Thursday, 30 June 2016

Reading Round-Up: May/June 2016

Image: Lorna Holland
It's scary to think that we're now halfway through the year already, but that also means it's time for the May/June reading round-up! If you missed the March/April post, you can find that here.



What is reading round-up?

Reading round-up is a simple way for me to keep track of everything book-related, and a fun way to show my readers what I've been reading over the last few months!

Out are the books I've read in March/April.

In are the books I've acquired during that time.

And wishlist are the books I've found out about and want to buy but haven't managed to get my hands on yet!


Out

In
  • Dead White Female (The Sam Jones Mysteries #1) by Lauren Henderson
  • The Girl Who Broke the Rules by Marnie Riches
  • The Valley of Heaven and Hell by Susie Kelly
  • Between the Bleeding Willows (The Demon Hunters #1) by D.A. Roach
  • Shades of Sydney (Sydney West #1) by Brittney Coon
  • The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • The Arrivals by Melissa Marr 
  • While My Eyes Were Closed by Linda Green
  • The Huntingfield Paintress by Pamela Holmes
  • The Inspector Rebus series (books #1-9) by Ian Rankin
  • Doors Open by Ian Rankin
  • The Mary Russell series (books #1-3) by Laurie R. King
  • Joe Sandilands series (books #1-3) by Barbara Cleverly
  • Sisters By a River by Barbara Comyns
  • Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
  • The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns
  • Spare Me the Drama by Karen Tomsovic 
  • Circle of Words by Brussels Writers' Circle
  • Summer Days & Summer Nights
  • We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  • Can You Read Without Prejudice? 
  • The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis
  • Time After Time by Hannah McKinnon 
  • The Serial Dater's Shopping List by Morgen Bailey
  • Thin Air by Michelle Paver

Wishlist
  • The Summer We All Ran Away by Cassandra Parkin
  • Starflight by Melissa Landers 
  • Paper and Fire (The Great Library #2) by Rachel Caine
  • Before I Die by Jenny Downham
  • Ordinary Joe by Jon Teckman
  • Always With Love by Giovanna Fletcher
  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  • You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour 
  • The UnTied Kingdom by Kate Johnson
What have you been reading recently? Have you read a book I should know about? Let me know in the comments below!

#Blogival - Book Review & Giveaway (CLOSED): Tim Connor Hits Trouble by Frank Lankaster

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Tim Connor Hits Trouble defies conventional genres. It is funny, occasionally violent, intelligent, controversial and full of sexual twists and turns.

We meet Tim Connor just as his marriage hits the rocks and as he is about to 'escape' to a new job in the Social Science Department at Wash University. Far from finding tranquility, Tim 'hits trouble' in Wash both personally and at work. Now 'on the loose' he has several interesting and 'unusual' encounters with women. At work, Tim finds himself drawn into a conflict between an old rebel academic, Henry Jones, and the ambitious Head of Faculty, Howard Swankie, that culminates in a tense and dramatic climax. 

Within the novel's lively narrative, characters argue, sometimes angrily, over the direction of contemporary higher education - making this a relevant as well as a gripping and highly enjoyable novel.

Image: Clink Street Publishing
As a recent graduate, I will happily take any opportunity that presents itself to relive my university days. Tim Connor Hits Trouble was a perfect excuse to do just that. Even though it's told from the perspective of a lecturer (the eponymous Tim Connor), the author still manages to capture the essence of higher education. 

Higher education politics

I don't actually know much about the author, but from the way Lankaster writes it's clear that he is very knowledgeable about higher education and the social science subjects. The current controversial 'campus politics' and hierarchical restructuring that are present throughout the book show that Lankaster is highly familiar with the issues that face the majority of higher education institutions at the moment. I would hazard a guess that Lankaster is actually a lecturer himself, as parts of Tim's story sound almost autobiographical. 

As an English graduate, I have to admit I knew very little of even the most basic of the scientific and philosophical theories discussed in the book. I tried my best to understand as much as I could (having recently been introduced to the theory that the fields of literature and physics are in fact linked seemed to help) but I did find my eyes glazing over after reading several consecutive pages of academic indulgence. My concern is that the average reader, like myself, will become disinterested by these parts of the book. But then, maybe Lankaster did write it with an intended audience of intelligent and well-schooled academics in mind - who knows?

Old vs new

One aspect I particularly enjoyed reading about was the conflict between Howard Swankie (the head of department) and Henry Jones. Henry and Howard represent the two most extreme polar opposites of academia. Howard is part of the new wave of academics. Everything is played by the rules, and anything that can't be neatly categorised and stops his rise to the top is wrong. Henry is the biggest thorn in Howard's side. Henry represents the 'golden age' of academics, where staff were left to their own devices without 'interference' (as he puts it) from the management. In many ways Henry reminds me of Frank from Educating Rita. Think of the old, washed-up, and slightly sad alcohol-dependent academic, and that's Henry. Their constant conflict represents the struggle between the old and new ways in education on a much bigger scale, and the way things come to a head between them is fascinating.

Life

For me, Tim's life outside the university took a backseat to the drama unfolding within it. His struggle to maintain relationships with his daughter and elderly mother were interesting, but I didn't find them as captivating as all the goings-on at Wash. The author also devoted a lot of time to Tim's relationship problems, when I would have preferred to have seen other secondary characters fleshed out instead. The American exchange professor, Brad, was one character in particular that I felt had a lot more to give. 

But despite all that, Tim Connor Hits Trouble is a solid, realistic account of academic life. Whether you're familiar with the higher education scene or not, it's still an eye-opening read.

Rating: 3 stars.

