Blog Tour: The Fear by C. L. Taylor

Sometimes your first love won’t let you go…

When Lou Wandsworth ran away to France with her teacher Mike Hughes, she thought he was the love of her life. But Mike wasn’t what he seemed and he left her life in pieces.

Now 32, Lou discovers that he is involved with teenager Chloe Meadows. Determined to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, she returns home to confront him for the damage he’s caused.

But Mike is a predator of the worst kind, and as Lou tries to bring him to justice, it’s clear that she could once again become his prey…

What I Thought:
Although I will be reviewing The Fear below, today is also my stop on the blog tour for this suspenseful thriller and I’ve been given a snippet of the book to whet your appetite…

It doesn’t take Chloe long to find her confiscated phone. It’s shoved in her dad’s sock drawer – the same place he hides everything he takes away from his kids. Jamie’s Nintendo 3DS is in there too (swiped on the plane journey when he refused to turn it off for take-off). She snatches her phone up, creeps back out onto the landing and darts into her room. Her heart thuds in her chest as she stands at her bedroom door, listening out in case her dad comes back, then plugs her phone into her charger and turns it on. The Samsung logo swirls on the screen. A second later her apps appear. She holds her breath as she stares at the top left-hand corner of the screen, waiting for the phone to connect to the network and the notifications to appear.

Nothing happens.

I found The Fear really unsettling – as I had expected it to be – and really well-written. I don’t know why, but I really like reading psychological thrillers where the lead character loses their control and is merely swept along by events, even though they make me very uncomfortable and tend to stay with me. This book was no exception as Lou, although starting out with a plan to confront Mike, very quickly turned back into the groomed 14-year-old that she used to be.

What makes this book so uncomfortable is that Mike is the villain, and yet he is a normal bloke. There’s no indication outside of his dealings with Lou and Chloe to suggest that he is a paedophile, and so when Lou tries to warn people, no-one believes her. I suppose as a society we like to think that we could spot a paedophile a mile away, but this book is a wake up call in that regard!

This is the first book I’ve read by C. L. Taylor, but I was lucky enough to meet her at YALC 2017 and have a signed copy of The Treatment, her first YA book, to read – I’ll definitely be starting on that soon as her writing is superb, conveying domestic drama and suspense in a way that makes it compulsive reading.

The Fear was published by Avon Books on 22nd March. For more information on C. L. Taylor, check out her website or you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to support the release of The Fear and there are lots of other fab blogs hosting guest content, competitions and extracts, so do check some of them out.

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

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Blog Tour: Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam

When Bea Hanlon follows her preacher husband Max to a remote island in the Pacific, she soon sees that their mission will bring anything but salvation…

Advent Island is a place beyond the reaches of Bea’s most fitful imaginings. It’s not just the rats and the hordes of mosquitos and the weevils in the powdered milk. Past the confines of their stuffy little house, amidst the damp and the dust and the sweltering heat, rumours are spreading of devil chasers who roam the island on the hunt for evil spirits. And then there are the noises from the church at night.

Yet, to the amusement of the locals and the bafflement of her husband, Bea gradually adapts to life on the island. But with the dreadful events heralded by the arrival of an unexpected, wildly irritating and always-humming house guest, Advent Island becomes a hostile place once again. And before long, trapped in the jungle and in the growing fever of her husband’s insanity, Bea finds herself fighting for her freedom, and for her life.

What I Thought:
I seem to have read quite a few debut novels recently – some better than others – but in general, if the standard of these debut authors is anything to go by, the publishing industry is in rude health and will be for the forseeable future.

Things Bright and Beautiful is Anbara Salam’s first novel but already her writing style is so accomplished in expressing the heat, humidity and opposive nature of the South Pacific that it makes this book a must-read.

As a confirmed old atheist, the religious aspects of this book interest me – I know my view of Missionaries and their quest to spread the Word to so-called uncivilised people and the fact that this book is set in the 1950s, and that that was still going on did surprise me.

The book itself is a thing of beauty – the designers at Fig Tree get a gold star as the rainforest cover, complete with snakes and creepy crawlies, sets the scene perfectly for the text and the sense of menace Bea first feels living in a remote South Pacific village.

