Sunday, 8 December 2019

The Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone


The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, her daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone
Published in the UK by Weidenfeld And Nicolson in 2015.

One of my 2019 Mount TBR Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Won a paperback copy in a publisher giveaway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Paris, 1572. Catherine de' Medici, the infamous queen mother of France, is a consummate pragmatist and powerbroker who has dominated the throne for thirty years. Her youngest daughter, Marguerite, the glamorous 'Queen Margot', is a passionate free spirit, the only adversary whom her mother can neither intimidate nor fully control.

When Catherine forces the Catholic Marguerite to marry the Protestant Henry of Navarre, she creates not only savage conflict within France but also a potent rival within her own family. Treacherous court politics, poisonings, international espionage and adultery form the background to a extraordinary story about two formidable queens, featuring a fascinating array of characters including such celebrated figures as Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots and Nostradamus.

The Rival Queens is a fascinatingly detailed portrait of the lives of Catherine de Medici and her youngest daughter Marguerite de Valois. These two women lived and ruled in France at the same time as Elizabeth the First so to me, as an English-speaking reader, they have been eclipsed by the English monarch, however I now discover that their reigns resound just as powerfully through European history as Elizabeth's. The sixteenth century could indeed be seen as the Age of Queens and I very much appreciated how Nancy Goldstone actually tells Catherine and Marguerite's own stories, frequently in their own words (rather than the more usual historical method of describing of the surrounding men, leaving the woman as somewhat of a vacuum at the centre of 'her' story!).

Centuries of intermarriage and the aristocracy's traditional lack of naming imagination does mean that The Rival Queens does get baffling at times although Goldstone does an admirable job of differentiating her Henris. I more often felt as though I was reading a novel because of her skill in bringing these people back to life in a very believable way so I could understand their political shenanigans and personal weaknesses, even while their actions grew increasingly more desperate and bizarre. However dysfunctional one's own family might seem, this brood of power-hungry backstabbers would certainly give them a run for their money, albeit most of it in the form of debts and IOUs.

I'd had The Rival Queens sat unread on a shelf for months and am now kicking myself for not having got around to this book sooner. I loved Goldstone's style and being able to immerse myself in history of a familiar period, but with so many new-to-me-people and events to discover. I now have a wider understanding and am keen to delve further into these tumultuous years, especially as seen through women's eyes.

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Saturday, 7 December 2019

A Song For Bill Robinson by C.E Atkins + Excerpt


A Song For Bill Robinson by C.E Atkins
Published in the UK by Pict Publishing on the 6th December 2019.



Tensions are building on the notorious Holds End estate.

The local community centre is fighting for survival and the murder of 15-year-old Lewis Matthews remains unsolved…

Wannabe teenage singer, Bill Robinson, just got out of hospital after surviving a vicious attack. He thinks he knows who attacked him…and why. When a violent feud escalates between him and local thug Charlie McDonnal, Bill vows to find the killer and help save the community centre by taking part in the local singing contest.

How can music bring a shattered community together? And can Bill keep his own demons at bay long enough to win the singing contest and find out who killed Lewis Matthews?


Excerpt

(An extract from Chapter 29. At a previous party, during a game of spin the bottle, Bill kissed his two best friends, Adam and Summer. Summer has secretly been in love with Bill for years. Adam is gay and has only recently started to feel attracted to his best friend. This conversation takes place between the two boys when Adam wants to confront Bill about what happened.)

