Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Pianist Of Yarmouk by Aeham Ahmad

The Pianist Of Yarmouk by Aeham Ahmad
First published in German as Und die Vögel werden singen by S Fischer Verlag in Germany in 2017. English language translation by Emmanuel Bergmann published in the UK by Michael Joseph on the 21st March 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads, featured in 5Books1Theme: Blindness and WorldReads: Syria

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man, a piano, a Syrian street under siege . . .

One morning on the outskirts of war-torn Damascus, a starving man stumbles through a once familiar street - now just piles of rubble. Everything he once knew has been destroyed by famine and war.

In despair he turns to his only comfort and joy, music, and pushes his piano into the street and begins to play. He plays of love and hope, he plays for his family and for his fellow Syrians. He plays even though he knows he could be killed for doing so.

As word of his act of defiance spreads around the world, he becomes a beacon of hope and even resistance. Yet he fears for his wife and children, his elderly parents. And he is right to be scared, because the more he plays, the more he and his family are drawn into danger.

Finally he is forced to make a terrible choice - between staying and waiting to die, or saving himself, but this would mean abandoning his family . . .

Aeham Ahmad's spellbinding and uplifting true story tells of the triumph of love and hope, of the incredible bonds of family, and the healing power of music in even the very darkest of places.

The Pianist Of Yarmouk is the second memoir I have read in the past year that profoundly illustrates the desperate situation being fled by Syrian refugees and displaced persons. Perhaps this book didn't have quite the emotional impact of the previous memoir, Butterfly by Yusra Mardini, but it is still a powerful and moving account. Ahmad talks of his childhood, growing up primarily under the care of his blind Palestinian refugee father who was the inspiration for his musicality. We learn of their struggle for Ahmad to be accepted into the rich people's world of music schools and the conservatoire, and then of how frighteningly swift and easy it was for their successful musical instrument shop business to be lost in someone else's war. I didn't know that Yarmouk is (or, now, was) a refugee camp for Palestinians displaced by the Israeli state. Many have been there for decades, unable to return to their Palestinian homes. They resolutely remained neutral at the start of Assad's war, but were apparently still ideal scapegoats.

Ahmad's descriptions of life under siege are understandably harrowing to read. Even with the respite of his music, I could feel how much risking one's life every day just to find a little food or drinking water took its toll on everyone in the family. The complete change from relative affluence to total destitution is difficult to comprehend, especially at the speed with which it happened in Syria. The impression we in Britain are given of the refugees who actually make it to the EU borders doesn't make any concessions for who these people Used To Be. There is no recognition of their skills and talents. I was interested to notice that both The Pianist Of Yarmouk and Butterfly were first published in Germany where there is an active and successful refugee integration programme. Ahmad and his family have benefitted from this foresight and I appreciate this opportunity to have learned his story because of it.

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Books by Aeham Ahmad / Biography and memoir / Books from Syria

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Checking The Traps by Joan Livingston + Excerpt

Checking The Traps by Joan Livingston
Published by Crooked Cat Books on the 22nd March 2019.

Add Checking The Traps to your Goodreads

Isabel Long is a bit banged up from her last case with a broken collarbone and her arm in a sling. But that doesn’t stop her from pouring beer at the Rooster Bar or taking her third case with Gary Beaumont, a local drug dealer who once terrorized her. Gary is convinced his brother didn’t jump off a bridge known for suicides. Somebody pushed him.

Gary’s brother was a boozer who drove for a highway crew. But what interests Isabel and her ‘Watson’ — her 93-year-old mother who lives with her — is that the man wrote poetry.

The chief suspects are one of Gary’s business associates and a famous poet who plagiarized his brother’s poetry for an award-winning book. Yes, he was that good.

As a journalist, Isabel did regular meetups with her sources for stories. She called it checking the traps. She does the same as a private investigator, and this time, she’ll make sure she doesn’t get caught in one.


In this scene, Isabel Long rides with Gary and Larry Beaumont to the bridge where their brother, Cary, is supposed to have jumped to his death. Gary, the alpha brother, doesn’t believe it, so he hires Isabel to find out what really happened. By the way, the Beaumont brothers are drug-dealing bad boys who terrorized Isabel in her last case although they redeemed themselves when they helped her out of a wreck. What interests Isabel about this case is that Cary was a highway department worker who wrote poetry at night.