The rainforest is brilliantly depicted almost as a character in itself as Bea uses it to navigate her way on the Island and as a source of supplementary food, while her husband Max begins to feel it close in on him as his South Pacific adventure is less like the musical than he thought it would be. Despite Max’s best intentions, the locals seem to prefer others to provide them with their spiritual comfort and then the old missionary comes back…

As I said, it’s clearly stated that this book takes place in the 1950s, but it really has the feel of a Victorian gothic novel, especially as Max’s religious fervour begins to grow and Bea realises that the man she married is no longer in his right mind and that she may be in real danger.

Things Bright and Beautiful is published by Fig Tree. To find out more about Anbara Salam, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Things Bright and Beautiful, so please do check out some of the other fantastic blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book to enable participation in the blog tour. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: The Sapphire Widow by Dinah Jefferies

Ceylon, 1935. Louisa Reeve, the daughter of a successful British gem trader, and her husband Elliot,a charming, thrill-seeking businessman, seem like the couple who have it all. Except what they long for more thananything: a child.

While Louisa struggles with miscarriages, Elliot is increasingly absent, spending much of his time at a nearby cinnamon plantation, overlooking the Indian ocean. After his sudden death, Louisa is left alone to solve the mystery he left behind. Revisiting the plantation at Cinnamon Hills, she finds herself unexpectedly drawn towards the owner Leo, a rugged outdoors man with a chequered past. The plantation casts a spell, but all is not as it seems. And when Elliot’s shocking betrayal is revealed, Louisa has only Leo to turn to…

What I Thought:
I really like Dinah Jefferies’ books – I started out with Before the Rains – as she uses impeccable research and beautiful descriptions to bring to life the colonial era in Asia. The Sapphire Widow is certainly no exception to this and fits beautifully alongside her earlier work.

This book perfectly marries historical fiction, and the factual details that that requires, with a likeable heroine who suffers tragedies in her personal life, yet comes through it all with determination. Louisa Reeve is definitely a character who is easy to root for as being capable but vulnerable. When the security of her marriage is swept away, and she realises how little she knew her husband, she copes better than many others would.

I very much enjoy historical fiction, particularly that which is set in times and places where I have gaps in my knowledge and Ceylon is one of those gaps. Aside from the colonial aspects, there was some information about the native population of Ceylon, the languages spoken and the local cuisine which I found so interesting and which fit seamlessly into the narrative.

As we move towards the summer start to see some sunshine on the horizon (we hope), it would be a great idea to add The Sapphire Widow – and, in fact, any of Dinah Jefferies’ novels – to your summer reading pile.

The Sapphire Widow was published by Viking on 5th April 2018. You can find out more about Dinah Jefferies on her website, or connect with her on Twitter, or Facebook.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Sapphire Widow – why not take a look at some of the fantastic blogs below for reviews, exclusive extracts and interviews with Dinah Jefferies?

Please note: I was given a copy of this book to enable participation in the blog tour. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson

Think comic books can’t feature strong female protagonists? Think again! In The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen you’ll meet the most fascinating exemplars of the powerful, compelling, entertaining, and heroic female characters who’ve populated comic books from the very beginning. This spectacular sisterhood includes costumed crimebusters like Miss Fury, super-spies like Tiffany Sinn, sci-fi pioneers like Gale Allen, and even kid troublemakers like Little Lulu. With vintage art, publication details, a decade-by-decade survey of industry trends and women’s roles in comics, and spotlights on iconic favorites like Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen proves that not only do strong female protagonists belong in comics, they’ve always been there.

What I Thought:
A bit of a departure for me this one, but The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen is actually a really great look at women in comics and how they have changed and innovated over the years. There are the very, very well-known characters here, like Supergirl and Wonder Woman, but there are many others that you probably will have never heard of, which is a shame. There rezally is no reason why any of these women could not have been as big as their male counterparts as – guess what? Women read comics and graphic novels too.

Split into decades from the 1930s, the book features a precis of each character, with examples of their artwork and commentary on where their stories could have been improved to give them a longer life. This format works really well and have given me several new comic collections and graphic novels to explore, including some freely available online.