Tim Connor Hits Trouble is available to buy now.

I also have a signed copy of the book to give away to one lucky winner. For your chance to win, enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and conditions:
1. Giveaway closes on 10th July 2016 at 11.59pm (GMT).
2. The prize consists of one signed copy of Tim Connor Hits Trouble by Frank Lankaster.
3. Upon confirmation of the winner's address, the prize will be sent to the winner by Authoright PR and Clink Street Publishing, NOT The Writing Greyhound.
4. This giveaway is open to residents of the UK, US and Northern Ireland aged 18 and over.
5. The winner will be randomly generated by Rafflecopter once the giveaway has ended.
6. The winner will be informed by email once the giveaway has ended.
7. The winner will have 72 hours to claim their prize. If the winner has not responded by this time, another winner will be announced.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Glastonbury 2016: The view from the sofa

* Originally published here by Kettle Mag.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Glastonbury festival is one of the UK's biggest cultural institutions and one of the most popular and most talked about festivals in the world. With the festival attracting bigger and bigger names each year, all eyes were on Worthy Farm to see if 2016's line-up would deliver.

Tickets for Glastonbury are notoriously difficult to come by, so the fact that a great deal of the festival is broadcast by the BBC makes it a lot easier to stay up to date with everything that goes on over the weekend. If you, like me, prefer to watch the performances from the comfort of your own home, the BBC's coverage is ideal. You can pick and choose which performances you want to see, skip the ones you don't, and enjoy the festival atmosphere without even leaving the house.

#GlastoProblems

If you go to a festival (especially in the UK), you kind of expect to encounter some mud. However, due to the very wet June we've had, this year's festival-goers had to deal with the 'worst ever mud' Glastonbury has ever had. If you combine that with the travel chaos the festival caused last Wednesday, where every major route to the festival site came to a standstill and people were left queueing to get into the site for up to 12 hours, this year's visitors have had more than their fair share of Glasto problems. If you then add Thursday's EU Referendum and the subsequent Brexit into the mix, it's a wonder that the festival ran as well as it did. 

If anything, the bad weather and general mood of the country did the opposite of dampening Glastonbury's spirits. Performers and fans alike seemed intent on carrying on regardless, and banded together to promote a feeling of solidarity at odds with the current political climate. Glastonbury has always been a transcendent hotspot of the weird and wonderful, but this year its roots shone through more than ever.
This year's headliners were Muse (Friday night), Adele (Saturday night) and Coldplay (Sunday night). Back when the headliners were announced, a lot of people were querying whether songstress Adele was the right choice for a Glastonbury headliner. In scenes reminiscent of rapper Kanye West's controversial headline set last year, Glasto fans were asking if Adele would be a success. After all, being a headliner at Glastonbury is no small feat.

Adele

It's just as well, then, that Adele was well aware of the doubters. Using them to stoke the fire of her performance, she put on an incredible show on Saturday night at the Pyramid Stage. One of the best things about Adele, songs aside, is her personality. It's that surprising yet charming contrast between Adele the singer and Adele the person that really makes her unique. Even following her rise to success, she is incredibly genuine, down to earth, and just plain likeable. She quite happily plunges into the crowd between songs, emerging with a fez and a stuffed toy, invites one emotional Brazilian fan onstage for a chat and a selfie, and addresses everyone as 'my darling'. She's also remarkably self-aware, pointing out during her set that she 'doesn't have a lot of happy songs'. But that doesn't matter. The set was comprised of all her biggest hits, and the audience were more than content to lap up ballad after ballad, belting out the lyrics along with Adele. Following a stunning rendition of 'Someone Like You', arguably her most successful track, she leaves the stage. There's no encore, because she simply doesn't need one. After that performance, I hope she's managed to silence her doubters for good.
The job of headlining Sunday night and closing out the 2016 festival fell to Glastonbury veterans Coldplay. 2016 marked the band's fourth time headlining the show, a record-breaking figure, and it's not hard to see why they keep being invited back. On the whole, Coldplay are one of those bands everyone loves to hate; a title which I've always personally felt is rather unfair and undeserved.

Coldplay

In fact, tough as it was to beat Adele, in my opinion Coldplay delivered the best performance of the entire weekend. From start to finish, their sheer energy and gratitude to be back at 'the best place in the world' was clear to see. Theirs was an interactive, feelgood, sing-a-long set, and the atmosphere was so electric it managed to seep not only through the captivated crowd, but also into the homes of everyone watching live across the country. Even a piano malfunction couldn't stop the rainbow rave - instead frontman Chris Martin improvised with a solo version of 'Everglow'. Coldplay also played tribute to the band Viola Beach, who were tragically killed earlier in the year, with a touching performance of their song 'Boys That Sing' which allowed Viola Beach to 'headline' Glastonbury.
In a slightly bizarre turn of events, former Bee Gee Barry Gibb joined Coldplay on stage for a rendition of 'You Don't Know What It's Like' followed by, as Martin introduced it, "the greatest song of all time" - or 'Staying Alive'. The crowd went wild, singing and dancing along, waving flags, drinks, and even a couple of inflatable flamingos (don't ask me why - it's Glastonbury!) As if all that wasn't enough, they were joined during the encore by festival founder Michael Eavis for a mass karaoke rendition of 'My Way' (again, because Glastonbury!)

Explosions of colour, fireworks and confetti, and a really imaginative and effective use of light-up wristbands in the crowd added to the celebratory atmosphere. What were they celebrating? As Chris Martin said, "we came here a little scared for the state of the world. But to see Glastonbury makes you believe together we can do anything".