Bill shifted to face him, grinning daringly. 'So, she's okay with her getting dared to kiss me, but she's not cool with me getting dared to kiss you. I thought better of her, I really did.'
'Don't be such a dick, Bill.'
'I'm not being a dick. I genuinely don't see the big deal. I don't give a shit who I kiss.'
Adam was stunned into silence. He knew they were words he would be replaying in his mind for many nights to come. I don’t give a shit who I kiss.
And why did he have to stare at him like that? It was the same look he had given him last night, while moving towards him and sticking his hand out and demanding a refill for dutch courage, or whatever. It was the same look he'd had on his face that night in the bathroom, when Adam had seen his bruises. It wasn’t just a look, something ordinary or fleeting, it was a stare, like he was staring right into him and asking a question Adam did not dare to answer.
'You didn't feel like those friends of Logan's were setting us up? Taking the piss?'
Bill shook his head. 'So what if they were? Who cares? It was spin the fucking bottle. I'll kiss anyone.'
Adam snorted laughter through his nose and looked away. 'Oh really? You reckon? You were hammered mate! You didn't know what you were doing! You're hammered now, too.'
Bill pushed his shoulder, that grin getting wider. 'I'm fucking not.'
'You've had nothing?'
'No! Like, a few cans at Jimmy's hours ago. I wouldn't get on stage pissed, would I?'
Adam couldn't look back at him. He needed this to stop, this going back and forth, this…what was this? Flirting? No, it wasn't that. It couldn't be. This was his best friend. His best friend for years. Who was an annoying self-obsessed monosyllabic arsehole most of the time, but who was most definitely not gay, or anything like it. But yet, he had that same look on his face, refusing to look away, staring right at him, like he was throwing down a challenge. Like he was saying, come on then. Dare you. Do something. Break up the monotony. Push the boundaries. Smash the rules.
He'd been like that since they were kids. Was it also the reason he had leaped off stage to attack McDonnal?
He felt Bill's leg fall against his, and rolled his eyes at the movement, because he wanted to nudge him away and tell him that Summer was right to be annoyed, because you couldn't muck about with people's feelings like that.
'How'd you do that with your voice?' he asked the floor, while anger climbed closer to the surface.
'What?'
Adam shrugged, falling into a trance. 'Make it sound like...grit and velvet at the same time. I just can't figure it out that's all.'
He looked up at him then, and for fucks sake, Bill was still staring, still giving him that same intense look, eyes wide and bright, refusing to blink or gaze away, and that small smile, turned up at one corner more than the other, and Adam breathed genuine anger down through his nostrils with his lips clamped shut before he decided to show him, to shut him the hell up, to make him go away and stop it.
He grabbed Bill’s face with both hands, tilted his head and kissed him full on the lips.


Meet the author   

Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children and multiple pets. She is addicted to reading, writing and music and writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling. Her debut Young Adult novel The Mess Of Me deals with eating disorders, self-harm, fractured families and first love. Her second novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side follows the musical journey of a young boy attempting to escape his brutal home life and has now been developed into a 6 book series. She is also the author of This Is Nowhere and award-winning dystopian, The Tree Of Rebels, plus a collection of short stories related to her novels called Bird People and Other Stories. The award-winning Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature was released through Pict Publishing in October 2018. Her next YA novel A Song For Bill Robinson will be released in December 2019. Chantelle has had multiple articles about writing published by Author's Publish magazine.

Author links: 
Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Website ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram



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by Maple And Thistle in
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Friday, 6 December 2019

Killer Resolutions by Elizabeth McKenna + #Giveaway


Killer Resolutions by Elizabeth McKenna
Published in the USA by Maureen Lippert on the 2nd October 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads



For fans of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None . . .

In a remote lodge in northern Wisconsin, friends gather for a festive, New Year’s Eve weekend. When a blizzard traps them with a murderer, who will be left to kiss at midnight?

Five years ago, a tragedy shattered the friendship between Dani, her older brother, and their college pals. When her brother invites the old gang for a weekend of outdoor winter fun at a remote lodge, she sees it as a chance to reconnect and heal. But when her friends are murdered one-by-one, Dani must determine whom she can trust before she becomes the next victim.



I hadn't read any Elizabeth McKenna novels before this one and was expecting Killer Resolutions to be a Christmassy cosy mystery. In fact it is much darker in tone and I found myself in agreement with the synopsis recommendation of the story being apt for Agatha Christie fans. Is this actually a relocated retelling of And Then There Were None? I'm not sure to be honest, but Killer Resolutions certainly makes the most of its isolated snow-bound Wisconsin setting for a nailbitingly tense atmosphere.

I wasn't initially sure how much I would like this story because I didn't easily identify with the characters, however the very first scene - depicting the tragedy the synopsis alludes to - is gripping and once McKenna started us on our travels to Wisconsin I was well and truly hooked. I don't think I've ever experienced the volumes of snow described here and I loved the idea of this secluded cabin hideaway - well, until everything starts getting scary anyway! The increasingly intense narrative is cleverly portrayed and I could understand how people's shocked reactions led them to act in the ways they do. Killer Resolutions is an exciting murder mystery which kept me glued to its story all the way though, and the plot has a satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended as a refreshing change from more saccharine seasonal novels!