From indie publishers to the comic giants, this books is a fantastic introduction to a collection of women that every little girl can aspire to be – move over Superman…

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen is published by Quirk Books. To find out more about Hope Nicholson, you can visit her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I was sent this book for review purposes – all opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Never Greener by Ruth Jones

The past has a habit of tracking us down. And tripping us up.

When Kate was twenty-two, she had an intense and passionate affair with a married man, Callum, which ended in heartbreak. Kate thought she’d never get over it.

Seventeen years later, life has moved on – Kate, now a successful actress, is living in London, married to Matt and mother to little Tallulah. Meanwhile Callum and his wife Belinda are happy together, living in Edinburgh and watching their kids grow up. The past, it would seem, is well and truly behind them all.

But then Kate meets Callum again.

And they are faced with a choice: to walk away from each other…or to risk finding out what might have been.

Second chances are a rare gift in life. But that doesn’t mean they should always be taken…

What I Thought:
I absolutely love Ruth Jones’ writing – Gavin and Stacey is repeat viewing for me – but Never Greener marks the start of her hopefully lengthy career in novel writing.

Never Greener is a knotty domestic tale of forbidden first love – or is it really love? Is it just sexual attraction? – and asks whether we can ever go back to something that meant a lot to us. I read an interview with Ruth where she said that the threads of this book came out of the sudden surge of extra-marital affairs with the advent of Friends Reunited and Facebook, former first loves finding each other again and the inevitable fallout of that.

I found this book unique in the fact that Kate is an awful woman. As the book goes on, we find out things about her which show us that, perhaps she is driven by demons, but even in her initial affair with Callum she seems to calculatingly goes after her man, despite knowing he is married, and her obsessive behaviour continues into the woman we see 15 years later.

By no means is Callum innocent in all of this – he was within his power to say no to cheating on his pregnant wife, and yet he decided not to, so you can imagine my feelings about him!

It’s no mean feat to write a book where the main characters are not particularly likeable – whether through their one-off actions, or as part of their make up – but Ruth manages to make you want to know how the mess they have made of their lives – twice – turns out and the resolution might not be to everyone’s liking, but it definitely suited me.

Never Greener is published by Bantam Press on 5th April. You can find out more about Ruth Jones and connect with her on Facebook.

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: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom. Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

What I Thought:
Goodness me! It has taken me a ridiculously long time to review this book but rest assured it’s no reflection on the quality of the book. Geekerella is a gorgeously written tribute to those who are passionate about their hobbies.

A retelling of the Cinderella story, Geekerella comes complete with a wicked stepmother, two awful stepsisters and even a pumpkin coach for good measure. It’s an absolute delight to read as it’s familiar enough that we know where the story is going, but the approach is so original that we’re still kept guessing.

What I liked most about it was the author’s absolute respects for fandoms, conventions, cosplayers and the like. I am a YALC attendee and as that is part of London Film and Comic Con it is not uncommon to meet several Harry Potters and a few Captain Picards in the stairwells which I love, but some crappy newspapers (Daily Fail) seem to enjoy mocking these dedicated and passionate folks – and I’m just not down with that. Luckily, neither is Ashley Poston!

A feel good read that will have you smiling by the end, if you’ve even vaguely been tempted to join a fandom, then this book is for you.

Geekerella is published by Quirk Books. You can find out more about Ashley Poston on her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

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

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Book Review: Heat by Sally Emerson

An intense and addictive novel about lost love and the compulsive pull of the past. Passionate, tense and menacing, Sally Emerson’s classic tale of obsession in a claustrophobic city is an emotional thriller from start to finish. Susan Stewart thought her relationship with journalist Phillip Jordan was long over. But when Susan glimpses him again in a bookshop on the outskirts of Washington DC, the memories return. Is Phillip deliberately haunting her? Or are her own disturbed emotions turning a long, hot, oppressive Washington summer into a nightmare that threatens to unravel her whole life? This is a gripping story of obsession and love – and the difference between the two – by a formidable novelist. Newly re-issued as part of a series of six titles.

What I Thought:
I was asked a while ago to review Fire Child, the first of Quartet Books’ reissues of Sally Emerson’s novels and hot on its heels came Heat, an intensely disturbing but compelling domestic thriller.