I’m sitting between Gary and Larry Beaumont in the front seat of Gary’s behemoth of a pickup truck as we head toward the bridge in Titus where their brother was supposed to have jumped. Larry just farted something awful, and Gary orders his brother to roll down the window, goddammit, even though it’s started raining because he’s stinking up the cab. I swear my eyes are watering, but I don’t say a word. If Larry is embarrassed, he doesn’t let on although I hear him mutter some choice curse words under his breath. The man is a master at it.
Besides, I’m more concerned my bad arm doesn’t get jostled when Gary shifts gears although I notice he is trying to be careful and apologizes when he slips up.
“Isabel, you sure that list is gonna work for you?” Gary asks.
“It’s a good start,” I answer. “I have a few ideas of my own. I’ll start with the easy ones and work my way up.”
“Alright,” he says.
An hour ago, the brothers sat at the kitchen table with my mother as we went over the case so far. I made coffee. Ma baked a loaf of banana bread this morning for the occasion.
“Haven’t had anything homemade in a long time,” Gary said with his mouth full.
Larry didn’t say a word as he helped himself to a third piece.
Ma smiled. She figured rightly the bread would help put the brothers at ease. We didn’t have much time to dawdle. We’re making that field trip to the bridge, and besides, it’s supposed to start raining heavier, and I want to get there before it does. My broken collarbone is already aching from it.
Gary’s list has four names. Of course, Cherie Moore, Cary’s widow, is at the top, and Gary swears up and down it would be okay to call her. He didn’t speak to the woman, but he left a message on her phone, so we should be good to go. His reassurances aren’t exactly convincing, but I’ll make the best of it.
Gary came up with the name of the Penfield highway superintendent, Stan Gifford, who I had already decided to visit, so that wasn’t a surprise, but the third belonged to a neighbor who was. I recognized the name. Cyrus Nilsson is kind of a big shot in the poetry world. He certainly was a darling of the arts department of the Daily Star. If the guy burped, he got a story from it. People even read his books in college. You might have heard his back story. He was a poor kid of a poor single mother growing up in upstate New York. He went to Harvard on scholarship and found himself in the right place at the right time with the right people. His first book of poetry, Yonder, made him an instant star of the literary world. He’s written a bunch more since.
My understanding is that Cyrus chose to live in the hilltowns to get away from it all. I heard him being interviewed on NPR after one of his books was published. He had a voice that came deep from his gut and a polished way of speaking that defied his humble upbringing. I saw him once when I covered a reading at the Penfield Public Library, of all places. I was the hilltown reporter then, so that was perhaps twenty-five years ago. As I recall, he was rather vague about his personal life even when I pressed him. That will have to change now that he’s a part of this case.
“What’s Cyrus doing on this list?” I ask Gary in the pickup. “He’s a well-known poet.”
“That’s what Cary told me. They used to be neighbors. He kinda got him goin’ on that poetry stuff.”
“You ever meet Cyrus?”
Gary works his mouth. 
“Only at Cary’s funeral. He spoke.” 
“Yeah, he delivered what you call the… ”
“That’s it. He said some nice stuff about my brother, how he was a good poet.”
“I look forward to reading what your brother wrote. Thanks for bringing the box.”
The fourth name belongs to one of Gary’s so-called business associates, actually one of his suppliers. I recognized the name right away: Victor Wilson. Perhaps you do, too. He lives way in the woods in Conwell, and for a brief time, he was a suspect in the Adela Collins case. It would have made sense. He fit that killer MO, that is, he’s quiet and keeps to himself, really keeps to himself with high fencing and no-trespassing signs all around his property. 
I talked with Victor twice for my first case. I can’t believe I had the nerve since I knew about his reputation from the town meetings he attended. Victor was always against anything and rather obnoxious about it. He got himself banned permanently from the Rooster for spouting white supremacist crap and for generally being a scary dude. He also carries a gun, a big no-no at the bar. Jack wouldn’t even go with me to meet the man.
But Victor didn’t kill Adela.

Meet the author

Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Checking the Traps, published by Crooked Cat Books, is the third in the mystery series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I. The first two are Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge.

An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure.

After eleven years in Northern New Mexico, she returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including the Isabel Long mystery series.

Author links: 
Website ~ FacebookTwitter ~ Instagram ~ Goodreads

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Books by Joan Livingston / Crime fiction / Books from America

Friday, 29 March 2019

Bedlam & Breakfast at a Devon Seaside Guesthouse by Sharley Scott + Excerpt

Bedlam & Breakfast at a Devon Seaside Guesthouse by Sharley Scott
Self published in December 2018.

