Monday, 24 April 2017

Guest Post - Growing Up in the Soviet Union by Karmak Bagisbayev - Blog Tour

I was born on the banks of the dried-up Aral Sea. The Aral was only called a sea. Strictly speaking, at the time of my childhood, it was a huge, seemingly limitless lake, the fourth largest in the world. The residents of the coastal town of Aralsk were primarily engaged in the fishing industry. In those years the ethnic composition of the Aral Sea area was about as diverse as Babylon. Aside from the autochthonous Kazakhs and the Russians who brought with them Soviet rule, there were many representatives of peoples deported by Stalin from their native lands: Ukrainians, Koreans, Chechens, the Ingush, Greeks, Karachay, Kalmyks, Meskhetian Turks and Crimean Tatars. In local schools and hospitals one would often come find repressed Jewish teachers and doctors from Moscow and Leningrad who had been exiled and forced to resettle. As a result the standard of secondary education in the average Aralsk school was no inferior to the best schools in the capital.

The local kids would knit together in international “gangs” on a regional basis, and periodically hold battles on the outskirts of the town to establish their areas of influence and power. From an early age, in accordance with the fashion for criminal romance, popular in the post-war period, the boys carried penknives, and knuckle dusters around with them in their pockets, as well as homemade playing cards without which it would have been unthinkable to appear in “polite society”. The older lads had guns. Most were home-made but some were real fire-arms, captured weaponry, which had been given to them by soldiers who had returned from the war.  At that time though, serious crime in the city was a rarity. Young lads were more often drowned at sea in a storm, or in the lake having fallen through the ice playing hockey in winter.

Our “gang” was called the naval gang because all the kids in it lived on streets that ran adjacent to the sea. We blocked all approaches to the shore keeping any strangers out. We were all excellent swimmers. The year round we wore striped sailor’s vests under shirts with the collars gaping wide and quilted jackets. We sang pirate songs and even tried to make pirate’s smoking pipes like those we had seen depicted on the front covers of maritime adventure novels. We all dreamed of sailing round the world on pirate ships dreaming of lands, where dark-skinned men lay around in white trousers for days on end under the palm trees, lazily sipping rum and dancing the rumba. We younger boys were convinced that these lands began exactly where our sea ended and so with inexpressible anguish we escorted ships which left for sea watching them until the smoke from their funnels had completely disappeared beyond the horizon.

Once, whilst rigging work was being undertaken in the port, a friend and I snuck onto a ship that was set to sail for the town of Muynak situated on the lake’s opposite shore. We hid under a tarpaulin where we were discovered only once the ship was already far out to sea. We weren’t thrown overboard or even severely reprimanded. The sailors just laughed and fed us in the galley along with the others.  A greater shock awaited us though. Muynak turned out to be a small provincial town, even smaller than our native Aralsk. It had no palm trees, no dark-skinned men, no rumba or rum. When we returned to shore, the ship’s captain gave us both a sailor’s cap, saw us onto the quay and did not report us to anyone. After the war people were all very kind.
We fished a lot and took every opportunity to go out in the boats onto the open sea.  A boy’s childhood spent at sea could only be a happy one.

I loved and hated school at the same time. There were some subjects I loved and found very interesting: mathematics for its internal beauty, physics for its ability to explain the uniform movement of the heavenly bodies, aircraft and ships and history, particularly ancient history, which opened windows onto worlds that have long since disappeared. I hated all the subjects related to languages because of the repetition involved and the grammatical rules, which seemed to me artificial and contrived so that I always wished to simplify them. I detested the strict daily schedule and boring classroom assemblies. I also hated the activities organised by the pioneer and Komsomol organisations for their insincerity and tediousness, preferring the lively games of street boys.
In my thirteenth year, the family moved to the capital city of Alma-Ata, where I joined the Republican Physics and Mathematics School, and so had the opportunity to participate in and subsequently win at All-Union Physics and Mathematics Academic Competitions. Next came the Mechanics and Mathematics Faculty of Novosibirsk University which was elitist for the time and there I made friendships that were to last my entire life.

After university I returned to Alma-Ata, where I started work at the Institute of Mathematics, Kazakh SSR Academy of Sciences. This was the time when the persecutions of academician Sakharov began, when the ruling Communist Party started “tightening the screws” across the entire country and one could go to prison for making a joke about Brezhnev. Under the leadership of local party authorities, a wave of rallies and meetings were held in all academic institutions of the Soviet Union, at which letters were to be signed condemning and shaming A.D. Sakharov. A rally of this kind occurred at the Institute of Mathematics where I worked. I have never been a hero and in this lion’s den I found myself unable to speak out against what was happening. Neither could I conceive of the idea of signing such a letter and so, pretending to be stupid with a deadpan face I asked the bureau of the assembly, when academician Sakharov would speak, so that we could hear his point of view, and then discuss it, and if necessary condemn it, in accordance with the common procedure of a scientific seminar. Silence reigned in the room for about a minute and was then followed by a growing rumble of approval. The Communist Party representative glanced first at me with undisguised pity, as at one mentally impaired, and then turned angrily to the Institute management before rising sharply from her chair and leaving the meeting without a word.

