener, Three Dark Crowns (pub. 22nd Sept)

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomach-ache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of beasts.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose . . . it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.


Book 6 in the DI Helen Grace series, Hide and Seek (pub. 8th September). The last book left Helen in a bit of trouble, how will it resolve…?

Detective Inspector Helen Grace has spent her whole life running.

From the past. From herself. From everyone who’s ever tried to get close to her.

She’s spent her whole life hiding.

Behind the badge. Behind her reputation as one of the country’s best detectives. Until – framed for murder – she became one of its most high-profile prisoners.

Now there is nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.


A non-fiction title, that has already been really helpful! Natasha Courtenay-Smith’s The Million Dollar Blog (pub. 29th September)

In a world where everyone wants to blog and blog posts are ubiquitous, how do you stand out? How do you blog your way from nobody to somebody?

How do you make money blogging, how do you start your own blogging business, and how do you, as a business owner, use content to build your brand and drive your success?

What do the world’s most successful bloggers know that you don’t know (yet)?

No matter who are you – a mum at home, a budding fashion blogger, a lifestyle blogger, a food blogger, a big business owner or a small business owner – The Million Dollar Blog is about blogging the smart way.

A bit of something for everyone there, I think, but still only a small fraction of the fantastic books that have (or will) come out in September – enjoy!

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Review: Geek Girl: Head Over Heels by Holly Smale

cover75711-mediumHarriet Manners knows almost every fact there is.

She knows duck-billed platypuses don’t have stomachs.
She knows that fourteen squirrels were once detained as spies.
She knows only one flag in the world features a building.

And for once, Harriet knows exactly how her life should go. She’s got it ALL planned out. So when love is in the air, Harriet is determined to Make Things Happen!
If only everyone else would stick to the script…

Has GEEK GIRL overstepped the mark, and is following the rules going to break hearts all over again?

What I Thought:
Harriet’s back! Head Over Heels is the fifth novel in the Geek Girl series, and it seems that Harriet isn’t losing any steam. She’s back (without Lion Boy, sadly) and bringing her adorable gang of family and friends with her. This time thought, Wilbur’s in a pickle and it’s down to Harriet to sort it out for him.

Once again, Holly Smale throws Harriet into some sticky situations – sometimes of her own making – and Harriet manages to come up smelling of roses…for the most part.

All of the Geek Girl books are really quick reads as they are un-put-downable! Harriet’s adventures are so jam packed but we always seem to be one step ahead of her – but she’s so loveable that that is no bad thing.

I already have the next Geek Girl novella to read, and am looking forward to the next (and final??) book.

I received a copy of the book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: We and Me by Saskia de Coster

9789462380615On a private estate near the top of a mountain lives the Vandersanden family. Neurotic, aristocratic Mieke grooms her carpets while keeping a close eye on her family and her neighbours. Her husband, the self-made man Stefaan, is building up a career in a pharmaceutical company which is threatened by scandal. Daughter Sarah, overprotected by her parents and curious for the real life, is finding her own path; like a contemporary Madame Bovary or an Anna Karenina, she longs for freedom and individuality. But will she find an escape from the claustrophobic family dramas and secrets that surround her?

What I Thought:
I was pleased to host an extract of We and Me a little while ago, and promised that there was a review to follow – ta dah!

Saskia de Coster is already well-established as an author in her native Belgium, but is newly translated for the English market. She shows her skill here as she picks apart the every day life of the Vandersanden family and highlights the ridiculous, starting with the public face of a family that has very private idiosyncracies.

At the heart of the family is Sarah, who is just a baby at the beginning of the novel, but who blossoms throughout (past the tricky teenage stage) to become an independent woman at the end, but how has she been affected by how she and her family had lived in her early life?

There were definite moments of dark humour in the novel, but also some genuinely tragic moments, particularly those regarding Stefaan’s brother, and the characters are carefully written and contrast well – particularly Mieke’s larger-than-life brother in comparison to Stefaan’s cantankerous mother.