Meet the author:
Elizabeth McKenna’s love of books reaches back to her childhood, where her tastes ranged from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Stephen King’s horror stories. She had never read a romance novel until one Christmas when her sister gave her the latest bestseller by Nora Roberts. She was hooked from page one (actually, she admits it was the first love scene). Her novels reflect her mercurial temperament and include historical romances, contemporary romances, cozy mysteries, and dark mysteries. With some being “clean” and some being “naughty,” she has a book for your every mood. Elizabeth lives in Wisconsin with her understanding husband, two beautiful daughters, and a sassy Labrador. When she isn’t writing, working, or being a mom, she’s sleeping.

Connect with the author:
Website  ~  Twitter  ~ Facebook ~ Instagram

Enter the Giveaway!  

Win one hardback copy (US & Canada) or one of 5 ebooks (International) of Killer Resolutions (six winners)
(ends Dec 20, 2019)

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by Glass Trapped Designs in
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Thursday, 5 December 2019

Unlocked by Soulla Christodoulou


Unlocked by Soulla Christodoulou
Self published in the UK on the 3rd December 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Helen, wallowing in pain and shunning the world and everyone around her, happens across an inspirational quote in her local store after leaving the house for the first time in weeks. Instantly, its message awakens something within her and she books a flight to a country she has always wanted to go.

In India the sounds, sights and colours of this spiritual place, evoke a new awareness within her and the promise of release from the agony of her husband’s infidelity. An impromptu encounter and an invitation to a local wedding open up an unexpected path and a flood of long-forgotten feelings.

Unlocked is a heartwarming short story of a woman finding her sense of self again after the breakdown of her marriage. It could almost be considered a coming of age story I think! Although not having experienced Helen's desire for isolation to quite such an extent, I could empathise with how she shut herself away from the world and also, unexpectedly, with the effect a beautiful Rumi quote has on her outlook. Her snap decision to visit India turns out to be just what she needs and I loved immersing myself in Soulla's evocative descriptions of a country she obviously knows well. I felt a real sense of authenticity in these scenes and also appreciated her delicate touch when presenting the burgeoning romance between Helen and Anil. Their interractions are so lovely, sweet without being saccharine, and this whole story left me with a big smile on my face. Unlocked is the perfect antidote to miserable winter days!


Meet the author
Born in London to Greek Cypriot parents, Soulla Christodoulou spent much of her childhood living carefree days full of family, school and friends. She was the first in her family to go to university and studied BA Hotel & Catering Management at Portsmouth University. Years later, after having a family of her own she studied again at Middlesex University and has a PGCE in Business Studies and an MA in Education.

Soulla is a Fiction author and wrote her first novel Broken Pieces of Tomorrow over a few months while working full time in secondary education. She is a mother of three boys.

She is a compassionate and empathetic supporter of young people. Her passion for teaching continues through private tuition of English Language and Children’s Creative Writing Classes as well as proof reading and other writing services.

Her writing has also connected her with a charity in California which she is very much involved in as a contributor of handwritten letters every month to support and give hope to women diagnosed with breast cancer. One of her letters is featured in a book ‘Dear Friend’, released on Amazon in September 2017.

When asked, she will tell you she has always, somewhere on a subconscious level, wanted to write and her life’s experiences both personal and professional have played a huge part in bringing her to where she was always meant to be; writing books and drinking lots of cinnamon and clove tea!

She also has a poetry collection, Sunshine after Rain, published on Amazon and The Summer Will Come is her second novel. She is currently working on a third novel Trust is a Big Word about an on-line illicit relationship that develops between two people.

Author Links:
Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Goodreads


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by Little Bits Of Glamour in
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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Slippers And Thieves by Christina Bauer + #Giveaway


Slippers And Thieves (Fairy Tales of the Magicorum #4) by Christina Bauer
Published in America by Monster House Books on the 26th November 2019.


Add Slippers And Thieves to your Goodreads

Years ago, Elle - never call her Cinderella - escaped her evil step family in order to build a new life for herself in Manhattan. Today, Elle's awful past is a distant memory. In fact, Elle even attends West Lake Prep, an exclusive high school where regular humans mix with members of the Magicorum, such as fairies, shifters and witches. Although she still must live in hiding from her evil stepfamily, Elle has always found ways to get whatever her heart desires. That is, until Alec Le Charme. Alec is the heir to the Le Charme dynasty of high-end jewelers. He's also kind, charismatic, has a knee-melting smile. Elle has fallen for him, hard. Unfortunately, thanks to Elle's evil step family, Alec is absolutely off limits. In fact, if Elle and Alec so much as kiss, it will start a magical chain reaction that would end in powerful factions of witches and wizards going to war. As a result, Elle and Alec vow to stay friends, no matter what. Then West Lake Prep holds a masquerade ball. Identities get mixed up and forbidden kisses are finally shared. Time for the Magicorum to go to war, and for Elle to confront her hidden past in ways she never thought possible.