In the morning of the following day, I quickly switched jobs. More than twenty years later, after the Soviet regime had been overthrown, former colleagues congratulated me on the fact that the Institute of mathematics was the only institute of the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan to get away without enduring the disgrace of having to sign the anti-Sakharov letter.

I remember another occasion that occurred a little earlier, also at the Academy of Sciences. According to the requirements of the time, any young doctoral candidate had to sit a preliminary exam on Marxist-Leninist philosophy. During this exam, I was given a question on the issue of morality. Having given the examiners a detailed answer to the question in accordance with the Marxist-Leninist philosophy receiving the highest grade possible: “Excellent”, I asked the examiners if I might be allowed to express my own thoughts on morality. I then outlined to them roughly what is written about morality in “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.

If I had been a hero, I would have openly declared that the Marxist-Leninist moral doctrine that acclaims the dictatorship of the proletariat over the rest of society is criminal to its core but, as I have already said, I am no hero and so I just said quietly that I simply could not accept the idea that some unknown proletarian should tell me how to live. At that point, the examiners announced that I had in fact been awarded the grade “Unsatisfactory” which meant that the road to an academic degree in the SSSR would be closed to me. I told them they had no right to award me this new grade because they had only just evaluated my knowledge on the same question as “Excellent”. I was asked to leave the room and await their decision in the corridor. The examiners deliberated for more than four hours and at around midnight invited me back into the room. It was explained to me that I would be awarded the grade “Satisfactory” and could retake the exam if I wish to improve my grade on the understanding that I would refrain from adding ‘improvisations from self’ after my formal answer to the exam question.

To put this into some context, the grade most commonly awarded to candidates for Marxist-Leninist philosophy was “Excellent” and only occasionally “Good”. As far as they could remember, this was the first time in the history of the Kazakhstan Academy of Sciences that the grade “Satisfactory” had ever been awarded. I thanked the Commission but turned down their invitation to retake the exam, saying that if the Supreme Certifying Commission chose to deny me a degree in mathematics on account of my grade for Philosophy, then such a degree was not worth the paper it was written on. Some time later I successfully defended my dissertation and to this day am proud of the “unique” grade I was awarded for philosophy.

As an aside, on the topic of morality, I must mention my grandmother, who at that time, in an atmosphere of total totalitarian morality, managed to communicate to me as a seven to eight year old child the notion that different people think differently, that this is their God-given right, that people have a right to hold to any kind of morality they choose as long as they do not cause other people harm. My grandmother was an illiterate, quiet, discreet Kazakh woman, who very rarely involved herself in family conversations unless she was asked her opinion directly. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had such a grandmother, who instilled in me as a child the initial ideas of in “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.

The Last Faith

“The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer” provides a clear and convincing answer to all the questions listed above. The answer which will cause the reader to reconsider many established moral principles and notions about the world around us. The answer which will help the reader to understand the nature of human actions, dilemmas, dramas and passions, in their true light. The answer which will elucidate the current stage in the development of human civilisation and offer unexpected predictions for its future.

“The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer” is aimed at a wide audience and does not require any specialised knowledge. The author’s thoughts and reflections are presented here in the form of a fictional conversation with God which unfolds over the course of just two hundred pages. The author (PhD in Physics and Mathematics) gives concise and clearly expressed explanations and evidence for his ideas. He cites abundant examples from the world around us which are drawn from his extensive travels through Russia, America, Europe, Africa and Central Asia.

All this makes for an accessible and enjoyable read.

About the author: Karmak Bagisbayev was born on the shores of Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, graduated from Novosibirsk State University and currently holds PhD in physics and mathematics. He has worked and travelled throughout Europe, the United States, Africa and Asia. This is his first book. 

Book Review - Dreaming of Venice by T. A. Williams

Amazon UK
Title: Dreaming of Venice
Author: T. A. Williams
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Canelo
Publication Date: 24th April 2017
Rating: 5 Stars

Find love, friendship and prosecco – in the magical city of Venice
Life is tough for Penny. A dead end job in a London café, a boyfriend in Australia (what could go wrong?) and an art career going nowhere. But then Penny is approached with an extraordinary proposition.

It isn’t going to be easy but, if she can pull it off, she will turn her life around and at long last see the fulfilment of her dream – to visit Venice. And, just maybe, find true happiness with the handsome man of her dreams.

But can dreams come true?

Once upon a time, there was a girl called Penny. She worked in a cafe that mainly sold all day breakfasts, she hopes to make it as an artist, and every night she dreams of Venice where she would one day love to visit. 

By a sheer fluke, Penny meets her fairy godmother, Caroline, who can offer Penny her wildest dreams, in exchange for a bit of work, that may make life confusing for a while. Penny is intrigued and so tempted that Venice could be within her reach she agrees, and that turns into the start of a fairytale like existence for Penny. But will she get her happily ever after?

