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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Reviewed: Before You by Kathryn Freeman

TITLE: Before You
AUTHOR: Kathryn Freeman
PUBLISHER: Choc Lit

PUBLICATION DATE: June 21, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

When life in the fast lane threatens to implode …

Melanie Hunt’s job working for the Delta racing team means she is constantly rubbing shoulders with Formula One superstars in glamorous locations like Monte Carlo. But she has already learned that keeping a professional distance is crucial if she doesn’t want to get hurt.

New Delta team driver Aiden Foster lives his life like he drives his cars – fast and hard. But, no matter how successful he is, it seems he always falls short of his championship-winning father’s legacy. If he could just stay focused, he could finally make that win.

Resolve begins to slip as Melanie and Aiden find themselves drawn to each other –with nowhere to hide as racing season begins. But when a troubled young boy goes missing, everything is thrown into turmoil, including Aiden’s championship dream.



I pre-ordered this book back in May and as it happened the moment I chose to read it coincided with the Formula One summer break, which was perfect timing as Before You is a contemporary romance set in the F1 world and reading this book was a great way to spend a weekend sadly lacking in real-life F1 race action.

I really loved this book. It had all the components of a brilliant romance novel for me – characters you could truly believe in, realistic conflict, idealistic locations and a romance you cannot help but root for. And yes, fictional F1 driver Aiden Foster was a little bit dreamy, which helped, and I did fall for him a bit more than is probably normal whilst reading this book..! I loved the way his character was crafted and despite getting to know more than just the media representation of an actual F1 driver is near impossible in reality, I found his story and his background came across very realistically and I could easily picture him and imagine him racing alongside my favourite real-life drivers (Button, Alonso and Vettel, I’m looking at you…) I was that involved in the story I’ll probably be a bit disappointed once the F1 returns and there is no Aiden in sight…

Mel is press officer for the Delta F1 team. The media are really interested in new driver Aiden Foster because his dad, who died during a race when Aiden was a child, was extremely successful, winning lots of titles, something Aiden has yet to emulate. Mel notices that Aiden holds back a lot in his interviews, never opening up in them. But Aiden finds it easy to be honest with Mel and there’s a connection there. Things happen that I really want to talk about but can’t! But I was so engrossed in this book and really enjoyed watching everything play out.

I really liked the premise to this story. I liked how both characters had an equal share of conflicted emotions and things from their past coming back to haunt them. This is a bit different to many other romance novels where the guy doesn’t do relationships or the woman is simply too scared of getting hurt. Though Aiden wasn’t exactly known for his relationships and Mel had been hurt in a relationship before, this didn’t really define either character – they were multi-layered with so much more to them than that. I really, almost instantly, liked both Mel and Aiden and the further I got into the story, the more I liked them.

My favourite bit about this book was the way Kathryn represents life on the F1 circuit. Though you don’t need to be a fan of the motorsport to enjoy this book, it’s doubly good if you’re a fan of Formula One because Kathryn makes you feel like you’re there for every single race. The descriptions of the location for each individual race were divine, as well as all the mentions of tyres and team radio and pit stops etc. The author builds the perfect picture of a race weekend and all the pressure and emotion that comes with them for everybody involved.

Before You was a warm and hugely satisfying novel which I didn’t want to see come to an end. It’s much more than your typical romance novel with the various locations and the added atmosphere of the F1. It’s a current and extremely refreshing read and I’m definitely excited to read more from this author in future.





Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Guest Post: Tessa Harris on the medical misadventure of 18th century England

TITLE: Secrets in the Stones
AUTHOR: Tessa Harris
PUBLISHER: Constable

PUBLICATION DATE: August 11, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

Newly released from the notorious asylum known as Bedlam, Lady Lydia Farrell finds herself in an equally terrifying position - as a murder suspect - when she stumbles upon the mutilated body of Sir Montagu Malthus in his study at Boughton Hall.

