Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Excerpt: Hell is Empty by Conrad Williams

TITLE: Hell is Empty
AUTHOR: Conrad Williams
PUBLISHER: Titan Books

PUBLICATION DATE: November 25, 2016

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Private Investigator Joel Sorrell is exhausted and drinking hard, sustained only by a hopeful yet baffling note from his estranged daughter, Sarah. An SOS from an old flame whose child has been kidnapped gives him welcomed distraction, but the investigation raises more questions than answers. Then comes the news that his greatest enemy has escaped from prison with a score to settle. With Joel's life and the remnants of his family at stake, any chance of peace depends on the silencing of his nemesis once and for all. But an unexpected obstacle stands in his way...

Exclusive Excerpt from Hell Is Empty

I used to own a book of Irish jokes when I was a kid. You know, the kind of casually racist collection you’d be hard pressed to find on the shelves these days. And a good thing too. This one joke, though, has been preying on my mind.

Have you heard the one about (Paddy/Mick/Seamus) who fell down a ight of stairs while carrying a crate of Guinness but didn’t spill a drop? He kept his mouth shut.

I thought of that joke while I lay there, drifting in and out of consciousness for six months, tubes in, tubes out, stapled, stitched and – in all probability – superglued. I thought how much like Declan/Ardal/Liam I was, only I had spilled plenty, and it wasn’t Guinness but ‘claret’. And it wasn’t a crate but a body full. Two bodies full if you count the transfusions.

How did I survive?

I almost died, and I would not have been conscious to appreciate it. I was put into a medical coma. I suffered kidney failure and underwent dialysis. I lost weight. When I revived I was scared to check my body in case there were any limbs missing. All I could think about was the way Ronnie Lake’s blade slid into my thigh like a rat through a shitter.

Eventually, one night, when all the lights were out and my sheets were on for a change, and not soaked through with fear sweat, I took my fingers exploring. Everything present and incorrect, as usual. Plus added bandages and splints and scar tissue. I was building up quite a collection of scar tissue. It twisted and turned under my fingers like cooled molten plastic. It was me but it was not me.

Doctor, please, tell me how I made it.

I was visited often while I was in hospital. Romy, mainly, but Lorraine Tokuzo came to say hi too, as did Henry Herschell, sort-of friend, martial arts expert, flashy dresser, doorman (which was a bit of a surprise), and even Mawker popped his head around the door on occasion, to ask me how I was doing, and to tell me how easy policing was these days with me out of action. He ducked out before I could pin him down with questions. Everyone was doing that lately. Avoiding, evading, ignoring. Why was that? Did someone else die that night? Someone that I cared about?

Nurse, I was bleeding to death... did she save me? Did my daughter—

Strength returned, incrementally. I gritted my teeth through months of physio. Apparently Lake’s knife had sliced through any amount of nerves and ligaments as well as my femoral artery. Walking, I looked like newborn Bambi hobbling across hot coals while pissed. But things kind of improved. Physically, that is. I was taken off dialysis. I gained a little weight back. I found the strength in me to smile when someone displayed a kindness.

I was allowed home in December. The first thing I did was register with the supermarket and do some online grocery shopping. Here’s the list I compiled:

It turned up within a couple of hours. I signed for it and the delivery guy went off with a distasteful look on his face. It’s not as if I ordered a packet of butt plugs, I thought, and then realised I’d answered the door wearing only a T-shirt and my woolly bobble hat.

That first drink stole away any embarrassment, and scoured my innards clean of all the overcooked vegetables and claggy desserts that I’d forced down over half a year of horizontal life. I was home. I had another drink to celebrate.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Reviewed: The Reading Group by Della Parker

TITLE: The Reading Group: December
AUTHOR: Della Parker

PUBLICATION DATE: December 1, 2016

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Meet the Reading Group: six women in the seaside village of Little Sanderton come together every month to share their love of reading. No topic is off-limits: books, family, love and loss . . . and don't forget the glass of red!

Grace knows that the holiday season is going to be different this year. No turkey, no tinsel, no gorgeously wrapped gifts under the tree . . . how on earth is she going to break it to her little boys that Christmas is effectively cancelled? And can she bear to tell anyone her embarrassing secret? Enter the Reading Group: Grace's life might have turned upside down but there's no problem they can't solve.

TITLE: The Reading Group: January
AUTHOR: Della Parker

PUBLICATION DATE: December 1, 2016

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Anne-Marie has always considered herself a bit of a matchmaker - never mind that she's only got one real success under her belt. And this year she's determined to up her game: Little Sanderton's singles could certainly benefit from her expertise!