If you think I have gone nuts, then although I won't dispute it, I will state that Dreaming of Venice had the feel of an adult fairy tale to it, and I loved that quality about it. Of course there is a lot more to the story than what I've detailed above, and I would already like to say its one of my favourite books I've read recently. 

I absolutely loved this rags to riches story about Penny, and how one random act of kindness and immense bravery from her, set in motion the wheels that ultimately had her meeting Caroline, and being offered this rather unique job opportunity. 

It's from this job, and the doors it opens, that she is able to make huge changes in all other aspects of her life. The job itself (which I'm being deliberately vague about), leads to all manner of potentially confusing but amusing situations and I loved seeing how it all played out. 

There is so much to love about this book including what really shines through is T.A. Williams and Penny's love of Venice, and how much the place means to them. Penny also is a real art lover and there is one rather memorable scene when she was trying out a new pair of high heels and lets just say it involves not many clothes, tripping and the canvas and oil paint not exactly where they should be! All the bits I really want to gush about though, I probably shouldn't purely as they would be regarded by some as spoilers, and you really need to read and enjoy this book without too much prior information. 

For those of you who are in the T.A. Williams, dog spotting club, you will absolutely love Gilbert! He is adorable and features just enough to be comforted by getting to know a new chocolate labrador. 

Dreaming of Venice is without a doubt one of T.A. Williams' best books, easily one of the funnest with a rather unique story line, so many great characters to meet, some lovely one liners that will have you chuckling and most of all is just an easy to read, ridiculously enjoyable book. 

Thank you so much to Netgalley and Canelo for this copy which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Book Review - My Sister by Michelle Adams - Fab Firsts

Fab Firsts is my new regular Sunday feature, that is going to be highlighting books that are firsts. When interviewing authors, it will be about their first book, as well as other firsts in their lives. When reviewing books for this feature, there will be a mix of debuts, first books in a series, the first time I read an author, and possibly other firsts depending on what I can think of!

If you are an author wanting to take part in Fab Firsts then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you.

I hope you enjoy this look at a variety of hopefully fabulous firsts, while making some sort of dent in my review and paperback TBRs which are my current main focus!

This is Michelle Adams debut novel and one that has really impressed me. 

Amazon UK
Title:  My Sister
Author: Michelle Adams
Format reviewed: Paperback
Source: Bookbridgr
Publisher: Headline
Publication Date: 20th April 2017
Rating: 4 Stars

My name is Irini. I was given away.

My name is Elle. I was kept.

All her life Irini thought she was given away because her family didn't want her. What if the truth is something worse?

Two sisters. Two separate lives.

One family bound by a harrowing secret.

My Sister as a really creepy vibe running right through it, and its one that I just couldn’t put my fingers on. The whole story is very intriguing and more-ish, and that feeling lasts even after I’ve finished it. I want more! 

The story centres on the relationship between two sisters. Irini and Elle and its all from Irini’s perspective.  For there is one big thing in their past that has affected the sisterly relationship. For Irini was given away to her aunt when she was just 3 years old, while Elle was kept by their parents. 

Irini has always wanted answers while feeling like she just wasn’t good enough, and has only met up with her sister a handful of times over the years, with a variety of outcomes. Irini though is properly estranged from her parents and so it is a rather odd feeling when their mother dies, and she returns to the family home for the first time in years. 

The whole way through the book you get the feeling something is just not quite right with Elle, but the specifics are only drip fed to us throughout the story, as a way to keep us interested. 

I was hooked on trying to discover along with Irini, just what happened all those years ago, and just what the family secrets are. Some you may be able to guess, others probably not, as there were definitely elements that I didn’t see coming at all. 

I can’t put my finger on what it is that makes this book so good, I just know I enjoyed it a lot and that it just works. What a great debut from Michelle Adams. My Sister comes heartily recommended as a suspenseful tale of sisters, betrayal and secrets. 

Thank you to Bookbridgr for this copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 

Fab Firsts - Q&A with Catherine Kullmann

Fab Firsts is my new regular Sunday feature, that is going to be highlighting books that are firsts. When interviewing authors, it will be about their first book, as well as other firsts in their lives. When reviewing books for this feature, there will be a mix of debuts, first books in a series, the first time I read an author, and possibly other firsts depending on what I can think of!

If you are an author wanting to take part in Fab Firsts then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you.

I hope you enjoy this look at a variety of hopefully fabulous firsts, while making some sort of dent in my review and paperback TBRs which are my current main focus!

Thank you for inviting me to talk to you about me and my writing. My name is Catherine Kullmann and I write historical fiction ‘for the heart and for the head’. I was born and brought up in Dublin and, following a courtship conducted mainly by letter, moved to Germany on my marriage. We returned to Ireland in 1999. I have worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services as well as in the private sector. In 2009 I took early retirement and this gave me the opportunity finally to explore my creativity.

My books are set in England in the extended regency period from 1800 to 1825, the time of the Napoleonic wars and their aftermath, and look in particular at the consequences for the many women whose men disappeared to fight in a war that happened off-stage and far away. Fathers, sons and brothers were absent for years. Communication possibilities then were so different to what they are today—no news reached home apart from that provided in the official dispatches published in the Gazette and what little was contained in intermittent private letters. 

