Book Review: Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter

Jack and Meredith are non-identical twins; the only similarity between them is their lives rapidly falling apart. Jack’s high-flying career in advertising has crashed and burned. Meredith’s world is also crumbling – a decomposing yogurt in her fridge now a symbol of her failed marriage. Her children, Jemima and Luke, offer little support, too consumed with the worlds of online dating and amateur taxidermy.

All their lives, Jack and Meredith believed their father to be dead. One day, a throwaway comment leads Jack to question this, but with their mother fading ever-deeper into the grip of dementia, answers are hard to come by. As revelations start to untangle, the twins soon learn that what you seek is not always what you find…

What I Thought:
Arms Wide Open is definitely a book that highlights how much dysfunction can be going on right before our eyes! Jack, a seemingly successful man, with all the trappings a successful life and career can bring, is neither as happy or successful as he seems, while his twin, Meredith’s family seems to be coping well with the break up of her marriage, and yet beneath the surface, things are afoot.

I had read an enjoyed Tom Winter’s first book, Lost and Found, so was excited to read this second book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

It is a very character-driven book, so it was sad that at first Meredith’s daughter Jemima was all that is bad about teenagers (supposedly), but as the book went on, she shed some of her impatience and you realise that for all her bravado, she is still naive and sensitive in some respects.

I thought the story telling was done well, using flashback scenes to slowly unveil the truth behind the twins’ story and why Jack and Meredith’s mother seemed so supportive of Jack, and dismissive of Meredith. I was reminded of a piece I read just recently about the expectation of daughters to provide care for their elderly parents, while sons are more the golden children who are applauded for putting in minimal effort – for an illustration of this, this book is perfect!

Arms Wide Open is published by Corsair. You can connect with Tom Winter either on Twitter or Instagram.

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

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Blog Tour: Summer at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn

Morning all! I wish I could say that the novel we’re looking at today matches the weather, but while Summer at Conwenna Cove is a light, bright summer read, the day outside my window is decidedly dark and gloomy!

All the more reason, though to give this latest novel from Darcie Boleyn a read and prep yourself for the warm summer evenings…

Eve has a glittering career, a loving husband and a future. But a terrible twist of fate means she loses it all, and with nowhere left to turn she flees to her Aunt Mary’s home in Cornwall. The last thing on her mind is romance – until she meets Jack.

Jack has seen the worst things people can do to each other and realised he is better off alone. He settles in Conwenna Cove, and saves his affections for the rescue dogs he cares for. But when Eve arrives in the village he can’t deny his attraction to her.

Eve and Jack are both scared to trust, but when they come together it’s impossible for either to ignore their feelings. Can they put their fears aside and learn to love again?

What I Thought:
As I said, this book is a light, summery read evoking what’s best about living ‘Down South’. Cornwall is beautifully described and will make any reader want to make the journey to that rocky coastline and fantastic beaches.

As goes our main couple in the book, Eve and Jack, they are caring, nice people who have had bad times in their lives and now deserve something to go their way – and it definitely does!

What I think marks this book out is the plot points about the greyhound rescue. There are parallels between the rescue dogs and the characters, their reluctance to open up without careful handling being a case in point, but these parts also bring an interesting animal rights issue to the fore, raising awareness without stepping outside the bounds of the story. Cleverly done.

This book is definitely worth putting on your ‘summer read’ list, and Darcie Boleyn has also been kind enough to suggest some of her current favourites to complete it…

Darcie Boleyn’s Top Ten Romance Books

This is always very difficult to do because I’ve read so many fabulous books and there are so many I still want to read. In fact, my TBR pile is out of control because I can’t resist buying every great book I see. So, in no particular order, here are some (but not all) that I’ve read and enjoyed recently:

The Little Cottage on Lovelace Lane by Alice Ross
One Hundred Proposals by Holly Martin
Summer at Oyster Bay by Jenny Hale
The Scandalous Proposal of Lord Bennett by Raven McAllan
Blurring the Line by Kierney Scott
How to Bake the Perfect Pecan Pie by Gina Calanni
Love, Lies and Lemon Cake by Sue Watson
Driving Home for Christmas by A. L. Michael
Game of Scones by Samantha Tonge
The Christmas Project by Maxine Morrey

Summer at Conwenna Cove is out now in Kindle format (and at the time of writing, a snip at just 99p!), published by Canelo. To find out more about Darcie Boleyn, you can catch up with her blog, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

The blog tour is ongoing, so please do check out some of these fantastic blogs for reviews and more exclusive content!

