Blog Tour: Dreaming of Christmas by T. A. Williams

Good morning! I’m pleased to be bringing you an exclusive extract of Dreaming of Christmas by T. A. Williams today – I reviewed the book earlier in the week, so please do check out my thoughts.

It’s the dream Christmas: snow, mountains… and, er, an ex-boyfriend. But can Zoe still find love in the Alps?

Dumped on Christmas Eve by her long-term boyfriend, it’s been a rough year for Zoe Lumsley. But then she gets an invitation she can’t refuse: an all expenses paid skiing holiday with old university friends.

The bad news: her ex, Grant, will be there with his new girlfriend. But so will her former flatmate Billy, the organiser, and in the meantime he’s done rather well for himself. As Christmas in the Alps approaches, it’ll be great to see the old gang. Some more than others…

Extract:
Next day at work, Zoë was too busy to spend much time thinking about the invitation to Austria, but she had done more than enough worrying overnight. In fact, although she had finally drifted off to sleep in the small hours, she had tossed and turned for ages first. Of course Juliet was right. It was time she got on with the rest of her life, but the idea of not only seeing Grant again but being cooped up with him in a hotel for a week was both intimidating and infuriating.

His announcement last Christmas that he had found another woman and was leaving had come as a bolt from the blue – or as near as made no difference. Yes, there had probably been a few little doubts in her mind, but nothing she could put her finger on. Considering she was a journalist, it rankled with her that she had been so blind to what was going on. Of course, she had been aware that her workload meant she had been seeing less and less of him over the last few years of their relationship. And his business trips away – often involving weekends as well – had been getting more frequent, but she had never seriously thought he might have somebody else. The tragic fact of the matter was that she had loved him in spite of everything, and losing him really had broken her heart. Beneath the anger she still felt towards him was bitter grief. How would she feel about seeing him again?

Then, sometime in the small hours, she had suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, eyes wide open, at the thought that he would almost certainly turn up in Austria with his new woman. The idea of meeting her was immensely unpalatable. With that thought lodged in her mind, it had been a long night.

Consequently, she wasn’t feeling at her chirpiest the next morning as she shared a taxi with Ron the photographer en route to an interview with a B-list movie actor hungry for publicity. Her lack of enthusiasm, however, was more than compensated for by her companion. Ron was positively bouncy.

‘Like the new jacket, sweetheart?’

She hadn’t noticed. She turned her head and took a look. It was a brown leather bomber jacket and it looked pretty good on him. He wasn’t a bad-looking man, as long as you didn’t concentrate too much on what he was like underneath the skin. As far as she was concerned, Ron was an acquired taste – rather like creosote or silage. She nodded her head and told him what he wanted to hear.

‘Very nice. Expensive?’

‘Five hundred quid.’

‘Blimey, Ron, did you win the lottery?’

He shook his head. ‘No, I’m doing a bit of work on the side. And it pays well.’

‘Wedding photography?’

‘No, very different. Here, take a look.’

He pulled out his phone and scrolled through a whole heap of photos until he found the one he wanted.

‘What do you think of that, sweetheart? Good, eh?’

Zoë took the phone from him and squinted at it. With the taxi weaving in and out of the traffic in the streets of east London, it wasn’t easy. She held the phone closer to her eyes. It took a few more seconds before she suddenly realised what she was looking at.

‘For God’s sake, Ron, that’s disgusting.’

She almost threw the phone back at him and rubbed her hands on her coat in an attempt to remove the contagion. He looked not only unapologetic but positively buoyed, by her comment. There was a broad lascivious grin on his face.

‘These folk pay me well, and they pay the girls well too. If you ever want to supplement your wages, just say the word. With your face and figure, I’m sure it could be a nice little earner for you.’

‘Oh God…’

Dreaming of Christmas is published by Canelo and available now. To find out more about the book, and T. A. Williams, you can check out his website.

This extract is part of the blog tour to celebrate Dreaming of Christmas. To find out more, and for more exclusive content and reviews, why not chek out some of the fab blogs below:

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Book Review: Dreaming of Christmas by T. A Williams

It’s the dream Christmas: snow, mountains… and, er, an ex-boyfriend. But can Zoe still find love in the Alps?