1) Can you tell us a bit about your first book?

The Murmur of Masks, my debut novel, was published in July 2016. It begins in 1803, after the collapse of the Treaty of Amiens with England again at war with France. Eighteen-year-old Olivia must say goodbye to her father and brother, both of whom are recalled to active service in the navy. Not long afterwards, her mother dies suddenly. Now she has lost not only the person who has been her anchor all her life but also her home.  Adrift and vulnerable, she accepts the offer of a marriage of convenience from Jack Rembleton, an older man in need of an heir. Olivia hopes that love will grow between them, but Jack’s secrets will prevent this. When, at her first ball, she is obliged to tell the clearly interested Luke Fitzmaurice that she is married, she realises that she has thrown away her youth and the chance of love. 

     Ten years later, fate throws Olivia and Luke together again. Before they can explore what might be between them,  Napoleon escapes from Elba and Luke, who as a young man was prevented by ill-health from joining the army, is determined that this time he will do his bit and joins Wellington’s army in Brussels. After Waterloo, he discovers he must fight another battle, the battle to win Olivia’s heart.

2) What was your original inspiration to become a writer, and to write your debut?

I have always enjoyed writing, from those very first compositions at school. The written word was also an important part of my professional life.  I read voraciously and often continued stories in my head, wanting to know what happened next. Life so frequently gets in the way of love and what makes a book interesting to me is how the characters deal with this.  The marriage of convenience that turns into a love marriage is a favourite theme of regency novels and I wondered how a woman would cope with a marriage of convenience that remained just that. 

3) How long did it take you to write your first book?

About a year and a half. Although The Murmur of Masks is my debut novel, it is not the first novel I wrote but the third. The second, Perception & Illusion, was published last month 28th March 2017, while the first, A Sensible Marriage will probably not be published until 2018 as I need to do a considerable rewrite of it. In fact there will be at least two more published before it. Although not a series, the books are all interconnected. As A Sensible Marriage is set in the early 1820s, I decided to leave it to the end. It will complete the Waterloo Arc.

4) If you could do anything differently in retrospect, what would you change about your debut, or how you went about writing it?

Apart from somehow managing to start earlier, no. Having said that, it is wonderful to be able to start a new career after my retirement. I love both the research and creative sides of writing historical fiction; part of the challenge is to reflect accurately your chosen period while making it accessible to the modern reader.  

5) Was your first book self or traditionally published, and how did you go about making that decision?

The Murmur of Masks is self-published. After I received several warm rejections from publishers, saying that it ‘falls between the stools of historical romance and historical fiction’ I decided not to waste any more time waiting for a publisher to find the right pigeonhole and  went ahead and published it myself.

6) Do you have any tips for other first time authors?

Keep writing. Edit and re-edit. Let a book lie fallow for several months and then try and read it as if someone else had written it. Be honest with yourself. If you stumble over a phrase, or find a section dull or tedious, change it or omit it. 

Tell us about your first…

7) Book you bought

I can’t remember exactly which one, but one of the Pocomoto series by Rex Dixon. I loved this Western series about an orphan brought up by two prospectors.  I had to have several milk teeth removed to make way for the permanent teeth and my mother promised me a shilling a tooth as a reward / bribe if I was good at the dentists. I remember going into Eason’s in O’Connell Street afterwards and spending my loot on this book.

8) Memory

I am a year and ten months old and my father is telling my elder brother and me that we have a new baby sister. I can also remember seeing her cradle in a corner of the front room after she and my mother came home.

9) Person you fell in love with

My future husband.

10) Holiday you went on

To visit my grandmother in Cork. I don’t remember how old I was, four or five, maybe. We went by train and I remember how the red plush of the seats scratched my legs. Girls didn’t wear trousers then, so I would have been wearing a dress and ankle socks.

11) Prize you won

The German Government Prize for German in my Intermediate Certificate (Equivalent of O Levels).

12) Album you purchased

Dietrich Fischer-Diskeau singing Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin accompanied by Gerald Moore. It was a present for my father.

13) Sport you enjoyed participating in

Ballroom dancing – I was never interested in sport, but when I was in my thirties my husband and I started ballroom dancing and I really love it.

14) Embarrassing moment you can remember

The time at a dance when I was sure a boy was coming to ask me to dance. I started to get up but then he asked the girl sitting beside me.

15) Pet

A kitten called Frisky

16) Time you were in trouble

I was always in trouble for speaking my mind to teachers.

17) ..choice of alternative career if you weren’t an author

I went the alternative career route first.

18) …time you had any independence

I would have been around twelve, I suppose, and was allowed take the bus into town by myself and spend my own money (pocket money or birthday presents).

19) …toy that you recall loving

A Moses basket with a baby doll

20) … time you felt like an adult

When I was given money and told I could buy my own clothes. I was sixteen, I think.

