Friday, November 18, 2016

Three Little Birds by Carol E. Wyer


Ebook: 272 pages in paperback version.                                                                                             
Genre: Humorous Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Safkhet Select (15 Aug. 2014)
Source: Via the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.
First Sentences: Prologue: Charlie was acutely aware of an urgent drumming in her ears. The noise threatened to deafen her. She couldn't move.
My Opinion: Touching yet still hilarious and highly entertaining in her light hearted and infectious style of humour.
It is just over five years since I read and reviewed Carol Wyer's début novel Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines and I have followed her career and rise to fame as a humorous novelist ever since. My thoughts at that time were that here was a novelist who knows how to make you laugh and take you away from the cares of the world for a few hours. She has gone on to prove this in a big way over the last few years. Unfortunately her rise to fame coincided with what turned out to be a very bad period in my own life and suddenly I did not feel like reading her particular brand of humour. Life has moved on, now I am stronger and once again able to laugh at things that during the dark times I was unable to. I am now busy catching up on the titles I have missed in recent years, she has certainly been prolific. In 2017 she is releasing a thriller, a complete change of genre, which I have already pre-ordered from Amazon.

My Earlier Reviews:  Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines   Surfing in Stilettos   Just Add Spice

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

If your friend challenged you, would you dare? Charlie Blundell cannot get over the tragic death of her only daughter. She drifts between her job at the Art cafe and her hospital radio show, the only things which give her life purpose. Her best friend, the madcap Mercedes, cajoles Charlie into writing a 'carpe diem' list, but then swaps Charlie's list with her own. Now, each must complete the other's challenges, and the outcomes will astound both of them. The challenges begin as a series of relatively harmless, fun activities. Soon, though, the stakes increase when Charlie has to complete her challenges to save the hospital radio station. As the tasks become more demanding, a handsome stranger takes an interest in her, but he is not what he seems. One challenge causes a secret buried deep within her to surface, which may prove to be her undoing. Three Little Birds is a story of love, friendship and discovery, laced with hilarity and topped by a wickedly funny parrot called Bert.

Author Profile:

Somehow Carol has so far managed to keep her age a secret from the media and there is no autobiographical about her birth that I could find online!

Author Biography is in her own words and reproduced from her website

Well, what can I tell you about myself? I actually began my working life abroad, in Casablanca, Morocco, where I taught English and French. I raced around the streets on an ancient VéloSoleX  bike, avoiding donkeys and other clapped out bikes, to get to the jobs on time. I had one run in with a donkey at a set of traffic lights which caused me to fall off my bike – but that’s another story.

After a few years, I returned to the UK to teach and run the English as a Foreign Language department of a private school. (Imagine Hogwarts without the wizardry.)  Although I enjoyed wearing a gown and a mortar board and being called a mistress, I left the school to set up a language company and ventured out on my own.

I have written stories since I was in my early twenties. My first efforts were for children and sported silly titles like Humphrey and the Dustbin Cats, Hurrah for Hugo! and Noir and Blanc - Two Naughty Cats. They taught French language to younger children and were accompanied by a tape of French songs, mercifully not sung by me.

I began writing for adults in 2009 after my son left home. I converted his old bedroom into an office and began writing in earnest.

It was not an easy journey but I have been most fortunate and in 2015 I signed with publishing house Bookouture to publish four books over the new two years and more recently with Delancey Press who have taken on my three award-winning non-fiction books and three novels.

When I am not working on a novel or non-fiction books, I write articles for magazines and have a variety of health and travel features published in Woman’s Weekly, Yours and Woman's Own. I also blog for The Huffington Post.

My books aim to encourage as many people as possible to age disgracefully and enjoy life.  After all, life is short and 'he who laughs...lasts!'

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites:

Amazon Author Page    Carol E.Wyer - Official Website     Facebook Profile    

Twitter Account   Goodreads Author Profile

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

Hardback: 354 pages                                                                                              
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Publisher: Faber and Faber 2015
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: Prologue - Blade clanked on flint. Again. Causing the man to recoil.
Review Quote: 'The title suggests that this debut novel ought to be yet another example of Nordic Noir and, although it is set in rural Derbyshire, it does have a Scandinavian sensibility exerting its grip through strength of characterisation.' (Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express magazine)
My Opinion: This is a book I would never have read had it not been a book club choice. However I am glad I did as this novel is a well written and intriguing story with family history secrets as the theme.
Although not my favourite genre, the excellent character profiles and the twists and turns throughout the novel as the investigation unfolds kept me interested. The truth prevails in the end.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

In 1978, a small town in Derbyshire, England is traumatised by the kidnapping of two young schoolgirls. One girl, Rachel, is later found unharmed but unable to remember anything except that her abductor was a woman.

