A Blog A Day – Dreaming of Venice by T. A. Williams – Blog Tour

A little while ago, I took part in the blog tour for T. A. Williams’ timeswitch novel, Chasing Shadows, so I was delighted to participate again for his latest book, Dreaming of Venice. This time, the book is a contemporary romance which I’ll be reviewing later on.

For today, Trevor has generously written a piece on his favourite things about being an author – and it’s not at all envy-inducing for those of us who would like to make writing a career (haha!)…

First of all, it means I’ve got a job. You see, I’m very old and I retired quite a few years ago and it has always grated with me to have to indicate my occupation on legal documents and the like as “retired”. Since my first book, “Dirty Minds” was picked up by Carina UK (now morphed into HQ Digital – part of the giant that is Harper Collins) back in 2013, I realise I actually do qualify as an author. Since then, I have had another ten books published and number twelve is already written, although still at the fighting with my editor stage. So I think, by anybody’s standards, that qualifies me to call myself an author, not just a wrinkly pensioner.

The second thing is that it gives me an occupation. I had a pretty full on day job when I was working, and the onset of retirement promised to be crushingly boring. At first, I did a bit of property development, which was fun, but then I knackered my back, so something more sedentary was called for. I have written three books a year since becoming an author and that adds up to a quarter of a million words a year. Add on all the tweets and Facebook posts I’ve been doing and you’ll see that I no longer have the time to be bored. My writing gives me a reason to get up in the morning with a smile on my face and you can’t put a price on that.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, writing gives me the chance to let my imagination run riot. On a cold, damp, grey winter’s day, I can be mentally lying on a beach in Italy, the sun beating down on my suntanned, muscular body, with a full head of hair, admiring the gorgeous girls around me. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not really complaining about being bald – as handicaps go, it’s about the best. But to be able to escape and English winter and drop forty years in the process is really rather good.

Fourthly, it has brought me into contact with some wonderful people. Via Facebook and Twitter, I have got to know loads of other writers, bloggers, editors and, of course, readers. I regularly correspond with people in the US as well as the UK, and as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. I have even discovered, to my surprise, I have quite a following of readers in Germany. Once every few months I meet up with a bunch of bloggers and authors and it is wonderful to exchange experiences and tips with them.

Finally, and I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I’m going to say it anyway, through writing, I have achieved an unexpected degree of fulfilment in the latter days of my life. My writing has given me tremendous satisfaction. I’m immensely grateful to have been given this chance, and I consider myself honoured every time somebody actually buys and reads something I’ve written. If they enjoy it enough to stick a good review on Amazon, even better, but the main thing is that they have read it. I’ve always believed that the best kind of immortality is for those left behind to think of the dear departed and say to themselves, ‘he was a nice guy’. While I still hope that will be the case when I, too, shuffle off this mortal coil, I realise that I will leave my books behind me. I’ll never be a Shakespeare or a JRR Tolkien, but it’s rather good to think that somebody, long after I’m gone, may pick up one of my books and enjoy it.

Yes, I rather like being an author.

Many thanks Trevor – yes, I think those are all definitely the perks of being an author, expecially giving your imagination free rein – that’ll keep you young for a start!!

Dreaming of Venice was published by Canelo on 24th April in ebook. You can find out more on T. A. Williams’ website, or connect with him via Twitter.

The blog tour for Dreaming of Venice is ongoing – check out some of the other contributions here:

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A Blog A Day: The Trophy Child by Paula Daly – Review

A doting mother or a pushy parent?

Karen Bloom expects perfection. Her son, Ewan, has been something of a disappointment and she won’t be making the same mistake again with her beloved, talented child, Bronte.

Bronte’s every waking hour will be spent at music lessons and dance classes, doing extra schoolwork and whatever it takes to excel.

But as Karen pushes Bronte to the brink, the rest of the family crumbles. Karen’s husband, Noel, is losing himself in work, and his teenage daughter from his first marriage, Verity, is becoming ever more volatile. The family is dangerously near breaking point.