Add Bedlam & Breakfast at a Devon Seaside Guesthouse to your Goodreads

Bedlam & Breakfast at a Devon Seaside Guesthouse
Katie is desperate to leave her stressful job, so she doesn’t think too hard about moving to Devon to run a B&B, even if it means uprooting her family. She is certain that she and Jason have a strong and loving relationship which can weather any storm.

Hooked by the beauty of Torringham with its quaint harbour and stunning coastline, they purchase Flotsam Guesthouse which needs more than a lick of paint to keep it afloat. Soon, Katie finds that renovating and running a guesthouse is taking its toll, especially when dealing with challenging guests and madcap neighbours, Shona and Kim. Katie comes to learn that trouble is afoot whenever Shona begs a favour.

However, when her adored daughter moves back to their old hometown, she wonders if they’ve made a huge mistake, especially when cracks begin to show in her marriage.

Her seaside idyll is crumbling along with her relationship. Should she let Flotsam Guesthouse founder while she salvages her marriage? Katie needs to decide where her priorities lie. The only issue is, she doesn’t know.


Katie and Jason’s first guests include Mr & Mrs Marriner who have stayed at Flotsam Guesthouse for years. They are not happy to find the guesthouse under new ownership, especially when things go wrong from the moment they arrive.  

The next morning, Mr and Mrs Marriner walked into the breakfast room three minutes before the end of service, her thick heels clopping over the laminate flooring. They didn’t even glance at me when giving their tea order or when it was brought out. Lips pursed, they stared at the menu before announcing they would have the same as yesterday. While there was no mention of the three bits of bacon Mr Marriner had requested the previous day, a churning undercurrent told me something was up. 
Stupidly, I asked, “Is there anything you need?”
Mr Marriner turned around, his gaze level with my chest. Flushing, he spun back to the menu.
“We’re not happy,” Mrs Marriner said. 
On the neighbouring table, Mr and Mrs Jones’ cutlery hovered motionless over their plates. I could feel them stretching to hear what was being said.
“I’m sorry about that. Is there something wrong with the tea?”
“Not just the tea. Everything.” Mr Marriner took a deep breath as if readying himself for a lengthy tirade. 
“How about we sort your breakfasts and we can talk in private afterwards.” I shot into the kitchen.
Jason didn’t need to ask me what was wrong. He’d heard. Handing him the order slip, I pressed my finger to my lips and shook my head, warning him not to say anything. The silence rolled in ominous waves from the breakfast room, until we heard the screech of a chair being pushed back. It could have been a guest going to get more juice or simply wanting more leg space, but something told me to check. Both Mr and Mrs Marriner were striding from the room.
“We’re leaving,” Mr Marriner said. “This is the worst stay we have ever had and we won’t be paying for it either.”

Meet the author

While 'Bedlam & Breakfast at a Devon Seaside Guesthouse' is fictional, I am a guesthouse owner. Thankfully, we have been blessed with lots of amazing and kind-hearted guests, who are nothing like some of the characters featured in this novel and the subsequent books in the series. I would be a lot greyer if they were.

Likewise, Jason is quite different to my husband, who I sometimes nickname Victor Meldrew. He is lovely though and has a fab sense of humour, although some of his dryness has rubbed off on Jason.

Bedlam & Breakfast is set in South Devon, in the fictional town of Torringham, which is loosely based on Brixham. If you've been to Brixham you may recognise some of the local features, including the seals, fishing industry and the fantastic lifeboat crew, but the businesses, people and a number of settings are fictionalised.

The same applies to the B&B owners featured. Many guesthouse owners undertake work when they move into a property and our current B&B was not an exception. While, thankfully, our previous owners were nothing like Jim and Maureen, this also means we don’t get to live next door to the fabulous Shona and Kim. But we do have many lovely B&B friends. B&Bers are a wonderful and hardworking bunch, although the ones we know have a penchant for parties in the low season. That's why I had to end Bedlam & Breakfast at a party.

Author links: 

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Books by Sharley Scott / Women's fiction / Books from England

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Plastic Seed by Maisie Porter

The Plastic Seed by Maisie Porter
Published by Crooked Cat Books in December 2018.

Add The Plastic Seed to your Goodreads

Two schemes uncoil—and, very quickly, begin to unravel—on the same day in the Australian town of West Glassport…

Jean Hima isn’t happy with the way her life has been going. First, her husband leaves her. Then, she loses her job as a midwife at the local hospital, over the easily-fixed misplacement of a baby or two… 

Now, Jean is sure a snooty real estate agent is blocking her efforts to find a rental in a nice part of town. 