21) … time you realised you were good at something

I was always good at school (see no. 15)

22) Dish you cooked

I don’t remember, but probably scones or apple tart. From the very beginning, I ‘helped’ my mother in the kitchen and bit by bit learnt to do everything by myself. I still love cooking and experimenting with new recipes.

23) … time you were really scared

I was nine. I was participating in a big rally to mark the centenary of the death of the founder of the order of nuns who ran the school I went to. Afterwards, I couldn’t find my mother. I remember I went up to a policeman and asked him if he had ‘seen a lady in a hat’. All the women were wearing hats. However, she found me soon after.

Thank you so much Catherine for answering my questions and sharing with us your most embarassing moment!

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Purchase Links The Murmur of Masks: 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Book Review - The CEO Buys In by Nancy Herkness - Back Catalogue Books

Back Catalogue Books is my new regular Saturday feature, focusing on books that are not the latest releases. There is going to be a mix of Q&As and also reviews, depending on what I have the space for. 

If you are an author wanting to take part in Back Catalogue Books then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you. 

I hope everyone enjoys this weekly look back at some of the slightly older books that are about but still great, and that I eventually make a dent in my TBRs as a result of it!

I won this a few years ago in a Goodreads giveaway and it has taken until now to actually pick it up, of course now I'd like to read the other books in this series! 

Amazon UK
Title:  The CEO Buys In
Author: Nancy Herkness
Format reviewed: Paperback
Source: Competition Win
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Publication Date: 21st July 2015
Rating: 4 Stars

Self-made billionaire Nathan Trainor feels restless and disillusioned. His company may be thriving, but he can’t find a woman who sees him for more than his wealth. With his love life in the red, he meets two other billionaire bachelors at the ultra-exclusive Bellwether Club. The three of them make a wager of the heart: they must find women who love them for who they are, not their money.

Savvy office temp Chloe Russell is trying to scrape together the money she needs to support her grandmother. So when a flu epidemic strikes Trainor Electronics and she’s promoted to Nathan Trainor’s assistant, she jumps at the lucrative opportunity. But then Nathan himself falls ill, and he and Chloe must work from his penthouse while he recuperates. Before long, it’s clear there’s genuine heat between them, and it’s more than just a fever spike. Will Nathan win Chloe’s heart—and the bet? Or will their differences destroy any chance for love?

I'm lucky enough to have a signed copy of The CEO Buys In, and the author signed it with a simple message "Love or Money?", which having now read the book makes perfect sense to me, as it is the main theme of the book. 

Nathan Trainor is a billionaire, and along with 2 new acquaintances make a bet to see whether within a year they can find women to fall in love with them, for the people they are and not their wealth and circumstances. I believe the stories of the other 2 men will be in books 2 and 3 of this series, so this book was all about Nathan. 

Whereas Chloe Russell is a temp that hates big corporate companies, but desperately needs money to help provide a carer for her grandmother. So she agrees to temp at Trainor Electronics, and thanks to a nasty flu epidemic ends up working as Nathan's PA. 

The whole way through Chloe is clearly against the trappings of the billionaire lifestyle but is quite happy ot be paid more than her temping rate, for some of the more unusual working circumstances she finds herself in.  It also become apparent quite early on that Chloe and Nathan have a good amount of sexual chemistry.

There is a lot of sex in this book, and some of it was more enjoyable to read than the rest, and for a romance book such as this, quite often its the intimate scenes that make or break a story for me, and I found myself skimming some of them. 

I loved how caring Chloe was towards her grandmother, in fact I loved the grandmother, but I also found myself smiling every time she stood up to Nathan, and wouldn't let him buy her everything! The dynamics between Nathan and his friends and family were quite interesting and I found myself really enjoying a lot of the characters in the book. 

Ultimately I pretty much knew the outcome of the story before it even started, as it is exactly as you would expect in a romance. However I did really enjoy the journey to that point, and also getting a glimpse into the lifestyle of a billionaire. 

The CEO Buys In was very enjoyable, and a good piece of escapism for an otherwise boring day. It's an easy read, that will have you wondering whether love or money is more important, and has left me very tempted to buy the next books in the series. 

Back Catalogue Books - Q&A with Cheryl Rees-Price

Back Catalogue Books is my new regular Saturday feature, focusing on books that are not the latest releases. There is going to be a mix of Q&As and also reviews, depending on what I have the space for. 

If you are an author wanting to take part in Back Catalogue Books then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you. 

I hope everyone enjoys this weekly look back at some of the slightly older books that are about but still great, and that I eventually make a dent in my TBRs as a result of it!

Hi Rachel,

Thank you for inviting me to take part in you Back Catalogue Books feature.
My name is Cheryl Rees-Price and I am the author of the DI Winter Meadows series published by Accent Press. I live in a small village in South Wales with my husband and three cats. I work as a finance director, which can be very boring, so in my spare time I plot murders, fictional of course!

