Book Review: Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

‘Back in those days My Old Man was king of what they called the three-martini lunch. This meant that in dimly lit steakhouses all over Manhattan my father made bold, impetuous deals over gin and oysters. That was how it was done.’

Cliff Nelson, the privileged son of a New York publishing house editor, is slumming it around Greenwich village in 1958, enjoying the booze, drugs and the idea that he’s the next Kerouac.

Fresh-faced Eden Katz arrives in New York with the ultimate ambition to become an editor, but she’s shocked at the stumbling blocks she encounters.

Miles Tillman, a black publishing house messenger boy, is an aspiring writer who feels he straddles various worlds and belongs to none.

Their choices, concealments and betrayals ripple outwards leaving none of them unchanged.

What I Thought:
In the original press information, Three Martini Lunch was described as ‘Mad Men for the publishing world’ and certainly that description stands up as Suzanne Rindell vividly describes 1950s New York, a time when sharp-suited men ruled publishing and as many deals were done at the lunch table as over the office desk.

To this face-paced and drink-fuelled backdrop are set three young people hoping to make their mark on the world – two of them are held back by their gender and race, the other purely by his complete lack of talent and huge ego. As we follow each character, their stories intersect meaning that we hear from each of their points of view what they are going through, but also get their perspectives on each other.

This book has a lot to say about race and the place of women in a white, male dominated time and industry and, even in Greenwich Village – the supposed liberal heart of 1950s New York – there are social and sexual taboos that hum under the surface of parties, poetry and rundown apartments. Each of the characters has a challenge to face – Eden’s ambition to become an editor suffers on two fronts – the fact that she’s a woman and the fact that she’s a Jew, while Marcus is all but written off because he is black, but also struggles with the fact that he is gay – at the time, still a crime. Only Cliff’s struggle is self-made as he fights against the feeling that he could really be great if someone gave him a break…

As I said, the descriptions of the Village and New York really bring the environment alive and the Mad Men comparison is really quite valid. My one minor niggle with the book is that it starts to lag in the middle section – it takes a little while to get going again, but once it does, it is compulsive reading and Marcus’s story is particularly heartbreaking.

Three Martini Lunch is published by Allison & Busby and you can find out more about Suzanne Rindell on her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

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

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog Tour: Close to Home by Cara Hunter

HOW CAN A CHILD GO MISSING WITHOUT A TRACE?

Last night, eight-year-old Daisy Mason disappeared from a family party. No one in the quiet suburban street saw anything – or at least that’s what they’re saying.

DI Adam Fawley is trying to keep an open mind. But he knows the nine times out of ten, it’s someone the victim knew.

That means someone is lying…

And that Daisy’s time is running out.

What I Thought:
As a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, Close to Home is about to get huge and that is excellent news, as it’s a really inventive thriller, with a very neat twist.

I read a lot of crime and police procedural novels and the characters in them definitely cover certain types – broken homes, women working hard but not given a chance to shine, the new boy trying to impress and, while there are some of these in Close to Home, Cara Hunter has found a really unique and tragic back story for her lead detective, DI Adam Fawley. I won’t go into detail as it is skillfully revealed over the course of the book, but it does give Fawley a connection with a case involving children that, at times seems hard for him to bear.

Oxford is a very popular setting in fiction, but this book provides a new perspective on it with the action taking place not among the ancient academic buildings, but on a new housing estate that is clinging to its prestigious older neighbour for all it’s worth and playing home to some great upwardly-mobile characters, including the Mason family.

The Masons are a beautifully depicted dysfunctional family and there are a lot of skeletons in their cupboard, each more damning than the last. Despite the fact that their daughter has disappeared, it is very difficult to feel sorry for them.

That’s about all I can say without giving things away, and that brings me onto my one niggle with the book – and it’s not a niggle with the story, it’s with the Richard and Judy Book Club edition of the novel. Let me just say that if you want to maintain the element of surprise as you read along, avoid Judy’s book club notes until you’ve finished! I felt that adding these notes at the beginning of the book was a mis-step for Penguin and that the tone they set would have been better placed at the end. I’ll be taking my own advice in future and leaving note-reading until afterwards!

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Close to Home and have bookmarked the second book in the Adam Fawley series, In the Dark, which is out in July and available for pre-order now.

Close to Home is published by Penguin, and available now.

This post is part of a blog tour for Close to Home, which is ongoing – for more reviews and exclusive content, please check out some of the fab blogs below:

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

Posted in blog tour, Book Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Forever Geek by Holly Smale

My name is Harriet Manners and I’ll be a geek forever…

Harriet Manners knows almost every fact there is.