But while Anne Marie thinks she knows what's best for everyone else, her own life couldn't be less of a fairytale romance. Between looking after her cranky father and running her own business, she doesn't have time for a relationship. Her friends in the Reading Group know better though: after all, love can be found in the most unexpected of places . . .

This January the Reading Group is tackling Jane Austen's Emma . . . but who's got time for fiction when romance is in the air?

TITLE: The Reading Group: Feburary
AUTHOR: Della Parker

PUBLICATION DATE: December 1, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

Kate has tried to be a good wife to her husband Anton. Ever since he got demoted at work - answering to a woman no less - Anton simply hasn't been the same. Kate wants to help, but as the months pass and Anton pulls away from her both emotionally and physically, Kate can't help but feel a bit abandoned.

Then Kate means Bob: the handsome, blue-eyed carpenter that Anton has hired to refurbish their kitchen. Kate instantly feels a powerful physical connection between them . . . but dare she risk her marriage for a man she barely knows?

This month the Reading Group is enjoying Lady Chatterley's Lover . . . and trying not to giggle too much at the naughty parts!

The Reading Group: December is the perfect introduction to the series. I loved how in just a few pages, the author had me engrossed in the story, caring for a few of the characters already and picking up on some hints of where things will go for some of them in later novellas. Though we only meet the other members of The Reading Group briefly, their friendship and solidarity is evident and although like most book clubs reading wasn’t massively on the agenda, Grace, Serena, Kate, Anne-Marie and Jojo felt like a really welcoming group of friends and this made me want to dive into the first three books straight away.

December is Grace’s story and in the lead-up to Christmas, herself, her husband Ben and their boys (triplets!) are going through a tough time. I was moved by this story. I loved the dynamics between the triplets – a realistic representation of the chaos kids can cause, the kind that is fun to hear about but not so fun to deal with yourself! I also loved how Grace’s worries led to meeting the Reading Group and how understanding and willing to help they were. This was a truly heart-warming read.

The Reading Group: January is Anne-Marie’s story. Anne-Marie is a matchmaker – not a hugely successful one, but she tries! Spurred on by the news of her best friend’s engagement to a guy she set her up with, she decides to set some more of her friends up with new men too.

I really enjoyed Anne-Marie’s story. I smiled at her very failed attempts to read January’s book, Emma, and at how persistent she was with the match-making even though it never worked out right. There was less of the Reading Group girls in this book but instead we see more of her other friends, Manda and Sophie .Della’s characters always seem to be really well characterised as I feel like I can picture them almost instantly which helps me connect with the novellas more. I couldn’t put January down and found myself falling for one of the characters within the pages – so it’s always a bit of a shame when the book ends – but I couldn’t wait to read the next book either.

The Reading Group: February tells Kate’s story. Kate’s marriage to Anton has gone sour and things quickly turn on their head when she meets her new builder – Bob the builder. Bob is a hunk and Kate feels an attraction straight away. The theme of the classic the girls are reading in February is sex and infidelity – and Kate hates the thoughts it’s putting in her head. By now I really wish I was a member of the Reading Group. I love catching up on their meeting each month, keeping up-to-date on the lives of all five of them and seeing how things have changed for them. I like how the book they’re reading has links to their own lives and the author really captures their friendship brilliantly and their dialogue and the way their monthly book club goes really sets up each novella perfectly.

So far Feburary is probably my favourite of the three books so far although I love them all. Each story is entertaining and uplifting, full of laughs and romance and characters who feel more like friends than strangers. I’m so looking forward to the other novellas in the series.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Reviewed: The Mine by Antti Tuomainen

TITLE: The Mine
AUTHOR: Antti Tuomainen
PUBLISHER: Orenda Books

PUBLICATION DATE: October 10, 2016

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A hitman. A journalist. A family torn apart. Can he uncover the truth before it's too late?

In the dead of winter, investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company, whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in Northern Finland. When the company's executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents, and Janne's personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life.

The Mine is an environmental thriller with a compelling theme at the heart of it – the desperation and depravity of keeping secrets in a world where secrets never stay hidden for good.

Janne is a journalist who at the beginning of the book receives an email imploring him to investigate corruption at a mine in Suomalahti, Finland. Following this email leads him to an environmental disaster and more so, a company whose executives are being murdered. The mystery in this book is engaging and the dark theme heightens the tension as Antti Tuomainen has the reader in the palm of his hand as lies and conspiracy slowly begin to unravel and the truth presents itself.