Given possession of a batch of incriminating photographs, who wouldn’t begin thinking about a little life-restorative blackmail?

Written in three acts and covering a quarter of a century, The Plastic Seed is an environmental thriller that explores the hypocrisy of some aspects of the philosophy of wellness. This novella is part satire of the human potential movement, and sincere testimony to the ability of humans to face facts when given no choice.

The Plastic Seed is a quirky novella which explores how a woman, Jean, who is unable to take responsibility for herself and her actions, seeks to blame a former neighbour, Carlana, for her life not being the garden of roses Jean feels she deserves. The story is written in stream-of-consciousness style with a half dozen characters each taking turns to present aspects of the drama from their own points of view. Unfortunately they all speak with a similar voice so I didn't feel I got the full intended effect of this device. The language is often convoluted too with unusual speech patterns that took some getting used to. Jean resorts to increasingly bizarre actions in her pursuit of Carlana and I wasn't sure how much was meant to be believable as genuine actions, or how much was just in her imagination. Despite reading her direct thoughts, it is difficult to understand Jean's motivation. She is very impetuous so her plans often veer off abruptly leading to situations that I am not sure whether I should have found humorous or not. The Plastic Seed also gives an entertaining insight into life realities of people promoting motivational lifestyles - the grime behind the instagram glitz - and revealing this double standard motivates much of Jean's drive for revenge. It's certainly a timely story, but I do wonder if a short novella allowed Porter enough room to fully explore the ideas she raises.

Meet the author

Maisie Porter works as a professional photographer in Australia, with wide experience covering weddings, though she has neither abducted nor been abducted by any competitors. No Reception was Maisie's first novel.

Author links: 

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Books by Maisie Porter / Novellas / Books from Australia

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Minaret by Leila Aboulela

Minaret by Leila Aboulela
Published in the UK by Bloomsbury in 2005.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Eyes and one of my 2019 Mount TBR Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Bought at a book fair

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In her Muslim hijab, with her down-turned gaze, Najwa is invisible to most eyes, especially to the rich London families whose houses she cleans. But twenty years earlier, it was a different story. Najwa was at university in Khartoum and, as an upper-class westernized Sudanese, and her dreams were to marry well and raise a family. However, those days of innocence came to an abrupt end and tough years followed. Now Najwa finds solace in her visits to the Mosque, the companionship of the Muslims she meets there, and in the hijab she adopts. Her dreams may have shattered, but her awakening to Islam has given her a different peace. Then Najwa meets a younger man and slowly they begin to fall in love.

I bought six books at the excellent Hope Association book fair back in May last year and Minaret is one of two that I hadn't got around to reading until now. I was attracted to the story by the Ali Smith quote on the front cover: "Minaret is a wonderful book ... readable, subtle and ambiguous, with a shocking clarity of voice" and by Aboulela being an #OwnVoices Muslim Sudanese author in London. It's depressingly uncommon to actually hear about women's experience of Islam directly from the women themselves so I was keen to read this positive portrayal.

The novel is indeed very readable and the font size in my paperback edition meant I zoomed through the pages faster than I had expected to do. Minaret isn't a light read though. It could simply be a story of lost privilege and thwarted love - a poor rich girl finding a new place for herself in a completely changed world - but also works on a deeper level to explore our need for spiritual identity and a sense of belonging. Despite not having any religious inclinations, I could feel myself drawn to the solidarity of the women's group at Najwa's mosque and could easily empathise with her rediscovery of childhood ritual and faith. Aboulela presents women well although I couldn't understand what Najwa saw in either of the men to whom she is attracted!

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Books by Leila Aboulela / Contemporary fiction / Books from Sudan

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Toots by Linh Le James

Toots by Linh Le James
Self published in January 2019.

Add Toots to your Goodreads

A British non-romantic comedy built on white lies, pink elephants and grey areas.

LONDON: Four sisters swipe left on everything they hate in their life, one cocktail at a time. 

Louise dreams of an exotic lifestyle, miles away from Hackney. 
Nick comes along. Famous, fit, funny and filthy rich.
Louise will stop at nothing to seduce him. 

Louise will fake it till she makes it. All the way to the ka-ching bling ring. 
But the little white lies soon snowball into a mountain Louise’s Louboutins can’t climb. 

Jess juggles work, two babies, a cheating husband and nannies from hell. 
Carla goes on a bender, and wakes up next to her young assistant. Freddie.
Emily is getting over her cheating ex by throwing herself into the dating scene. 