Karen would know when to stop . . . wouldn’t she?

What I Thought:
I absolutely LOVE Paula Daly’s books – I read Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and really enjoyed it and The Trophy Child is just as good.

What draws me to Paula Daly’s books is that they are domestic dramas and address family life, but always with a little twist – which is never the twist you actually expect it to be.

Karen – the ultimate Tiger Mother – was, I hoped, a caricature of the pushy parent, but the more I read of the book, the more I feared that actually she wasn’t, and that we all know a mother with elements of her character (I then spent the rest of the book hoping that I didn’t recognise bits of me!).

The Bloom family were each likeable and unlikeable in their own ways, and a reminder of the very complicated modern family, and I also couldn’t help feel sorry for the older children, already written off by Karen in favour of ‘her talented child’. But Bronte herself is also a sweet little character, going along with Karen’s demands without complaint just because she wants to make her mum happy.

As with Paula’s other books, the Lake District setting plays a big part in the story, and the rainy, wintry conditions of the story are described beautifully – along with the frustrations of living in an area besieged by tourists!

Another huge reason why I like these books is Joanne Aspinall. She has been the go-to police officer in all of Paula Daly’s books, and I like her. As a character she is a no-nonsense woman who has flaws and worries and I have really warmed to her, the more I read. Joanne seems to struggle in the love life department, and let’s just say I am hopeful for her after the ending of this book!

As ever, The Trophy Child has a thrilling and twisty plot which could go in any number of directions, until the solution is finally revealed, and while the book gives you all the clues you’ll need to solve the mystery yourself, it’s a bigger brain than mine that can work it all out!

The Trophy Child is published by Bantam Press. To find out more about Paula Daly, you can connect with her on Facebook.

Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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A Blog A Day – Black Knight by Andy Briggs – Review & Giveaway

Dev and his friends are back with more mind-bending tech in this third installment of the Inventory series. The World Consortium is recruiting more agents to defend the most advanced technology the world isn’t ready for, and it’s up to Dev, Lottie and Mase to train them up for action. But will they be ready before Shadow Helix’s next strike? And has Dev uncovered all the secrets of his past, or is there more to know about his special abilities?

What I Thought:
I had the privilege of taking part in the blog tour for the second book in The Inventory series, Gravity, and now the third instalment, Black Knight is here!

I was happy to heap praise on Gravity (and the first book, Iron Fist) and I am equally happy to do so here – this is a fantastic trilogy, full of adventure and guaranteed to interest even the most reluctant of readers. The original crew of Dev, Lot and Mase are joined by some new team members, with a brand new set of skills – but is all as it seems?

We also again meet Lee, that most charistmatic of villains, and discover new things about his agenda and are introduced to a sleeping giant of an enemy – could we see The Inventory and Shadow Helix join forces against this common threat in the next book??? We shall see, but rest assured a fourth book is on the way.

I really enjoy this series, as it reminds me a little of the TV show Warehouse 13 – which I loved – and also has some great sci-fi/steampunk elements, but it is also a human story, with Dev, Lot and Mason and their friendship and teamwork at the centre, so as exciting as the book is, there are moments that are quite introspective. It makes for a good mix.

Black Knight (and The Inventory series) is published by Scholastic. You can find out more about Andy Briggs and the series on his website, and you can also connect with him on Twitter.

The current blog tour is ongoing, so please do check out some of the other fantastic blogs taking part, using the hastag #BlackKnight.

But that is not all!! I am able to offer one lucky winner a copy of Black Knight in a giveaway! Just fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter – the winner will be announced next Thursday…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: I was sent a copy of the book by the pulisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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A Blog A Day: Chasing Shadows by T. A. Williams – Review

Amy had it all – money, brains and beauty. And then the accident happened.