1) Please tell me about your first book, and what started you writing in the first place

My first book is Echoes published in June 2014 by Keith Publications.  Echoes is a paranormal mystery set in modern day America and 1940’s Wales. The story follows Alice who is troubled by terrifying nightmares of a young soldier. As Alice’s life spirals out of control her connection to the soldier grows stronger and she experiences visions of him in her waking hours. Alice’s only hope of retaining her sanity is to find the identity of the soldier; her search takes her to a sleepy village in Wales where she meets an old man who holds the key to the mystery.

I didn’t start writing until I was in my thirties. My two girls were still young and I worked part time as a book keeper. I loved making up stories for the girls, writing poetry, and plays. The idea for Echoes came from a nightmare; it is the same one I used in the opening scene of the book. Once I start writing the story I could stop and ended up with a 130k novel.

2) How many books have you written and what are they?

To date I have written five books. Three published, one due out late spring, and the other awaiting a decision from the publisher. Echoes was my debut novel which is a standalone story. My second book, The Silent Quarry is the first in the DI Winter Meadows crime series. Frozen Minds my latest book is the second in the series.

3) Which book are you most proud of writing?

I’m most proud of The Silent Quarry. It was my first attempt at a crime novel, and creating a cast that would endure a series. I wanted to create a detective that was a little different as well as a protagonist that the reader could sympathise with.  After taking so long (years) to find a publisher for Echoes I was thrilled that The Silent Quarry was accepted on my first submission by Accent Press 

4) Which book was your favourite to write?

The book I enjoyed writing the most was Frozen Minds. I already had the main characters in place and this was an opportunity to build on their personalities and life challenges. The book centres on a home for adults with learning difficulties, so the additional characters were complex. The research gave me the opportunity to meet with some amazing young adults with Autism and Asperger’s and their dedicated carers. 

5) Who are your favourite characters from your books and why?

One of my favourite characters is DI Winter Meadows. He is not your typical detective, raised on a commune with hippy parents he is laid back, charismatic, and always tries to see the best in people. My second favourite would have to be DS Blackwell. He is a strong contrast to Meadows. Passed over for promotion he is grumpy, rude and talks in barks and snarls. If I’m having a bad day I get to pour all my angst into Blackwell. He should be a dislikeable character but I’ve quickly grown to be very fond of him.

6) If you could go back and change anything from any of your books, what would it be, and why?

Like most writers I’m over critical of my work and find it difficult to let go of the final draft. I tend not to read my books when they are published for fear that I would see something I didn’t like. If I could go back and change a book it would probably be Echoes. I would like to write it with the experience I have gained through writing, the editing process, and talking with other writers. Many scenes in the book were cut with 30k words deleted. It was very time consuming!

7) Which of your covers if your favourite and why?

My favourite cover is Frozen Minds. I love the blue and grey shades, they set the tone of the book. The house looks ominous against a stormy sky and the birds add to the dark atmosphere. 

8) Have you ever thought about changing genres, if so what else would you like to write?

I’m happy for the moment writing crime although I would like to move towards psychological thrillers.

9) Looking forward can you let us know what you are working on next?

I’m editing book 3 in the DI Meadows series and have started research for a standalone thriller.

10) I dare not ask for a favourite author, but is there any author’s back catalogue you admire and why?

I admire a great many authors so it can be difficult to choose one. Sharon Bolton is among my favourites and has an impressive back catalogue. The Awakening particularly stands out for me, it had me hooked from the start and kept me riveted till the end. You know when you pick up one of her books you won’t be disappointed.

Thank you so much for agreeing to take part Cheryl. I've loved hearing all about your DI Meadows series.

Cheryl Rees-Price was born in Cardiff and moved as a Young child to a small ex-mining village on the edge of the Black Mountains, South Wales, where she still lives with her husband, daughters and three cats.  After leaving school she worked as a legal clerk for several years before leaving to raise her two daughters. 

Cheryl returned to education, studying philosophy, sociology and accountancy whilst working as a part time book keeper. She now works as a finance director for a company that delivers project management and accounting services. 

In her spare time Cheryl indulges in her passion for writing, the success of writing plays for local performances gave her the confidence to write her first novel. Her other hobbies include walking, and gardening which free her mind to develop plots and create colourful characters. 

Friday, 21 April 2017

Book Review - Then. Now. Always by Isabelle Broom

Amazon UK
Title: Then. Now. Always
Author: Isabelle Broom
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Publication Date: 20th April 
Rating: 4 Stars

Hannah can't believe it when she's offered a trip to sunny Spain with her best friend and dreamy boss . . . what's the catch?

Twenty-eight year old Hannah is ready for an adventure. She and her colleagues are in Spain for a month to film a documentary, and it's a dream come true. Not least because Hannah will get to spend long summer days with Theo, her boss (and crush). If only Tom (Hannah's best friend and cameramen) and Claudette (the presenter) would stop getting in the way...

Then things become even more complicated when Nancy, Hannah's half-sister arrives. What on earth is she doing here?

For once in her life, can't Hannah just have one perfect summer, free of any drama?

Set in the beautiful town of Mojacar in Spain, this is an enchanting story, focusing on Hannah, and her half sister Nancy and her crush Theo, which by the time the book had finished left me with goosebumps, as the ending was rather unexpected. 