When work, dating and proposals…all go wrong, the four sisters’ friendship is their only lifeline.


Meet the Author 

Linh is Vietnamese. She was born and grew up in France. After college, she moved to Southern California and lived there for a few years before settling in the UK for 15 years, first in Wales, then in Surrey. In 2018, she packed all of her shoes, her kids, hubby, and the Dog and moved to the UAE.

Storytelling is her passion since childhood.

Things about her she doesn't want you to know:
She forgets to pack the girls' snack and then has to run to school to deliver it.
She has two alarms set on her phone for the school pick-up.
She pretends to have meditation sessions in order to have a nap.
Her kids eat more greens than she does
80% of her daily water intake is made up by coffee, the rest by wine.

Author links:
WebsiteFacebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads

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Books by Linh Le James / Humorous fiction / Books from Vietnam

Monday, 25 March 2019

Aries 181 by Tiana Warner + #Giveaway + Excerpt

Aries 181 by Tiana Warner
Published by Rogue Cannon Publishing tomorrow, the 26th March 2019.

Add Aries 181 to your Goodreads

A crime spree to steal aerospace technology. An intern with the brains to stop it.

When Jess uncovers evidence that her boss is stealing technology to build his company, her coveted internship at Aries turns from dream job to catastrophe. Worse, her boss cons another young woman into becoming his accomplice, and the duo's chemically enhanced skills and weapons help them become the most infamous supercriminals to sweep the tech world. Before they pilfer every aerospace lab in North America, Jess must use her ingenuity to stop them - risking her career, her relationships, and maybe even her life. 