Modelling isn’t a sure-fire route to popularity. Neither is making endless lists.

The people you love don’t expect you to transform into someone else.

Statistically you are more likely to not meet your Australian ex-boyfriend in Australia than bump into him there.

So on the trip of a lifetime Down Under Harriet’s to-do lists are gone and it’s Nat’s time to shine! Yet with nearly-not-quite-boyfriend Jasper back home, Harriet’s completely unprepared to see supermodel ex Nick. Is the fashion world about to turn ugly for GEEK GIRL?

It’s time for Harriet to face the future. Time to work out where her heart lies. To learn how to let go…

What I Thought:
What a sad day – after reading all of Harriet’s adventures, I found myself reading her very last! In Forever Geek, the bubbly and enthusiastic Harriet – who sometimes makes the smallest of errors in social situations – is again travelling the world, trying to offer her own unique brand of help to her friends and family. Needless to say, things don’t always go to plan!

As finales go, Forever Geek is a fitting ending to a series which has been hugely fun to read, but that has also tried to convey the message that even though we’ve all got our quirks, with family and friends rallying around, nothing is as bad as it seems. There is also love, heartbreak and Harriet’s globe-trotting modelling mishaps, which do lead to some laugh-out-loud moments.

Without spoiling the book, there is in this book a real sense of Harriet growing up and dealing with some very adult situations and emotions within her family and in her relationships, and that is indicative of the series as a whole – Harriet was an immature young girl when we first met her, but as we leave her, she’s on the brink of spreading her wings and experiencing new things on her own – a real lesson for girls of her age reading this book!

Although it is a sad farewell to Harriet, this is a series that is always a joy to dip into and re-read which, I suppose, is the mark of a great set of novels!

Forever Geek (and the rest of the series) is published by Harper Collins.

Please note: I read a review copy of this book via Netgalley but all opinions are, as ever, my own.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog Tour: On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen

85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practising hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his custard cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.

But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying…

He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.

What I Thought:
Octogenarian Hendrik Groen returns to diary-writing, after a year off and brings us up to date with the doings of the Old-But-Not-Dead club!

On the Bright Side is a fantastic sequel to Hendrik’s original diary (both translated by Hester Velmans) and is equally charming and full of passion for life and a healthy respect for ageing and the inevitable outcome. I hasten to add that there is not a depressing emphasis on death, but given that Hendrik lives in a care facility, it does come up.

As with the first diary, Hendrik and the club focus their energies on outings, experiencing new cuisine and putting a fly in the ointment for the facility’s management – keeping life interesting is the name of the game. On some days, there is momentous International news, but on others there is simply the news that any talk of ailments at one of the lunch tables in strictly forbidden, but whatever Hendrik writes about, it is with charm, affection and a real sense of his and his companions’ efforts to stay connected with a world that perhaps moves a little faster than it used to.

On the Bright Side works as a standalone book, but there is a lot to be gained by reading The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen first, as it charts the origin of the Old-But-Not-Dead club, and gives a little detail on Hendrik’s life before the club came about – there is so much of a difference!

Although written about elderly people in an elderly care setting, there is a lot in this book for people of all ages – I suppose the young assume they know it all, and that their experience is unique but dipping into the diary proves that we all experience the same things, have the same insecurities and it’s our responses to it that differ. As better healthcare and conditions mean we are all living longer, we need to think about how we are going to fill our twilight years – taking a leaf out of the Old-But-Not-Dead club’s book is well worth thinking about!

On the Bright Side is published on 11th January by Michael Joseph.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the release of On the Bright Side. Do check out some of the other fab blogs involved:

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

Posted in blog tour, Book Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Duke’s Temptation

Tortured duke Gibb Alford has vowed never to love again…until a beautiful French knife-thrower brings him to his knees.

When Gibb Alford, Duke of Menteith, saves a beautiful French knife-thrower from the unwanted attentions of a fellow aristocrat he is ill-prepared for the immediate tug of attraction to the beautiful Evangeline. Widowed, he has sworn off love forever, so he can well do without this temptation.

Evangeline certainly doesn’t want the complication of being in the sights of one smoky-eyed Scottish Duke. She’s a lady on a mission, with no time for love or dalliance.

However, fate and life have other plans and gradually Gibb and Evangeline become a couple.

