24 April 2017

Written Off by Paul Carroll

As someone who has read a number of books by indie authors, I thought this one would offer a different and amusing angle.

Anyone who has battled with the idea of finding an agent, been rejected, then considered self-publishing will recognise the challenges the wannabe authors in this book face.

However, I think it’s the partners of those wannabes that might enjoy this book more. The book offers a fictional insight into the struggles of those writers and adds a lovely touch of humour and irony.

My only niggle is that the book carries a high number of errors. It actually became very annoying - not necessarily because of the errors themselves, but because it’s an excellent book and those errors take it down a notch or two. I wanted to heap praise on the author for creating a cast of characters that I could recognise. I don’t understand why a quality writer didn’t go the distance and polish the book before paying for it to be published.

So, three stars but it could have been four.

6 October 2016

The Falcon Flies Alone by Gabrielle Mathieu

I took some time reading this book. It wasn’t the book’s fault; it was my lack of time. During those breaks, the book’s disconcerting theme stayed with me. The author had created a sense of foreboding, akin to a thought that leaves a bad taste. I just couldn’t bear not to discover the outcome – no matter how awful it might be.

I found myself wrong-footed several times. In my mind I was seeing a Gothic horror, underplayed and suspenseful. It was a shock to be reminded that we were in 1950s. That was an enjoyable clash. Dark thoughts and visions that should be accompanied by the hiss of gas lighting were instead illuminated by a generation that might soon embrace psychedelia and mind-altering drugs.

Some scenes were almost voyeuristic; I felt as if I were in the room, seated in a corner. I wanted to turn away but I was compelled to witness the experiments and violations.

An excellent book to accompany the darker evenings.

16 September 2016

The Rocks of Aserol by Richard Dee

There’s something of a ripping yarn about this excellent tale of adventure. False accusations, discoveries kept secret, villains who murder to get their way, and the whiff of requited love – it’s all here in this classic steampunk saga.

The tale is told with a restraint that allows the reader to enjoy the elements that steampunk fans demand. We’re taken on a journey – several, actually – and along the way we’re introduced to characters that come to life on the page, fully formed. There’s no manipulation to suit the plot, the cast has been well rehearsed, well created.

This book entertained from the start and its pace made me hope for more.

15 August 2016

Echoes of Time by Anne Allen

When Natalie moves in to her new home, it’s all so perfect. A Guernsey summer, a garden with a sea view... there’s even an attractive neighbour to rekindle thoughts of romance. But it isn’t long before the past invades the present – in the most unlikely of ways.

Solving past mysteries is always evident in this series of books, and in this one we learn about the Occupation of the Channel Islands by the Germans during the Second World War, and its effect on the islanders; how some families are still learning about their past.

If this is your first dip into the Guernsey Series, I hope you’ll be tempted to look at the earlier novels. Throughout the series characters reappear, almost as cameo appearances, and it’s a delight to see how they’ve developed over the passing years.

I quite like the idea of being one of those characters, part of the ensemble cast, invited to a barbecue, a walk on the beach…

The warmth of Guernsey shines through the pages, making this a perfect piece of escapism – whenever you read it.

29 February 2016

Ridley's Revenge by Raymond G Sampson

From its cover, it will be clear to some people that this book has to be set in Dorset, on the coast in the Isle of Purbeck. That in itself is an attraction to me. I found it thrilling to recognise the landscape of an area I know so well, and to identify the family names of some of its characters.

Ridley’s Revenge is more than a book about a region, it’s a tale of storms and shipwrecks, of communities and customs – and excise.

There’s plenty to keep a reader entertained, irrespective of their local knowledge. I can imagine visitors staying in the area, Swanage especially, poring over maps as they attempt to locate the inspiration behind the places mentioned.

I received an uncorrected proof copy from the author, in return for an honest review.

Click here to find the book on Amazon:
Ridley's Revenge: A Purbeck Adventure

10 November 2015

Stocking Fillers by Debbie Young

When I received this book to read and review, I had intended to wait at least until the beginning of December, to snuggle up on the sofa with a glass of something seasonal, and read.