Dumped on Christmas Eve by her long-term boyfriend, it’s been a rough year for Zoe Lumsley. But then she gets an invitation she can’t refuse: an all expenses paid skiing holiday with old university friends.

The bad news: her ex, Grant, will be there with his new girlfriend. But so will her former flatmate Billy, the organiser, and in the meantime he’s done rather well for himself. As Christmas in the Alps approaches, it’ll be great to see the old gang. Some more than others…

What I Thought:
Living in uncertain times, as we do, I find myself more often looking to uncomplicated things, and things that comfort the mind – in T. A. Williams’ Dreaming of… novels, I’ve found an uncomplicated happy place!

Dreaming of Christmas is the latest in T. A. Williams’ popular series featuring young women, unlucky in love, and searching for something more in their lives. In this case, it’s Zoe who finds herself a year on from being dumped at Christmas time and invited to spend some time skiing with her former Uni housemates.

Each of the characters have their own problems and knotty relationship difficulties, but a week away at Christmas may just be the thing they all need to revive them. Having not seen each other for 10 years, they have all changed in subtle ways, but rest assured that all ends well for the group of friends.

I’ve read several of T. A. Williams’ books now and they are all of a high standard and when I say they are easy to read, I mean it in the best sense. Zoe is a likeable girl, who has been unlucky in her personal life, but who is also doing a job that she’s really too qualified – a highly relatable character.

Ultimately, the novel is so likeable because wouldn’t we all like to be invited to a luxury hotel, all expenses paid, and then – just maybe – end up falling in love?

Dreaming of Christmas is published by Canelo. To find out more about the author and his other excellent novels, you can check out his website.

If you pop back here on 11th November, you can check out an exclusive extract of Dreaming of Christmas, and also find out about some of the other stops on the blog tour.

Please note; I received a copy of this book via Netgalley. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Spotlight: Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

Hello! Today I am excited to bring you one of a series of short extracts from the latest in the Three Dark Crowns series, Two Dark Reigns. These have been chosen by Kendare Blake to illustrate the gifts of some of her characters and help you get to know them before reading the full novel.

As a proud member of the Naturalist court, I am thrilled to introduce you to Jules:

Jules hears the bear before she sees the den dug into the side of the hill. She moves her torch so the light falls across the entrance, and something looks back at her with bright, fire-lit eyes.

It is a great brown. She was not seeking it. She was on the path of a stag and would have caught up with her quarry over the next rise.

The bear does not want trouble. It has most likely retreated back into its winter den in order to avoid the hunters.

Jules draws her knife. It is long and sharp and can go through a bear’s hide. But the bear will still kill her if it decides to fight.

The bear looks at the knife and sniffs. Part of her wants it to come. She is surprised by that, by the heat of her anger and the weight of her despair.

“If you are looking for the queen,” she says, “you came too late.”

There are more of these extracts featured on lots of other blogs today and in the coming weeks, so do take a look at the #TwoDarkReigns hashtag.

Two Dark Reigns is published by Macmillan Children’s Books. To find out about Kendare Blake and this amazing series, check out her website.

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Blog Tour: Death Comes in Through the Kitchen by Teresa Dovalpage

Havana, Cuba, 2003: Matt, a San Diego journalist, arrives in Havana to marry his girlfriend, Yarmila, a 24-year-old Cuban woman whom he first met through her food blog. But Yarmi isn’t there to meet him at the airport, and when he hitches a ride to her apartment, he finds her lying dead in the bathtub.

With Yarmi’s murder, lovelorn Matt is immediately embroiled in a Cuban adventure he didn’t bargain for. The police and secret service have him down as their main suspect, and in an effort to clear his name, he must embark on his own investigation into what really happened. The more Matt learns about his erstwhile fiancée, though, the more he realizes he had no idea who she was at all—but did anyone?

What I Thought:
In preparing for this review, I took a look at the book on Goodreads, and various other places and was quite shocked with what I found. It seems that Death Comes in Through the Kitchen is a Marmite book – people either loved it or hated it.