As each struggles with the demons of their past, Evangeline finds life in the ton difficult. The spurned aristocrat Gibb saved her from is not prepared to give in and retire gracefully. And while Gibb fights the man, he also declares war on his emotions. When Evangeline’s past is revealed to her, everything changes. She has a decision to make. Fight for Gibb—or flee to a safe but unfulfilled future.

As for her Duke… All is fair in love and war—right?

What I Thought:
The Duke’s Temptation is a slightly more romance-based novel than I would normally choose, but since it fell within my enjoyment of historical fiction, I thought I would give it a try.

Raven McAllan is a new author to me but, looking at her listings on Amazon, she is quite prolific, turning out a number of titles featuring bodice-ripping dukes and their ladies. What sets apart this book and – I would assume – her other titles, is that the lady in question is bold, strong and not at all given to swooning, which is a real treat in a novel set in this period.

Knife-thrower for hire, Evangeline, has a mysterious past but catches the duke’s eye as being so very different to the twittering maidens vying for his affections, affections which are locked away thanks to his own demons.

Our tempted Duke, Gibb, is a dark and brooding man of good fortune and yet he will not commit himself to marriage again after the complicated death of his wife. Will he change his mind after saving Evangeline from a nobleman seeking revenge?

A charming, light read with plenty of period detail and sizzling romance, The Duke’s Temptation is worth adding to your Kindle.

I was lucky enough to host an extract of the book as part of a blog tour last year, so why not try a taster?

The Duke’s Temptation is published by Totally Bound. To find out more about the author, you can check out her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

England, September 1939

Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go…

Australia, six-weeks later

The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted onto dry land in handcuffs.

What has she done?

What I Thought:
Dangerous Crossing is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, based purely on the fantastic Art Deco cover on the hardback. While that cover does not make it over to the paperback release, the book inside beautifully captures the late 1930s and a world on the brink of war.

Lily Shepherd is a Third Class passenger, her passage paid in return for her going into domestic service in Australia, but she crosses class lines to befriend some of the First Class passengers – namely the mysterious Max and Eliza Campbell – who come to dominate Lily’s time on the voyage.

There is a great deal of period detail, captured in all things from the class divide, to the Mussolini posters when the party goes ashore and to the tensions that are raised when Italian and Jewish passengers come aboard, making for Australia. Much of this can be attributed to a diary the author found, she explains in the book club notes of this edition, chronicling a similar, real-life voyage made by a young girl under the same scheme as Lily.

The book builds slowly, emphasising the claustrophobia of being on a ship for 6 weeks with the same people, and little chance to go ashore, until the final unguessable mystery unfolds in only the last few pages, and proves absolutely scandalous for the age.

Beautifully written, Dangerous Crossing is a perfect modern tribute to the mystery novels of the 1930s and definitely recommended.

Dangerous Crossing is published by Black Swan.

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

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog Tour: Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson

Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of the deserted village of Kálfshamarvík. Did she jump, or did something more sinister take place beneath the lighthouse and the abandoned old house on the remote rocky outcrop? With winter closing in and the snow falling relentlessly, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s mother and young sister also lost their lives in this same spot, twenty-five years earlier. As the dark history and its secrets of the village are unveiled, and the death toll begins to rise, the Siglufjordur detectives must race against the clock to find the killer, before another tragedy takes place. Dark, chilling and complex, Whiteout is a haunting, atmospheric and stunningly plotted thriller from one of Iceland’s bestselling crime writers.

What I Thought:
For someone who counts themselves as a crime fan, I’ve – surprisingly – not read a scandinavian crime novel until now, and I’m delighted to say that after reading White Out I will definitely be choosing more.

I feel slightly at a disadvantage having started the Dark Iceland series with book five, but this is more my problem than the novel’s, as it does not rely too heavily on what has gone before – just a few quick references – and has its own tense and twisty storyline.

The setting of the book in a rural, barely-populated village at a time of year when people are trying to wind down for the Christmas holidays gives the book a claustrophobic feel and a limited pool of suspects, but Ragnar Jónasson is a master of misdirection, pointing the finger at all those who knew the dead girl and keeping us guessing until the final few pages.

In the age of CSI, it’s refreshing to read a novel where the skills of the personnel are valued more highly than DNA and fingerprints alone, and Ari Thór Arason’s instincts are definitely on show in this book – even if they are at odds with his superiors. Even without reading any other Dark Iceland books, I can sense that this is a theme!

I try and read a good selection of translated works, so I always try and credit the translator in my reviews as a great novel can be made or broken in translation. In this case, it is excellently and seemlessly translated by Quentin Bates.