What did you think of Glastonbury this year? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Cover Reveal: Red Lights, Black Hearts by Fabiola Francisco

Today I'm super excited to be able to reveal the amazing cover for author Fabiola Francisco's latest book, Red Lights, Black Hearts.

And wow - what a cover it is!

Image: Fabiola Francisco
It's a strong, sassy, sexy cover that perfectly fits the book description - definitely makes me want to get stuck into reading it now!

Red Lights, Black Hearts by Fabiola Francisco

Release date: 18th July

Don't forget to add the book on Goodreads!

Image: Fabiola Francisco
Darkness can be stained by light. Light can outshine the darkest of corners.
Behind a window in Amsterdam’s desired Red Light District, Samantha practices the art of seduction. Man after man, she controls them, seeking what they both want. But behind the faΓ§ade of the glass, lies her truth waiting to be uncovered. An inner battle of light and dark takes place as Sam learns to release the past and truly live the beautiful tragedy that is life.

Red lights and black hearts collide in a tale of heart and soul.

Image: Fabiola Francisco
About the author

Fabiola Francisco is a contemporary romance author from South Florida. Writing has been a part of her life since she was a teenager. Even at that age, she dreamed of happy endings with emotional twists. She currently has five books released, her latest being Whiskey Nights.

Her passion for books and writing has inspired her to write her own stories. She writes novels readers could relate to and grow with. She’s currently working on writing more stories that connect with readers on a deeper.

Fabiola also loves expressing herself through art and spending time in nature. In her spare time, she loves to cuddle with a good book and a glass of wine.

To find out more about Fabiola and her books, visit her website, follow her on Facebook or Twitter, or visit her Amazon author page.

What do you think of the cover? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 24 June 2016

#Blogival - Extract & Giveaway (CLOSED): A Father's Betrayal by Gabriella Gillespie


Continuing with the Clink Street #Blogival, today I have an exclusive extract from A Father's Betrayal by Gabriella Gillespie to share with you.

Telling the story of a murdered mother, being sold as a child bride, and 17 years of living with an abusive husband, A Father's Betrayal is an unflinching memoir from Gabriella Gillespie. Brutally honest, it doesn't shy away from the truth, yet in doing so Gabriella's voice epitomises hope and inspiration for women around the world.

Image: Authoright PR / Clink Street Publishing
---

“Ouch!” I screamed, as Yas smacked me in the face, “I’m telling Dad on you!”

“Go ahead, he was the one who told me to do it,” she replied.

Yas and I had been sitting on the floor in our living room watching TV. I was around five years old and Yas, my older sister, around six and half. I’d picked up a bad habit of making funny movements with my face without realising I was doing it, stretching my nose and mouth in a downwards position. I ran out of the living room screeching as loud as possible to get Mum’s attention, and towards the kitchen where Mum was, straight into her arms.

“Muna, baby, what’s wrong with you?” she asked as she picked me up and cuddled me while wiping away my tears.

“Yas punched me in the face,” I lied.

“No I did not!” Yas came storming in. “You’re such a liar! I just gave you a little slap to stop you from making those stupid faces, and anyway Dad told me to do it!”

“Dad told you to do what?” Mum asked. She wasn’t happy with Yas for hitting me, but hearing Dad told her to do it made her angry. “He said if you catch your sister pulling those silly faces again give her a slap!” Yas replied.

“No, Yas, that’s not the way to stop her from doing it, so I’m telling you to apologize to your sister and do not hit her again.” Yas was always the stubborn one.

“No way, that’s not fair! Dad told me to do it so get him to apologize when he gets back; it’s not my fault, why do I always get the blame?” Yas stormed out of the kitchen and upstairs, stomping her feet as she went along so we would get the message that she was upset; the next thing we heard was the bedroom door slam.

“Don’t worry baby, I will talk to your Dad, but you really need to stop making those faces, they spoil your pretty face!” Mum kissed me and told me to go upstairs and make up with my sister.

I went upstairs into the bedroom that I shared with Yas. I sat next to her on her bed but she shoved me with her feet. “Get off my bed!” she sulked.

“Sorry for telling Mum on you, Yas, but you hurt me,” I replied.

“Yeah I know Moo, and I’m sorry, but if you keep pulling that stupid face you’re going to end up staying like that forever, so if I see you doing it again I’m going to smack you! Anyway you know Mum and Dad are going to argue now, don’t you?”

There were four of us sisters. Ablah was around nine and a half years old and Issy, whose real name was Ismahan, was about eight, then there was Yasmin who we called Yas, and me, Muna, who they called Moo. Yas also called me Moo cow because she said I was a cow bag, and I had big eyes like a cow! She also said I talked a load of bull and had a wild imagination! That evening after dinner we all sat down to watch TV in the living room. As usual we girls would all sit on the floor in front of the TV. Yas sat to the side of me, her eyes glued to my face, and as soon as I pulled the face, smack! I let out a huge scream!

“I can’t believe you did that again!” Mum shouted at Yas.

“Dad told me to do it, didn’t you Dad?” was my sister’s calm reply, as she looked at Dad.

Dad was sat comfortably in his chair. “She needs to learn,” he mumbled. That set off an argument between Mum and Dad! Mum didn’t believe in smacking whereas Dad apparently didn’t have a problem with it. Mum sent us all to our rooms while they kept on arguing, the next morning everything seemed fine. Yas and I tiptoed downstairs as quietly as possible, we made it to the kitchen.

“Come on, bunk me up,” I whispered. Yas was still trying to bunk me up onto the kitchen top when mum came through the door!

“Caught red handed once again, you two!” she teased as she started to chase us around the kitchen. “You need to wait for your sisters. Ablah, Issy, come on, hurry up!” Mum shouted out.