Excerpt from Chapter 5

Beneath the chandelier of the hotel’s massive ballroom, hundreds of people wound shoulder-to-shoulder through the exhibitor booths. Halley was one of them, head on a swivel, dazzled by all the technology. The companies had brought their flashiest prototypes, priciest equipment, and most charismatic staff—a smorgasbord of the most cutting-edge tech the world had to offer.
The number of exhibitors filling the ballroom injected hope into Halley. Maybe she didn’t have to be a “hello, would you like a flyer?” girl.
Phone ready, she took notes on what companies to apply for. She was determined to find a solid job prospect before the night was out.
A 3D printing booth brought her to a stop. One of the employees in front had a white prosthetic arm that looked like something out of a sci-fi movie, which he was using to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Intrigued though Halley was, the booth was surrounded by viewers trying to get a better look, and she continued on, letting the flow of the crowd guide her.
She stopped at another cluster of people who were wearing headsets, looking around and waving their arms. Augmented reality, no doubt. One guy was making an odd gesture akin to milking a cow.
Okay, humanity had either reached a peak, or it was officially doomed.
“Want to try?” said a twenty-something employee, catching her staring.
Halley summoned some extrovert powers and stepped closer. She took the device from the girl’s outstretched hand.
“Are you hiring software developers?”
“We are. Are you looking for full time?” said the girl, helping her tighten the headset.
A 3D dreidel appeared on the booth. Halley reached out and spun it by closing her fingers over the air where the augmented object appeared.
“Internship. I’m a Computer Science undergrad at UBC.”
“Great! I’d watch our job listings online to see if anything comes up.”
So … is that a soft rejection?
Halley let the girl show off a 3D tap dancer and a kettle she could pour—but the graphics were terrible. She had seen better dancing hot dogs and twerking rabbits in Snapchat.
“You should try augmenting information about the surroundings—maybe the pipe network beneath the floor—instead of a tap dancer.” She handed back the headset. “Show prospects the potential for real-world applications. Military. Architecture. Construction. You know.”
The girl stared at her blankly. Halley moved on.
The next booths had robotics, drones, and sensors for self-driving cars—engineering that was tragically beyond her skill set. She stopped at a company that made wearable GPS devices. The guy showed her a web interface where he’d tracked his cat’s day-to-day journeys using a GPS collar. Halley refrained from pointing out that tracking a cat wouldn’t stop it from getting run over.
“We’ve got two internships open,” he said, handing her a business card.
“Excellent. What’s the position?”
“Are you comfortable wearing a GPS collar?”
“Yes. Wait, what?”
The guy flashed her a charming smile. “Kidding. We’re hiring devs.”
Halley’s cheeks warmed. She gave a weak laugh and dropped her gaze to the business card. “Thanks.”
This, she was qualified for and interested in. She made a note in her phone to send them her resume.
One prospect in the bag. A couple of others would be nice, and then she could go home, roll herself into a blanket burrito, and call the night a success.
Past the GPS booth, two girls struck a Charlie’s Angels pose in what looked like an airport security scanner. They held still while it whirred around them, rendering their shape on a computer screen. A 3D scanner. Halley entertained the idea of becoming immortalized as a 3D model, posing like she’d died dramatically in someone’s arms. But that would mean finding a willing stranger. Besides, the queue of geeks waiting their turn stretched out of sight.
She continued on, contemplating how to start her cover letter to the GPS company.
I made an idiot of myself when I met you at the Vancouver Tech Show … Your useless cat demo was intriguing.
A spacey-looking car rotated in the middle of the room, which must have been self-driving. Beyond that was the aerospace section, marked by a massive rocket standing in the midst. Halley smirked. Funny how competitive men got about rockets. This particular eight-foot phallus stood erect in the middle of the booths, showing everyone how much bigger it was than all the other exhibitors’ products.
Then Halley saw the logo on the side, and her heart skipped a beat. Heat rushed to her face, making her lips tingle.
This was an Aries rocket.
In front of it stood a vertical banner explaining a launch vehicle concept. The booth had stacks of flyers and a bowl of miniature satellites.
And there, standing beside it, talking animatedly to a young man wearing a backpack, was Tony, her interviewer. He was more handsome than she remembered, dressed for the occasion with his thick hair gelled back. He wore a charcoal suit with the jacket open, revealing a white collared shirt underneath.
Before Halley could stop herself, she imagined what it would be like to unbutton that shirt.
Then he looked up. She flinched and turned away.
Dammit. Their gazes had definitely connected. Should she go over to him? What would she say? He probably didn’t remember her, and she’d look pathetic for thinking otherwise.
“Hey, there!” A guy with a Volunteer badge appeared out of nowhere, motioning in the opposite direction of Tony. “I’m Tim. Would you be interested in—?”
“Yes.” She bolted in that direction.
Tim jogged beside her. “Love the enthusiasm! This way.”
She brought a hand to her face, trying to calm the charbroiled tomato feeling in her cheeks.
They excused their way through the crowd, Tim checking to make sure she was following. Perplexed, Halley stayed close behind.
They arrived at a circle of computers and gaming chairs. Five of the six chairs were already occupied. A banner advertised a Guavasoft-sponsored hackathon.
Halley’s mouth dried up. Shit. What did she agree to?
Cheers erupted behind her, mostly from women.
“Go, girl! Represent!”
The other computers were occupied by dudes, who all appeared older than she was.
“Winner gets five hundred bucks and an interview with Guavasoft,” said Tim, the total asshole who tricked her into this.
Halley stood immobile, stage fright ready to come out in the form of projectile vomit.
Why? Why did she think going out tonight was a good idea?
The crowd cheered. The other participants were looking at her. Tim grinned, motioning to the vacant seat.
Five hundred bucks. Interview with Guavasoft.
Halley weighed which was the more embarrassing choice: running out of the building, or staying.
Tim picked up a megaphone. “Let’s hear it for our final participant!”
Never had a round of applause sounded so sinister. She glanced around as if searching for the place from which the hungry lions would emerge.
“Um—” said Halley.
“Hands off the keyboard until I say go,” said Tim, making eye contact with each of the six hackers. “On my word, open the doc on your computer to read your challenge. You have one hour.”
The empty chair waited. Halley had been looking for an opportunity, and the universe had shoved her straight into one. She could do this. She should do this.
Pretending she wasn’t at the center of a crowd full of geniuses, Halley sat.
A new PC lay before her, Visual Studio installed as the programming environment, a Word document titled Challenge.docx ready to open.
“Hackers ready!” said Tim.
Halley grabbed the mouse.

Meet the Author 

Tiana Warner is the best selling author of the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy. Her books have been acclaimed by Writer's Digest, Foreword Reviews, and the Dante Rossetti Awards. She holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the University of British Columbia. Tiana enjoys riding her horse, Bailey, and is an active supporter of animal welfare.

Author links:
WebsiteFacebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a $25 Amazon gift card.
Open Internationally until the 4th April.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Books by Tiana Warner / Science fiction / Books from Canada

Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack by H M Naqvi

The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack by H M Naqvi
Published by Grove Press on the 12th March 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads and one of my WorldReads From Pakistan

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Winner of the inaugural DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, H.M. Naqvi follows his critically-lauded debut Home Boy with The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack, an enthralling novel about one unforgettable and gloriously unaccomplished man, his impending death, and the history and life of his bustling, shape-shifting city.