Meanwhile Dr. Thomas Silkstone has been injured in a duel with a man who may or may not have committed the grisly deed of which Lydia is accused. Despite his injury, Thomas hopes to clear his beloved's good name by conducting a postmortem on the victim. With a bit of detective work, he learns that Montagu's throat was slit by no ordinary blade, but a ceremonial Sikh dagger from India - a clue that may be connected to the fabled lost mines of Golconda.

From the mysterious disappearance of a cursed diamond buried with Lydia's dead husband, to the undying legend of a hidden treasure map, Thomas must follow a trail of foreign dignitaries, royal agents - and even more victims - to unveil the sinister and shocking secrets in the stones...




Tessa Harris takes us from cradle to grave on a journey of medical misadventure in 18th century England

If I were to tell you that a woman in Godalming claimed to have given birth to rabbits and that she was believed by the top physicians in the land, you’d probably tell me to go and lie down in a darkened room. But I kid you not. Mary Toft, aka The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, is just one in a gallery of rogues, mountebanks and quacks to populate the history of this extraordinarily colourful and outlandish period of English history. And that’s precisely why I set my series of medical mysteries in this period. It was a time of enormous change. Superstition was still rife among the populace, but old beliefs were finally being challenged by enlightened men of science. The hero of my murder mystery series is one such. Dr Thomas Silkstone, an American anatomist, comes to London to find the Establishment needs shaking up a little. He eschews the past in favour of new and pioneering scientific methods and in so doing makes enemies among the rich and privileged classes, exposing injustices and deceptions all the way.



Promises of superior ecstasy

There are many more examples of quackery, flummery and all scams in between in the medical mayhem that existed in the 18th century. Take, for example, James Graham, the enterprising ‘doctor’ behind the infamous Temple of Health and Hymen in London’s Pall Mall. Giant porters dressed in chain mail greeted those who paid good money to hear the Scottish charlatan urge his listeners to “Be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth.” Wires were attached to the underside of ‘students’’ chairs and small electric shocks were administered. The lecture climaxed in the appearance, through a trap door in the floor – of “Hebe Vestina, the Rosy Goddess of Health and Hymen” to distribute bottles of Dr. Graham’s ‘ethereal’ balm. At one time this ritual was conducted by none other than Lady Hamilton, Nelson’s mistress, who was, in her former life, a prostitute. But the highlight of the temple had to be the massive ‘Celestial Bed’ draped in blue satin. At the slightest movement from those positioned on it, the springs would oscillate to the music that was being played by unseen musicians, promising ‘superior ecstasy’ to its occupants, as well as healthy children. And the price for this privilege? A mere one hundred guineas per couple, with breakfast thrown in. That’s around £8,000 in today’s money.

Other extraordinary delights concocted for the entertainment of a gullible public at the time included the chance of seeing insects through a solar microscope or watching a Mr. Breslaw commanding “a fresh egg to dance upon a stick in the middle of the Room, by itself.” All this paled by comparison, however, with the showing of giants in London. During the latter half of the 18th century England couldn’t get enough of ‘tall men’, most of whom came from Ireland. Perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most tragic, of these was Charles Byrne. Measuring, according to some accounts, eight feet and two inches, Byrne was feted by royalty and become very famous. However, he also attracted unwanted attention from anatomists eager to dissect his corpse on his death. His premature death from tuberculosis led to a scramble for his corpse. His huge skeleton is ignominiously displayed in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London to this very day.

The man responsible for the giant’s dissection was John Hunter, the man hailed by many as the father of modern surgery. It’s true he was a genius and a pioneer, but some of his methods certainly offend our modern-day sensibilities. In his pursuit of a cure for the scourge of the rampant venereal disease that plagued so many, he injected himself with pus from a diseased corpse. He kept a detailed diary of his own symptoms, but unfortunately did not see fit to inform his wife. Only two of their four children survived infancy, possibly because they were infected.

Grave robbing galore

In order to continue his research Hunter and many other of his fellow anatomists relied heavily on the supply of corpses. Such was the demand for bodies that there was no guarantee that when a cadaver was laid to rest it would remain that way. Grave robbing was a lucrative trade. Anatomists would be charged ‘by the foot’ for a corpse – an adult male in good condition fetching at least four guineas - and many criminals became rich. Such practices did not, however, endear anatomists to the wider public. When the renowned surgeon Joshua Brookes refused to pay some resurrectionists, as they were known, for their nefarious services, a rotting corpse was dumped on his front doorstep. So outraged were his neighbours that Brookes barely escaped with his life.