As they were coming downstairs Mum reached up into the kitchen cupboard and took out a bottle of malt. As she turned around to get a spoon from the drawer she laughed when she saw I was already stood there with a spoon in my hand! “It’s a good job you love this stuff isn’t it?” she smiled.

Since we were babies Mum had propped us on the kitchen top every morning come rain or shine and given us each a spoonful of malt. She would always tell us, “This will help you grow to be tall and beautiful!” We loved it so much we would always beg for more.

Mum was called Mary Yafai and she was from Birmingham. Every morning she would take us to school without fail, and she always watched us go in and waved us goodbye. Then she would go off and see her friends, mum had lots of friends in the area, even though she wasn’t from the area that we were living in. We were living in Grafton Road, Newport, South Wales.

She was really beautiful and when she walked down the street heads would turn; she was tall and slim with long dark hair, and long legs that she liked to show off!

She had met Dad when she was really young. Dad was also a good looking guy with his Middle Eastern looks; he was Ali Abdulla Saleh Yafai, a Yemeni guy who had moved to England around 24 years earlier. I think they met when Mum was only around 15 because she married really young and she had Yas when she was only 16.

Ablah and Issy were not Mum’s biological daughters, although Mum loved them just as much. Mum insisted she bring them up when she found out they were in a care home because their real mum had given them up after she left Dad. Mum insisted she wanted us all to grow up together, she believed sisters shouldn’t be apart.

Yas and I never knew at first that our older sisters were not Mum’s daughters. We found out when I was around five and Mum and Dad had a huge argument and Mum took us to her parents’ house in Birmingham.

Dad refused to allow my older sisters to come with us, saying Mum wasn’t their real mother so had no rights to take them. We returned after a couple of days because neither Mum nor us could stand being away from our sisters.

Mum’s family hated Dad and were not supportive of her relationship with him. We visited them every once in a while, usually when our parents had an argument. Dad never came with us, he wasn’t welcomed in our grandparents’ home.

Dad worked away a lot; he had different part time jobs. He was a part time butcher and would deliver meat in a van he owned. He also worked in Llanwern steelworks in Newport Gwent and part time as a labourer up and down the country.

He had lots of friends from his home country; he would take us to their homes and would chat to them for hours in a language we couldn’t understand. He and his friends would say to us, “You need to learn Arabic, you will need to speak it one day!” We would run off laughing, blurting out, “Blah, blah, blah!”

Mum hated it when Dad took us to his friends’ houses and they would constantly argue over it. If she found out we had gone alone to play with other children and gone inside their houses without permission she would be furious with us!

Even though Mum and Dad argued a lot we girls were happy. We would hardly ever leave Mum’s side and she always loved to dress us up in the latest fashion. She and Dad had different ideas on what clothes we should wear, but Dad was never around so Mum got to dress us up just like she wanted, skirts instead of trousers like Dad wanted!

Mum loved having a house full of kids. At one time we had four other children living with us. There were two boys and two girls whose father was also Arabic. I think they lived with us because their Mum had left them and their Dad had a new girlfriend who didn’t look after them properly. Whatever the reason, they stayed with us for many months.

It was the day before Mum’s 26th birthday, on 2nd September 1971. Mum took us to school and told us she would see us that afternoon. My sisters and I were excited because we always did something special on someone’s birthday. After she dropped us off we were secretly planning what we could do or give her for her birthday; we decided to make her a card that evening.

It was Dad who picked us up in his meat van, something he had never done before. When Yas asked where Mum was he told us she had gone to stay with her parents and wouldn’t be back for a while.

---

A Father's Betrayal is available to buy now.

If you enjoyed the extract you're in luck, as I've got a signed copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader! Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below - good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and Conditions:
1. Giveaway closes on 3rd July 2016 at 11.59pm (GMT).
2. The prize consists of one signed copy of A Father's Betrayal by Gabriella Gillespie.
3. Upon confirmation of the winner's address, the prize will be sent to the winner by Authoright PR and Clink Street Publishing, NOT The Writing Greyhound.
4. This giveaway is open to residents of the UK, US and Northern Ireland aged 18 and over.
5. The winner will be randomly generated by Rafflecopter once the giveaway has ended.
6. The winner will be informed by email once the giveaway has ended.
7. The winner will have 72 hours to claim their prize. If the winner has not responded by this time, another winner will be announced.

I've got one more post to come as part of the Blogival, so look out for a review of Frank Lankaster's Tim Connor Hits Trouble coming on the 30th! In the meantime, don't forget to check out all the other fantastic Blogival content! 

Will you be reading A Father's Betrayal? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Extra Smile Back Project: Book Review & Giveaway (CLOSED)

What makes children smile?

New research has found that the thing most likely to make a child smile is a bedtime story. The survey (commissioned by Wrigley's Extra) found that it's the simple things in life that really make children happy, with the top 3 results being 'pulling silly faces', 'reading stories', and 'playing hide-and-seek'.

Wrigley's Extra commissioned the survey to coincide with the launch of their Extra Smile Back Project. The project aims to protect children's smiles by donating money to children's charity Action for Children from every packet of sugar-free gum sold during the promotional period. They plan to use the money to run workshops alongside the Oral Health Foundation, aiming to protect the smiles of over 10,000 children across the UK.


As part of the campaign, they have recently released a book - The Lost Smile. Written by children's poet Joseph Coelho and illustrated by Sheena Dempsey, the book aims to remind both parents and children about the importance of smiling, and how best to protect your own smile.