Still recovering, this is Amy’s first time away from home. She heads for Spain, accompanied by the mysterious and troubled Luke. But, just like Amy, Luke finds he is also running from his past…

1314: A Templar Knight is also running. He meets the wife of a former comrade, the victim of a terrifying attack. Taking her under his wing, they must journey together through a dangerous world carrying a treasure of inestimable value.

As Luke and Amy travel through the stunning scenery of Northern Spain the medieval couple, so similar to themselves, emerge from the shadows of time.

What I Thought:
I originally took part in the blog tour for Chasing Shadows earlier this year, and it was the first time I had read a T. A. Williams book. I’m happy to say that I’ll soon be taking part in the blog tour for another of his books and I will definitely pick up more of his work.

The book itself interested me as historical fiction, but I was also drawn to it being a time-slip novel. Much like Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, the historical sections focus on the 1300s – but this time, we are not in Carcassonne, but on the Pilgrim’s Way through France and Spain, to Santiago de Compostela. A Templar Knight, and a woman blinded in a horrific attack try to find their way safely to Northern Spain, while fleeing from the Church.

Meanwhile, in the modern sections, a woman blinded in an accident, and her mysterious guide follow a similar path – but they are fleeing their own ghosts…

I enjoyed the book very much, finding plenty of historical detail, but also with the contemporary edge. Both stories are told well, with neither outweighing the other, and there are enough parallels between the two to keep the reader interested.

I liked T. A. Williams’ writing style, finding the book easy to get into and quick to read. Perfect as a summer read, I’d recommend this and his next book, Dreaming of Venice (Check out the blog on Friday for more info on that!).

Chasing Shadows is published by Canelo. You can find out more about the author on his website, or connect with him on Twitter.

Note: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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A Blog A Day: Australian Heroines of World War One by Susanna De Vries – Review

Gallipoli, Lemnos and the Western Front.

Australian heroines of World War One is the story of eight courageous women told through diaries, letters, original photos, paintings and maps. These eight women had the courage and strength for which the ANZACs are renowned and the compassion and tenderness that women can bring. One brave nursing sister Hilda Samsing became a whistleblower. In Belgium, Louise Creed, a Sydney journalist caught in the besieged city of Antwerp made a hair raising escape from a German firing squad. Brisbane’s Grace Wilson, ordered to establish an emergency hospital on drought ridden Lemnos Island, arrived there to find suffering ANZACs but no drinking water, tents or medical supplies. After surviving hardship on Lemnos, young Florence James-Wallace worked in France near the front line in a Casualty Clearing, treating soldiers with hideous wounds or blinded by mustard gas.

What I Thought:
A short (and unusual) foray into non-fiction for me today. I actually read Australian Heroines of World War One some time ago now, but I still find the subject fascinating – both the War itself, but also the changing role of women on the battlefield and how that ties in to the issue of womens’ rights in the early part of the 20th century.

I can’t help but find non-fiction dry, but I try to persevere as I’ve always thought that more my fault than the author’s, and this book gave me a bit of a helping hand by focussing each chapter on an individual, using diaries, letters and restrospective articles to illustrate the unique experiences of women in a war in which they were not permitted to fight.

The women featured all have a strong sense of public service and, whether as nurses or reporter, each do their bit to either improve the lot of the men in their care or, in the case of Louise Creed, report faithfully and in detail the horrors of living through and occupation.

There is so much stuff out there at the moment about WW1, given that it was ongoing 100 years ago, and this book is an excellent addition to that – and especially so as it concentrates both on the women who were there, but also on the slightly less well-known theatres of war. The popular image of WW1 is the fighting Tommy in the trenches of France and Belgium, but Gallipoli and Greece were no less deadly…

Australian Heroines of World War One is published by Pirgos Press and you can find out more about the author, Susanna De Vries, on her website.

Note: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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A Blog A Day: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton – Review

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

What I Thought:
I always start these reviews with ‘What I Thought’, but in the case of The Miniaturist, I’m not sure what I thought, hence me taking so long to review it.

