My 5 Favourite…March Reads

Here’s my 5 favourite books out of the twelve I read in March:

Ares Road (Jake Caldwell #2) by James L. Weaver

Six months on from the thrilling conclusion of Poor Boy Road, Jake Caldwell is trying to start a new career as a private investigator, mentored by ex-cop Logan. Having rekindled his relationship with old flame, Maggie, Jake’s soon up to his neck in trouble though. Thankfully, he can count on the support of his old buddy Bear, Sheriff of Benton County. Jake’s moved on in his life, has a positive future in prospect so now he’s got much more to protect – and he will fight for it, make no mistake.

I really enjoyed the first book, Poor Boy Road, and this follow-up didn’t disappoint – it was fast-paced, full of twists and turns and sees the return of some favourite characters from the first book. I hope there will be a third very soon. (5/5)


These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

In a forgotten corner of Paris stands a building. Within its walls, people talk and kiss, laugh and cry; some are glad to sit alone, while others wish they did not. A woman with silver-blonde hair opens her bookshop downstairs, an old man feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, and a young mother wills the morning to hold itself at bay. Though each of their walls touches someone else’s, the neighbours they pass in the courtyard remain strangers.  But in distant corners of the city, as Paris is pulled taut with summer heat, there are those who meet with a darker purpose. As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37…

Due to be published mid-May, this is a very impressive debut novel. I loved the way you learn about the different characters living at no. 37 – some likeable, some less so – and then see how their lives intersect against the background of momentous events taking place in Paris. Reading this at the same time as the dreadful terrorist attack in London made the themes it explores only resonate more. There will be a full review on my blog closer to publication. (5/5)


Shelter by Sarah Franklin (final cover not yet available)

Connie, a spirited young woman, escapes bombed-out Coventry in WWII to work as a ‘lumberjill’ with the Women’s Timber Corps within a reclusive community in the Forest of Dean.  Nursing a secret and running from a tragic past and life-defining decision, the forest becomes a haven and also a source of new opportunities.

This has been a month when NetGalley has really aced it because here is another new writer making an impressive debut. Due for publication at the end of July, I really enjoyed the story, the period setting and the quality of the writing. There will be a full review on my blog closer to publication. (4/5)


Gone Without A Trace by Mary Torjussen

Hannah arrives back from a conference to find that her boyfriend, Matt, has left their shared home taking all his possessions with him.   That’s all his possessions plus every trace of their life together.  It’s as if he’d never been there, as if their relationship had never happened. Distraught, Hannah sets out to find out where Matt has gone and why he left. But the more she discovers, the more questions it poses, the more she is driven to search for answers. Her single-minded search for him will have unforeseen consequences for her, her friends and family.

I likened this really entertaining thriller to a mystery tour where all you know is you’re in a car going somewhere but you’ve no idea what that destination is, you’ve just got to trust the driver to get you there. There’ll be unexpected bumps in the road, dead-ends, stop signs and abrupt hand brake turns. You’ll think you know where you’re going and then – wham – you’re taking a sudden, unexpected detour. (4/5)


The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

The year is 1348 and brothers John and William have been infected by the plague. Their fate is sealed. Until a voice from the skies offers them a choice: ‘You may stay here and spend your last six days with your wife and children. Or you may put yourself in my hands now. I will wipe the scars from your face and the swellings from your body. I will extinguish your fever. I will let you live your last six days in the distance of the future.’ John and William agree: they will live for six more days and in return they will do good deeds in order to try to save their souls. But there’s a twist: each of those six days will begin ninety-nine years after the last, delivering them each time to an increasingly alien existence. As they travel, the reader travels with them, seeing the world change with conflict, disease, progress and enlightenment. But all the while time is counting down to a moment of judgement…

Historian Ian Mortimer has created an unusual mix of historical fiction, time travel and straight history for his first work of fiction. I wasn’t sure initially that there was enough of the fiction element for me but as I became more immersed in the story of the two brothers I found myself really curious about what would become of them. There will be a full review on my blog closer to publication in mid-June. (4/5)


What books have you enjoyed in March?

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Book Review: The Du Lac Devil by Mary Anne Yarde

DuLacDevilAction-packed, tightly plotted historical fantasy/ romance

About the Book

Publisher’s description (courtesy of Goodreads): War is coming to Saxon Briton. As one kingdom after another falls to the savage might of the High King, Cerdic of Wessex, only one family dares to stand up to him — The Du Lacs. Budic and Alden Du Lac are barely speaking to each other, and Merton is a mercenary, fighting for the highest bidder. If Wessex hears of the brothers’ discord, then all is lost. Fate brings Merton du Lac back to the ancestral lands of his forefathers, and he finds his country on the brink of civil war. But there is worse to come, for his father’s old enemy has infiltrated the court of Benwick. Now, more than ever, the Du Lac must come together to save the kingdom and themselves. Can old rivalries and resentments be overcome in time to stop a war?