I for one thought it was a really interesting book and particularly liked the format. At once it was an exotic murder mystery novel, and also an introduction to authentic Cuban cuisine. As a Cuban transplant, now living in the US, I felt that Teresa Dovalpage was uniquely placed to give both a view of the Cuba that she remembers – not that of the tourist trail – but also the view of outsiders to what seems a very alien regime.

Some of the reviews I read criticised the lead character, Matt, as being a bit stupid to assume he would arrive in Cuba and marry Yarmila but I felt that a certain naivety was needed in his character, alongside the brash American assumption that everything will immediately go his way – certainly not the case here.

The murder mystery plot was inventive and eventually resolved in an unexpected way, after leading us down paths that make us ask how well we ever really know anyone and immersing Matt fully in both the spiritual life of Cuba, and the restrictions placed on its citizens under a communist regime. By the time Matt contemplates leaving Cuba, his eyes – and ours – have been opened to some of the freedoms we take for granted.

Cuba and the people Matt meets are written vividly and, while you can imagine life is not always sunny for the characters, it is easy to picture the beauty of the Caribbean and the vibrancy of the sounds and smells of Cuba. This is helped in no small way by the recipes included in the book – a big part of the plot involves Yarmila running an English-language cooking blog and some of the recipes and the anecdotes in her blog posts are evocative and definitely worth trying to make.

Death Comes in Through the Kitchen is published by Soho Press and is currently available in hardback, with the paperback following next year. To find out more about the book, and Teresa Dovalpage, you can check out her blog, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate Death Comes in Through the Kitchen and for more exclusive content and reviews, why not check out some of the fantastic blogs below?

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Book Review: Dynasty by Christina Oxenberg

Part memoir, part royal history – this is the intimate and enchanting true story of Christina Oxenberg’s discovery of her remarkable and illustrious Serbian heritage.

In 2014 Christina Oxenberg visited Serbia for the first time on the trail of her family history. What she discovered was not only the astonishing story of her origins – a descendant of the Karadjordjevic dynasty who rose from shepherds to kings – but also the hair-raising history of Europe and its royals from the 18th century to the present day. Deftly weaving Oxenberg’s own family history with that of Europe’s tumultuous recent past, Dynasty is a gripping and at times controversial royal saga, illustrated with 8 pages of beautiful images from Christina’s private collection.

What I Thought:
My recent media tastes seem to have leant towards royalty, given that I have watched both Victoria and The Crown within the last few weeks. I could probably write what I know about the crowned heads of Europe on the back of a postage stamp, but I was quickly drawn in and fascinated by the history of the Serbian royal family, as written by Christina Oxenberg in Dynasty.

Although non-fiction, the story of Oxenberg’s forebears from a humble shepherd, to a young man used as a pawn by the Allies of WW2, the family history reads like an adventure novel – it’s so easy to get caught up in the drama of it all that it is easy to forget that these are not a made-up cast of characters.

What makes this memoir so easy to read is the inclusion of Christina Oxenberg’s own memories of a childhood spent with exiled relatives, and knowing that there was something different about the family but never speaking openly about any of the events that had affected them. To have this interspersed with the whole shocking story adds to the feeling that you are not just reading a history book, but that the terrible world events that happened around and to the family are given an edge of humanity.

There are times when the author writes quite emotionally about her grandparents, and the things she discovered had happened to them only after they had passed away and this adds to the power of such an otherwise public and well-documented family history.

Complete with several pages of family photos, Dynasty is a fascinating book for historians, but at the same time it’s a human story of cherished family members that has clearly been written with love and respect.

Dynasty is published by Quartet Books. To find out more about the book and its author you can check out Christina Oxenberg’s website.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Only she knows what happened.
Only I can make her speak.

I love him so totally, completely, sometimes it threatens to overwhelm me.
Sometimes I think-

No. I won’t write about that.

ALICIA
Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.

Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.

THEO
Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought.

And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?

What I Thought:
It’s a risky business hyping a book and telling people it is a must-read. I mean, can it ever really live up to all that hype? The Silent Patient not only lives up to the hype, the twist in it by far surpasses anything that anyone told me about the book and could quite possibly have you yelling a swear…

Told from both the perspective of psychotherapist Theo Faber, a man who becomes obsessed with breaking through Alicia’s silence, and through the diaries of Alicia Berenson, it creates a tense thriller and the book is really impressive for a debut novel.