Note: I received a copy of the book from Netgalley for the blog tour and to provide an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

High atop a Los Angeles skyscraper, an office Christmas party turns into a deadly cage-match between a lone New York City cop and a gang of international terrorists. Every action fan knows it could only be the explosive big-screen blockbuster Die Hard. But before Bruce Willis blew away audiences as unstoppable hero John McClane, author Roderick Thorp knocked out thriller readers with the bestseller that started it all.

A dozen heavily armed terrorists have taken hostages, issued demands, and promised bloodshed all according to plan. But they haven’t counted on a death-defying, one-man cavalry with no shoes, no backup, and no intention of going down easily. As hot-headed cops swarm outside, and cold-blooded killers wield machine guns and rocket launchers inside, the stage is set for the ultimate showdown between anti-hero and uber-villains. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fight to the death. Ho ho ho!

What I Thought:
I’ve been meaning to read Nothing Lasts Forever for years, but never got around to it, so when I came across this edition, commemorating 25 years since the first Die Hard movie, I thought I would finally give it a go.

There are – of course – some notable differences between this book and the film (the name of the main character for a start) but, on the whole, the 1979 novel stands up well to the movie, and is also a pretty solid action thriller if you disregard what followed.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the broad story, but there are elements here that were changed, or left out which add a great deal of extra detail to the plot and show the main character – Joe Leland in the book – as more than just a man willing to kill to liberate the hostages. There is also a great section in this commemorative edition that features Roderick Thorp’s original notes on the book and the character. It’s good to see those both transcribed and in his own handwriting. There is also, at the end of the book, a snippet of Walter Wager’s novel, 58 Minutes, which was the basis for Die Hard 2.

As I said, Nothing Lasts Forever is definitely recommended for fans of the Die Hard franchise, but it is also good introduction to those 1970s action/disaster thrillers that went on to dominate the big screen.

Nothing Lasts Forever is published by Graymalkin Media.

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

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Blog Tour: All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

Twenty-one year old Beth is in prison. The thing she did is so bad she doesn’t deserve ever to feel good again.

But her counsellor, Erika, won’t give up on her. She asks Beth to make a list of all the good things in her life. So Beth starts to write down her story, from sharing silences with Foster Dad No. 1, to flirting in the Odeon on Orange Wednesdays, to the very first time she sniffed her baby’s head.

But at the end of her story, Beth must confront the bad thing.

What is the truth hiding behind her crime? And does anyone – even a 100% bad person – deserve a chance to be good?

What I Thought:
So many different thoughts about this book! Considering that it’s Clare Fisher’s debut novel, All The Good Things is a remarkably accomplished work. Although the novel is overshadowed by ‘the very bad thing’, it shows that even in the darkest of situations, there can be good things.

Beth is a complicated character, dealing at a young age with a mother with mental health problems, and being taken into care. Beth’s experiences in care show what a precarious position children in the system can be in – this is by no means a criticism as I don’t know enough about it to criticise – but Beth works her way through several foster homes, with no real support for her own mental health, and that voice in her head telling her not to try to be good, as she’s a bad person. End of.

As each chapter unfolds, we see the stages of a young life unravelling, until ‘the very bad thing’ is revealed and although we know that it was wrong, and we know that Beth is in prison for it, it’s very hard to make a black and white judgement on whether Beth herself is so very bad, or if her circumstances, leading right back to her mother’s difficulties make ‘the very bad thing’ somewhat inevitable.

I said at the time I finished the book that it left me sad and unsettled, and it did, but I’m so glad I read it. It’s a brilliant book and from the perspective of an older person, reading about such a young girl it will make you weep.