A big aspect of this book is how Janne’s journalism career is causing a divide between him and his wife, Pauliina – mother of his daughter Ella. At the beginning I had assumed this would just be a supporting story to add depth to the character of Janne but actually it was a much bigger part to the book than that and added another dimension to the story, which I enjoyed. Janne’s personal life is a mess, especially when his father is back on the scene.

This book was much more emotional than I had been anticipating. Though there is danger and corruption, there is also a layer of emotion as far as delving into the theme of family goes as The Mine has a very vivid and conflicted outlook on the makings of a family and the secrets they keep.

The author’s style of writing is quite simple with short sentences and snappy dialogue, but the prowess of the storytelling in his prose is extremely captivating. That the book is translated did not hinder the beauty of the writing as it is a great translation which keeps the flow and pacing of the book at an addictive level which made The Mine a book I did not want to put down.

Right from the start of the book I was drawn into the setting with the atmospheric description and the sharp details which allow you to picture the location or the scene with just a couple of words used to describe it. The author’s beautiful writing is one of the reasons I loved this book as much as I did because it played out like a movie in my mind and I could really buy into what was happening in the story because of that. The entire book had me gripped from start to finish and did not disappoint come the end.

Reviewed: The Christmas Guest by Daisy Bell

TITLE: The Christmas Guest
AUTHOR: Daisy Bell

PUBLICATION DATE: November 3, 2016

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A puppy for Christmas. A friend for life. The story of a homeless puppy with a huge heart who healed a family . . .

When Teddy runs away from home a week before Christmas, he's far too excited to worry about what lies ahead. But all too soon Teddy realises just how cold and scary the world really is, and what was supposed to be the perfect adventure now seems like a terrible mistake.

Then Teddy is discovered on a snowy doorstep by the Woods family. With their kind hearts and cosy cottage, Claire, Ben and their daughter Emily are the family Teddy is desperate to have. But Emily is ill, her parents are stressed and, with Christmas around the corner, raising and training a well-meaning but unruly puppy is hardly a priority.

Teddy knows he and little Emily have a once-in-a-lifetime bond, and that he can be the best friend she needs in this dark time. If only he can prove to Ben and Claire how much happier he could make them all, Teddy might just find the family of his dreams this Christmas.

The Christmas Guest is one of several cute pet-related festive stories out this year but I love this trend – magical Christmas stories featuring adorable animals is always a winner in my eyes.

Teddy, or Mr Snuggles as he is unfortunately known as to start with, belongs to Veronica and Richard, but from the moment Veronica was first presented with the puppy and she threw him to the floor when he had an accident on her, he’s known she didn’t particularly love him. When the chance arises a week before Christmas, Teddy runs away and finds himself sleeping out in the snow beside the house which could become his new home, if they want him.

Teddy was just the cutest of narrators. I think I loved him from the moment he called snowflakes moonflakes – and from then on it was lovely watching him learn about life with his new family. For a dog he was full of character and with the story being told from his viewpoint, it only enhanced the uplifting qualities to the story as his character was a lovely, animated one who gets up to various adventures but always means well. He’s a kind-natured dog with a big heart and his new family are one that could use some of his joy.

Claire, Ben and their daughter Emily are, picked up on by Teddy straight away, weary-eyed and struggling with their own problems despite all the love that is evident there. We soon learn that Emily is sick and she is feeling quite low – until Teddy arrives. The story of this new family of four is a really tender one which tugs at your heartstrings and has you eager for some festive cheer and happiness for the characters as Christmas approaches.

There’s more to this story than simply the cute dog on the cover (though of course he is a delight) – through Emily and her family’s story, there are parts of this book that bring out a range of emotions and have you, or me at least, fighting back the tears. I love those books that break your heart a little bit and then mend it back together, and The Christmas Guest is the perfect example of one of those books – a real, heart-warming, Christmas treat of a novel.

I really enjoyed the author’s style of writing too – how the chapters were set out in the form of a countdown to Christmas, and how with each chapter it becomes more wintery and full of a feel-good festive nature. Despite tough times for the family meaning Christmas is a more stressful time than usual, the connection between Emily and Teddy is truly lovely to read and had me smiling on many occasion. Overall The Christmas Guest is a beautiful novel of the true meaning of Christmas with a star character in the form of a loveable dog – what’s not to love?

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