There were a few, however, who would prefer their loved ones to be embalmed rather than buried. On the death of his wife, a dentist called Martin Van Butchell asked our friend John Hunter to embalm her body. Hunter injected her corpse with preservatives, replaced her eyes with glass ones and had her dressed in a lace gown. The corpse was then put on display in a glass-topped coffin. Those who wished to view it were, of course, charged a fee by her grieving husband.

But, for me, the ultimate medical mishap has to be the case of William Duell, a sixteen year-old hanged for rape and murder. He lost consciousness on the gallows and was taken for dead. A few hours later whilst being prepared for dissection, he came round. The authorities took pity on him and reduced his sentence to one exile to North America. Duell could consider himself very fortunate. A German criminal, hanged at around the same time, and found to be breathing on the dissection table, was not afforded such treatment. The chief surgeon exhorted his colleagues to proceed in view of the fact that the criminal may commit more heinous crimes if allowed to live. The hapless villain was dispatched forthwith.

Secrets in the Stones, the sixth book in Tessa Harris’s Dr. Thomas Silkstone mystery series, published by Constable, is out now.



Monday, 8 August 2016

Guest Post: Rachel Crowther on Writers and their Dogs

TITLE: The Things You Do For Love
AUTHOR: Rachel Crowther
PUBLISHER: Zaffre

PUBLICATION DATE: August 11, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

An elite surgeon with a brilliant but philandering husband, Flora Macintyre has always defined herself by her success in juggling her career and her marriage. Until, all at once, she finds herself with neither.

Retired and widowed in the space of a few months, Flora is left untethered. In a moment of madness, she realises there's nothing to stop her running away to France.

But back home her two daughters - the family she's always loved, but never had the time to nurture - are struggling. Lou is balancing pregnancy with a crumbling relationship, while her younger sister, Kitty, begins to realise she may have to choose between love and her growing passion for music.

And even as the family try to pull together, one dark secret could still tear them all apart...




Writers and their dogs

Everyone knows that every great writer has a dog (apart from the ones who have cats, of course, but I am not one of that camp). Most of us can probably name one or two – Virginia Woolf’s Pinka, perhaps, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Flush, or even Gertrude Stein’s sequence of poodles called Basket – and if we can’t, a quick Google search yields several delightful examples, complete with photographs of Irascible Literary Figure and Indulged Canine Companion.

My canine companions are two lunatic labradoodle litter-mates, the doggy equivalent of those human twins who speak their own secret language and don’t have much idea how to relate to other people – but even they seem also to understand the duties of the Writer’s Dog.

One of those, of course, is companionship. Writing can be a lonely business, and as much as we all love being left alone to get on with it, not being QUITE alone is even better. Having a dog at your feet, or sprawled contentedly nearby, is a comfort – even if having a scented candle always to hand is a sensible precaution if you’re planning to share a confined space with a couple of dogs for any length of time. Guarding is another key skill, warning the engrossed writer of imminent interruptions, and perhaps even seeing some of them off. Trixie has a special place half way up the stairs from which she can survey the approach to the house, while Barnabas prefers to lie either just inside or just outside the door, rather like one of those faithful hounds that grace the tombs of Crusader knights. And dogs are good at providing diversion too: cavorting round the garden playing hunt and chase by way of idle spectator sport, and of course justifying the temptation to desert the writing desk for half an hour, any time you like, on the grounds that they absolutely need another walk.

But the Writer’s Dog does more than that, as any of them can tell you. They provide a listening ear: ask them a question and they will instantly lift their head, cock their ear, flap their tail in pleasure at the prospect of being useful. Better still, they understand perfectly well – as no human companion does – that if you ask them a question, it’s because you want to answer it yourself. So they raise their trusting brown eyes to yours to say ‘you know best’, rather than offering helpful advice. ‘Yes,’ you say, after a few moments of meaningful communion, ‘thanks, you’re absolutely right,’ and the tail flaps again, pleased to have discharged another duty satisfactorily.