Abdullah, bachelor and scion of a once prominent family, awakes on the morning of his seventieth birthday and considers launching himself over the balcony. Having spent years attempting to compile a "mythopoetic legacy" of his beloved Karachi, the cosmopolitan heart of Pakistan, Abdullah has lost his zeal. A surprise invitation for a night out from his old friend Felix Pinto snaps Abdullah out of his funk, and saddles him with a ward--Pinto's adolescent grandson Bosco. As Abdullah plays mentor to Bosco, he also attracts the romantic attentions of Jugnu, an enigmatic siren with links to the mob. All the while Abdullah's brothers' plot to evict him from the family estate. Now he must to try to save his home--or face losing his last connection to his familial past. Anarchic, erudite, and rollicking, with a septuagenarian protagonist like no other, The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack is a joyride of a story set against a kaleidoscopic portrait of one of the world's most vibrant cities.

Let me start this review by saying that I enjoyed spending time with Abdullah. The genre of elderly-men-looking-back stories can be rather hit and miss for me, but here I appreciated Abdullah's wry sense of humour and the way his first-person narration gives 'Currachee' a wonderful sense of life and energy. It felt refreshingly unusual to read about someone who never really made much of his life, but isn't bitter about it. I loved the warmth of his relationship with his young nephews. What failed for me in this book however was the overwhelming volume of footnotes. At times there are several irritating little numbers on a single page which each refer to a different section of tiny red font on another page. In a print book, with a finger marking each page, this might have been manageable. On my Kindle though, it swiftly became so annoying that I simply skipped most of the footnotes. Consequently I suppose I only therefore read about three-quarters of the book! I'm not going back in just to read the footnotes though.

The actual narrative line is a little confusing, possibly due to those missed footnotes, and I admit that The Selected Works Of Abdullah The Cossack probably suffered in being the book I read right right after The Old Drift. While The Selected Works isn't a bad novel at all, it just didn't have such an innovative spark. Writing this a day after finishing, elements of the story and characters are already fading from my mind which is a shame as the jazz club settings particularly are still memorably strong.

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Saturday, 23 March 2019

Life and Other Dreams by Richard Dee

Life, and Other Dreams by Richard Dee
Published by 4Star Scifi on the 15th February 2019.

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Rick lives here on Earth now, with Cath. His life is boring, writing adverts for cat food and exotic holidays. When he’s asleep, he dreams vividly. In his dreams, he lives as Dan, spending his time with his wife Vanessa. They live six-hundred years in the future, half a galaxy away. They’re explorers, searching for valuable minerals on Ecias, an alien paradise.

Dan has no dreams about Rick’s life, he lives on Ecias, loves his life and Vanessa.

When the two worlds overlap, Rick starts to question what is real. Events in his waking and sleeping lives are mirrored, similar people inhabit both and coincidences mount up. Then disaster strikes in each world at the same time. In his dreams, Dan is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Meanwhile, after one coincidence too many, Cath thinks that Rick’s dreams are hiding an affair and leaves him.

Is Rick going crazy, or can he be living in two places, in two times, at once? If not, then which one of them is the reality? Will one life carry on when the other is on hold?

Richard Dee's fast-paced, edgy science fiction -cum- psychological thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page!

Meet the author

Richard Dee is a native of Brixham in Devon. He left Devon when he was in his teens and settled in Kent. Leaving school at 16 he briefly worked in a supermarket, then went to sea and travelled the world in the Merchant Navy, qualifying as a Master Mariner in 1986. Coming ashore to be with his growing family, he used his sea-going knowledge in several jobs, working as a Marine Insurance Surveyor and as Dockmaster at Tilbury, before becoming a Port Control Officer in Sheerness and then at the Thames Barrier in Woolwich.

In 1994 he was head-hunted and offered a job as a Thames Estuary Pilot. In 1999 he transferred to the Thames River Pilots, where he regularly took vessels of all sizes through the Thames Barrier and upriver as far as HMS Belfast and through Tower Bridge. In all, he piloted over 3,500 vessels in a 22-year career with the Port of London Authority.

Richard is married with three adult children and three grandchildren.