Meet the Author 

Christina Bauer thinks that fantasy books are like bacon: they just make life better. All of which is why she writes romance novels that feature demons, dragons, wizards, witches, elves, elementals, and a bunch of random stuff that she brainstorms while riding the Boston T. Oh, and she includes lots of humor and kick-ass chicks, too.

Christina graduated from Syracuse University's Newhouse School with BAs in English along with Television, Radio, and Film Production. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, son, and semi-insane golden retriever, Ruby. Be the first to know about new releases from Christina by signing up for her newsletter and stalk Christina On Social Media - She Loves It!

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The five prizes include jewelry, a journal, or a bookmark.
Open internationally until the 30th December.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



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by Savage Moons in
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Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Meet Me in the Strange by Leander Watts + #Giveaway + Excerpt


Meet Me in the Strange by Leander Watts
Published in America by Meerkat Press on the 27th March 2018.


Add Meet Me in the Strange to your Goodreads

Meet Me in the Strange is an intoxicating adventure set in a glittery, retro-futuristic world of glam rock, spectral aliens, and gender-bendy teens.

Davi is mesmerized by a girl at a concert, who appears to lose herself in the power of the otherworldy music of Django Conn. Later, through a chance meeting, Davi becomes friends with the girl, Anna Z. She is like no one Davi has ever met: she loves to talk, talk, talk and has grandiose theories of the next evolution of humans and a strange phenomenon she calls the "Alien Drift."

But danger lurks around every corner, because Anna Z is on the run, and her cruel and controlling older brother is determined to find her, at any cost. Davi faces a daunting decision, go on living a safe existence at the magical Angelus Hotel, which has been in the family for generations, or help Anna Z escape her troubled past. When the two take off to follow the concert tour of their glam-rock idol, Django Conn, Davi and Anna Z will face the biggest threat of their young lives.


Excerpt

It was like she’d lost everything. Her name, her voice, any idea who she was or what she looked like, who the people were around her. The only thing that mattered was right there in front of her on the stage.
We were up close—masses of glam-girls and glister-boys all reaching out at the air like we could feel the music in our hands and pull it into ourselves. Wild kids pushing and pulsing with the music. Not really dancing. But it was music and bodies, so what else could you call it?
And it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen because the girl was gone—not just freaked or blissed-out. She’d let go, totally, of everything.
I got that first glimpse of her about halfway through the show, and it was like I was split right down the middle of my skull. One half was still there with the rest of the crowd, the band like the Horses of Apollo carrying me upward with the fiery sound. And one half of me was zapped by seeing this girl, like a knife juiced with electricity cutting into my brain. She was gone, vanished, disappeared inside herself.
I was cranked up like all the other five thousand fan-kids who’d come to hear Django Conn, and see him and feel him. Some of them had dyed orange, cockatoo haircuts just like Django. Some—boys and girls—had eye makeup, silvery mascara, and big, shiny slashes of lipstick, dangly earrings and platform shoes, feathers and fishnets, and the whole glam look. But this girl was different.
She had glasses, ordinary eyeglasses. They were steamed over and caught the spotlights from the stage, oozy reds and liquid purples. Her hair was black, long and damp in snaky-sexy locks that clung to her face and her neck. And just for a second, I thought she looked like somebody who was shipwrecked, drowning in a sea, dying almost but okay with that, or more than okay, letting the waves sweep her up and away.
I don’t remember what she had on. Doesn’t matter. Was she pretty? Maybe. Beautiful? Doubtful. Amazing? Absolutely.
She wasn’t one of them, not exactly, trying to look like, trying to be Django. And neither was I, even though I’d been waiting months for this show, and I loved Man in the Moon in the Man more than just about anything in the world. I’d been listening to the new album nonstop for weeks, my new diamond needle wearing out the grooves.
For the song “She’s the Hype,” the lights went into a wild black and white strobe. Off and on and off and on, pulsing, slamming, stuttering. And the girl kept appearing and disappearing. Not like a ghost all wispy and see-through. In flashes, for a second or two, she was solid, real, realer than anything. It was like the light itself was a drum, pounding light hitting the crowd in sudden bursts. I got a glimpse, and then she was gone. Then back again, broken up into frames like an old film, flickering in and out of reality.
Nobody was paying attention to other people. Nobody but me. All eyes were on Django, and all ears were blasted by the band. So when the girl lost it, when she totally lost it, I was the only one who saw and got it. Private, secret, just me and her alone, even though we were surrounded by five thousand others at the Maxima. Just me and her in that secret place.
The band got hotter, and the crowd got wilder. Django got fiercer, jumping into “I Asked for Water but She Gave me Gasoline.” And I lost sight of the girl, like the tidal waves pushed us apart, a couple of pieces of broken driftwood in a blackwater storm.
Django did all my faves: “I Fear No Venom,” “Girls Will Be Boys,” “Empire of Light,” “Pavlov’s Daughters.” They finished up with “Flash Bang Baby.” And then Django vanished in a sudden cloud, like a puff ball when it bursts and shoots that cloud of dust-spores into the air. It was like he blew up right there in front of five thousand fans. One second he was singing the last line from the last song on Man in the Moon in the Man, over and over again: “You’re all I’ve ever had!” Then the band crashed to the end of the song, and it looked as if he’d exploded. It was just a stage trick of course, lights and smoke like a magician uses to cover up his best illusion. But Django blew up and the dust spores whooshed out over us, a cloud of powder pink and velvety violet, and that was the end of the show.