Clearly that didn’t happen. I then planned to read just one story and save the rest. That didn’t happen either. So, having read the book in November, here’s my review.

This is a charming collection of delightfully varied stories. Yes, the theme is Christmas but each story is so different and yet perfectly balanced that you’re carried along with half an ear listening for early sleigh bells.

Most of the stories contain humour, some are ironic, and one or two are downright emotional. Bit like the perfect Christmas!

Despite Christmas being only a few weeks away, I know I’m going to read this book again – on the sofa with that glass of something seasonal. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Stocking Fillers: Twelve Short Stories for Christmas

29 October 2015

The Lost Journey Homeward by Eve Bonham

Pride as much as rivalry seems to be the main motivation in two siblings separating from their family. Kate is determined to go along an independent path, whilst David finds it necessary to break from commitment and responsibility. Neither loses the love of their family and it’s ultimately that love that binds them together and gives them the strength to survive.

The plot itself is interwoven with unspoken threat. Kate’s acquaintances bring with them a cloud of foreboding and threat. David’s dreams of career success seem thwarted. And what of their father? Theo is a man with a past, a man who loves his family beyond all else and will do everything to ensure they know they have his unconditional love.

The reader understands what creates those threats and it’s almost like watching a cat playing with a mouse as we witness the taunting of a family.

I found the characters compelling and was especially drawn to Theo and his resilience.

This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book.

I received an uncorrected proof copy from the author.

Find the book on Amazon: 

The Lost Journey Homeward

22 September 2015

Lena's Nest by Rosalie Warren

I think we all have our own secret fears, something that once scared us. There’s an element of my own fears in this exquisitely terrifying tale of what our futures might hold.

Two things occur to Lena: she’s either lost her mind, or she’s lost her body.

Am I the only person who ponders what would happen if they discovered life was just an imaginary excursion, perhaps energised by some scientific experiment that either succeeded or went horribly wrong?

We can never really answer those ‘what if’ questions. Sci-fi is a very wide genre and to me this book taps into the essence of being human. What elements do we need to survive? What would we live without? Given the choice, would you pull that plug?

This book gave me shivers of fear and pleasure – a potent combo that this author fully exploited. 

Find the book on Amazon:
Lena's Nest: Sci-fi meets psychological suspense as robot scientist Lena Curtis emerges from a coma into a frighteningly altered world

7 September 2015

How to Write Your Life Story by Sophie King

There seems to be no better time to consider writing a memoir, a life story. Programmes about personal histories such as Who Do You Think You Are? whet our appetite and encourage us to write and record our stories. But just how do we go about it? There needs to be structure, no matter how interesting the story. Sophie King’s book provides both a key to how that structure might be achieved and the prompts to nudge our memories into gear.

‘But nothing interesting has ever happened to me.’ – sound familiar? The theme that runs through Sophie’s book is that to a future generation it will be interesting. Something as ordinary as buying your first LP in a shop is now so unfamiliar that it must be recorded.

This is a book that you will want to refer to. Read it once, then use it as your memoir-writing bible. I enjoyed it so much that I insisted my parents bought their own copy. Now? They’re both busily remembering details for either their own memoirs or to help me with mine!

Find the book on Amazon: 
How to Write Your Life Story in Ten Easy Steps

27 August 2015

Back to the Black by Michael MacMahon

Reading Michael MacMahon's book, it occurred to me how lucky I've been. Apart from a mortgage I've never owed more than I could afford to clear. That's a great ethic, but it's reaffirmed in this book how often getting into debt is beyond a person's control. Illness, loss of a job, death of a partner - all are beyond our control.

I'm not sure if, when you're overwhelmed by financial problems, your first reaction is to read a book. But it should be. I suspect the success of this particular book will be in it being bought to share – by a friend or family member who recognises someone in need of help.

The book is immensely readable. It doesn't patronise, it offers good advice that can be acted upon immediately.

I received a copy of this book from the author – in return for an honest review.