Susan’s life is seemingly perfect from the outside – she and her successful journalist husband are living in Washington where they are raising their daughter in an upscale neighbourhood. Susan wants only one more thing, a son to complete her family, and when she starts to see her former lover, Phillip, in unexpected places, she wonders if she’s starting to come apart at the seams.

Heat is so aptly named, as Sally Emerson brilliantly uses both the oppressive humidity of Washington, and the exhausting social and political whirl to create a sense of claustrophobia in Susan’s life that only grows with Phillip’s reappearance. As it becomes clear that Phillip is really living in Susan’s neighbourhood and he’s not a figment of her imagination, she begins to recall details of their life together – a life marked by domestic violence and, possibly, murder.

This book is beautifully paced, with the tension building as Susan worries about contact with Phillip, but also when events begin to build in the lives of her husband and daughter. It is a chilling depiction of a woman who thought she had freed herself from an abusive relationship, but the tendrils of it keep working their way back to her.

Heat was originally published in 1998, but the themes in it are, sadly, no less relevant now with domestic violence and unwanted attention and stalking still all too real for some women. It’s a sad indictment on our society that, as with Susan, so many women are thought hysterical and not believed when they raise the issue of stalking to authorities.

As I said above, there are six Sally Emerson reissues in this set and, luckily for me I have some of the others to read too – look out for my reviews of those.

Heat is published in paperback by Quartet Books. To find out more about Sally Emerson, you can check out her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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

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Blog Tour: Caribbean Cocktails – a Guest Post from Daisy James

I was lucky enough to read and review Sunshine and Secrets, the forst in a new book series by Daisy James, recently and as part of a blog tour to support the release of the book, Daisy has kindly written a guest post about some of the fiery caribbean cocktails mentioned in the book – enjoy!

In Sunshine & Secrets, when Millie Harper isn’t baking up a storm in the Paradise Cookery School, she spends a great deal of her time at a beach bar called the Purple Parrot in Soufrière sampling the various cocktails that are on offer there. Of course, the Caribbean is famous for its production of rum, so there is a myriad of delicious cocktails for Millie to choose from.

Rum is made from fermented cane sugar and there are three main varieties – white, gold and dark. Light rums are not as aged as dark rums which are stored in oak barrels to give them that deep golden-brown colour and rich caramelly or molasses flavour. White rums are the most commonly used in cocktails, but they are also drunk on their own – infused with local fruit and spices, such as orange, mango, lime, starfruit or nutmeg and cinnamon.

Here are a few cocktails sold in the Purple Parrot:

Andy’s Blast
Andy is the owner of the Purple Parrot and he makes a mean daiquiri which he serves with a loose wrist and a flourish. It’s created by combining white rum with sugar syrup, a twist of lime and the flesh scrapped from the inside of a cocoa pod finished off with a sprig of mint.

Lottie’s Margarita
Lottie is a waitress at the Purple Parrot. She’s a gap year wanderer who has stayed on in St Lucia to swoon over the resident beach boy, Dylan. When she’s not partaking in the local beer, her favourite cocktail is the Margarita which is not made with rum, but with tequila, triple sec and lime to which she adds lots of ice.

Smuggler’s Mojito
This is a really refreshing cocktail when made with the freshest of ingredients; rum, lime, sugar, soda and the most important ingredient mint. It’s always served over crushed ice.

Rum Punch
Marc is a waiter at the Purple Parrot who is a dab hand at rustling up a pitcher of rum punch. His version uses golden rum to which he adds orange juice, sugar syrup, lime juice and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg that is grown on the island.

Pina Colada
This is a classic tropical paradise cocktail made from white rum, pineapple juice and coconut milk, served with a tiny parrot on a cocktail stick. It’s bit rich and creamy for some palettes but it is what I think about when someone says Caribbean cocktail. For a twist on a theme, why not try it with mashed banana?

Huge thank to Daisy for giving us such a great list of cocktails to have a go at, and while you’ve a drink in hand, why not check out some of the other reviews, guest posts and giveaways on the remainder of the blog tour?

Sunshine and Secrets was published by Canelo on 19th March. You can find out more about Daisy James on Facebook, or connect with her on Twitter.