Having read Then. Now. Always I feel as though I was transported to Mojacar and could probably find my way around the town reasonably well. It is one of those hidden gems of Spain, that isn't overrun with tourists and has a mystical history, which is what Hannah and her colleagues are most interested in. 

Hannah went on holiday to Mojacar for three summers when she was a teenager and has never forgotten the place, so when the company she is working for wants to do a documentary about a place with an interesting history, she puts the town forward and is delighted when she is allowed to accompany the others on the month long production trip. 

Theo is Hannah's boss, and she has had a long term crush on him for years, and is hoping this Spanish trip will be the opportunity to make an impression on him. Tom, the cameraman is also on the trip, and he is Hannah's best friend, although people seem to think there could more to their relationship than meets the eye. Claudette is the French presenter of this documentary, who will be sharing an apartment with Hannah and they really are quite different, so Claudette adds quite a bit of background colour to the book. 

However Hannah isn't too pleased when her half sister Nancy shows up in Mojacar, without any notice or explanation, especially since she has a complicated relationship with her. All of the dynamics of the group change once Nancy arrives and I found it really interesting to see how things unfolded, especially trying to work out the reason she is in Spain. 

Then. Now. Always is a story of relationships and friendship, with a stunning setting, beautiful descriptions and it was a book that kept me engaged from start to finish. I wanted to keep checking in with the characters to see how they were getting on, and to catch more sun! I have a feeling this book could do wonders for tourism in Almeria and it definitely has made me want to catch a fligh!

Thank you so much to Netgalley and Michael Joseph for this copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Guest Post - How Meet Me At Wisteria Cottage started... by Teresa F Morgan - Blog Tour

I think I was walking home one day, probably from dropping the boys off at school, when this scene just popped into my head. I envisaged a hysterical woman being thrown over a man’s shoulder into a fireman’s carry to calm her down or shut her up. (I have been put into a fireman’s carry, but that’s another story).

So then, I had to think about why she’d be hysterical, and why would a firefighter be there, or was it something he used to do...

I didn’t want Harry to be a firefighter, as I really wanted him to be a landscape gardener, taking his shirt off frequently, but I liked the idea of him used to being one, troubled with PTSD he’d had to go into something less stressful. 

I wanted Harry to be a reluctant hero, but his firefighter quality wouldn’t let that happen. But to be honest, when I came back to edit Meet Me At Wisteria Cottage, I loved Harry, so I hope you do, too. 

‘Warm, funny…a wonderful read’ International bestselling author Nicola Cornick

A Cornish Escape
After her house is set on fire and her love life is left in tatters, Maddy Hart can’t believe her luck when a friend offers her the temporary haven of Wisteria Cottage. Overlooking the turquoise blue waters of the Cornish coast, the fresh air feels like a fresh start for her and her broken heart.

Peeking out of the cosy cottage windows, Maddy’s surprised to see her gorgeous but insufferable neighbour Harry Tudor has been employed to landscape the garden. But as the wisteria winding its way around the cottage begins to bloom, an unlikely friendship starts to blossom…

About the Author

Teresa F Morgan lives in sunny Weston-super-Mare, trying to hold onto her Surrey accent where she originates from.

For years she persevered with boring jobs, until her two boys (and a budgie called Rio) joined her nest. In an attempt to find something to work around them, and to ensure she never endured full time boredom again, Teresa found writing.

Family holidays in Cornwall have lead to the scenic Cornish coastline and the city of Bristol being the back drop for Teresa’s novels.

She’s at her happiest baking cakes, putting proper home cooked dinners on the table (whether the kids eat them or not), reading a good romance, or sitting at her PC emptying her thoughts onto the screen. 

Teresa loves writing contemporary romance, stories with a touch of escapism and creating heroes readers will fall in love with.


Book Review - The Woman at Number 24 by Juliet Ashton

Amazon UK
Title: The Woman at Number 24
Author: Juliet Ashton
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Publication Date: 20th April 2017
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Meet the residents of number 24 in the warm, witty and wonderful new novel from bestselling author Juliet Ashton.

When your marriage falls apart, the last place you'd want your husband to move to is downstairs. Unfortunately for Sarah, up in the eaves at number 24, her ex-husband now lives one floor beneath her with his new wife. Their happiness floats up through the floorboards, taunting her.

A child psychologist, Sarah has picked up great sadness from the little girl, Una, who lives with her careworn mother three floors below, but is Sarah emotionally equipped to reach out?

The Spring brings a new couple to the house. Jane and Tom's zest for life revives the flagging spirits, and Sarah can't deny the instant attraction to handsome Tom. Having seen at first hand what infidelity does to people, she'll never act on it ... but the air fizzes with potential.

The sunshine doesn't reach every corner of number 24, however. Elderly Mavis, tucked away in the basement, has kept the world at bay for decades. She's about to find out that she can't hide forever.