It ticks so many of my boxes – historical fiction, a mysterious household secret and ‘The Miniaturist’ herself, lurking in the background, and yet it just didn’t gel for me. The book itself is well written, and some of the language is lovely and easy to read, but at other times it was a bit of a slog – for a debut though, it was very accomplished, and I may try Jessie Burton’s second book, The Muse to see if I have any better luck with that.

I certainly can’t review this as a bad book – it really isn’t – but it failed to move me in the way I think I was supposed to be moved, and that’s always disappointing!

The Miniaturist is published by Picador.

Note: I received a copy of the book from Netgalley for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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A Blog A Day: The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon – Review

Maria knew about guilt. It was a stubborn, pervasive and toxic emotion, and incredibly difficult to shake. Especially if really, deep down, you didn’t think you deserved to let it go.

Maria spends her days tending to the bees of Honeybee Haven and creating wonderful honey products to fund children in need. A former nun, Maria’s life has long been shaped by a shadowy secret and her own self-imposed penance for events in her past. The arrival of two letters, one pink, from nearby Noosa Heads, and one marked with a government crest, herald the shattering of Maria’s peaceful existence.

Before they were married, Tansy made a very serious deal with her husband, Dougall. With their elegant apartment and beachside lifestyle in Noosa, they have everything they agreed they wanted in life, so Tansy is going to ignore the feelings that might suggest she has changed her mind. On top of those not-really-there feelings, Dougall wants to move to Canada!

What I Thought:
At first glance, The Beekeeper’s Secret looks like a cosy romantic novel, end of story. In a lot of ways, it is a contemporary romance novel, but with Maria being the pivotal character, it comes with a bit more depth and a serious message – not to worry though, it is very well done and not a heavy-handed preach!

I love Australian fiction – I’m not sure why I should like it more than any other type of fiction – perhaps it’s the tremendous scope for a setting (from mountain to beach to urban sprawl), or maybe something more in the laid-back Australian attitude to things…who knows, but this book is a great example of Aussie fiction and I’d recommend it.

As I’ve said, among the familial drama in the book, there is a serious issue surrounding improprieties within the Catholic Church, which is always difficult to imagine, but those sections, and the revelation of Maria’s secret are written well and very sympathetically – this is an author with affection for her leading character.

The passages that I most enjoyed were those describing Maria’s care of her bees and her quiet work at the Honeybee Haven. It’s clear that, although she has left the church, her vows remain with her and she is living a Nun’s life in the outside world. I really took to her as a character.

I did find myself caring a little less about Maria’s niece, Tansy, and her situation, but ultimately, the two generations of family played well off each other and the book was a well-rounded contemporary novel.

The Beekeeper’s Secret is published by Allen & Unwin.

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

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A Blog A Day: Desolation by Derek Landy – Review

Book two in the mind-blowing new supernatural thriller from bestselling author DEREK LANDY, creator of international sensation Skulduggery Pleasant.

Reeling from their bloody encounter in New York City at the end of Demon Road, Amber and Milo flee north. On their trail are the Hounds of Hell – five demonic bikers who will stop at nothing to drag their quarries back to their unholy master.

Amber and Milo’s only hope lies within Desolation Hill – a small town with a big secret; a town with a darkness to it, where evil seeps through the very floorboards. Until, on one night every year, it spills over onto the streets and all hell breaks loose.

And that night is coming…

What I Thought:
I love Derek Landy’s writing – he’s got a great handle on all things supernatural, and his books have plenty of action, but he also has a brilliant turn of phrase and adds humour to what still are pretty gory books.

I first picked up Demon Road after seeing it advertised at YALC 2015, and as someone who loved the first few series of Supernatural, it was a welcome return to demons, witches and vampires. Amber is a great character – a sullen teen discovering the truth about her family and that she is an honest to goodness demon – and all the things that go along with it!

Desolation is just as good – Amber and her companion, Milo, are still travelling the back roads of the USA, trying to get to Desolation Hill, a place they can’t be tracked by the Hounds of Hell – but they walk right into another heap of Supernatural nastiness – just how will they get out of this one??