Find the book on Amazon: 
Back to the Black: How to become debt-free and stay that way (Telling Experience)

20 August 2015

Shadows of the Past by Maggie Cobbett

We are in a time of remembrance and commemoration and too often we can be caught up in the flag waving and nostalgia. Then along comes a book that graphically, and violently, reminds us of wartime, invasion and resistance.

A small community carries the collective pain of occupation - and perhaps never recovers. Intertwined with the flashbacks of wartime mystery and misery are new intrigues and puzzles.

Rather than risk revealing a plot by hinting at clues, I'm deliberately keeping this review short. But I must add that I was particularly moved by how the author depicted the wartime sections.

Find the book on Amazon: Shadows Of The Past

30 July 2015

The Positively Productive Writer by Simon Whaley

There’s one thing about time on which we all agree – we never have enough of it.

Accept that fact and move on. Moving on has to be the first step in becoming positive about anything, let alone as a writer.

I do like this kind of book. If I’m honest, I was sold on being positive years ago. Life coaching, spinning negatives into positives, it’s something I swear by.

What’s different about this book, why I would recommend it, is that the author has transferred the basic ‘life coaching’ skills and applied them to writing.

Making lists is a positive way to control challenges, ticking off a list as something is achieved is a positive action. I love positive actions  – and the idea of treating myself when I’ve succeeded.

Can it be so simple? Once you train your mind to be positive, yes.

As this is a book for writers, there’s also some nuggets of information – essentials. Deciding you’re going to write a short story, article or novel is all well and good. But you still need to know how to get from blank page to commission, let alone a cheque in the bank. The clue’s in the title – The Positively Productive Writer.

This is a good book to break you out of that awful world of procrastination. 

Find the book on Amazon:
The Positively Productive Writer

Moving On From Short Story to Novel by Della Galton

There’s more to moving on from writing short stories than just writing for longer. That might sound daft but I’m sure some writers think that’s all there is to it.

Whether you’re a seasoned short story writer or have written to help improve your style before embarking on a novel, this book could help you make that leap.

Della has a lovely style, she shares her knowledge in a friendly manner, much like a friend might over a cup of tea. The book is broken down into stages and the information is reinforced with the author’s own experiences. That’s what you need with this kind of book – the comfort of knowing that the author has done it, has written short stories AND novels, and done so very successfully.

There comes a time when a writer needs to get on with it and just write. But maybe read this book first?

Find the book on Amazon: 
Moving On: From Short Story To Novel (Secrets to Success)

22 July 2015

The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting by Teena Lyons

The subject of ghostwriting's always intrigued me and when I came across this book, by chance, I thought it would be an interesting read.

Ghostwriting is an industry in itself. Good ones earn big money - but if this book's anything to go by, they certainly earn it. Dealing with 'celebrities' must be frustrating and it seems a successful ghostwriter must have the patience of a saint.

I found the book very readable, Teena Lyons's style informs in a very entertaining way. I didn't want something that's a heavy read and this book is balanced between providing what it says on the cover* and offering insider titbits. Surely every reader will try and guess with whom the contributing ghostwriters had worked?

I agree with the other Amazon reviewers and I can appreciate why they've all awarded this book five stars. However, its content is compromised by errors. Punctuation, grammar and style issues detract and distract. 

From '140-word tweets' to book titles changing (A Child Called It morphed into A Boy Called It) – some sections carried errors on almost every page. 

Error-free I'd have given this book five stars on Amazon but as it is I would only award three. It's such a shame because the author clearly knows about ghostwriting and the high calibre of the contributors confirms how respected she is. Would I recommend this book? Yes. But perhaps keep an eye on the free excerpt and see if it's updated.

Find the book on Amazon:

The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting

*I've shown the cover to friends and we all struggled to read the text in the orange font. 

30 June 2015

How to Make a Living with Your Writing by Joanna Penn

There are many books available that ‘share’ those nuggets of information that turn writers into successful writers. What makes this book different, to me, is that the author pitches the challenge – of writing for money, of getting a self-published book read – and then explains how she did it.

