Blog Tour: Love Songs for Sceptics by Christina Pishiris

When she was a teenager, Zoë Frixos fell in love with Simon Baxter, her best friend and the boy next door. But his family moved to America before she could tell him how she felt and, like a scratched record, she’s never quite moved on. Now, almost twenty years later, Simon is heading back to London, newly single and as charming as ever…

But as obstacles continue to get in her way – Simon’s perfect ex-girlfriend, her brother’s big(ish) fat(ish) Greek wedding, and an obnoxious publicist determined to ruin her career – Zoë begins to wonder whether, after all these years, she and Simon just aren’t meant to be.

What if, despite what all the songs and movies say, your first love isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be? What if, instead Zoë and Simon are forever destined to shuffle around their feelings for each other, never quite getting the steps right…

What I Thought:

Oh how welcome is it, as we move into rainy, autumn days to have a romantic, heartwarming romance novel to fall back on?

With Love Songs for Sceptics, Christina Pishiris has hit upon a perfect formula for me – an unlucky-in-love but plucky lead character with a brace of handsome swains vying for her affections, all topped off with what would be a killer Spotify playlist!

I just loved this book – the idea of first love coming to fruition instantly appeals, but the whole thing is written in such a compelling way with lots of mishaps and misunderstandings, making the journey tremendous fun.

Zoë is a great character, trying to keep Re:Sound, her music magazine afloat, despite threats from the parent company to close it all down, working hard to keep her staff in a job and pinning all her hopes on an interview with a reclusive former rock legend – and Zoë’s personal idol.

She reacts to the stress of her home and work situations in the same way that I’m sure we all would, but is always easy to root for as she tries not to compromise her professional integrity just to get the story.

The combination of the romance of this novel, the humour and the music that is embedded throughout – even each chapter name is a song – make this very easy to recommend and, as a debut in the genre, I was very impressed.

Love Songs for Sceptics is published by Simon & Schuster.

To find out more about Christina Pishiris and her work, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Love Songs for Sceptics. Why not check out some of the participating blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content?

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

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Blog Tour: Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin

London, 1858.

Passionate, contradictory, and fiercely loyal to his friends, John Ruskin is an eccentric genius, famed across Britain for his writings on art and philosophy. Haunted by a scandalous past and determined never to love again, the 39-year-old Ruskin becomes infatuated with his enigmatic young student, Rose La Touche, an obsession with profound consequences that will change the course of his life and work.

Written in a style recalling Victorian literature and spanning a period of twenty years, the story poses questions about the nature of love, the boundaries of parenthood, and compatibility in marriage. Unto This Last is a portrait of Ruskin’s tormented psyche and reveals a complex and misunderstood soul, longing for a life just out of reach.

What I Thought:

It’s always a privilege to read something that is clearly an author’s labour of love and Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin is definitely such a book.

At near to 700 pages, this book is rich in period detail covering a 20 year period of the Victorian era. It places John Ruskin at the heart of that period’s intellectualism and appreciation of art and culture, and vividly describes the life of this highly educated, liberal and complex man as he wrestles with an infatuation that was frowned upon even at the time.

Although this book is a fictionalised account of Ruskin’s life, Rebecca Lipkin explains in the afterword that Ruskin was a comprehensive diarist and correspondent, so there is a rich seam of source material which gives an intimate feel to the book, especially in the section dealing with John Ruskin’s failed marriage to Effie Gray.

After I’d finished the book, I was glad to see the author acknowledging the complexity of Ruskin as, at times in this book, he comes across appallingly and yet at others he shows tremendous generosity in giving his support and his possessions to worthy causes. Ruskin also had incredibly progressive views for the time, almost being too early in his thoughts on environmentalism and our connection with the natural world.

The person I felt most connected to in this novel was Rose La Touche. Her life seems a catalogue of misfortune in which her mother insists that she be educated, and yet refuses to allow her to use that education in the way she wishes. She is influenced by Ruskin’s teaching in her connection to the people living on her family’s estate – most unseemly for a young lady of the time! Rose is beautifully written as, in many ways like Ruskin, a woman who is too modern for her time who ended up tragically, like many other forward-thinking young ladies of that era…

Rebecca Lipkin’s passion for her subject seeps from every page of this book and I have to applaud her for putting across as fair and balanced a view of Ruskin as possible, while dealing sensitively with his obsession with the much younger Rose. You would have to travel a long way to find a more comprehensive examination of Ruskin and his life.