Over thirty years later the mother of the still missing Sophie commits suicide. Superintendent Llewellyn, who was a young constable on the 1978 case, asks DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs to look again at the kidnapping to see if modern police methods can discover something that the original team missed. However, Sadler is convinced that a more recent event triggered Yvonne Jenkins’s suicide.

Rachel, with the help of her formidable mother and grandmother, recovered from the kidnapping and has become a family genealogist. She remembers nothing of the abduction and is concerned that, after Yvonne Jenkins’s suicide, the national media will be pursuing her for a story once more. Days later, the discovery of one of her former teachers’ strangled body suggested a chain of events is being unleashed.

Rachel and the police must unpick the clues to discover what really happened all those years ago. But in doing so, they discover that the darkest secrets can be the ones closest to you.

Author Profile:

I have been unable to find much biographical information online about Sarah Ward. If you are interested in learning more about her all I can suggest is that you visit her Author's Official Website

Sarah Ward is the author of In Bitter Chill, which was published in 2015 to critical acclaim and her second novel A Deadly Thaw which was published just a couple of months ago. On her blog, Crimepieces she reviews current crime fiction published around the world. She has written reviews for Euro Crime and CrimeSquad. She is also  a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. She lives in Derbyshire.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites:

Sarah Ward - Amazon Page     Author's Official Website      Goodreads Profile

Twitter - Sarah Ward      Sarah Ward Crime - Facebook

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The House by the Sea by Santa Montefiore


Paperback: 480 pages                                                                                              
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster 2011
Source: Amazon Purchase.
First Sentence: Prologue Tuscany 1966 - The little girl stood outside the imposing black gates of Villa La Magdalena and peered up the drive.
Favourite Quote: We come down here to experience life and learn to be compassionate, loving human beings.
Review Quote: ‘One of our personal favourites and bestselling authors, sweeping stories of love and families spanning continents and decades’ (The Times)
My Opinion: I have read and reviewed a number of Santa Montefiore's novels  and one thing that can be guaranteed if you pick up one of her novels, is a relaxing read about families and love set in a beautiful environment. She writes in a very atmospheric style and this time I was whisked away from the cold November weather to Tuscany and Devon.

Please note this book has also been published with the title The Mermaid Garden

Recommended to : Fans of Rosamunde Pilcher, especially as she is often referred to as the author who took over her place in writing contemporary fiction. By coincidence Rosamunde Pilcher retired from writing in 2000 not long before Santa Montefiore's first novel was published, she has published many titles since then, so if you have not yet discovered her writing and are a fan of contemporary romantic fiction, do give her novels a try.

My Previous Reviews:

The Swallow and The Hummingbird    The French Gardener    The Summer House

Secrets of the Lighthouse

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

Ten-year-old Floriana is captivated by the beauty of the magnificent Tuscan villa that overlooks the sea just outside her small village. She likes to spy from the crumbling wall into the gardens and imagine that one day she’ll escape her meagre existence and live there surrounded by its otherworldly splendour. Then one day Dante, the son of the villa’s powerful industrialist owner, invites her inside and shows her the enchanting Mermaid Garden. From that moment, Floriana knows that the only destiny for her is there, in that garden, with Dante. But as they grow up and fall in love, their romance causes a crisis, jeopardising the very thing they hold most dear.

Decades later and hundreds of miles away, a beautiful old country house hotel on England’s Devon coast has fallen on hard times after the financial crash of 2008. Its owner, Marina, advertises for an artist to stay the summer and teach the guests how to paint. The man she hires is charismatic and wise and soon begins to pacify the discord in her family and transform the fortunes of the hotel. However, he has his own agenda. Is it to destroy, to seduce, or to heal? Whatever his intentions, he is certain to change Marina’s life forever.

Spanning four decades and sweeping from the Italian countryside to the English coast, this new story by Santa Montefiore is a moving and mysterious tale of love, forgiveness, and the past revealed.