All The Good Things is published on 1st June 2017 by Viking. You can find out more about Clare Fisher on her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

The blog tour for All The Good Things is ongoing – a fantastic 52 bloggers are taking part – so please do check out some of the blogs below…

Note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes, and for participation in the blog tour. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Crimson Lake by Candice Fox

Six minutes. That’s all it takes to ruin Detective Ted Conkaffey’s life. Accused but not convicted of Claire’s abduction, he escapes north, to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake.

Amanda Pharrell knows what it’s like to be public enemy no.1. Maybe it’s her murderous past that makes her so good as a private investigator, tracking lost souls in the wilderness. Her latest target, missing author Jake Scully, has a life more shrouded in secrets than her own – so she enlists help from the one person in town more hated than she is: Ted Conkaffey.

But the residents of Crimson Lake are watching the pair’s every move. And for Ted, a man already at breaking point, this town is offering no place to hide…

What I Thought:
Wow! On reading the first couple of chapters of Crimson Lake, I was sold. Originally, I received the book to participate in a blog tour, but you can be absolutely sure that I will be pre-ordering book two as soon as I am able.

Candice Fox’s writing is really fresh and totally gripping. Ted Conkaffey is an excellent central character, put into an impossible and unthinkable situation, and eventually paired with Amanda Pharrell, an erratic, convicted murderer-turned private investigator.

The descriptive writing beautifully conveys the cloying, small-town atmosphere of Crimson Lake and there are some easily detestable local characters, attempting to make Ted’s life a misery.

With a top-notch crime plot winding through it, Crimson Lake is a definite recommendation from me!

Crimson Lake is out now, published by Arrow Books. You can find out more about the author, and what she’s currently up to on her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter.

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

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Book Review: The Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett

I was recently invited to take part in a blog tour for Bamboo Road, the third book in the Bamboo trilogy, by Ann Bennett. Ordinarily, I like to review books on their own, but I felt that this trio was ripe to be reviewed as a set.

The first book, Bamboo Heart tells the story of Tom Ellis, a young man seeking his fortune in Singapore who ends up working on the Japanese ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand. His daughter, Laura some 40 years later is inspired to find out what her father went through in those awful years.

This story is I think the most touching for me, as it comes out of Ann Bennett’s own search to discover what her father went through in a similar situation to Tom Ellis. Although there is a focus on the dreadful experiences of Commonwealth military in the prison camps of the Far East, it is never without empathy. It shows the horror of how those men lived and survived in awful circumstances.

The next book, Bamboo Island, focuses more on Malaya and the colonist experience, as we follow Juliet Crosby, a young English woman as she is trapped in Singapore as the Japanese invade, and forced into hiding, eventually living through the deprivations of Changi prison. Again, Ann Bennett’s impeccable research reveals some of the dreadful conditions and fear of living through an occupation, and there is a great deal of factual information without it detracting from the story being told. There is a good mystery plot woven through this novel too, with a surprise ending which is heart-warming.

The third book in the trilogy, Bamboo Road, deals with the experience of the Thai people during WW2, focusing on Sirinya and her family, ordinary people who are drawn into doing extraordinary things to help the Thai underground during occupation.

All three novels are an excellent read if your interest runs to historical fiction. I sometimes feel that in this country we focus a lot on the war that happened in Europe, and forget that actually thousands of our troops fought and died, or were held prisoner in the Far East, going through starvation conditions and ill treatment, all while building a railway through the jungle. These books bring that into focus and are definitely a great starting point in learning more about that aspect of WW2 in an accessible way.

Aside from that though, the books have very human stories at their heart, and show people defying the odds, and their own weaknesses to come through the worst of circumstances.

The Bamboo Trilogy concluded with Bamboo Road, which was published in March. All three books are published by Monsoon Books and you can find out more about Ann Bennett on her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Note: I was sent copies of these books for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Crimson Lake by Candice Fox

Morning all! After last month’s epic postathon, we’re straight off on blog tour again for a fantastic new crime novel from Candice Fox. Crimson Lake is compulsive reading, and pairs up former detective Ted Conkaffey – now suspected of abducting a child – and Amanda Pharrell, a convicted murderer now out of jail and working as a private detective.