Unto This Last is published by The Book Guild Publishing.

To find out more about Rebecca Lipkin and her work, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can also find her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Unto This Last. For more reviews and exclusive content, why not check out some of the other blogs taking part below?

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

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Book Review: Night Train by David Quantick

A woman wakes up, frightened and alone – with no idea where she is. She’s in a room but it’s shaking and jumping like it’s alive. Stumbling through a door, she realizes she is in a train carriage. A carriage full of the dead.

This is the Night Train. A bizarre ride on a terrifying locomotive, heading somewhere into the endless night. How did the woman get here? Who is she? And who are the dead? As she struggles to reach the front of the train, through strange and horrifying creatures with stranger stories, each step takes her closer to finding out the train’s hideous secret. Next stop: unknown.

What I Thought:

In a world that seems increasingly like dystopian fiction, it’s quite a relief to read some honest-to-goodness dystopian fiction that is quite removed from our present reality. David Quantick’s Night Train certainly fits the bill.

A woman wakes up on a train with no memory and no idea how she got there, and we follow her quest to find answers to her questions where she picks up allies and enemies as she goes. It’s impossible to tell you much more about the plot without giving away spoilers, but it was a weird and darkly comic adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The train was a great setting for the novel, as it provided a claustrophobic backdrop where the only way was forward – no matter what might be waiting. There is a devastating reason for the train, which you find out near the end of the book, and it really packs a punch given the fact that you have begun to root for these characters as you share their challenges.

Be under no illusion – this book is dark. In places it is incredibly dark, but it is always intelligent and has a seam of humour running through it that balances some of the more eye-popping plot points.

I know that there is a real fashion for books being part of a series these days, but I genuinely wanted to read more about this world, this train and these people but, having said that, the end of the book ties up well and there are no glaring loose ends!

This is the first David Quantick novel I’ve read, but I loved his writing style, and will definitely be reading more.

Night Train is published by Titan Books.

David Quantick is an author, a TV writer and a radio broadcaster. To find out more about him and his work, you can check out his website, where he will spoil you with a large number of short stories you can download for free. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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

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Blog Tour: Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris – Guest Post

Today I’m absolutely delighted to introduce you to Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris. I will be reviewing this beautiful book next week but now I would like to turn the blog over to Joanne as she writes about her unique relationship with Bonnie Helen Hawkins, the illustrator of three of Joanne’s novels, including Orfeia.

I read Orfeia as an ebook, but will be buying a physical copy as the illustrations are just beautiful and, more than a good book, it is also a lovely thing.

Over to Joanne…

I first encountered Bonnie when I was looking for an illustrator for A POCKETFUL OF CROWS (the first of my three illustrated novellas). My publisher had shown me some samples of work from a number of illustrators, but I had something special in mind, and none of the ones I’d seen seemed quite right. Then, out of the blue, I received a piece of artwork in the mail from a woman who had come to me via one of my TED talks, and who wanted to give me a piece of her work in thanks for some of the things I’d said. 

That woman was Bonnie, and the picture – which was extraordinary – was in the exact style I’d been looking for. Detailed, feminine, naturalistic, but with a hint of darkness, too, it reminded me of the classic illustrators and fairy painters I’d loved as a child; Rackham, and Clarke, and Burne-Jones, and Dulac. I asked Bonnie if she would consider illustrating my new book, and after a great deal of hesitation – she had never been involved in illustrating a book before, and clearly had no idea of just how talented she was – she accepted. Three years later, we’re just about to celebrate our third collaboration together (though not our last), and if anything, her work has grown even more impressive. 