Moving from full-time employment to full-time writer and writing entrepreneur is no small achievement. Not everyone will want that challenge, but if you already write and now want to write successfully (however you assess that), this book should be on your virtual shelf.

Within its pages are links to articles and websites that reinforce the author’s message – so there’s added value to the cover price. Much of the general information might be found in writing magazines and on the internet, but this book works because it is based on measured success.

It delivers the answers that most readers will be in search of – how can I earn from my writing, how can I exploit a growing market?

I received an uncorrected proof copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The book is available from Amazon: 

How To Make A Living With Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More

7 December 2014

In My Lady's Shadow by Siobhan Daiko

Writing a time-slip novel allows authors to create the ultimate in flashbacks. As Fern tries to keep hold of her sanity, she's snatched back to 16th century Italy where she virtually lives the perilous life of Cecilia. Is it all a figment of her traumatised mind, or is she really bearing witness to the life and possible death of a young woman?

Cecilia demands, and gets, passion. The scenes between her and artist Zorzo contain lust and love – in their most urgent and raw forms. In contrast, I found Fern's modern-day encounters just a little cold, leaving me frustrated. There was also an abruptness to Fern's world, the dialogue in particular seemed almost brusque at times and this created one or two bumpy scenes. 

There was opulence to Cecilia's life and this created a wonderful conflict – financial security or true love? Could she have both? And what of Fern's traumatic past – could she have a future – any future? Nothing was assured and that left me with a dilemma. As the book headed towards its dual conclusion, I delayed the revelation. The downside to a good book is that is has to end.

The author has very cleverly mixed fact with fiction – she reveals in the book's notes where some of the inspiration was found and that adds a fascinating twist to this tale. As much as I adore fiction, I like it to be balanced with a nugget or two of fact. As I googled the facts – not to check them but because I was interested – I was drawn into another world, one of art and architecture. To appreciate why I spent so much time looking at Giorgione’s The Tempest, you need to read the book!

Siobhan Daiko writes of an Italy she clearly adores and I particularly enjoyed the scenes set in Venice. Comparing today's city with a place Cecilia would have known, puts the familiar tourist attractions in to historical context, and that's another tick in the box for time-slip themed novels.

The book is available from Amazon:  Lady of Asolo

29 October 2014

Room in Your Heart by Wendy Clarke

Shock! Horror! I don’t read People’s Friend… So what have I been missing? Well, if this collection is a benchmark, it’s fine fiction – very fine fiction.

Sometimes I want a story to make me feel warm and cuddly – and cuddled. Coat those cuddles in too much sugar and you won’t see me for dust.

Wendy Clarke has chosen twelve stories that are credible, warm-hearted and perfectly balanced. Introducing credibility into ‘romantic short stories’ isn’t easy. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed this collection so much. I felt warm and cuddled because they seemed so realistic, so believable.

I made the mistake of reading the first story in a car park – waiting for an appointment. Checking my watch, I had to finish it. Was there time for another? There’s always time.

Favourites? Not easy to choose. It wouldn’t be fair. Looking through the titles, they’re all favourites. Okay… One Step at a Time. Who hasn’t hoped to turn back the clock, revisit old dreams and loves? Carole may have returned reluctantly, but there’s no mistaking her need to remember. But what about For Your Eyes Only? – I can have two favourites, surely?

The author kindly offered me a free copy of this book – in return for an honest review.

The book is available from Amazon: Room in Your Heart: A collection of romantic stories

17 October 2014

The Emerald Comb by Kathleen McGurl

This book ticks a lot of boxes for me. History, genealogy, and more than one mystery – what could possibly go wrong? The short answer, nothing. 

The author had me from the book’s blurb. I have files of family records, certificates marking the births, marriages and deaths of relatives, so I knew I’d find the fictional digging of Katie entertaining – to say the least. 

There are many clichés involved with family trees and it would have been easy for the author to have padded her plot with them all. But very cleverly she drew me along as a very interested bystander.