Meet the Author 

An avid musician, Leander Watts has played and sung for decades in a wide variety of bands. His interests range from garage rock to skronky jazz, from baroque organ to Appalachian gospel. The first rock concert he attended was David Bowie on the Diamond Dogs tour in 1974. He teaches writing and literature at the State University of New York at Geneseo (his alma mater). Leander Watts is the author of STONECUTTER, WILD RIDE TO HEAVEN, TEN THOUSAND CHARMS, and BEAUTIFUL CITY OF THE DEAD.

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a $20 Amazon gift card.
Open internationally until the 12th December.

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by Forest Elf Vintage in
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Monday, 2 December 2019

Gumshoe Blues by Paul D Brazill


Gumshoe Blues by Paul D Brazill
Published in the UK by Close To The Bone on the 28th August 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads, G for my 2019 Alphabet Soup Challenge, and a Book With A Vegetarian Character

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via Blackthorn Book Tours

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Following the breakdown of his marriage, in a booze-addled flash of inspiration, Peter Ord decides to become a private investigator. Dark farce and tragicomedy soon ensue. Peter must tackle many challenging cases, and when he comes under the radar of a local crime lord, he may have bitten off more than he can chew. With sidekicks, like boozy hack, Bryn Laden, failure is not an option - it’s compulsory.


Gumshoe Blues is a collection of four linked tales, the eponymous novella length Gumshoe Blues followed by three short stories Mr Kiss And Tell, Who Killed Skippy? and The Lady And The Gimp. In each our worn down private investigator attempts to rake in enough assignments to at least cover his bar tab - with the occasional Pot Noodle thrown in for sustenance - without getting on the wrong side of any of the local crime bosses and gangland hoodlums.

For such a setup, the book has an unusual and deceptively gentle pace. Brazill excells at creating vivid scenes and locations, each one dripping with authentic detail, and maintains a strong sense of threatening unease. I could easily imagine myself alongside Ord in these deprived and forgotten Northern towns. Gumshoe Blues is as much an indictment of the sad state of contemporary England as it is a crime novel. That's not to say that such a grim locale has resulted in a depressing read though - far from it! I love Brazill's dry humour and scathing turns of phrase which contrast well with his eye for an absurd situation. All of his characters have a ring of authenticity to them with even people who only put in the briefest of appearances being utterly believable. Gumshoe Blues wasn't at all what I expected it to be, but I appreciated its unique atmosphere and thoroughly enjoyed the read.


Meet the author
Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England and now lives in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where he’s been TEFL teaching for more than a decade.

His books include Last Year’s Man, A Case Of Noir, Guns Of Brixton, Small Time Crimes, and Kill Me Quick. He’s had stories published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime 8,10 and 11, and his writing has been translated in Italian, Polish, Finnish, German and Slovenian.

Author Links:
Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook



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by Sweet And Lovely in
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