His first science-fiction novel Freefall was published in 2013, followed by Ribbonworld in 2015. September 2016 saw the publication of his Steampunk adventure The Rocks of Aserol and of Flash Fiction, a collection of Short Stories. Myra, the prequel to Freefall was published in 2017, along with Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Café, a murder mystery set in space and the start of a series featuring Andorra Pett, an amateur detective. Sequels to Ribbonworld and The Rocks of Aserol have been published, together with a second Andorra Pett story, Andorra Pett on Mars. He also contributed a story to the 1066 Turned Upside Down collection. Richard is currently working on prequels, sequels, and new projects.

You can find out more about Richard on his website. Head over there to see what he gets up to, click the FREE STUFF tab or the PORTFOLIO tab to get all the details about his work and pick up a free novel or short story.

Author links: 
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Friday, 22 March 2019

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Published in the UK by Vintage yesterday, the 21st March 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads and my Book Of The Month for March 2019

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.

In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.

From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this gripping, unforgettable novel sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with colour and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.

The Old Drift is the first Zambian-authored novel I have read and, now enthused by Serpell's inventiveness and vision, I can't wait to discover more! This certainly won't be a novel to appeal to all readers, but if, as I did, you loved One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Where The Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky, you will probably adore The Old Drift. Serpell tells the story of a nation from 1904 until the 2020s through the interweaving lives of numerous people. Her tale begins as historical fiction, slides into magical realism, plays around with notions of ancient Greek choruses, and finishes with a science fiction flourish. And I thought it all melded together brilliantly!

It is sometimes difficult to keep track of the characters' varying connections and relationships, but I didn't feel this was necessarily a problem because I appreciated my 'aha' moments when I would suddenly realise how the current protagonist warranted their focus. Perhaps a sibling, or an aunt, or a lover to someone we met twenty years ago (in the previous chapter!) Characters such as Sibilla, who is swathed in her own hair, or former afronaut Matha, who has cried constantly for decades, are vividly drawn and I am sure will be memorable. Serpell's women lead the way through this story in a very real way. I actually loved reading as much about their occasional menstrual mishaps as about the world-changing events in which they participate. For a literary fiction author to present her women in such an authentic way felt wonderfully liberating and inspiring to me. In fact, had I got the call to a SOTP rally today, I'd have run all the way there!

Serpell's blending of genres felt fresh. I am in awe of her storytelling talent and the clarity she achieves in what is a complicated narrative. I thought the inclusion of the Chorus was an interesting idea. It allows the reader a moment to relax every now and then, but also provides a framework for both the stories and their underlying philosophy. This was especially effective for me because the Chorus' message felt like it resounded so well with my own lifestyle: don't stagnate, but don't rush around either. Take the time to drift!

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Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Pieces of You and Me by Rachel Burton + Excerpt

The Pieces of You and Me by Rachel Burton
Published by HQ Digital on the 21st February 2019.

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They say time can heal all wounds…

When Jess and Rupert parted ways, it was the end of a great love story that might have been. Now ten years later, the very different paths they have taken in life will bring them back together for a chance meeting.

But with so much left unsaid about the break up neither ever recovered from and with each keeping their own devastating secrets, will they finally be able to make the fractured pieces of their love for one another whole again?


This scene is the morning after Jess’s best friend Gemma’s wedding. Gemma invited Rupert to the wedding – the first time the couple had met properly after bumping into each other in a pub in York a few weeks earlier…

‘He kissed you!’ Gemma asked, eyes wide open, hangover forgotten.
‘Well technically we kissed each other,’ I said. ‘But I think he started it.’
‘I want all the details,’ Gemma said.
‘Gemma, listen,’ I replied. ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t come back to the reception last night. I should have let you know I was going to bed at least.’
‘Oh to hell with that.’ She grinned at me. ‘Just tell me everything that’s going on with you and Tremayne.’
‘Let her have some privacy, Gem,’ Caitlin said kindly.
‘Well are you seeing him again?’ Gemma asked.
‘I don’t know,’ I said quietly. The initial euphoria of the kiss was beginning to wear off and the reality of the situation was starting to hit me. What was happening? Where would it go? Could we really salvage what we used to have, particularly as neither of us had broached the subject of why we split up in the first place? I’d been thinking about “what if?” for years and yet now it was here I had no idea what to do with it.

Meet the author

Rachel Burton is the author of the international ebook bestseller The Many Colours of Us.

Rachel spent most of her life between Cambridge and London but now lives in Yorkshire with her fiance and their three cats. The main loves of her life are The Beatles and very tall romantic heroes.

She is always happy to talk books, writing, music, cats and how the weather in Yorkshire is rubbish. She is mostly dreaming of her next holiday....

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