Shortly after receiving this book for review, I was lucky enough to win a copy of Nightblind and I’m hoping to take a leaf out of Ari Thór Arason’s and make that book a part of my Christmas reading.

Whiteout is published by http://orendabooks.co.uk. For more information on Ragnar Jónasson and his other novels, you can check out his website, or connect with him on Twitter.

This post is part of an EPIC blog tour to support the release of Whiteout – do check out some of the other fantastic blogs involved by searching the #Whiteout hashtag.

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

Posted in blog tour, Book Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Beta Mum – Adventures in Alpha Land by Isabella Davidson

When Sophie Bennett moves from a quiet sleepy suburb of Toronto to glitzy west London, she doesn’t know where she has landed: Venus or Mars. Her three-year-old daughter Kaya attends Cherry Blossoms, the most exclusive nursery in London, where Sophie finds herself adrift in a sea of Alpha Mums. These mothers are glamorous, gorgeous, competitive and super rich, especially Kelly, the blonde, beautiful and bitchy class rep.

Struggling to fit in and feeling increasingly isolated, Sophie starts ‘The Beta Mum’, an anonymous blog describing her struggles with the Alpha Mums. But when her blog goes viral, she risks ruining everything for herself and her daughter. How long will it be until they discover her true identity? Is her marriage strong enough to survive one of her follower’s advances? And will she ever fit in with the Alpha Mums?

What I Thought:
No-one likes to admit that they might be part of a clique, but invariably mums – and it does always seem to be the mums, the dads just seem to get on with it – on the school run do tend to fall into types and groups. The Beta Mum shines a light onto one of those groups, and a woman desperately trying to fit into it but it (thankfully) is free of a lot of the snark that seems to go with modern parenting. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good snark now and again, but it seems to me that too much of what goes on on the Internet is designed at throwing shade on people who don’t parent the way you do. This book, less so.

The Beta Mum is definitely made by Sophie herself – she’s a mum who has found herself in completely new surroundings and is trying the best she can to fit in, so that her child fits in and, ultimately, isn’t that what we are all trying to do as parents, despite feeling like the spotty teenagers we once were?? She casts a witty and observant eye on the proceedings at her exclusive pre-school and turns them into a blog that she thinks no-one will read. The trouble starts when she is discovered!

The Alpha Mums that inhabit Alphaland are caricatures, but their traits are instantly recognisable. They are also shown to have a more human side towards the end of the novel, which is what sets this apart – it dares to suggest that even the most cartoonish of playground characters is, deep-down, as flawed as the rest of us.

This book is a light and funny read and definitely worth fitting into those five spare minutes every day that mums have!

The Beta Mum was published in August 2017. For more information on the book, and Isabella Davidson, check out the Notting Hill Yummy Mummy Blog, which she also writes.

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

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog Tour: A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carré

Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, has retired to his family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London are to be scrutinised by a generation with no memory of the Cold War. Somebody must be made to pay for innocent blood once spilt in the name of the greater good.

What I Thought:
Until The Night Manager showed up on TV, with Mr Hiddleston smouldering away in the title role, I think spy thrillers had a bit of a reputation as old hat – how could a gritty, morally ambiguous story of shadowy men and women fighting the Cold War possibly resonate with our delicate, modern sensibilities?

In A Legacy of Spies, John le Carré takes a brilliant approach to the deeds and misdeeds of George Smiley and his colleagues – by not ignoring the generation that came after, but by putting them centre stage, judging the means and methods of an earlier and more precarious time. And while the book focuses on Cold War espionage, it really does have something to say about modern life and our propensity to re-examine deeds from the past and judge them through our modern filter. Certainly no-one would argue that some of the methods employed by the world’s most secretive agencies were ‘right’ by modern standards, but in a time when there was genuine danger of nuclear war, who is to say what was and what was not acceptable?

If you’re looking for answers to that question, then this is not the book for you as Peter Guillam, as a former spy, is not inclined to give you the answer. Instead, he takes us through his official reports, created during Operation Windfall, and then tells us the truth – or at the very least the half-truth. By the end of the book questions still remain, but about those you’ll have to make up your own mind!

I very much enjoyed the style of A Legacy of Spies, the inclusion of correspondence and reports filed while the main story was going on, and although obviously not with every document, Peter’s thoughts about them – sometimes even a one-line interjection by him. In this way, the action builds at a good pace and as Peter witholds information from the people who would happily sell him out to the courts, there is a a sense of being one of the gang – he’s happy to tell the reader some semblance of the truth and we’re one step ahead of the lawyers…

Having read this book, and having watched The Night Manager, I’d be happy to go back to John le Carré’s back catalogue seeing as it does include some of the best novels in the spy thriller genre – perhaps a little moral ambiguity would be good for us?