Book Facts

  • Format: ebook
  • No. of pages: 393
  • Publication date: 6th December 2016
  • Genre: Historical Fantasy, Historical Romance

My Review (3.5 out of 5)

This is the second book in Mary Anne Yarde’s The Du Lac Chronicles series.  I haven’t read the first book and I did find it difficult at first to work out who everyone was, who was related to whom and how and what the different political factions were. So I would probably recommend readers to start with the first book in the series to get more of the back story on the characters.

Having said that, I enjoyed the book and thought the author did a great job of blending her imaginary world with the limited historical fact and the more extensive fable surrounding King Arthur, Lancelot, etc.   There was no attempt at period language which I think is probably wise as this is often unsuccessful although there were a couple of occasions when some very modern sounding phrases jarred such as ‘Come on, sunshine, time to wake up’ and ‘This could all go pear-shaped at any minute’.

The book focuses on Merton, the youngest of the sons of Lancelot du Lac, who has built up a fearsome reputation as a mercenary.   His rumoured ‘devilish’ actions are actually the key to his success as a mercenary but of course there is usually more than one side to a person’s character.   The plot is fast-paced and full of twists and turns. There are secret alliances, plots and counter-plots, intrigues and acts of violence driven by ambition, revenge, love and betrayal.   At times, it became a little taxing to keep up with all the changes of alliances and revelations. Into the heady mix is woven romance as Merton finds himself the object of more than one woman’s affection.  Can the Du Lac Devil be tamed?

The author has created a thoroughly entertaining story, a blend of historical fiction, fantasy and romance, with plenty of loose ends that could be picked up in future books.

I received a review copy courtesy of Xpresso Book Tours and the author in return for an honest review.

To buy a copy of The Du Lac Devil from Amazon.co.uk, click here (link is provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme)

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In three words: Fast-paced, entertaining, romance

Try something similar…Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff


MaryAnneYardeAbout the Author

Mary Anne Yarde is an award winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicle. Born in Bath, England, Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury – the fabled Isle of Avalon – was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood. At nineteen, Yarde married her childhood sweetheart and began a Bachelor of Arts in history at Cardiff University, only to have her studies interrupted by the arrival of her first child. She would later return to higher education, studying equine science at Warwickshire College. Horses and history remain two of her major passions. Yarde keeps busy raising four children and helping run a successful family business. She has many skills but has never mastered cooking–so if you ever drop by, she (and her family) would appreciate some tasty treats or a meal out!

Author links:

Website: http://maryanneyarde.blogspot.co.uk/p/about.html
Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryanneyarde

Review: My Husband the Stranger by Rebecca Done

husband

What if it’s not a marriage anymore? What if your husband isn’t who you married?

About the Book

Publisher’s description: A tragic accident. A terrible injury. And in a moment the man you fell in love with – that sweet, caring, charming man – is transformed into a total stranger. One who snarls and one who shouts. And one who doesn’t seem to love you very much at all anymore. You swore to love each other in sickness and in health, but how would you cope? What would you do? And would you be strong enough to stay?

My Review

After several years together, Molly’s husband, Alex, has a terrible fall resulting in severe brain injury that leaves him psychologically changed from the man she married, effectively a “stranger”.  The book contrasts their life beforehand with the daily struggle to maintain their relationship after Alex’s injury.

I felt the author couldn’t quite make up her mind whether the novel was intended to be an insightful account of the impact of serious brain injury on a relationship, an “against the odds” romance or a psychological thriller. In the end, for me, it didn’t really satisfy completely in any of these respects. The strongest element was definitely the description of the day-to-day toll on a relationship of caring for a partner who has been changed physically and psychologically by brain injury. The author did a good job of conveying Molly’s conflicted feelings – sympathy and love for her husband but also rage, regret and frustration at the position she finds herself in – and the mental and physical burden of caring for a person with limited hope of full recovery. There are some touching moments that seem grounded in the reality of living with someone whose symptoms can change from day to day, hour to hour: “Just when I think I have totally lost him, for a few precious moments I always find him again.” I found the sections detailing Alex and Molly’s relationship before his accident a little cheesy; everything was a bit too perfect – Alex himself, their wedding, their life together before his accident. However I appreciate the author was probably trying to build up a picture of what Molly has lost to explain why she wants to stick with Alex and hold on to the hope of an eventual recovery. I found the mystery introduced towards the end of the book rather underwhelming and the reveal a little predictable. To my mind the author came perilously close to “good twin/evil twin” cliché in the characterisation of Alex and his brother, Graeme.

This was an enjoyable read with an interesting premise but I didn’t find it completely successful.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Penguin, in return for an honest review,

Book facts: 480 pages, publication date 6th April 2017

My rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

In three words: Emotional, insightful, uneven

Try something similar…for a really compelling account of dealing with illness, I recommend Still Alice by Lisa Genova.