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Book Review: Aurabel by Laura Dockrill

It has been two years since Rory drowned, and Lorali is in Hastings, living the quiet life of a normal teenage girl. But her safe life on land won’t last for long. Life in The Whirl has become a hotbed of underwater politics and as the council jostles to oust the king, one Mer in particular has her eye on Lorali as the key to her own rise to power.

Meanwhile, Aurabel, a lowly Mer from the wrong side of the trench, is attacked by sea beasts and left for dead – and without a tail. Raging with righteous anger, she rebuilds herself a mechanical tail and reinvents herself as a fearless steampunk Mer seeking revenge. But she never expected the most important job that was about to drop into her lap.

What I Thought:
I can’t tell you how excited I was when I heard about this book! I absolutely loved Lorali and Aurabel is as good a sequel as you could wish for.

I first picked up Lorali at YALC 2015, and did so because I went to a session that looked at books as performance pieces and heard Laura Dockrill read from Lorali – it was revelatory and, so being back at YALC in 2017, I was thrilled to see Laura back too.

As a book, it’s hard to categorise; part fantasy, part steampunk, part teen romance, part Shakespearean epic it also has some beautifully poetic prose – not surprising as Laura Dockrill also writes poetry. It’s so easy to race through this book as the language has an immediacy to it, it will rattle along and your job as the reader is just to keep up!

Although Lorali was a finished novel, with very few loose ends that needed tying up this book takes those loose ends, adds new characters and some loveable old ones and weaves an entirely different spell over them – I read another review that said exactly what I thought: Lorali was not a book that needed a sequel, but since it has one, I couldn’t have hoped for a better one.

Since reading Lorali and Aurabel, I have been recommending them whenever I can – it’s safe to say I’ve become a Laura Dockrill fan and I’m hugely excited to see what she does next – although I think she’ll be a wee bit busy, as she’s just had a baby!!

Aurabel is published by Hotkey Books. To find out more about Laura Dockrill, you can visit her website (which is, so appropriately, wallpapered in leopard skin), or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I was given a copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes (although I have also bought a copy myself…). All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Sunshine and Secrets by Daisy James

When newly heartbroken, michelin-starred chef Millie Harper is offered a job overseeing the setup of The Paradise Cookery School she jumps at the opportunity. Leaving London and her memories of heartbreak behind she hops on a plane to the hilltop cocoa plantation in St Lucia.

But this beautiful island break might be more work than she’d expected…. With only two weeks to have the kitchen installed, cocoa pods going missing from the plantation and the notoriously relaxed island workmen to contend with, she’s going to need some help. Gruff but charming estate manager Zach Baxter, is only too happy to offer his opinions. As the two clash heads can they remain focussed on the job in hand and get the cookery school finished in time?

What I Thought:
It seems an odd time of year to be reading a book set in the Caribbean, but I guess with the snow outside a burst of sunshine is most welcome! Sunshine and Secrets begins as Millie Harper has fled a failed romance and her dream job to live quietly as a pastry chef. Her sister is having none of this and manages to get her a job testing recipes for a new celebrity cookery school on a cocoa plantation in St Lucia – despite many reservations, Millie agrees.

From then on, this book is a whirlwind of exotic locations and descriptions of spices that you can almost taste, and a lovable cast of characters who both inspire and infuriate Millie in equal measure. From beach bums to love-sick gap year students, there is definitely a character that everyone will love, in addition to a sneakily included mystery plot that will keep you guessing.

Alongside the romantic storyline, I loved the foodie aspects of this book. There are lots of descriptions of the recipes Millie is testing, and traditional St Lucian food, plus in the scenes where Millie is cooking or baking, and when she explores the market, you can almost see and smell the spices and cocoa – definitely mouth-watering!

Ultimately, this book is just good fun and it would be a great addition to your summer reading pile – but whatever the weather, it’s guaranteed to bring a bit of sunshine into your day.

Sunshine and Secrets is published by Canelo on 19th May, and it’s available for preorder now. You can find out more about Daisy James on Facebook, or connect with her on Twitter.

I was lucky enough to be asked to host a guest post by Daisy James on a blog tour supporting the release of Sunshine and Secrets, so check back on 26th March to read that.

Please note: I received a copy of this book through Netgalley to participate in the blog tour. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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