In Notting Hill, there is a rather special property, its not obvious from the outside, put for the people at number 24 it is home. And over the course of The Woman at Number 24, you will get to know all the residents in this house, see how they all interact, and perhaps even become more than just causal acquaintances. 

Meets the characters of number 24. 

At the top of the building is Sarah, she is trying to recover from discovering her husband having an affair, their divorce, and then a couple of weeks after the ink is dry on the decree, the wedding of him to the mistress. 

Oh and this ex-es name is Leo and he lives downstairs in the next flat down,  with his new wife, however there are times where you have to wonder about his and Sarah's interactions, given Leo doesn't come across as a particularly faithful man! 

Then there are the Boyces, Jane and Tom who have moved into their new flat, after Lewis (Sarah's former best friend) had moved out. Sarah is attracted to Tom but knows she can't act on it, and makes a firm new friend in Jane. 

Then there is Lisa and daughter Una. Una is currently going through a period of selective mutism, but whether Sarah, a child psychologist, but suffering with confidence crisis at work, will offer to help out Una, is an initial question. 

Finally the last main resident, and important character is Mavis, who lives in the basement flat. She is an older woman, who seems to be in a permanently bad mood, and seems to complain about everything. However she is also one of the most interesting characters, and as the story progressed I loved seeing her fledgling friendship with Sarah emerge. 

Oh and there are two rather cool pets in this property, Peck a foul mouthed Parrot who is quite amusing and Mikey who if you are anything like me will fall for on the first meeting. 

The focus of the book is on Sarah, and its her life we are following, as she renovates her flat and prepares to move out in a few months time, as living about her ex isn't the best plan. Nothing it seems in her life is that simple, and there are so many moments I loved, not least her reaction to a piece of information that the hints were there for, relating to Tom and Jane. 

I was loving the book as I was reading it, and finding myself frustrated that while reading in my lunch breaks that I couldn't just sit back and continue, instead of working for the rest of the day. My thoughts for two afternoons were definitely with Sarah and her friends, especially after some twists I wasn't expecting, which added a whole new dimension to the book. 

The Woman at Number 24 is a thoroughly enjoyable story of friendships and of building a community within a building.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for this copy which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Book Review - One Endless Summer by Laurie Ellingham

Amazon UK
Title: One Endless Summer
Author: Laurie Ellingham
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Netgalley
Publisher: HQ
Publication Date: 20th April 2017
Rating: 5 Stars

Three best friends.
Three continents.
Three months to live.

How long can you keep a secret?

Three best friends are embarking on an all-expenses paid trip of their dreams. The only catch? Every moment will be documented on film.

Lizzie’s battle with cancer is coming to an end, and now she’s ready to embrace adventure for the very first time. There are only three months, but it is Lizzie’s time to finally start living!

Jaddi is known for her stunning looks, flirtatious attitude and many conquests. But Jaddi has a secret and on this last trip together she needs to decide whether her best friends will ever know the real her.

Samantha has always been the ‘grown up’ of the group, the one with a five year plan. What Lizzie and Jaddi don’t know is that Sam is trapped, and her perfect life isn’t quite what it seems…

As they trek across the globe Lizzie, Jaddi and Samantha must come to terms with loss, love and trusting one another. But will it all be too late…

Speechless at just how breathtaking this book really is. From the first few pages, I had a feeling that I was reading something special, and was I progressed through the book I was more and more impressed with each page. 

I was drawn into the story of Lizzie, Samantha and Jaddi, and their reasons for wanting to spend a summer travelling the world. You will learn they are all hiding things from each other despite being best friends, and although as a reader you are privy to a couple of the secrets, there is at least one that no matter how much I tried to predict it, I was wrong.  And I am so glad that I was, as it made for a far more shocking conclusion to the book. 

Our Endless Summer features travel in South East Asia, Australia and America, and I loved so many of the experiences that are described. But what really struck me was Lizzie, and her attitude to everything. She is an inspirational character, and is central to everything, as the trip is in her honor. 

There are certain moments that will definitely stick in the mind, such as Lizzie's reasoning for wanting to see as many sunsets and sunrises as possible, and the story of one of her hospital stays while she was 9 years old.  I loved seeing how different the three friends were, and just how their relationship changes while on their travels. 

One Endless Summer is in theory as story that should be incredibly sad, after all Lizzie only has three months to live, but although it has been written with plenty of beautifully expressed emotions, the story is inspiring and also thought provoking.  

I'm really struggling with this review as there are things I'd love to wax lyrical about, but I don't want to spoil the experience of reading this for yourself. All I can say at this point is if you decide to take a chance on this book, it is an absorbing read, and at the same time, a surprisingly quick book, so I'd suggest making sure you have a good chunk of time in which to read it one go.  

One Endless Summer is a fabulously written book with a mix of laughs, tender moments, emotion, friendship, huge life altering decisions, against a backdrop of exotic locations which just adds to the flavour of the book, all of which meant I never wanted to the put my kindle down. It's a story, or at least there is a message from the book that I hope to keep with me for a long time. 

Thank you so much to Netgalley and HQ for this copy which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 
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