About the Author

Rebecca Done studied Creative Writing at the Norwich School of Art & Design and then worked for several years as a magazine editor. Currently a copywriter, Rebecca is also a keen runner, fair-weather surfer and one-time marathon canoeist. This is her second novel.

Book Review: Ares Road by James L. Weaver

ares-road-2Thrilling follow-up to the terrific Poor Boy Road

About the Book

Description (courtesy of Goodreads): With his days as a mob enforcer behind him, Jake Caldwell’s trying to go straight. But it seems his past won’t let him go. His first job working as a private investigator turns up a teenage girl screaming down a dead man’s cell phone, and Logan, his mentor and the only man with answers, beaten into a coma. Now Jake’s taking it personally. The only clues Jake has to unravel the mystery are a Russian with a stolen, silver briefcase and three names: Snell, Parley and Ares. Teaming up with his best friend Bear, the Sheriff of his home town, and an attractive FBI agent, Jake quickly discovers they’re not the only ones looking for the briefcase and its deadly contents. It’s no longer about seeking revenge.


Book Facts

  • Format: ebook
  • Publisher: Lakewater Press
  • No. of pages: 230
  • Publication date: 2nd March 2017
  • Genre: Thriller, Crime, Action

My Review (5 out of 5)

Six months on from the exciting conclusion to Poor Boy Road, Jake Caldwell is trying to start a new career as a private investigator, mentored by ex-cop Logan. Having rekindled his relationship with old flame, Maggie, Jake’s soon up to his neck in trouble though. Thankfully, he can count on the support of his old buddy Bear, Sheriff of Benton County. Jake’s moved on in his life, has a positive future in prospect so now he’s got much more to protect – and he’ll fight for it, make no mistake.

Ares Road is as fast-paced and action-packed as Poor Boy Road (read my review here). It’s a thrilling mix of seedy clubs, hired heavies, retribution, mobsters, treachery, shoot-outs, corruption, fist-fights, conspiracy, fast-food and too much coffee.  I especially loved that we get to eavesdrop again on the wise-cracking but heartfelt relationship between Jake and Bear. For the perfect accompaniment to the book, click here for James L. Weaver’s Ares Road playlist.

I love this series as much as Bear loves bacon. Hurry up, James, and write the next one.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Lakewater Press, in return for an honest review.

To buy a copy of Ares Road from Amazon.co.uk, click here (link is provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme)

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In three words: Action-packed, compelling, intrigue

Try something similar…Brilliance by Marcus Sakey


jamesAbout the Author

James L. Weaver is the Kansas City author of the Jake Caldwell series featuring IAN Thriller of the Year finalist Poor Boy Road and recently released Ares Road from Lakewater Press. He makes his home in Olathe, Kansas with his wife of 19 years and two children. His previous publishing credits include a six part story called “The Nuts” and his 5-star rated debut novel Jack & Diane. Author note: a handful of the raters are actually not related to him.

Author Links

https://twitter.com/jlweaverbooks
http://www.jameslweaver.net/
https://www.facebook.com/James-L-Weaver-1561520517509056/
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/49636.James_L_Weaver

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10 Tips to Beat Reviewer’s Block

ReviewersBlock

You’ve finished a book and you’re ready to write your review for your blog. The trouble is the reviewing muse has deserted you. Know the feeling? I do.

Here are some strategies that have worked for me:

 

Tip 1 – Do NOT read other people’s reviews for inspiration. You’ll probably see some brilliant ones and get discouraged even more.

Tip 2 – Write something about the book – even if it’s just random words or phrases. Don’t worry about crafting a coherent review; you can come back to it later. When you do, it’s likely what seemed disparate thoughts will be easily rearranged into a cohesive piece.

Tip 3 – Go and do something completely different: weed the garden, take the dog for a walk or bake a cake. Without realising it your subconscious will be working away so when you next sit down to write your review, the words will just flow.

Tip 4 – Put together all the other elements of your review post – book cover, synopsis, author bio, links, etc. Hey presto, nearly half your post is done and psychologically, you’ll feel you’ve made progress. Now take a break. When you come back to it, completing the remainder will probably be effortless.

Tip 5 – Look back at notes you made while reading the book, quotes you wrote down or passages you highlighted – it may provide inspiration for a starting point for your review.

Tip 6 – Go back to basics. Think about your response to the plot, characters, structure of the book, writing style, etc. Write a few words about each.   Connect them together and you have the makings of a completed review.

Tip 7 – Sleep on it. The chances are tomorrow the reviewing muse will have returned.

Tip 8 – Try summarising the book in a few sentences to a friend, partner, the dog even. Often the act of talking aloud about the book – or even better, answering questions about it – will trigger a line of thought for writing your review.

Tip 9 – Dump your customary review structure and try something different – bullet points, images, gifs…

Tip 10 – Move on. Just pick up the next book and start reading…


Do you have any tips for when the reviewing muse goes absent without leave? I’d love to hear them…