Please note this book has also been published with the title The Mermaid Garden

Author Profile

Born in England in February 1970 Santa Montefiore grew up on a farm in Hampshire and was educated at Sherborne School for Girls. She read Spanish and Italian at Exeter University and spent much of the 90s in Buenos Aires, where her mother grew up. She converted to Judaism in 1998 and married historian Simon Sebag Montefiore in the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha in London.

The following Biography, in her own words is Courtesy of  Santa Montefiore Official Website

Since I was a child I always wanted to be a writer. I dabbled in books throughout my youth, from children’s stories to rather naïve love stories as I got older. From the age of 12 I went to Sherborne School for Girls, which was a boarding school. There I excelled in English, which was lucky because I certainly didn’t excel at much else except for sport and music! I wrote stories for my friends, imagining romances between them and the spotty youths they fancied at Sherborne Boys’ School. I transformed them into Rhett Butlers and set them in humid, mosquito infested jungles, which I considered extremely romantic, having never been in one. This seemed to satisfy them and I was in great demand to write more. Fancying myself a bit of a novelist, especially after a writer friend of my mother’s read one and suggested I send it to a publisher, I attempted a novel. With little experience of love and life it wasn’t a surprise when it was rejected. The trouble was I hadn’t yet found a good story. That came later, when I went to live in Argentina.

I was 19. My Anglo Argentine mother arranged for me to work on an estancia on the Argentine Pampa for a year, teaching English to three young children. This turned out to be one of the best things my parents ever did for me for I fell in love. Not with a polo playing Argentine, although I did have an innocent flirtation, but with the country. I lost my heart to those flat, humid plains and still, after 5 books, I have not managed to retrieve it. You see, Argentina is intoxicating. The countryside is rich with the scents of eucalyptus and gardenia, the sound of horses snorting in the fields or thundering up the polo pitch, birdsong and crickets resounding across the park. The houses, colonial in style, are painted white and yellow with dark green shutters to keep out the stifling summer heat, and surrounded by brightly coloured flowers and red tiled terraces upon which one can sit and stare out for miles over that vast plain. It is difficult to see where the sky begins and the earth ends, the horizon is simply mist. One feels very small. I spent a lot of time on a pony, riding to the neighbouring estancia for tea with friends, cutting across the plain, through the long grasses alive with prairie hares. Little by little I began to feel that I was a part of the place.

Buenos Aires is a city heavy with the sense of nostalgia. When the immigrants arrived from all over Europe, lured by the promise of rich pickings and new lives at the end of the 19th century, they recreated in the architecture echoes of their own homelands to stave off the inevitable homesickness. Thus, the Colón theatre is reminiscent of the Scala in Milan, the plazas of Madrid, the tall roofed buildings of Paris, the palm tree lined avenues of the South of France. Cafés spill out onto pavements where the waiters are all over sixty and one can sit in the shade and listen to the melancholy notes of the tango wafting on the breeze, thick with the scent of jasmine and diesel.

I left Argentina after a year, having belonged. The following year I returned during my university holiday to find, to my dismay, that I no longer fitted in. The young people I had hung out with had either gone to the US to study or had boyfriends or girlfriends and didn’t go down to the farm so much anymore, preferring to be in the city. I didn’t have a job, I was a tourist. I had nothing to get me up in the morning and the friends I had made in shops and cafés in the streets where I lived had moved on. I felt a sharp sense of alienation as if I was watching it all through a pane of glass where the year before I had been on the other side. It was a difficult time and I cried all the way home on the plane. However, I didn’t realise it then but I had my story.

We have all had moments that we would give anything to live again. However much we try, time cannot be reversed. It changes us and those we were once close to. My first novel, published in 2001, 12 years after my first trip to Argentina, was a wander down memory lane for me and hence very cathartic. I was able to channel all my feelings of nostalgia, regret and longing into a novel that seems to have struck a chord with many people. I get wonderful letters. I am grateful for every single one and thrilled that through that book I have managed to give people something special.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites:

Goodreads - Author Profile   Santa Montefiore Official Website    Wikipedia - Santa Montefiore