I felt that, despite the sensationalist nature of Alicia’s crime, the book started with a slow burn but, as her diaries become more frantic and indicative of a woman on the edge, the urge to read right to the end was compulsive and once all is reavealed, it really is breathtaking!

Right from the off, Theo is an unconventional psychotherapist in that he alone feels that he can break through Alicia’s silence when everyone else has written her off. He visits members of her family, trying to understand her and gets into trouble for going way beyond his remit as her caregiver. What that does do though is give us a deeper understanding of Alicia as a character when put alongside her own diaries which, in the end, provide all the words that are needed.

The style and format of this book is great – the voices are interwoven in such a way that, just when you think you’re getting somewhere, the other voice will continue the story instead – it truly is tantalising!

The book is not out until Feb 2019, so it’s quite a wait but, I assure you, it’s worth it, so Pre-order or add it to your wish lists now.

The Silent Patient will be published by Orion Books in February 2019. For more information on this book and Alex Michaelides, you can connect with him on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.

Such prophecies could be dismissed as trickery and nonsense, yet the Golds bury theirs deep. Over the years that follow they attempt to ignore, embrace, cheat and defy the ‘knowledge’ given to them that day – but it will shape the course of their lives forever.

What I Thought:
Wowsers! I am often struck by how good Tinder Press is at picking its titles – at least all the titles of theirs that I have picked up have been absolute crackers!

The Immortalists is no exception, coming from a premise that I think occupies many of us more than we would like to admit – if we knew when we were going to die, how would we live?

The Gold siblings are so very different, despite their hand-in-hand upbringing so, obviously, their responses to finding out their dates of death are very different, with some racing headlong towards their dates and filling their lives with colour, while the others try to minimise themselves until you wonder what is the point of living if you are not going to live?

Out of all the sections, the one about Simon was the one that I took to the most. Although you can see what is going to happen to him from a mile away, just by looking at when the book is set and doing some basic maths, getting to the inevitable is a riotous, colourful and emotional experience. Klara’s chapter too is beautifully written, making what happens to them both equally tragic.

Above all, The Immortalists asks the question of what we would do if we knew when we were going to die, but it does not offer easy answers. It shows us four possible responses to the situation and shows us too that even if you know when your time is up, what happens until then still has the power to surprise. It was a book I was still thinking of long after finishing it and it’s one of those books that has the power to provoke further debate in the longer term.

The Immortalists is published by Tinder Press and, as an aside, something else that they do well is cover art and this book is as beautiful to look at as it is to read…

To find out more about Chloe Benjamin, you can check out her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Queens of Fennbirn by Kendare Blake

Queens of Fennbirn contains two gripping stories from the New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns universe, written by Kendare Blake.

The Young Queens is the story of the three queens when they were born, before they were separated – it gives a short glimpse of the time when they all lived together, loved each other and protected one another. It’s also the story of the day they were torn apart and the immediate years that followed before the opening of Three Dark Crowns.

The Oracle Queen – historically, baby queens born with the sight gift were drowned. This had been the practice for hundreds of years, so long that few were even born any more, as if the Goddess knew it would be a waste. It is a harsh sentence, but necessary, for it is well-known that in a queen the sight gift will run strong. Strong enough to drive her mad. This is the tale of the last sight-gift queen to be allowed to live. She was overcome by paranoia and false visions, driven past the brink by the phantom thoughts of others in her head, so she set upon the capital with bloody ruin, murdering whole houses, whole family lines, without trial. Or at least, that is how the tale is told. This is her story.

What I Thought:
When it first came out I absolutely adored Three Dark Crowns. Having firmly labelled myself as not a fan of Fantasy, I’ve had to refine my definition as I LOVED that book and the world Kendare Blake has created with Fennbirn and its warring Queens!

Queens of Fennbirn unites two short stories that take place within the world of Three Dark Crowns, one of which explores the relationship between the three Queens before they were separated, and one that looks at the history of one of Fennbirn’s most interesting Queens.