The Lost Smile is a charming story about a little boy called Kyle whose parents and sister have lost their smiles. Armed with his bag of smile-searching tools, Kyle sets out to try and find his family's lost smiles. It's an incredibly sweet little story, sure to be a hit with both children and their parents alike. The story itself is written in a great form - it's clear to see the author's poetic background shining through, and Sheena Dempsey's illustrations are the perfect accompaniment.

The book is being distributed through Wrigley's Extra's partnership with The Co-Operative, with the aim of reaching children in the parts of the country which are worst hit by childhood tooth decay. For more information, visit the website, where you can also buy a copy of the book for only £3.99 - all proceeds will go to charity.

Giveaway

Thanks to the lovely people behind the campaign, I also have 5 copies to give away! The giveaway will be running consecutively across my social media channels. There's one copy to be won from Facebook and Twitter respectively, and 3 copies are up for grabs right here on the blog - just enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. Remember, the more ways you enter, the higher your chances of winning. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and conditions:
1. Giveaway closes on 3rd July 2016 at 11.59pm (GMT).
2. The prize consists of five copies (one per winner) of The Lost Smile.
3. There will be three winners from my blog, one from Facebook, and one from Twitter. Entrants may enter via all three methods to increase their chances of winning.
4. This giveaway is open to residents of the UK aged 18 and over.
5. The winners will be randomly generated once the giveaway has ended.
6. The winners will be informed by email once the giveaway has ended.
7. The winners will have 72 hours to claim their prize. If the winner/s have not responded by this time, another winner will be announced.

Will you be supporting the campaign? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Book Review: Tiger Days and the Secret Cat by Sarah Lean

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Meet animal lover, Tiger Days! A brand-new young fiction series about animals, friendship and adventure by bestselling author Sarah Lean. Beautiful black-and-white illustrations throughout.

When nine-year-old Tiger Days stays with her grandmother at Willowgate House she never knows what might happen… new friends to meet, animals to rescue and problems to solve!

Tiger’s grandmother looks after animals in need and on her first visit, Tiger quickly learns how to feed a baby warthog and keep it safe. Tiger already has her hands full, but then a mysterious sound leads her to another little animal…

At Willowgate House, no day is ever dull for Tiger!

Image: HarperCollins Children's Books / Big Shot PR
As a child, stories about animals were always among my favourites to read. Tiger Days is a series that would have been right up my street when I was younger, and even reading it now as an adult I still really enjoyed the book.

As her name suggests, Tiger Days loves tigers - hands down, they're her favourite animal. Luckily for Tiger, her grandma looks after animals in need. In the holidays, Tiger goes to stay with her grandma at old, rambling, falling-down Willowgate House. During her time at Willowgate, Tiger learns to love and care for an orphaned baby warthog that comes to stay. Along with her new-found friend Tom, the two children gradually learn to become animal trainers.

Bravery

Above all else. this is a really sweet story about family, friendship, and being brave. It's written incredibly well - no one aspect of the book overshadows the others, and it's engaging enough to keep younger readers entertained while also being sufficiently interesting for older readers. Tiger's growing friendship with Tom and the way she gradually gets to know her grandma better are really lovely to read about.

However, it's her relationship with the animals that really sets this story apart. Throughout the book, Tiger's attitude to animals, particularly the baby warthog, changes drastically. She starts off being almost repulsed by the warthog, before slowly coming to accept it. The passage where she gives it a name and the reason she gives for the name she chooses is incredibly touching, reaching a level of maturity many books for adults would struggle to achieve.

A brilliant start to the Tiger Days series, I'm looking forward to reading about Tiger's next adventure!

Rating: 4 stars.

Tiger Days and the Secret Cat is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Book Review: Dotty Detective by Clara Vulliamy

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Meet Dorothy Constance Mae Louise, or Dot as she prefers to be called! Dot loves super-sour apple sherberts, running fast and puzzles - especially if they're fiendishly tricky. And with the help of trusty sidekick, Beans and TOP DOG, McClusky, she is always ready to sniff out a mystery. So when mean girl Laura seems set on sabotaging the school talent show, Dot is determined to find out how and save the day...

Image: Big Shot PR / HarperCollins Children's Books
Dotty Detective is a brilliantly fun and feisty book for young readers. The main character, Dot, has a larger-than-life personality and enough energy and enthusiasm to entertain even the most reluctant of readers! 

Dot, her faithful hound McClusky, and her school friend Beans, all join up to make their own detective agency. Armed with an awesome agency name, club badges, and their own secret pink wafer communication code, the trio are ready to do some detective work. Soon enough an opportunity presents itself, as Dot thinks mean girl Laura is out to ruin their friend Amy's chances in the school talent show. 

Larger than life

The characters are all really enjoyable to read about. From Dot's passion for puzzles to Amy's quiet talent, the entire cast of characters is great. The only slight niggle I have is with Laura. Typecast as the baddie, Laura lives up to her stereotype perfectly. The problem with that is that she quickly becomes nothing more than a two-dimensional character. She's there to fill the role of baddie but doesn't have any real redeeming characteristics, which is a shame as this lets down the otherwise stellar cast. 

However, the thing that really makes this book stand out is the design and layout. It's set out in a diary format, and every page is adorned with little details and illustrations that really add to the content. Maps, stickers, photographs, and so much more really set Dotty Detective apart from the crowd. Then, of course, there are the illustrations. The author does her own illustrations, which is great as you can see everything exactly how Vulliamy imagined it as she was writing. They're really lovely illustrations as well, and you can see how much care and thought has gone into creating them. Visually, the book is a delight.

Rating: 3 stars.

A fabulous, fun detective story for younger readers, Dotty Detective is available to buy now.