Twitter - Santa Montefiore    Facebook - Santa Montefiore  Amazon Author Page

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

                                              Oleander Girl

Hardback:  288 pages                                                                                                
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster 2013
Source:The author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
First Sentence: I'm swimming through a long, underwater cavern flecked with blue light, the cavern of love, with Rajat close behind me.
Review Quote:"Oleander Girl" is a riveting and powerful exploration of family secrets, betrayal, love, and ultimately, the search for self. Divakaruni paints colorful characters on a rich tapestry of modern India, all still haunted by the past."--Shilpi Somaya Gowda "New York Times bestselling author of Secret Daughter "
My Opinion: I am ashamed to admit that it is a whole year since I read this book, so I feel that I cannot write a proper review in case my memory gets muddled. As I read so many books it can happen that one sometimes recalls incorrectly! This is why I really need to catch up with my backlog and then stay on track to write reviews immediately I finish. An early New Year resolution, but meanwhile I do remember that it was a thoroughly enjoyable read with a beautiful love story as its central theme. Particularly interesting was the Indian setting and culture as Korobi, the female protagonist embarks on a quest to discover the truth about her roots.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

From the bestselling author of One Amazing Thing, a sweeping, suspenseful, atmospheric coming-of-age novel about a young woman who leaves India for America on a search that will transform her life.

Beloved by critics and readers, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has been hailed by Junot Díaz as a “brilliant storyteller” and by People magazine as a “skilled cartographer of the heart”. Now, Divakaruni returns with her most gripping novel yet.

Orphaned at birth, seventeen-year-old Korobi Roy is the scion of a distinguished Kolkata family and has enjoyed a privileged, sheltered childhood with her adoring grandparents. But she is troubled by the silence that surrounds her parents’ death and clings fiercely to her only inheritance from them: the love note she found hidden in her mother's book of poetry. Korobi dreams of one day finding a love as powerful as her parents', and it seems her wish has come true when she meets the charming Rajat, the only son of a high-profile business family.

But shortly after their engagement, a heart attack kills Korobi's grandfather, revealing serious financial problems and a devastating secret about Korobi's past. Shattered by this discovery and by her grandparents' betrayal, Korobi undertakes a courageous search across post 9/11 America to find her true identity. Her dramatic, often startling journey will, ultimately, thrust her into the most difficult decision of her life.

Author Profile
                                                  Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her themes include the Indian experience, contemporary America, women, immigration, history, myth, and the joys and challenges of living in a multicultural world. Her work is widely known, as she has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing has been included in over 50 anthologies. Her works have been translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Hindi and Japanese. Divakaruni also writes for children and young adults.Her novels One Amazing Thing, Oleander Girl, Sister of My Heart and Palace of Illusions are currently in the process of being made into movies. Her newest novel is Before We Visit the Goddess (about 3 generations of women-- grandmother, mother and daughter-- who each examine the question "what does it mean to be a successful woman.") Simon & Schuster.

She was born in India and lived there until 1976, at which point she left Calcutta and went to live in the U.S.A. She continued her education in the field of English by receiving a Master’s degree from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

To earn money for her education, she held many odd jobs, including babysitting, selling merchandise in an Indian boutique, slicing bread in a bakery, and washing instruments in a science lab. At Berkeley, she lived in the International House and worked in the dining hall. She briefly lived in Illinois and Ohio, but has spent much of her life in Northern California, which she often writes about. She now lives in Texas, which has found its way into her upcoming book, Before We Visit the Goddess.

Chitra currently teaches in the nationally ranked Creative Writing program at the Univ. of Houston. She serves on the Advisory board of Maitri in the San Francisco Bay Area and Daya in Houston. Both these are organisations that help South Asian or South Asian American women who find themselves in abusive or domestic violence situations. She is also closely involved with Pratham, an organisation that helps educate children (especially those living in urban slums) in India.

She has judged several prestigious awards, such as the National Book Award and the PEN Faulkner Award.

Two of her books, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into movies by filmmakers Gurinder Chadha and Paul Berges (an English film) and Suhasini Mani Ratnam (a Tamil TV serial) respectively. Her novels One Amazing Thing and Palace of Illusions have currently been optioned for movies. Her book Arranged Marriage has been made into a play and performed in the U.S. and (upcoming, May) in Canada. River of Light, an opera about an Indian woman in a bi-cultural marriage, for which she wrote the libretto, has been performed in Texas and California.

She lives in Houston with her husband Murthy. She has two sons, Anand and Abhay (whose names she has used in her children’s novels).

Chitra loves to connect with readers via Social Media, links to sites listed below.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Goodreads Author Profile     Amazon Author Page    Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - Twitter

Author's Official Website       Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - Facebook