As a character study, the book works well and it’s definitely for those who are looking for depth, rather than non-stop action.

I was given a copy of this book by the Publisher (World Editions) in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi

Nina is Not OK final jacketNina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t?

Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all.

And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend.

But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…

What I Thought:
Approaching Nina is Not OK, I didn’t really know what to expect – ok I read the blurb and have seen Shappi Khorsandi doing stand up – but would this be a jokey sort of book, or a not? Well, it is and it isn’t – there is certainly humour in it, but it is mostly dark and, in Nina’s attempt to make light of her drinking and the activities that come from it, it is in places quite tragic.

On the whole, I’ve come away from it thinking that this is a pretty important book, especially with the numerous and wide-ranging debates over binge drinking culture and the safety of young women when they have had a few more drinks than they had perhaps intended. This book addresses the issues of alcoholism, victim blaming, slut shaming and much more in a powerful and accessible way while giving us a main character that you can actually give a damn about.

I love Nina, despite her battles with her mum (as the mum now, I dread those days to come!), she has gone through such a difficult time with her volatile, alcoholic father and when she finally begins to take control of her life and what has happened to her, she shows what a strong determined young woman she is; her transformation from the girl we first meet being thrown out of a nightclub is remarkable (damp eye rating of 4 tears!).

Since reading the book, I have been recommending it whenever I can – as I said, I think it’s an important book, excellently written and tackling difficult topics with a really deft touch – a fantastic debut novel.

I was given a copy of the book by the publisher (Ebury Press), through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Jump Start Your Money Confidence by Penny Golightly

51Z5AKgMKnL._SL250_I wrote a while back about following Penny Golightly’s fab new book Jump Start Your Money Confidence and applying it to my daily life. Through one thing and another, it fell a bit by the wayside – ironically, what was happening in my life then would have probably been helped by the tips in the book, but we live and learn eh??

I’ve only recently come back to it, and have now completed the tasks set out in the book and am a little more optimistic about our financial future.

If you’ve yet to discover Penny Golightly, she runs a money advice blog, but with an emphasis on real-world advice and tips to improve your financial situation, and less on corporate advertising and comparison services. She regularly runs a ‘Tenner Week’, where the aim is to live for a week spending no more than £10 – she does it along with you and it genuinely CAN be done. It really is worth checking out her blog if you need some advice, as it is plentiful and well set out.

So what is the point of this book, you ask? All of the advice within the book is available online, but I have yet to see it all set out in this way, a clear, 30-day programme to get you thinking more about what and how you are spending, and how you can get the most out of everyday essentials, such as utilities and finance companies.

The essential part of the programme is NOT to read the whole book in one go and then go forth and enjoy more money, but rather to do each day separately and really think about the practical tasks you are asked to undertake, making sure you understand why you are doing it and what outcome would be the best for you – be that searching for a washing machine, or making sure all your paperwork is properly filed.

As I’ve said, Jump Start Your Money Confidence is a clear, easy to follow programme that aims to get you better acquainted with your own finances, and if you follow the plan as intended, you will start to see real differences in your financial situation.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan

the-last-days-of-summerShe can forgive. They can’t forget.

After ten years in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, Jasper Curtis returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters. Lizzie does not know who she’s letting into her home: the brother she grew up loving or the monster he became.

Teenage Katie distrusts this strange man in their home but eleven-year-old Joanne is just intrigued by her new uncle.

Jasper says he’s all done with trouble, but in a forgotten prairie town that knows no forgiveness, it does not take long for trouble to arrive at their door…

What I Thought:
I found the initial premise of The Last Days of Summer interesting from the point of view of rehabilitation – can a convict ever really leave their past behind them and lead a productive life – but the book is less of that, and more a study of small town America and family.

Jasper returns home, not exactly welcomed by Lizzie, but with a sense from her of ‘if he can’t come home, where can he go?’. Unfortunately for the whole family, this small town has a long memory and it won’t be so easy for Jasper to fit back in.