A Legacy of Spies was published by Viking on 7th September, and you can find out more about John le Carré on his website.

This post is also part of a blog tour to support A Legacy of Spies, so please do check out some of the other fantastic blogs taking part.

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

Posted in blog tour | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog Tour: Sally Emerson and Broken Bodies

An unusual blog tour today, as it does not concern one book, but a fantastic reissue of all of Sally Emerson’s novels from Quartet books.

So far, I’ve read Fire Child and Heat (review to follow), but am delighted to have more to come!

I’ll hand over to Sally, as she reveals more about her inspiration behind Broken Bodies which completes a gorgeous-looking set of novels…

Quartet’s brilliant reissues of my novels is now complete. They’re a set of six, all with dazzling covers, and include the bestselling ‘Fire Child’, ‘Separation’, ‘Heat’, ‘Second Sight’ and ‘Broken Bodies’ as well as ‘Listeners’, just out, with its disturbing evocation of a woman losing her control after her husband leaves her. But of all my novels, ‘Broken Bodies’ (Quartet £10) is the easiest for me to write about because there are public subjects involved, not least the story of Mary Elgin the wife of Elgin who removed some of the marble statues from the Parthenon in Athens.

I knew I had my novel when I was in the British Museum and standing in front of the magnificent Parthenon or Elgin marbles, my heart beating fast, and I noted a girl in a long green coat beside me and began to imagine a story around her. It was in a way a love story. A man, a historian like her, would come and stand beside her and make some knowledgeable remark but she would know so much more. Their rivalry would begin like this. All my novels begin with a central image.

A few days earlier in the British Library I had discovered a volume of the letters of Mary Elgin, the wife of Lord Elgin Though the girl in the green coat was my present-day heroine there was no doubt that the other heroine was going to be the charming, vivacious and observant Mary who travelled to Constantinople in 1799 with the unpleasant Elgin, taught the harem Scottish reels, introduced the smallpox vaccine to Turkey, but faced ruin and the loss of her beloved children when she fell in love with another man while trying to save her husband from imprisonment. So there are at least two love stories in ‘Broken Bodies’.

Anne Fitzgerald and the American Patrick Browning turn out both to be researching the subject of Mary Elgin, and they fight to lay their hands on her diaries which unlike her letters have never been published. There is a momentous secret in the diaries, a secret which means it isn’t just historians who want to find these diaries.
The story weaves Mary’s diaries, based on her letters, with the tale of the broken loves of Anne and Patrick. The Broken Bodies of the title are both the Elgin or Parthenon marbles and the tortured love affairs from which Anne and Patrick struggle.

Like some but not all of my six reissued novels (‘Fire Child’ throws the reader straight into the diaries of my malevolent but glorious young hero and heroine who seduce and destroy but love living) the story starts almost languidly but gathers pace until the readers realises this is a not just a blend of love story and evocation of Mary’s dramatic life in the 1800s but a thriller which takes the reader through the streets of London and to Athens.

The Times called it ‘a most remarkable and elegant novel’ while Publishing News wrote that it is ‘mysterious, compelling and strangely erotic…a clever mixture of thriller and passionate love story which holds the reader spellbound’. The Sunday Express reviewer observed that the ending was ‘unexpected and perfect’ and wished she could tell everyone what it was. My novels, as the Scotsman has pointed out, suggest ‘the fragility of our civilized state, the menace that lies just below the surface’. I like that sense of menace, and I like passion and I love a proper ending. For me, writing a novel is a rough voyage of discovery with Eldorado at the end. I discover my characters, my themes, as I write. The characters talk to me, as poor Mary Elgin talked to me, and I made her live again I hope, let her tell her side of the story. The ending vindicates her and her role in the removal of the marbles. But I very much hope you’ll not guess what it is until you reach the end. For after all, the end crowns all.

Huge thanks to Sally for sharing her thoughts on Broken Bodies which, along with Sally’s other novels, is available now in the Rediscovered Classics series from Quartet Books.

You can find out more about Sally and her work at her website www.sallyemerson.com, or connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a short blog tour to celebrate the release of Listeners and Broken Bodies so please do visit the blogs listed below for more:

Posted in blog tour | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments