Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day.

Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day.

Hello readers!  For today’s blog post, I will be reviewing The Party by Elizabeth Day, but before we delve into what I thought, lets start with that all important blurb:

the party reviewMartin Gilmour is an outsider. When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent. But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world. Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.

But Martin has a secret. He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell. It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.

At Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour. Amid the hundreds of guests – the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich – Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging. His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too. There is disquiet in the air. But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship.  Would he?

Told from the perspective of Martin and his wife Lucy, this book moves back and forth through time, between Martin’s Police interview regarding some unknown dramatic incident at the party in question, and the past where we see how Martin’s relationships were formed.  It’s a very suspenseful method of writing, and I found myself eager to read the next chapter and the next, to finally discover exactly what happened at the party and what it will mean for the main characters.  This is definitely a slow burner, but I found it worth the wait.

At its core, this book is about relationships and the importance we put on them.  Martin strategically wedges himself into the life of his ‘best friend’ Ben and his elite family, as a means of bettering himself and his life, importance and status by proxy, but more than that, Martin finds himself drawn both sexually and emotionally to Ben as he struggles to accept his own homosexuality.  Then there is the cold and loveless relationship he shares with his Mother, one which profoundly shapes who Martin is and the absent relationship of his deceased father, unknown but always felt.  Lastly, there is the relationship with his wife Lucy.  To call their courtship romantic would be the biggest overstatement of the century, with both characters essentially settling, seemingly content to simply find someone who respects them and who will be there.  Lucy’s chapters are the most insightful of the book, as unlike Martin, she is capable of a huge amount of emotional intelligence and of seeing things from the perspectives of others.  She brings a level of humanity to Martin which is much needed, because to put it frankly, he comes across as a needy personality vacuum without Lucy’s observations.

It is also a criticism on the class system and of the power and influence that money and titles still hold over society today.  Ben is the epitome of the white, privileged, upper class Eton boys which seem to flood the chambers of Westminster to this day.  He is able to charm and win over anyone, he is liked by all, but at his core he has nothing behind that smile without his family’s wealth to back him up.  The party itself is filled with the typical Notting Hill set of trendy ‘it’ people and influencers, politicians and rich vacuous people whose sense of self entitlement and detachment from the real world is perfectly described by Day throughout- this is satire at its best.  But if you are hoping for a story about those elites getting their come-uppence then I’m afraid you will be reading the wrong book, for the conclusion is clear- money trumps justice every time.

There are a few negatives to this topic and the characters Day has chosen to create.  First of all, none of them are particularly likeable people.  Apart from Lucy (and I found myself irritated with her at points, particularly when she seems to simply shrug and settle in life), every other character is a total tool (I want to use stronger language to be honest).  Martin, the main protagonist, is the worst.  He is so utterly pathetic at points, so desperate to be loved, so desperate to be important and in with the ‘it’ crowd.  He puts so much importance on wealth and status, even buying ridiculously overpriced trainers simply because Ben bought a pair too.  His priorities are completely shot and it results in a character that I felt nothing but dislike and very occasional pity for.

Another issue I had was with the constant negativity of the book.  Martin in particular spends the entire book criticising and hating on other people, particularly at the party itself where there is no end of examples of loathsome people to bitch about.  It can at times make you as a reader feel cynicism taking over, but perhaps that was the point.  This negativity however is interpreted with some fantastic moments of action and these are the moments where Day utterly shines.  There is the event in Ben and Martin’s childhood where Martin took the fall for a fatal car accident, thus solidifying his place in Ben’s life, there is the ‘blow job’ scene at the party where for a moment Martin’s veil shifts and you see the real him and then there is the climax at the party which results in Martin’s interview at the Police station.  Day excels at these moments of action and it is then you see just how talented a writer she really is.

Overall, I found this book an interesting and suspenseful read and I would recommend it to anyone who fancies something thought provoking and writing with a sharp edge…think the Talented Mr Ripley or a modern Great Gatsby.  I would give it four stars out of five and definitely plan on reading more of Day’s work in the future.

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden.

Hello readers!  The weekend is almost over (I hope you had a good one), and whilst that can be a bit of a bummer, a new week means new reading opportunities.  For this evenings blog post, I am reviewing The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden, the second in the Wintersong trilogy (for the review of the first instalment, The Bear and the Nightingale check out my previous post under the category ‘Book Review.’).  So what is the book about?  Let’s have a look at that trusty blurb:

arden review picFor a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

I had high expectations of this book, because I adored the first one in the instalment, but this equalled it and more, seemingly without effort.  I am a huge fan of Arden’s style of writing, and she really brings the magic and peril to life.  When it gets to the big exciting moments, such as fight scenes, it honestly becomes difficult to pry yourself away from the book and I found myself drowsily reading in the small hours of the morning, swearing to myself that I would just read ‘one more chapter.’

Vasya, the main character, develops and grows further with this instalment, and I now feel as if I know her.  She has flaws and weaknesses like all of us, of course, but she refuses to shy from these, instead constantly trying to learn from her mistakes.  I love fantasy fiction, but I find that many of the books fall into the same tropes, particularly when it comes to the lovey dovey stuff.  Not so here.  The love story running throughout both books, grows with intensity in this instalment, and I genuinely cannot wait to see how it ends for Vasya and her Winter King.

The rich folklore, and Russian culture create the most fantastical back drop to what is essentially an adventure story, featuring one badass, independent young woman who refuses to play the role society has planned for her.  Quite frankly, I cannot recommend this enough…buy immediately.

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My Novel ‘Broken Mirrors’ Official Release!

My Novel ‘Broken Mirrors’ Official Release!

my book IG picHey everyone!  This blog post is a very special one, because it is not a review of someone else’s book, but information about my own!  That’s right, I wrote a novel and it has officially been released today Friday the 13th.  I wanted to thank all of my lovely followers, because your support has been so wonderful.  Putting yourself and your writing out there is a very scary thing, and you guys have been nothing but lovely every step of the way.  In fact, it was the support and encouragement from my followers here and on Instagram, that gave me the courage to put my book into the world, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I would really appreciate your continued support now, as my book goes on sale worldwide…if you could buy it, that would be amazing!  If you read it, even better, and if you review it, well ten gold stars for you!!  You are the bloggers and reviewers and social influencers, and your opinion means the world to me.  It has got great reviews so far from some of the people who received ARCS, so grab a copy now and let me know what you think!!  Buy your copy on Amazon now by clicking here!

About ‘Broken Mirrors’:

When Marie moves from Belfast to London, she envisions a fresh start and an escape book IG picfrom a broken home. Once there, she meets Malcolm Carter, a charming, handsome man who sweeps her off her feet and gives her a life she could only have imagined. But Malcolm isn’t all he seems; he’s a criminal, a mobster and a murderer. Detective Fraser Duncan knows what he is, and he’s determined to take him down, but things get more complex when a rival and brutal gang leader appears on the scene, setting his sights on Malcolm’s empire. When Marie chooses to stay with Malcolm, regardless of what he is and what he has done, she starts down a path from which she can never return, and now she has been taken, Detective Duncan and Malcolm must set their differences aside and join forces in a race against time to save the woman they love.

Broken Mirrors explores the fragility of our own sense of self and the moral code by which we live our lives and hold ourselves to account.

An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Brenda Novak and Professional Reader’s Box Giveaway!

brenda 1I have no doubt you have heard of the author Brenda Novak.  She has written over sixty books, sold millions of copies worldwide, topped the New York Times and USA Today Bestsellers lists and won award after award, including The National Reader’s Choice award, The Write Touch award and the Beacon Award for Published Authors.  In fact, you probably have at least one of her books on your shelf right now.  But did you know that, not content with merely taking the world of literature by storm, she also has started her own Global book club, as well as a monthly subscription box?  Me neither, but that’s how I got the chance to chat with Ms Novak.

If you aren’t already aware, I am a dedicated Bookstagrammer.  Basically, I take pretty pictures of my favourite reads and nerd out with other book worms around the world.  Geeky I know, but it’s a great community (if you aren’t already a part of it, definitely give it a look, and me a follow!) and you get to meet so many amazing people.  Enter Brenda Novak.  I was approached by her wonderful daughter Alexa to publicise ‘The Professional Readers Book Box’ and of course, I jumped at the chance.  They sent me February’s Valentine’s Day themed box, and I am truly in love (wait until the end of the article for a quick run down and review of the box as well as a chance to win one of your own!).  But not content with merely discussing the box, I chanced my arm and requested an interview with Ms Novak herself, and amazingly, despite her insane schedule, she agreed!

So grab a cuppa, kick back, and enjoy….

Let’s start with a brief introduction…who is the team behind Professional Readers Box?

I’m a New York Times Bestselling author of over sixty books. I curate these “professional reader” boxes each month with my daughter, Alexa Novak.

For those of us unfamiliar with the Professional Readers Box, can you explain a bit about it?

The Professional Reader Box is a subscription box that brings two autographed books to your door each month–one big name author and one up and coming author I’ve hand selected–along with other reader-related items.

It would be remiss of me not to ask a couple of writing related questions, while I have the ear of the Legendary author that is Brenda Novak! You have written over 50 books, and sold millions of copies worldwide, tell me, what was the biggest hurdle you faced to getting your first book published, and how did you overcome it?

Getting the time to research and write was probably my biggest hurdle. I never dreamed I’d be a writer, but when I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while I worked as a loan officer, I quit my job to stay home with them myself. I still needed to figure out a way to help provide for the family, however, so I was looking for something I could do at home. My sister had given me a good book–Jude Devereux’s KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, and I loved it. I remember closing that book and thinking, “I wonder if I could do this!” I started right away, and spent the next five years researching the Victorian area (the time period of my first book, OF NOBLE BIRTH) and teaching myself the craft of writing. Meanwhile, I had two more children to give me a total of five, so you can see why getting the time to learn and create was a hurdle!

What is your writing process? Would you plan your book out before writing it, or is it more of a stream of consciousness style process?

I’m more of a “pantser,” which is the name bandied about among writers for someone who doesn’t plot. I start with the conflict of a story–something I think would be very interesting to explore–and then I decide what kind of characters would be most challenged by that conflict. The plot grows out of the characters.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

When I first started writing I had THE GREAT IDEA. It was based almost entirely on a title that popped into my head one day—OF NOBLE BIRTH. This title lent itself to a very specific theme: whether one is noble or not depends on the heart and not the pedigree. That was the message I wanted to deliver, and I knew the best backdrop for a story with such a message would be a historical setting where the caste system was firmly in place, so I decided that my book would be a historical romance set in Victorian times,

but I soon realize that was NOT the only idea I would ever need if I wanted to make my living as a published author. In order to build my career, I needed to write another story, and another, and another. In other words, I had to develop my imagination, turn it into a deep well of ideas from which I could draw time and again.

I didn’t know how I was going to do this but, fortunately, our brains are very adaptable. The more I demanded that my imagination deliver IDEA NUMBER 2, the harder it began to search. Before long, my mind turned into a “sifter.” It sifted through everything that came my way, every conversation I overheard, every funny anecdote I was told, every movie I saw, every newspaper article I read, every true crime show I puzzled over until I could pull an attitude from one character I’d come to know via a TV show, mix it with a situation my mother had mentioned the week before last, throw in some of my personal experience and…I was off and typing.

Have you ever suffered writer’s block? If so, how did you get beyond it? If not, what is the secret to writing over 60 successful books without suffering from it?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. But there are days when I get stuck, when my story seems to be turning to drivel or I can’t get it to hold any emotional tension. That’s when I know something is wrong. I’ve taken the story where it wasn’t meant to go, for lack of a better way to describe it. Fortunately, there are ways to get myself “unstuck.” Experience has taught me to mentally step away from the manuscript and look at it from a macro perspective, always asking myself, “Where did you go wrong?”

I start from the beginning and check the story as a plumber might check a series of pipes for leaks. I feel my way along, testing the story to see if it’s still “holding water.” I read, consider, read, consider and read some more until I find the “break” or part that isn’t in harmony with my intuition. Sometimes I do this by reading the manuscript aloud to my husband and asking for his input. Then we both look at the reasons my story isn’t coming together. Maybe I’m forcing my characters to do something these types of characters would never do. Maybe I’m ascribing a certain trait or pathology to my villain that just isn’t ringing true. Maybe I’ve veered too far away from my “core story.” It’s a bit of a hassle to go back, and definitely risks some unraveling and rewriting, but if I take the time to do this I almost always find the point that’s troubling my subconscious and interrupting my ability to proceed. Then I can fix it.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring writers?

Over the years, I have often been asked what piece of advice I would offer someone who is just starting out in publishing. I have always said I can boil it down to just one word, and that hasn’t changed even after 50+ books and nearly two decades. Believe. It’s really that simple. If you truly believe in yourself and your talent, you will be motivated to actually sit down and write the book instead of only dreaming about it.

You will be driven to seek out any help you may need (research or craft-related) to make it the best you can create. You will follow through with marketing ideas until you sell it (or self-publish it), and you won’t give up if you don’t immediately reach your goals. Belief drives the entire engine—especially through the rough spots.

Ok, back to the Professional Readers Box…What Inspired you to create this service?

Once I started my online book group on Facebook, I wanted to “add value” to becoming a member, and I did that through developing various programs. We have a Book Buddy Program, a monthly reading challenge, a commemorative pin for anyone who has read more than fifty of my novels, etc. The book boxes are just one more fun thing we offer to make it even more enjoyable to belong.

How do you go about curating each box? Do you pick a theme and then choose your book, or is the box built around a selected title?

I choose the books first. I fill out the schedule a year in advance. Then we choose items that will either go with a generic reading theme (like March’s box, which is all about reading in the tub and includes a pretty robe), or we focus on one of the books (like we did when we created our Whiskey Creek box). Sometimes we even focus on the closest holiday, like we did for our October, November and December boxes.

If an author or a business would like to collaborate with you on a box, is that something you would be interested in? If so, how would they go about arranging that with you?

Sure! I’d entertain submissions/ideas. We are very picky about what goes in our boxes, so it would have to fit with the theme and be of a certain quality, but I’m always interested in taking a look at new ideas and collaborating with others. There’s a contact link on my website, so I’m easy to reach.

How do people subscribe to the Professional Readers Box?

There’s a store right on my website at http://www.brendanovak.com. People can save a few bucks by signing up for a yearly subscription, or we have monthly subscriptions available. We even sell individual boxes, although it’s best to get a subscription because we sell out well in advance, and a subscription is the only way to guarantee getting one.

brenda 2Some invaluable writing advice from a true expert!  But what of the box I hear you ask?  Well, each box contains at least one book, often autographed, and a selection of bookish goodies chosen around that book.  My box, being Feburary’s, was all about Romance.  Along with two amazing books, All We Know by Jamie Black and The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak herself, I got some handmade chocolates from All things Chocolate in Georgia, powdered donuts (which as an Irish lass I have never actually tried this American treat, but I will definitely bee seeking them out again in the future), socks which say, ‘If you can read this, bring me chocolate’ (excellent advice), a beautiful wooden sign which reads, ‘It doesn’t matter what the question is, chocolate is the answer’, a date suggestion kit, and a make your own valentine’s card kit.  All of these goodies came beautifully packaged in peach coloured tissue paper and frankly, it was an awesome Valentine’s day gift to receive through the mail.  I couldn’t recommend the box enough, and the next one looks even better if that were at all possible.  You can check out how to order your own here.

It gets better though, you could win your own Professional Readers Box!  Just head to my Instagram to find out how to enter the giveaway!

Book Review: Death Row by Christian Sterling.

deathrowFor tonight’s blog post, I am reviewing Death Row, a novella by Christian Sterling.  The book follows Charles Colter, an inmate at Greenwood Federal Penitentiary, during his final days at the prison.  Charles is an artist, happiest when he is able to pour himself onto a canvas, and through his art and internal monologue, we see inside a man desperately trying to make peace with his life; the decisions he has made in the past which have led to this point, as well as the uncertainty of his future.

I hate reviews which include spoilers, so I will try to give my opinion on the novella without ruining it for anyone.  I will say this though, there is a twist which I never saw coming and one which I found slightly disappointing at first, but perhaps that’s the sadist in me.

Anyway, to the review:  Charles is a well developed, believable and most importantly likeable character.  For much of the book, the reader is unaware of what he did to deserve his stint in prison, something which should be of importance, but instead you find yourself liking Charles too much to care about what he did to deserve punishment.  I like the Charles we see now, introspective and regretful, so I’m not bothered about the Charles whose decisions led him to that prison cell.  In a nut shell, Sterling is great at character development.

Despite most of the book lacking any ‘action’ per say (bar one sadistic shiv wielding prisoner), being very much grounded in reality in all of it’s brilliant boredom, the storyline is genuine and compelling enough to keep you reading.  All of it takes place in a routine, a pattern from which Charles wishes he could escape, and his yearning for colour in a world of beige not only makes Charles a relatable character, but also means that simple and often overlooked details, become something beautiful and interesting.  Sterling’s attention to detail is outstanding and allows the reader to paint a vivid image in their minds.

My only negative, which I have alluded to at the beginning, is perhaps the book’s message is a little too optimistic for me.  I do however think that’s more to do with myself and my own cynical view of the world than an actual issue with what is, overall, an incredibly well written book.  I definitely recommend this as a quick and interesting read.

The Season by Sarah Maclean: A Book Review.

Hey fellow Bookworms!  It’s almost the weekend, when we can read as late as we like without fear of an early start the next day.  For tonight’s post, I am reviewing ‘The Season‘ by Sarah Maclean.  For those of you who follow my blog, you have seen that this was the book chosen for January’s The Letter’s Lit subscription (If you fancy seeing all of the bookish goodies I received as part of that subscription, check a couple of posts back).  So what is it about?  Let’s check our friend, the blurb:

theseasonSeventeen year old Lady Alexandra is strong-willed and sharp-tongued; in a house full of older brothers and their friends, she had to learn to hold her own. Not the best makings for an aristocratic lady in Regency London. Yet her mother still dreams of marrying Alex off to someone safe, respectable, and wealthy. But between ball gown fittings, dances, and dinner parties, Alex, along with her two best friends, Ella and Vivi, manages to get herself into what may be her biggest scrape yet.

When the Earl of Blackmoor is mysteriously killed, Alex decides to help his son, the brooding and devilishly handsome Gavin, uncover the truth. But will Alex’s heart be stolen in the process? In an adventure brimming with espionage, murder, and other clandestine affairs, who could possibly have time to worry about finding a husband? Romance abounds as this year’s season begins!

I am going to start with a couple of things, which although very minor, I found irritated me greatly whilst reading ‘The Season.’  The first is a phrase, used at least a dozen times per chapter, ‘Whispered conspiratorially.’  Every character spoke this way in almost every conversation, and it got to the point where I thought I had just invented a new drinking game: have a shot every time you read that phrase and you will find yourself hammered by Chapter 2! Honestly it was just beaten to death and I found it bugged me.  Again, this is very minor, but something worth raising nonetheless.

The second thing, is the dozens upon dozens of references to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice…I get it!  This was the inspiration for the book, but stop with the name dropping.  In fact, take out the whole spy bit, and this book is pretty much a facsimile of Pride and Prejudice, just not as good.  Smart, ambitious young woman who refuses to marry?  Check.  Handsome, wealthy, male love interest who is stubborn and proud?  Check.  A series of misunderstandings which create that will they, won’t they question for the main part of the book?  Check.  Happy ending where they finally end up together? Check.  Early 19th century setting complete with balls and manor houses?  Check.  There is even a rogue male character and an overbearing pushy mum.

Saying that, the book is fun, lighthearted and entertaining.  Obviously Maclean could never reach the dizzying heights set by Austen, but if you are a fan of Austen or classic Romance literature in general, I think you will like this as well.  The defiant young women leading the charge are well rounded characters, along with the men who constantly underestimate them.  The Spy storyline offers enough suspense and adventure to keep you interested, and although it’s a fairly predictable read, it is also an entertaining one.  And let’s face it, who doesn’t love a bit of Romance?

Overall, I would recommend it if you fancy something fun and frothy, perhaps as your holiday beach read.

The Sacrifice by Alec Caruso: A Book Review.

Hey everyone…I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward now to a great New Year!  I was spoiled rotten!  Santa brought me lots of wonderful bookish goodies, I got to spend time with loved ones, I ate far far too much and I even got some time to sit and read, one of my favourite things to do!  What did I read you ask?  The Sacrifice a debut novel by Alec Caruso, the pen name of the very talented writing team Rachel Mehal and Keith Bruton.  To find out more about them, and purchase your own copy, head to Amazon and their website.

So what is the book about?

sacrificeLondon, England. Dr Ted Conway has committed suicide. A case that should be easily closed.

After a forced break, Detective Inspector Reo Yoshima is thrust back into work, overseeing the the suicide of Dr Ted Conway, only to discover that things with this case is not what it seems to be. Trying to determine the unforeseeable truths from hidden lies, clues start finding their way together. As the case begins to unravel, it forces Yoshima into a whirlwind of discoveries, sending her to Cologne, Germany.

At first, I found the book slightly disjointed.  It cuts between the aforementioned Detective Rei Yoshima in London, to detectives in Germany, a couple with fertility troubles in London and news bulletins about the Syrian refugee crisis with no apparent connection or Segway.  There is also the fact that the reader’s perspective shifts between so many characters, in London and Cologne, that sometimes it can get confusing. However, slowly, the seemingly disconnected chapters link in to each other, and all of the pieces come together to form one big picture.

This is also when the book begins to pick up pace as well as increase in action and excitement.  It was definitely worth reading through to this stage, and the final chapters certainly tick all of the necessary boxes you want from a crime thriller…Guns?  Check.  Fight scenes?  Check.  Murder and kidnap?  Check and check.  It will certainly satisfy even the most fussy of thriller fans.

It also likes to keep you on your toes, and have you guessing at who is involved in the overarching conspiracy.  I don’t like to write a review with spoilers but I will say that, whilst I guessed who was good and who was bad early on, I was unaware of their motivations until the big finale and I always love a twist I didn’t see coming, so points for that.

The lead character is very real, strong but fragile, broken but trying to mend, she is likeable and believable, and more importantly she is badass.  I hate weak and wobbly female leads, and Rei Yoshima could never be accused of either of those flaws.   However, I was frustrated with a lack of revelations about her past.  Although certain small titbits were revealed, it’s very sketchy, and although I understand this is the first in a series and the reader is meant to wait until the proceeding books to find it out, I still would have liked more.

The one negative I have to raise, and I am very aware of my own issues in this area, is the grammatical errors throughout the book.  I am not the best speller, but even I spotted these glaring mistakes.  At one point an entire paragraph is repeated, accidentally printed twice.  A minor thing really, but it bugged me a bit. Saying that, if in a review, the only big criticism you have is with the spelling, then it must be a pretty good book!

Overall, I think it’s a very entertaining crime novel, which would be a great holiday read or something to pick up for a long journey or on the commute to work, perfect for any crime fiction fan.  So give it a read, and let me know what you think!