I’ll review the book later, but Candice has kindly written a precis of the main characters in the book, just to give you a taste of what you can expect…

Ted Conkaffey: A drug squad knock-about and ordinary family man, Ted’s world is shattered when circumstances bring him within seconds of the abduction of a young girl. As Ted deals with the aftermath of being accused of this terrible crime, he finds those closest to him aren’t in his corner, and his real allies might just be the scariest people he’s ever met. Gentle, soulful and kind, Ted teaches us that sometimes good people find themselves with no one to trust.

Amanda Pharrell: When she was seventeen years old, Amanda Pharrell brutally murdered her schoolmate in a car hidden in the Cairns wetlands. It’s a fact she doesn’t deny, doesn’t excuse and doesn’t talk about. The tattooed investigator has done her time, but that doesn’t mean the stain of what she did has left her. Bizarrely behaved and decidedly tactless, Amanda is a whirlwind of craziness even the best readers will struggle to figure out.

Dr Val Gratteur: People who work with bodies have no illusions – death leaves us in our barest forms, with no beauty, no secrets, no lies to tell. Val Gratteur is an unexpected ally of Ted, but it’s her no-illusions attitude that makes her the perfect companion for Ted; she’s taking no one’s word for it that he’s guilty, but relying on facts alone.

Jake Scully: Jake Scully’s life was filled with secrets and lies, although as a writer that was his stock in trade. The big, quiet man is renowned the world over for his best-selling series, taking elements from the bible and jazzing them up with vampires and werewolves. With his glamorous wife and hard-headed son, Jake appears to have the perfect life, until something draws him out of the house one day, never to be seen again.

Crimson Lake is out on 4th May from Arrow Books. To find out more about Candice Fox, and her progress on the sequel to Crimson Lake, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

The blog tour for Crimson Lake is ongoing, so please do take a look at the other participants below:

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A Blog A Day: The Big Finish!!

After a full month of posting and reviewing – it’s all done! For the month of April, I decided to post once per day, and hopefully clear the shameful backlog of reviews that I had built up, and I am pleased to say that I have done it!

Thank you to everyone who has stayed with me over the month – I’m hoping that this commitment to the blog for a whole month will mean I get a bit better at updating it going forward…we shall see!

On this note, there is a blog tour coming up on Tuesday for a fantastic new crime novel, set in Australia – I’ll tell you what I thought of it then.

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A Blog A Day: Dreaming of Venice by T. A. Williams – Review

Find love, friendship and prosecco – in the magical city of Venice
Life is tough for Penny. A dead end job in a London café, a boyfriend in Australia (what could go wrong?) and an art career going nowhere. But then Penny is approached with an extraordinary proposition.

It isn’t going to be easy but, if she can pull it off, she will turn her life around and at long last see the fulfilment of her dream – to visit Venice. And, just maybe, find true happiness with the handsome man of her dreams.

But can dreams come true?

What I Thought:
I participated in the blog tour for Dreaming of Venice yesterday – huge thanks to Trevor for writing a piece for me – so I though I’d get on quick-smart and review the book today.

After having enjoyed Chasing Shadows, which had a definite historical element to it, I was interested to read a more contemporary novel from the same author – how would the two compare? I have to say, favourably!

Dreaming of Venice is a light, romantic novel which is perfect as a quick read. There is plenty of historical and cultural information about Venice itself, and lots of art history, given that the lead character is an artist. The ‘extraordinary proposition’ is dealt with well, and there is a surprising amount of ethical dilemma and discussion of mental health for a book that is so easy to read.

Penny was a likeable character and it’s easy to wish good things for her. Similarly, the three other leading ladies of this book are excellently written and worth rooting for.

Dreaming of Venice was published by Canelo on 24th April, and you can find out more about the book and the author on his website.

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

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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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