This book – and the first book – is compulsive reading. The action comes thick and fast, but there is that deft touch of humour and a caricature of a bad guy to keep it just on the right side of dark. It’s well worth picking up the trilogy (American Monsters, book 3, is out now), as you could read it all one after the other and not be bored.

There is a new Skullduggery Pleasant book due out in June, so I’ll definitely be getting hold of that and keeping an eager eye on what Derek Landy is doing next…

Note: I received a copy of the book via Netgalley for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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A Blog A Day: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes – Review

Can you commit the perfect crime?

Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist. The adopted son of a wealthy American family, he once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into anonymous retirement, he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation.

But that book will come back to haunt him. It will help NYPD detective Ben Bradley track him down. And it will take him to a rundown New York hotel room where the body of a woman is found facedown in a bath of acid, her features erased, her teeth missing, her fingerprints gone. It is a textbook murder – and Pilgrim wrote the book.

What begins as an unusual and challenging investigation will become a terrifying race-against-time to save America from oblivion. Pilgrim will have to make a journey from a public beheading in Mecca to a deserted ruins on the Turkish coast via a Nazi death camp in Alsace and the barren wilderness of the Hindu Kush in search of the faceless man who would commit an appalling act of mass murder in the name of his God.

What I Thought:
This book will shit you up. I’m not even joking. There were definite moments when I was hesitant to turn the page, and I Am Pilgrim almost ended up in the freezer on numerous occasions.

The reason it’s so unnerving is that you could see the events depicted really happening. The terrorist attack that is planned is so ingenious that it could work in real life, so you will be silently thanking whatever security forces exist in the world for the work they are doing, as you read!

As a book, it’s a monster at over 600 pages, but each page is absolutely necessary to tell the story – there’s no waffle here, just edge-of-your-seat action and the background you need to explain why both good guy and bad guy are doing what they are doing. As modern spy/terrorism thrillers go, it’s pretty high on my must-read list!

Terry Hayes is an experienced journalist and has created a fantastic character and plot in this book – I have said before that I think that not all journalists can make the leap over to fiction, but Hayes does so effortlessly, with the dialogue feeling completely natural and drawing you deeper into the book.

I Am Pilgrim was originally released in 2014, so it’s been a long wait for a follow up. The Year of The Locust is due out sometime between this May and May 2018, with – hopefully – another Pilgrim book to follow soon. I’ll definitely be picking up all Terry Hayes’ future books.

Note: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher for review purposes but all opinions are, as ever, my own.

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A Blog A Day: In Her Shadow by Louise Douglas – Review

Hannah Brown never thought she’d have a best friend like Ellen Brecht. Ellen is everything she isn’t – beautiful, daring, glamorous and fierce. Growing up together in rural Cornwall, life seems perfect. But their idyllic childhood is shattered by obsession, betrayal and, ultimately, tragedy.

Hannah has tried for twenty years to forget what happened during that terrible summer. Then, one ordinary morning at work, she glimpses a woman who is identical to Ellen. Can it really be her? And has Ellen returned to forgive her – or to punish her?

What I Thought:
In Her Shadow is split between present day and flashback, to tell the story of Hannah and her best friend, Ellen and, although categorised as a romance, it works really well as a mystery novel too. The flashback scenes are described vividly, and with a lot of heart, until it starts to fall into suspicion, and the temperature skillfully changes from warm memories to something far, far colder as the two girls fall into jealousy and recrimination about the third member of their group.

The initial premise is interesting, with Hannah thinking she has seen a ghost, and when all is finally revealed, it is heartbreaking, but has a lot of hope for the future of all the surviving characters.

Having fond memories of Cornwall from childhood, it was great to read such a love letter to the county and I would love to visit again with my own children. Overall I really enjoyed the book, and would definitely pick up more of Louise Douglas’ work in future.

In Her Shadow is published by Black Swan.

Note: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review, but all opinions are, as ever, my own.

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