What are your thoughts on the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Book Review: Rent a Bridesmaid by Jacqueline Wilson

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tilly can’t believe it when her best friend Matty is asked to be a bridesmaid. In Tilly’s favourite daydream, she’s kitted out in the most beautiful bridesmaid dress, walking down the aisle behind a beautiful bride. The one wedding she’d really like to attend is her own mum and dad’s. But as that’s never going to happen, it’s time for Tilly to make her own dream come true – and put her bridesmaid services up for hire . . .

A fabulous, funny and moving story about the power of friendship from the mega-bestselling author of Tracy Beaker, Hetty Feather and Katy. Full of beautiful illustrations by much-loved illustrator, Nick Sharratt.

Image: Big Shot PR / Doubleday Children's Books
Continuing my two-day Jacqueline Wilson takeover (you can find yesterday's review of Katy here), today I have a review of one of her newest titles, Rent a Bridesmaid. 

Rent a Bridesmaid is the story of Tilly, a young girl whose biggest dream is to be a bridesmaid. When her best friend Matty gives Tilly her very own bridesmaid dress, Tilly takes the opportunity to put her bridesmaid skills to the test, advertising her bridesmaid services.

Touching

Although this sounds like a simple, light-hearted story on the surface, as any Jacqueline Wilson fan will know, there is, of course, a deeper reason behind Tilly's desire to be a bridesmaid. The one wedding Tilly really wants to be a bridesmaid for is her parent's wedding. Her whole dream pivots around her desire for her parents to get back together again, which to read is both equal parts sweet and touchingly sad.

So instead, Tilly becomes the bridesmaid for as wide a variety of couples as you can imagine. The friendships she strikes up with these couples are lovely - proof that the unlikeliest of circumstances can throw up the most genuine friendships and relationships. Tilly's friendship with Matty is also a pleasure to read about. The two girls are polar opposites, not just in personality but in terms of their lifestyle too. But despite this, the way they gel together and become best friends is very well written.

Another success for Wilson

I felt this one was a little slow to get going, but the story itself is as touching as any of Wilson's finest work. Jacqueline Wilson is one of those rare authors with the ability to write a children's book that adults can easily read as well as children without becoming disinterested. From an adult's perspective, I still found this book to be incredibly heartfelt and emotional. Perhaps even more so than a child would find it as many younger readers would subconsciously gloss over the subtle nuances of mood and character, focusing instead on the main theme of friendship. Either way, Rent a Bridesmaid is a joy to read, and is sure to be another success for Jacqueline Wilson.

Rating: 3 stars.

Rent a Bridesmaid is available to buy now.

What's your favourite Jacqueline Wilson book? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Book Review: Katy by Jacqueline Wilson

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Katy Carr is a lively, daredevil oldest sister in a big family. She loves messing around outdoors, climbing on the garage roof, or up a tree, cycling, skateboarding, swinging.... But her life changes in dramatic and unexpected ways after a serious accident.

Inspired by the classic novel, What Katy Did, Jacqueline Wilson creates an irresistible twenty-first-century heroine. Fans of Hetty Feather and Tracy Beaker will fall in love with Katy and her family too.

Image: Puffin / Big Shot PR
For years I've been a big Jacqueline Wilson fan, so when I was offered the chance to review some of her latest books I couldn't pass up the opportunity! The first of these books was Katy, Wilson's modern-day retelling of the classic What Katy Did. I have to admit my memories of the original story were a little hazy (having not read it since my own childhood), but I could remember enough to know the basic direction of the storyline.

Character development

I've read a lot of reviews of this book where the reviewers have complained about various aspects of it. One of the chief complaints was that the story takes too long to get going - we're about 200 pages in before Katy has her accident. Personally, I don't find this a problem. I think we need this much of an introduction to be able to properly get to grips with Katy and her family. If we don't fully see what Katy is like before her accident, the effects it has on her not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well, aren't fully appreciated later on in the book.

After all, the way that the accident affects Katy is the real meat of this story, much more so than the actual accident itself. Katy's life changes overnight, and the way that she has to come to terms with this is what is most interesting to read about. Of course, disability is a big issue for Katy to tackle, and I think Wilson deals with it very well. I've seen some people questioning the use of certain derogatory terms and disability slurs that various characters use in the book, but I don't see it as a problem here because they are only mentioned in context, and in a real-life situation, sadly, it's likely that these terms would be used. If anything, I think the way that the majority of Katy's family and friends deal with her disability is spot on, because it's reinforcing the point that Katy, as a person, hasn't changed - she's still the same as she was before the accident.

Realism

During the first half of the book, Wilson stays largely true to the original. However, in What Katy Did, Katy eventually recovers the use of her legs after changing her character and doing 'good deeds'. In Wilson's version, this doesn't happen. I applaud the author for making this choice, especially as it helps to ground the story and makes it even more relatable to its audience. It's realistic, and in these circumstances, that's important.

All in all, I have to disagree with those negative reviews I've read. I think this is a very strong retelling of a classic children's story, and the tricky subject matter only proves Wilson's worth as a master storyteller even further!

Rating: 4 stars.

Katy is available to buy now.

Are you a Jacqueline Wilson fan? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 10 June 2016

#Blogival - Book Review: We Never Let Go by Tracy Peppiatt

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


It is said that a picture paints a thousand words but unless those words are revealed the viewer has to make their own interpretation. A family photograph like thousands of others may give a clue to the location and time through clothing and scenery, but what is not apparent are the thoughts, aspirations, and life of those portrayed. This is a story of a working class family, whose voyage through the rapidly changing society of the 60's and 70's, was probably like many others.