Both give new depth to Three Dark Crowns but I will warn you that if you even vaguely identify with Feminist ideals, The Oracle Queen will make you very, very angry…

I really love the world that Kendare Blake has created and her writing style is so easy to read. Having two more books in this series to read, I was thrilled to get hold of this companion piece to add extra depth to it all and it’s definitely worth grabbing a copy – if only for the gorgeous cover art which unites the books in the series.

Queens of Fennbirn is published by Macmillan Children’s Books, and is available now. To find out more about this book and Kendare Blake, you can check out her website.

Keep an eye on the blog at the beginning of next month, and I might have something exciting for you from the Three Dark Crowns world!

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions. It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN, because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… or does God have a higher purpose after all?

Despite that, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. It is a book about memory and how, if we could remember things slightly differently, would we also be changed? In HVN, Lorna can at first remember nothing. But as her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that, maybe, she can find a way back home.

What I Thought:
As the blurb indicates, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is a difficult book to pigeonhole. There are elements of both sci-fi and fantasy in the book, but the overiding feel of it is that it strays more into the realms of spirituality. That certainly isn’t to say that it is a religious book, as that would most definitely not be my thing, but it does ask interesting questions about our mortality, perspective and the decisions we make throughout our lives.

Lorna, as a main character is distinctly average. She is not rich, she’s pretty but not knock-out, she’s got where she is in life by working hard, not because of who her family is. She’s had setbacks and tragedy in her family life and, painful as it’s been, she has overcome it. This is what makes her so relatable – this book could be about any one of us, being asked to look back on life and see where our decisions have changed our direction. As a person who seems to very often think about where different decisions might have taken me, Lorna really resonated with me.

From the cover art to the twists and turns of the story, you can tell that this is a quirky book – an infestation of hamsters onboard a space ship should tell you that much – but it is not so quirky and off-the-wall that it is not enjoyable. Reading about Lorna’s teenage holidays and romances brings back fond memories making this a very cosy book to read.

Ultimately, this is definitely a book to mull over – are we so very different to Lorna, and if we had the chance to go back over our memories and help them inform our future, what would we do?

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is published by Accent Press. To find out more about the book and Charlie Laidlaw, you can check out his website. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles

What happened to me?

Why can’t I remember?

Weeks after blacking out and waking up in hospital, Lux still has no memory of what happened.
She doesn’t know why her days are consumed by pain and her nights by terrifying dreams; why her parents won’t stop shouting and her friends stop talking when she walks into the room.

All she knows is that the Lux she once was is gone – and that if she can’t uncover the truth, everything she loves will be taken away too.

What I Thought:
The Taste of Blue Light is a book I’ve had for a while, but recently picked up when a friend demanded I read it immediately. Not one to ignore such a request, I started it and I was not disappointed.

Our introduction to Lux Langley and her school – a school for children gifted in the arts, with not much of a nod to discipline – seems to deliberately set her up as somewhat unlikeable. I’m not sure whether I felt this more acutely because I am well above the target audience for this book, or whether it was a ploy to just make us think ‘well, if she just drank too much and blacked out it’s her own fault’, but that very thought was articulated by one of her classmates later on in the book so maybe that was the author’s intention all along.

I won’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to have missing hours or days in your life, but Lydia Ruffles does a great job in trying to convey that, the sense of something missing and the pressure to try and remember and she also gives an enlightening look at how the world looks different for someone with synaesthesia, where the stimulation of one of the senses can create a reaction in another – hence the title of the book.

I think what I liked most about this book was that, although the blurb indicated that finding out what happened to Lux was the crux of the book, the reveal (wow, by the way) happened in the middle, leaving a lot of time for Lux and her friends and family deal with the aftermath. This provided a better resolution for me than simply finding out at the end and wondering what went on after I’d closed the book. It was very well done.

After reading The Taste of Blue Light I added Lydia Ruffles’ new book (Colour Me In) to my reading list as, if it’s anything like this, it’s sure to be a cracker!

The Taste of Blue Light is published by Hodder Children’s Books. You can find out more about Lydia Ruffles and connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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