Many authors don’t have much contact with the illustrators of their work. Bonnie and I were different, partly because we were both new to this kind of project, and partly because it was I, and not my publisher, who had talked Bonnie into illustrating CROWS. As a result, we stayed in constant touch throughout my writing process, bouncing ideas off each other and giving each other encouragement. Bonnie works quite slowly, as her work is very detailed, and she likes to have as much time to plan and complete her work as possible; so in the case of ORFEIA and THE BLUE SALT ROAD I gave her access to early drafts to give her the time she needed. We talked a lot about the racial characteristics of some of my BAME characters, but I deliberately didn’t impose on her which scenes I wanted her to illustrate; I needed her to feel free to explore and develop her own ideas. I even wrote in certain details of ORFEIA with her in mind – I drew inspiration for the Oracle from a piece that Bonnie had already drawn, and knowing how much she loved tigers, I wrote in a tiger, just for her. In turn, she was very sensitive and alert to some of the things I’d tried to convey: her picture of Daisy in the bluebells which makes up the end-pages of ORFEIA was inspired by pictures of my own daughter.

To me, illustration is very much like the process of translation. A good illustrator, like a good translator, can really bring a text to life, and the closer the relationship between writer and illustrator, the more likely that is to happen. Bonnie and I have become friends: we understand each other, I think, and we share a lot of influences. Both of us have a strong sense of connection with the natural world; we both have a love of classic fairytales and their illustrators; we both really love what we do, and enjoy sharing our process. 

Bonnie is incredibly generous; last year, she gifted me a lovely pencil drawing based on my work with the Storytime Band; and this year, she created a set of beautiful bookplates especially for ORFEIA. Her art has contributed so much to mine; these stories would be only half-complete without her beautiful drawings. The tradition of illustrated books began with adult fiction; just as the fairytales we loved as children were originally all meant for adults. I like to think that together, Bonnie and I are helping to reclaim them – because art grows with us, if we let it, and adults need their dose of magic just as much as children do. 

I’m hugely grateful to Joanne for letting me share this – I loved Bonnie’s illustrations as there was so much in them to take in. I’ve had another look at some of them online since I read the book and found many more details that I missed first time round.

Orfeia is published by Gollancz.

To find out more about Joanne M. Harris and her work, you can check out her website. You can also follow Joanne on Twitter, which I would highly recommend as, not only does she tweet about her work, she also offers some incredibly valuable advice for authors, reviewers and readers.

This post is part of a blog tour celebrating the publication of Orfeia. Please do check out some of the blogs below for more exclusive content and reviews of the book.

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

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Blog Tour: The Search Party by Simon Lelic

16-year-old Sadie Saunders is missing.

Five friends set out into the woods to find her.

But they’re not just friends…

THEY’RE SUSPECTS.

You see, this was never a search party.

It’s a witch hunt.

And not everyone will make it home alive…

What I Thought:

If you’ve not read anything by Simon Lelic, then you’re really missing a trick. I think The Search Party is the third book of his that I’ve read and, as with the others, this book is really excellent.

Straight off the bat, there is a mysterious and dramatic prologue with someone calling for help – is this the missing girl? It starts to build a level of tension that never really lets up, even in the passages where no ‘action’ is taking place. I put action in inverted commas as there is always something simmering under the surface in the most mundane of scenes, so definitely pay attention to everything!

Robin Fleet was an interesting character as a jaded police detective (my favourite kind) who seems ripe for a series of books of his own. His connection to the location is slowly revealed as the book goes along, and it becomes clear that there are ghosts here that he needs to lay to rest.

The search party themselves are not all they seem. half-truths and old resentments bubble to the surface as they go further into the woods in search of Sadie, but who exactly is in control of the situation, and are their motives as pure as they seem? Their interactions with each other are written really well and they don’t fall into the trap of sounding like an adult writing what they think a teenager speaks like!

I liked the format of the book, where you hear directly from the members of the search party – we really don’t know who to believe, and then they contradict each other as they are interviewed. It’s a clever way of referring to the days in the woods while keeping you fully invested – I feel like a narrator would pull you too far outside the story.

As I said, the tension absolutely sizzles in this book, until everything is laid bare and Simon Lelic is really clever in conclusion he provides – you might guess if you pay really close attention, but you’d have to be Poirot!

Another fantastic book from this author – you can be certain if you pick up one of his books that it will be very much worth your time.

The Search Party is published by Penguin.

To find out more about Simon Lelic and his other books, including The Haven series for YA readers, you can check out his website. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Search party – for more reviews and exclusive content, why not take a look at some of the other participating blogs, below?

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

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