But the difference with this story is that despite the often genuinely desperate situations that they found themselves, they persevered throughout with love and mutual dependence but primarily because there was little choice. The bond that holds us all together through all of life's twists and turns and ultimately determines how we turn out in later life is the underlying story that is revealed. However, as we are the product of our response to our experiences through life, we ultimately never let go.

Image: Tracy Peppiatt / Clink Street Publishing
I have to admit that I don't usually pick up books of the 'poor me' self-pitying sub-genre of memoirs. From reading other reviews, I saw that We Never Let Go could easily have slipped into that category, a fact which was further affirmed when I began to read it myself. However, I agree with the majority of the other reviewers in the fact that this book doesn't actually focus on that aspect. Yes, without a doubt it's clear that the author had a tough upbringing and some difficult moments throughout life, but although those are integral to the story, they aren't what makes the story. Instead, it's the honest depiction of human nature and family that really draws you in. The author is unflinchingly honest in her no-holds-barred approach to telling her family's story, which combines perfectly with the gritty reality of the life she illustrates.

The stark, almost bleak reality of working class life in Northern England at the time is well documented, however it's only through accounts such as this that the atmosphere is really brought to life. For a personal account, the narration is surprisingly insightful, really capturing the essence of the time.

We Never Let Go is a fast-paced, emotional ride from start to finish. It's clear just how important family is to the author, and the understated yet incredibly heartfelt tributes to her family are skilfully written. The fast pace makes it a very quick read, but it also suits the identity of the book. Coming away, you are left with a sense of melancholy for things that once were. It captures the fleeting, ever-changing nature of life; life is short, and things will never be the same as they are in the moment.

Rating: 3 stars.

We Never Let Go is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Book Review: Happily by Sophie Tanner

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

How far will you go for your Happily Ever After?

Chloe Usher’s had enough of being asked why she's ‘still single’; people can’t seem to understand why she’s not freaking out about the slippery slope to spinsterhood. But, as far as Chloe’s concerned, life is sweet; she’s happy, she loves her job, her friends and her flat share next to Brighton beach. One summer evening, after being told that she will never know what love is until she has children, she decides to say ‘actually, I do!’ and announces to her friends that she’s going to marry herself. She’s not quite prepared for the huge reaction to her news on social media and finds herself thrust firmly into the public eye; suddenly she’s a spokesperson for every crazy cat lady out there. With the warm support of her colourful extended family, Chloe attempts to justify her self wedding and the events that unfold take her on a bumpy journey of self-discovery - making exciting new connections and settling old ghosts.

This is a cheeky, original and light-heartedly subversive tale that challenges the notion of ‘settling down’.

Image: Sophie Tanner
Right from the very start, it's clear that Happily is going to be an unorthodox love story. The author throws off all the usual chicklit romance cliches, not least the very important fact that this is not a boy-meets-girl scenario, from the beginning. It's actually quite refreshing to read something so unique from such an overdone genre. 

As far as lead characters go, Chloe is great to read about. Her life is incredibly varied, ranging from family drama to a wide range of vastly different friends, to her own realisations of acceptance and loving herself. Chloe isn't the only one in Happily who leads an interesting life though. The whole book is jam-packed full of vibrant and colourful characters, who really bring the story to life through a myriad of viewpoints, situations, and intriguing subplots.

Pride

There are almost too many fascinating subplots to pick out from this maelstrom of characters. In fact, the author could easily write a whole series of spin-offs featuring them, there's that much scope with a cast like this. However, I have to pick out Joey and (without spoilers) the events that take place at Pride. Things like this are incredibly important to raise awareness that these kinds of anti-LGBTQ incidents do still happen, even at events as high profile as Pride.

Should people be able to marry themselves?

Of course, it's impossible to review this book without talking about the concept of marrying yourself. Regardless of your opinions on the matter, and whether it's right or wrong, you can't deny that it makes for an interesting debate. Should people be legally able to marry themselves?

Several people in the book itself raise the argument that it's actually incredibly self-centred, while others, Chloe included, counter this by saying that it's just an awareness of the ability to love yourself. Chloe is right in the fact that in today's society you're almost seen as incomplete if you aren't married by a certain age, and the whole notion that you need a partner to be happy is, sadly, a view shared by many people. The fact that Chloe is able (although admittedly not legally) to marry herself is actually quite empowering. Despite all the media attention she receives for her marriage in the book, her reasons for wanting to go ahead with the marriage are clear. It's important for everyone to love themselves and feel comfortable and happy with their lives, with or without a partner, and for me this book epitomises that.

Rating: 3 stars.

Happily is available to buy now. To find out more, visit Sophie's website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

What do you think about the idea of marrying yourself? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 3 June 2016

#Blogival - Guest Post: Why it is important to tell the story of the Battle of Narvik, by Ron Cope

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Ron Cope to TWG as my first offering for the Clink Street Publishing Summer Blogival.

Ron Cope is the author of Attack at Dawn, a fascinating novel about the First Battle of Narvik in World War Two, released to mark the 75th anniversary of the battle. Attack at Dawn focuses on the bravery of the young naval officers, including Ron's own father, who were behind this dramatic military campaign, telling their story through first-hand real life experiences.


Why it is important to tell the story of the Battle of Narvik, especially the 75th Anniversary

There are a number of factors that inspired me to tell the story of the Battles of Narvik, 10th April 1940. Not just because my father Cyril Cope was then a twenty one year old Torpedoman on board the flotilla leader HMS Hardy; although it appears he had a photographic memory and being part of the torpedoes tube crew, this helped him to write a vivid account years later.

He also intended to write a book himself in the 1970s, but for a number of reasons did not get round to doing so. He even approached two well known film companies at the time, one of which was very interested once the book was published.