As a time-slip novel, the reader is taken back to the 19th century – learning the detail that Katie might discover in her research. But anyone who has undertaken tracing their tree knows how frustrating it is to see the facts, but not the flesh – much like Katie.

Towards the end of the book I so wanted Katie to know what I knew, but of course that can't necessarily happen. There will always be gaps in our research. But how wonderful it was to read of the St Clairs, Katie’s ancestors, putting all family history into perspective. 

This is a clever novel. I found it gripping – the change of pace as I was torn from the 19th century and into the 21st and back again was infuriatingly well-written. I was new to the concept of a ‘time–slip’ novel and the key to its success was that all important pace.

Do you need to be interested in genealogy to enjoy the plot? No, that element is important, but if you're a fan of historical mysteries and want an intelligent and refreshingly different read, this fits the bill.

Just one more chapter... that’s what I kept saying to myself. But when I finished, I almost regretted not savouring it for longer!

The book is available from Amazon: 
The Emerald Comb

30 September 2014

White Oaks by Lyn McCulloch

I came across this book via Facebook – a friend mentioned that it was set in Swanage (albeit under the guise of Sandhaven) and as I had spent thirty years in the town, I was intrigued enough to buy a copy.

It wasn’t difficult to recognise the landmarks – the pub at the bottom of the hill, the newsagent and the Italian restaurant – and to locate the actual guest house on which the author had based her story. 

The author reveals that the book is based on her own experiences as a virgin seaside landlady. My parents owned a hotel and I was pleased the author had stressed the frustrations – and hard work – involved.

But without my knowledge of the town and the industry, was it still a good read? Beginning its life as a serial published in My Weekly, it was always going to be enjoyable.

My niggles are more with the production of the e-book. Some sentences didn't make sense – Gordon squeezed her hand and a she began...

And this slip of the finger should have been corrected – "Grr1...

I don't know why an Edwardian building had a Victorian door - another detail that could be easily resolved.

I’d love this book to be updated – I’d certainly be able to add another star to my review if it was.

23 September 2014

Independent Jenny by Sarah Louise Smith

I'd read about half of Jenny's story when I decided how I wanted her life to pan out. I knew which man would make her happy and I hoped she'd see sense and agree with me. But then, later, it occurred to me that Jenny was her own woman. My opinion didn't matter. I would have to trust that she would make the right decision, one that would make her happy. My hopes, as a reader, were overshadowed by a character that was so real I felt I might know her.

And that's what's so special about this book. Jenny was sharing her story, I could hear her talking to me like a friend might over a coffee. There was no self-pity, no annoying sobbing for days – yes, Jenny's life was thrown into turmoil, but I liked her maturity. I liked how she faced up to one of the most dreadful experiences any of us can encounter.

A generation ago we had Friends Reunited and now we have the era of Facebook – allowing us to cyber-stalk our ex-partners, snoop on their new lives. But can we reconcile then with now? That's the dilemma facing Jenny and her friends. Can teenage crushes be rekindled and moulded into ever-lasting love? There's no easy answer to that question – Jenny is certainly unsure. 

Independent Jenny is still full of insecurities - they don't evaporate just because you have sole control over the remote. But being alone is surely better than being with the wrong person – the difficulty is recognising who that wrong person might be.

Sarah Louise Smith has a lovely, light style to her writing. The characters aren't bogged down, they're fresh and real - and even the gay friends are different enough to avoid the usual stereotypical clichés. 

Setting much of the plot in Scotland - on the Isle of Sky - was an unexpected treat. I was as inspired by the scenery as Jenny - watching the sun set every evening would be entertainment enough for me.

A book about infidelity is never going to be a barrel of laughs, but what's life without humour? Sarah Louise Smith doesn't force it - but even a sad situation can make us smile. I adored how she allowed natural humour to thread its way through Jenny's new life.

I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book in an on-line competition. I thought I'd download it and read it - eventually. But I dipped into the first chapter and that was it - no turning back.

The book is available from Amazon:
Independent Jenny

5 September 2014

Pets Aplenty by Malcolm D Welshman

Anyone lucky enough to have a pet knows they become not just part of the family – but are the family. Is it any wonder how we fret when they need the care of a professional – a vet?