But putting words into the mouth of a dog isn’t the same as talking to yourself. It’s more than that: it’s a dialogue of the kind you can’t have satisfactorily on your own, and only with the very best trained friend or spouse. It’s a way of talking things out, or talking your way through things; of exploring or testing or explaining or discovering. It’s almost like communicating with that thing of mirage and shadows, the Ideal Reader. I’m sure Flush and Pinka understood that perfectly well, and I’d be prepared to bet that any writer’s dog worth its salt could rise to the challenges of assisting in the great venture of Literature. If not, Barnabas and Trixie would be happy to offer help and advice on the proper place to lie, and the right moment to stir hopefully and suggest a break.

The Things You Do For Love will be published by Zaffre on August 11. You can pre-order here.




Saturday, 6 August 2016

Guest Post: Zygmunt Miloszewski on why he wrote Rage.

TITLE: Rage
AUTHOR: Zygmunt Miloszewski
PUBLISHER: Amazon Crossing

PUBLICATION DATE: August 1, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

All eyes are on famous prosecutor Teodor Szacki when he investigates a skeleton discovered at a construction site in the idyllic Polish city of Olsztyn. Old bones come as no shock to anyone in this part of Poland, but it turns out these remains are fresh, the flesh chemically removed.

Szacki questions the dead man’s wife, only to be left with a suspicion she’s hiding something. Then another victim surfaces—a violent husband, alive but maimed—giving rise to a theory: someone’s targeting domestic abusers. And as new clues bring the murderer closer to those Szacki holds dear, he begins to understand the terrible rage that drives people to murder.

From acclaimed Polish crime writer Zygmunt Miloszewski comes a gritty, atmospheric page-turner that poses the question, what drives a sane man to kill?




Why did you decide to write Rage?

What inspired you? What themes did you want to explore? What would you like readers to take away from the book?


I didn’t want to write Rage. The truth is, I never wanted to write crime fiction at all.

My debut novel was a horror story, because I thought becoming the Polish Stephen King would bring me fame and fortune in no time. Of course it didn’t. Then I wanted to write “real” fiction, so when my publisher asked me to consider writing a crime story, I pompously turned her down. I wanted to write a great epic novel, I wanted to paint a rich social landscape, to become the Hugo or the Dickens of the twenty-first century. Yep, I was young. But then I discovered Henning Mankell’s novels. And I was stunned. They were amazing police procedurals, keeping you on the edge of your seat, but at the same time they were well written, and they provided a rich social commentary – they were both crime novels and in-depth depictions of Swedish society, especially the dark side of it. I liked what I read, and then I wrote Entanglement, which tackles an issue that affects the countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain, where the communist past still has repercussions many years after the fall of the wall. Then I wrote A Grain of Truth, a story about xenophobia and anti-Semitism. And finally Rage.

I knew I wanted to set it in a Polish city that had belonged to Germany before the Second World War. My original idea was to present the “history game”, a popular European form of entertainment. The rules are simple: use every possible trick and lie to make your nation look like a knight in shining armor and your neighbors like comic-book villains. But I usually think about the details of my plots while I’m doing the research. So there I was, sitting in a library browsing through the local papers, looking for ideas. And something caught my eye, a short article about domestic abuse. I made a note to myself to consider using it for a detail, but then I started talking to people about the topic and discovered, to my great astonishment and shame, that in fact I knew absolutely nothing about violence against women. Though I consider myself a leftist, my wife’s a feminist, and I publicly oppose various forms of discrimination. Yet I realized that I knew nothing about this particular form of discrimination, one that affects half the world’s population. So I decided to write about it, to show how it’s woven into our everyday lives, how we stop noticing it and learn to treat it as one of those things that simply happen and cannot be changed. Well, I don’t believe that’s true.


Rage by Zygmunt MiƂoszewski translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones is published on 1st August (Paperback £8.99, Amazon Crossing). You can order the book here.



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