I followed my father in his footsteps and joined the Royal Navy in 1964, and interestingly this was only nineteen years after the war had finished. Other than new technology, little had changed by way of the sailor’s life and slang words, forms and traditions. There were still sailors around on board who had served in the war to tell us their tales. Hence after serving twenty three years in the navy, I was well versed to be able to describe life below decks and time served at sea. Whilst I was not involved in a major war, my experience allowed me to get close to understanding and picturing how war conditions and action would have been. I had a good tutor, my father, who sadly passed away in 2003, leaving me to take on the task.

Subsequent to the Battles of Narvik, there were many famous military confrontations both on land and sea, which seemed to leave the epic battles lost in the mist of time. However, at that time in early 1940 the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine had not fully tested each other in battle. So it was an important occasion for either to get an early success over the other. Both for their country and the morale of their armed forces, and on this occasion the men on board their warships.

It was also a crucial battle for maintaining the valuable iron ore, for both country's war effort. This natural resource came by train from northern Sweden to the Norwegian port of Narvik. The former a neutral country, and the latter hopeful it could be to.

As history shows, Adolf Hitler’s armies were advancing and taking over European countries in turn and the British naturally became concerned that Norway was to be next to be invaded by a German occupying force. To halt the tide the Royal Navy needed up to date intelligence of their foes' positions, unfortunately this was not immediately forthcoming. This resulted in the British being too late to know the Kriegsmarine had already reached Narvik with not only ten large and modern zerstorers (destroyers) but each ship had also disembarked 220 Alpine Troops.

Image: Authoright PR / Clink Street Publishing
This was the situation in which the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla led by Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee was left with, and given the task to assess further the position. So it was at just gone midnight on the 10th April 1940, the Captain led his five smaller ‘H’ Class destroyers into the Oftofjord. The conditions were dreadful, not only darkness but also during a snow storm. Each ship following the blue stern light of the one for’d. Although of course the leader, HMS Hardy, had none to follow and had to rely on the experience of their navigating officer.

The scene is set for a confrontation that could best be described as of biblical proportions, ‘David and Goliath’. In the annals of the Royal Navy the First Battle was recorded as a great success, throughout the country, the Dominions and congratulations were sent by her allies:

BBC ‘World Service’.

Sunday 14th April at midnight.

“The British Navy’s entry into Narvik Fjord yesterday, and
the sinking of the seven German destroyers, was front-page
news in all the Paris newspapers today. French gratification
has been expressed in many ways, notably by M. Reynaud,
the French Prime Minister, who has sent a telegram to Mr
Chamberlain saying ‘The French nation shares Britain’s feelings
of admiration and gratitude for the Royal Navy, which
has added a page of glory to its records, and has inflicted on
the enemy a wound that will never heal’. 

As in all great battles, on land or sea, many brave fighters do not return home. Approximately 150 sailors lost their lives out of 850. Captain Warburton-Lee was posthumously awarded the first Victoria Cross of the Second World War. The whole country welcomed back the crews as ‘Heroes’ and there was a lot of celebrations throughout.

However, the ‘Kriegsmarine’ was not yet fully defeated but were trapped in the Narvik fjord, with depleted fuel and ammunition. It took a second battle three days later to finish the task.

Subsequent to seven years research, collecting many crewmen’s accounts of their experiences at Narvik, I had to take stock of how many words I had written. Due to the total at that point, it was obvious I had to write two books.

The first “Attack at Dawn” focused on the crew of HMS Hardy and how they fared when the ship was abandoned, leaving them stranded, with no dry clothes. Needing to leave their dead comrades buried in snow, to walk ten miles to the nearest town with a hospital.

The book at the beginning describes life on board their destroyer and life ashore in their home towns. I introduce many of the characters personal lives and the lead up to the out break of war and describe the effect of loved ones left at home.

The second book, once more with many accounts from crew members, is concentrated on HMS Hunter, both her participation in the Spanish Civil War and Narvik. Whilst in Malta describing life in dock and work up ready for war. Once more introducing the characters, their survival or not in the ice cold waters of the fjord. A more in depth accounts of the first and second battles, from opposing sides view points.

The crew's imprisonment and treatment and how the local populace lived under the German occupying forces. The circumstances of why the ‘Hunter’ crew had to endure another survival attempt, being forced marched over the mountains for internment in Sweden. Eye witness accounts from those in the Narvik community.

Finally, the astounding stories of the ‘Hunter’ crew’s survival and escapes from Sweden back to Britain. Although, unfortunately for eleven out of the forty three, they had another survival challenge, three years in German POW camp.

At the beginning of starting the book I managed to make contact with Captain Warburton-Lee’s grandson, John Warburton-Lee. He and his father over the years have received many copies of books broaching the subject of the Norwegian campaign, which he found to a degree banal and with political manoeuvres, warfare strategies and comparisons of weaponry, missing the human aspect. He was thankful that my book would be an attempt to bring back to life those times, allowing an opportunity for those participating in the battles to have their say.

We both believe the task has now been achieved

To conclude, “the story is important to tell” so that these remarkable accounts of brave sailors, average age of twenty three, enlisted volunteers, involved in an extraordinary sea battle are never again lost in the mist of time.

---

Attack at Dawn is available to buy now.

The Blogival is running until the end of June, so look out for more posts about fantastic Clink Street authors and their books from participating bloggers over the next few weeks. Next up on TWG is Tracy Peppiatt's We Never Let Go on the 10th, so stay tuned!

Will you be reading Attack at Dawn? Are you following the Blogival? Let me know in the comments below!