Doctors, so we are led to believe, have a bedside manner – but what of that vet?

With so many nails to clip and sexual urges to curtail, it might all become a tad mundane for these particular professionals in their white coats. But fear not! At Malcolm D Welshmen’s Prospect House practice, the vets are as soft as their patients’ owners.

Pets Aplenty follows the exploits of young vet, Paul Mitchell, as he gets to grips with birds of prey, escaped pigs and sundry fowl. Paul’s a very likeable chap. The action is seen through his nervous eyes – but it’s clear he has all the makings of a dependable and reassuring vet.

Sometimes books of this kind – where the animals are the stars – can be a tad too sentimental, but Welshman’s plot creates realistic scenarios and very believable emotions. Paul is acutely aware of how his clients regard their animals – he’s lost his own pets and knows how awful it can be. And that’s what I found most touching – we learn an awful lot about the nature of vets, as much as we do about the animals they care for.

Inevitably there’s plenty of humour – what’s not funny about an escaped snake and a naked neighbour? But it’s gently humorous, cleverly woven through the routine of a vet in practice.

If I were lucky enough to share my life with another dog, I’d want Paul Mitchell at its bedside!

I received a copy of this book to review and it's available on Amazon (published by Austin Macauley): Pets Aplenty

10 August 2014

Dear Infidel by Tamim Sadikali

Sometimes a family saga can be a little like looking at someone’s holiday snaps – mildly interesting but not too engaging. 

Tamin Sadikali’s family in Dear Infidel engages on every level. It’s not the perfect family – does one exist? – it’s a family that struggles with life in Britain, a family often at odds with their own religion.

Each of the family has their own story to share and the author has weaved them together to produce an exquisitely written novel. It’s a novel of our times and it certainly taught me more than a few truths about modern Britain seen through the eyes of a Muslim family.

I felt that the author wanted to share those truths with sincerity, that he was almost desperate to do so. But there’s no hysterics here, the author has chosen his words carefully and that’s why it works. 

Although religion is integral to the novel, it's the characters that are key – how they cope with their own conflicts and restraints.

It might be the stock cliché of reviews and reviewers, but this novel deserves to be shared and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it adapted for TV.

The book is available from Amazon: Dear Infidel

7 August 2014

Guernsey Retreat by Anne Allen

Romance, intrigue, murder and a stunning location… all the elements of a perfect summer read.

If you’re planning on having a ‘staycation’ this year, Anne Allen’s latest novel in her Guernsey Series, could provide the break you need. But don’t worry if you haven’t read the first two – each is a complete novel in its own right. Guernsey Retreat leads us around the island, seeing it through the eyes of a first-timer. The reader is never left behind or excluded from any past events.

As I have read the series, I can recommend them all, if only so you experience the frisson of excitement as you recognise an element or character from the earlier novels.

The author writes in a confident and steady way – there’s no rush, she wants to set the scene and lead us into the plot so it remains credible. Good romance has to be credible!

I found this a very enjoyable read – perfect for a piece of romantic escapism.

The book is available from Amazon: 
Guernsey Retreat: Contemporary Romantic Mystery (The Guernsey Novels Book 3)

25 July 2014

Stonefall by Dene Bebbington

If a story can chill you on one of the hottest days of summer, you know it’s a good read.

Finding it too warm to work, I decided to bring the temperature down by reading this tale of terror.

It’s well written - very well written. Rather than rush into the action – before a reader has established their own relationship with the characters – the author took his time. When the action did begin, I knew enough about the four main characters to believe in their fears, not dismiss them as hysterics.

A nice little chiller – the perfect accompaniment to a beer!

This is a short read – but still worth the money - and available from Amazon to download:

12 July 2014

Edith's Return to Devon by Daniel Pitt

I had high hopes for this book. I bought it, hoping to read it when visiting Exmoor. As part of the plot centres around one particular region of the moor, I thought it would be the perfect read.