I got the sense from Jasper immediately the he knew things were not going to turn out well for him, so by the time trouble starts showing up at the family home, he seems almost ready to get things underway. Lizzie tries her best to defend him, but it is somewhat half-heartedly – she knows that the people in their community will never forgive Jasper for his crimes.

I can’t give away too much without spoilers, but I think the most powerful thing in the book for me was trying to support my own liberal ideas of rehabilitation and ‘serving your time’ with the rights of the victims of crime and their families. How must victims and their families feel when those who have committed crimes against them arrive home and expect to carry on as normal? It’s a tricky question, which this book went some way – but not all the way, it’s impossible – to answering.

In terms of the writing, I did enjoy the descriptive language which brought the hot, American prairie to life and the ‘reveals’ were well plotted and timed very well, giving the last third of the book a blistering pace.

Overall, the book was a rewarding read, but definitely one for adults only!

I was given a copy of the book by the publisher (Penguin Ireland) in return for an honest review.

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Blog Tour: Dust by Mark Thompson

Thompson_DustEarly in life, my grandfather told me that only three things were certain: birth, death and time. And time only ticked one way; it went forward and never back. It came to be a recurring wish with me, the desire to turn back the clock, to undo what I had done. Always wishing for the impossible, my feet stuck firm in the molasses of the present, unable to shrug off decisions I had made and their unforeseen or disregarded consequences.

J.J Walsh and Tony ‘El Greco’ Papadakis are inseparable. Smoking Kents out on an abandoned cannery dock, and watching gulls sway on rusting buoys in the sea, they dream of adventure…a time when they can act as adults. The day they’ll see the mighty Pacific Ocean.

Set in small-town New Jersey in the 1960s, against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, Dust follows the boys through the dry heat of a formative summer. They face religious piety and its murderous consequences, alcohol, girls, sex, loss, tragedy and ultimately the tiny things that combine to make life what it is for the two friends – a great adventure.

But it’s a road trip through the heart of southern America with J.J.’s father that truly reveals a darker side to life – the two halves of a divided nation, where wealth, poverty and racial bigotry collide. This beautifully written debut novel would not be out of place alongside the work of Steinbeck and Philipp Meyer’s American Rust.

At turns funny, and at others heart-achingly sad, their story unfolds around the honest and frequently irreverent observations of two young people trying to grow up fast in a world that is at times confusing, and at others seen with a clarity only the young may possess.

What I Thought:
Strong, oppressive and at times melancholy, Dust put me very much in mind of Stand by Me in the feel of the writing and, although there are only the two boys in Dust, their relationship struck me as very similar to that of the boys in that story, and the central theme of a ‘coming of age’ is put across well.

I was initially drawn to the novel by the evocative cover image which, when I got really into the book, was perfect to capture the feel of a carefree summer with endless days of heat and boredom as told by central character JJ.

1960s New Jersey is vividly painted, down to the breeze off the water at the old cannery that the boys visit to smoke and cuss away from grown-up eyes, and the contrasts of their home to different parts of the country on their roadtrip is an education in those vast differences that occur in such a large country as the US. At points it’s easy to forget that this is not a contemporary novel, but the episode where the boys wander into a black neighbourhood brings it back with a jolt.

Aside from the strong relationship between JJ and El Greco, JJ forms important bonds with adult members of the community, Mr Taylor in particular, and they act as a subjective sounding board, allowing JJ to make sense of his world, a world where Vietnam and Woodstock are not just a matter for the history books.

In terms of plot, the novel is introspective and relaxed, not driven by a surging, action-packed narrative and this definitely makes it a book to think about. As a debut novel it is really excellent.

This post is part of the blog tour for the novel, which started this week. There is still more to come from the blogs listed below. Please do take a look…

Dust blog tour

Find out more about Mark Thompson on his website.

I was given a copy of Dust by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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