There's no doubt the author can write – but the book lacks polish. Too many errors detracted from my pleasure: lead/led Fathers/Father's past/passed fur trees/fir trees wondered/wandered Moon light Sonata/Moonlight Sonata – all had me gritting my teeth, and that was just the beginning (I only recorded errors within the first thirty pages).

This is a long book – and there's nothing wrong with that, provided it's been edited. Some sections should have been cut, it would have made a much tighter and enjoyable read. That would also have allowed the reader to become closer to the characters. Too many ‘brand names’ had been included, as if the author had felt it necessary to prove he’d undertaken some research.

The author must have spent so much time and effort on this book that I almost willed it to improve – but even towards the final pages... parent's should have been parents'. Basic errors have no place in a novel of this magnitude – or price.

In its current format I can only award it three stars. Error-free and with an edit, it's possibly worth four (on a good day).

I hope the author takes the time to update and correct this work – otherwise it remains a bad start to a very promising career.

The book is available from Amazon.

1 July 2014

Pebbles on a Beach by Jennifer Button

Usually I'm a sucker for a good saga and I had high hopes for this book. It's very much a character-driven novel and that’s something I normally enjoy. But in this case I didn't find the characters too believable and I struggled to find anything that really endeared them to me.

Initially the dialogue grated. Overuse of exclamation marks jarred as I felt I was listening to hyper-adolescents, not enthusiastic students. Eventually that settled down, but a little editing would have eased the plot along.

The author has clearly worked hard to develop those characters, but that work has been weakened by the high number of errors on too many pages.

Toni (female) became Tony – for a moment. But I was perplexed as, later, there actually was a (male) character named Tony. The choice of names is something authors obviously have within their power – but it’s too easy to trip up when wielding that power.

Punctuation and spacing errors should have been removed. A flick through the pages would have spotted the disaster of a line of text crashing the left margin. There were few pages that didn’t contain at least one error. Turned punctuation is a pet hate of mine – where an apostrophe has turned because Word hasn’t the intelligence to know what the author means.

No matter how hard an author works, presentation will always affect a reader's enjoyment and opinion. Perhaps my opinion has been clouded – but all readers place their hope for pleasure in the hands of an author and demand the complete package.

17 May 2014

Love Byte by David Atkinson

From the first chapter I was certain I was in for a treat. As David Atkinson described the beauty and romance of Andy and Lindsay’s perfect wedding, I knew – from the book’s blurb – what was to come. I almost held my breath as the marriage was blessed and doomed – all within those first few pages.

The poignancy of a motherless child and widowed husband watching a DVD of that ceremony set the tone for the book. But difficult moments were made bearable with well-written and perfectly pitched humour.

There’s often an inevitability with a rom-com – we expect tears of joy and a happy ending, but just how was the author going to reconcile such painful loss with that conclusion?

I often make notes when I’m reading a book. By page thirty, I’d simply written, ‘wow’. It wasn’t the humour – at that point we were still learning about Andy and Lindsay’s life – it was the emotion that poured from the pages that had that particular wow factor. Later, my notes recorded the ‘laugh out loud’ moments. A particular exchange towards the end of chapter ten demanded a ‘double lol’. By that time Andy was embarking on dates and this is where the dialogue showed how skilfully it had been crafted. Awkward conversations can read as stilted. But here the author managed to portray the reticence and nerves of our hero – it read like a polished script.

Good dialogue stems from the creation of believable characters. Lindsay, in particular, was given such a strong personality that even in death, she was a force to be reckoned with.  Carrie (a wannabe date) had a buzz of reality about her fully-charged nocturnal habits.

David Atkinson’s engaging plot springs more than a few surprises. Andy Hunter has a blokeyness about him that endears. Females think they know and understand men – and female writers can create men we reach to recognise. But you can’t beat a bloke – a talented one – writing about their kind and giving them the look of a crumpled shirt and the emotion a broken heart.

Acknowledging that dating is a minefield within the ultimate battle of the sexes, Andy Hunter does what a lot of us do when we need help, he googles. Even with our virtual advisors, dating in the 21st century isn’t straightforward. Finding some help from ‘Men like Women and Women like Shoes’, he goes with his instincts and suffers the unfortunate consequences – wisdom, it seems, can’t be downloaded.

For a number of reasons, single parents form a large part of our society and one of the elements I enjoyed in this book was how Andy Hunter coped with a role he neither desired nor deserved. His love for his daughter was paramount to the plot – Amy was always going to be the big love of his life.

When you’re writing for a niche market it would be too easy to write in clichés, basing the plot on the tried and tested themes we often see in books and films. David Atkinson hasn’t fallen into that trap. As the plot’s loose ends are tied up, more seemed to unravel. It’s not until the final pages that the author allows the reader to release that held breath.

Anyone who likes their romance with a touch of realism and not too much syrup will adore this book. The male of the species, if they’re lucky enough to get their hands on it, will recognise themselves or their mates – perhaps both.

If you thought you had tired of this genre, give it another ‘byte’ – Andy Hunter certainly deserves it!

I received a review copy from the publisher.

2 May 2014

The Shaping of Water by Ruth Hartley

Ruth Hartley has produced a novel that covers a period in modern history that’s remembered for brutality and injustice. With our ability to reflect on those past events, there could be a sense of impending doom. Instead, the author has created an air of change – you could almost smell it in the air.

The story is told through the experiences of a number of women, all connected to the region of the Zambezi Valley and the man-made lake that shapes the water. Through their lives we witness the birth of new states and new regimes.

A common thread, violence and change aside, was the struggle to develop and nurture the earth – for gardens and for food. The determination to turn a patch of dust into something full of life and life-giving seemed a metaphor for the struggles in this land.

Whilst I wasn’t necessarily drawn to Charles and Margaret – the two main characters, I did feel the others were carefully crafted and complete. In particular, Jo and Marielise had a passion for their country and each other. That passion leapt from the pages. Perhaps the staidness of Charles and Margaret was a deliberate contrast?

With her wealth of knowledge, the author has created a piece of work that is immensely detailed. At first I was a little baffled by the movement of time – back and forth. But I decided to go with the flow, enjoy each chapter and accept that I would eventually find my place in time.

The book contains so much factual information that there were times when I found it a struggle to fathom the details. But this is a complex subject and perhaps it shouldn’t be an easy read – although occasionally I found the facts were being shared in a heavy-handed manner. This is the challenge of writing a novel based on such an involved topic but on balance, the author got it about right.

A little polish would have made this novel really sparkle, but it's still a gem.

Edited 17th May: I've thought long and hard about this wonderful book and feel I've been a little harsh with my four stars - so I'm delighted to 'up' my review to five stars. Yes, a little polish is needed here and there - but it is one of the best books I've read this year.

Available from Amazon.

1 May 2014

Distinguished Leaves by Elizabeth Darcy Jones

You wait all year for me to review a collection of poetry and in the space of a few days, here's another!

I came across Elizabeth during a particularly refreshing exchange of banter on Twitter. Elizabeth is the House Poet for a wickedly enticing tearoom in Tisbury (Beatons Tearooms and Bookshop) – one look at the cakes and I was sold! – but we finally met at another venue, this time supporting the Purbeck Literary Festival at the Worth Matravers Tea & Supper Rooms.

What does all that have to do with my review? Everything! The setting, the scones, the performance of the poet – it was all perfectly brewed and I knew I had to read Elizabeth's collection.

We're all a tea, apparently. Elizabeth considers Earl Grey to be 'such a Nigel Havers of a tea' – but you need to read his foreword to discover if he agrees!

This is, as you might expect, a refreshingly uplifting collection of poems - whatever your choice of leaf, it's bound to appear. Mine? I'm never far from a mug of Camomile...a coward, weak and prone to sleeping...that's the tea, not me, I think.

Visit Elizabeth's website via this link – and see what else she has brewing!

And I nearly forgot – this is a lovely collection, I bought it for myself to enjoy but if you prefer tea for two, maybe you could buy it as a gift?!