Book of the Month: May 2017

It’s the last day of May which means it’s time for me to choose my favourite book from the past four weeks. I have to admit that this month’s choice was pretty easy as I ended up reading a rather large number of less than average books. I blame it on Kindle Unlimited. It turns out a book habit like mine can get rather expensive so I opted to do a free trail of Kindle Unlimited where you pay a monthly subscription and then get access to hundreds of books. Unfortunately the young adult selection provided is rather shocking. I gave up before the end of the month and bought a book that I knew would not disappoint. And I mean, not to toot my own horn or anything, but boy was I right.

So, drum roll please… Dum, DUM, DUM!

May’s Book of the Month is… Bad Blood (The Naturals Book 4) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Yeah, I know, the cover photo kind of gave it away, shush)

Ever since I heard that Jennifer Lynn Barnes was writing a series about genius kids who hunted serial killers for the FBI I was hooked. Then I read the first book and I was a goner. Somehow it was even better than I imagined (and I have a pretty healthy imagination on me). Think Criminal Minds but with teenagers.

There are five teens on the team each with a natural ability they can use to help catch serial killers; Sloane is a straight up genius with a shit tonne of emotional baggage and a brain that doesn’t understand how to process it. Michael can read emotions, an ability he gained thanks to an abusive father. Lia is a pathological liar who no one can lie to, she can spot a lie from a mile away but no one can call out hers. Dean is a natural profiler, he can get into the head of the killer a trick which can come in pretty handy when you’re chasing them. Oh and he’s the son of a serial killer that their FBI mentors put away. Then there is Cassie, the latest addition to the team and the book’s narrator. Cassie is also a profiler although she tends to get into the mind of the victim, making her and Dean the perfect team, well, once she’s knocked down his walls that is.

Cassie is an awesome protagonist. There’s no two ways about it. She’s spunky and fun, reckless and protective, strong and so very vulnerable. Throughout the series she’s pulled through a web of emotional and physical torment and the final book Bad Blood brings this all to a wonderful and devastating end.

So here’s a little taster of Barnes gorgeous writing:

“I love you.” [He] lifted the words from my mind. “Today, tomorrow, covered in blood, haunted and waking up in the middle of the night screaming – I love you.” 

So what are you waiting for, stop reading this and start reading The Naturals!

 

Acting Earnest

I’m back! Apologies for my absence these past few weeks I’m afraid I’ve been busier than a bee. I was lucky enough to get a role in the ensemble for a community production of The Importance of Being Earnest at South Hill Park. We had three weeks of rehearsals before we hit the stage for seven performances in five days so it was all a bit hectic! I tend to stay off the stage and behind the computer screen but on occasion I like to act. This was the first play I’ve done since I left school and I had an amazing time. Everyone at South Hill Park was super friendly and made me feel so welcome.

Lady Bracknell was played by Gwen Taylor which made the whole experience even more exciting. Gwen was lovely to work with and so supportive of me as I took to the stage for the first time. Alastair Whatley, the director, created a wonderful interpretation of the play and had us doing crazy things like raves and carrying people across stage. All the actors did a fantastic job bringing Oscar Wilde’s words to life that I was still chuckling away three weeks in.

Acting in the play was great fun but I guess it’s the writer in me that kept being drawn to the script, listening back stage, waiting for my favourite lines to be spoken. I decided early on that my favourite part of the whole play is Algernon’s response to Jack announcing he is going to be christened:

“JACK: Yes, but you have been christened. That is the important thing.

ALGERNON: Quite so. So I know my constitution can stand it. If you are not quite sure about your ever having been christened, I must say I think it rather dangerous your venturing on it now. It might make you very unwell. You can hardly have forgotten that some one very closely connected with you was very nearly carried off this week in Paris by a severe chill.”

For those of you who don’t know the play the person that was ‘very nearly carried off this week’ is Jack’s fictional younger brother. A character he made up only to then kill off when he became an inconvenience. The hilarity ensues when, just after Jack informs everyone that his ‘brother’ is dead, Algernon walks in claiming to be said brother. The extract above is not only funny because of the ridiculous suggestion that one might be made ill as a result of being christened but because of what follows. A technique named the ‘call back’. The ‘call back’ is when a joke that was made earlier is brought up again, later in the show. If you watch any talk show or comedian you’ll see this happen all the time and it never fails to get a laugh. You’d have to talk to a psychologist to figure out why we find it funny, all I know is that when Algernon reminds Jack that he is ‘closely connected’ with someone who was ‘very nearly carried off’ the joke is familiar, yet fresh and down right hilarious. Wilde, of course, adds to the humour through the complexity of the story and the fact that not only is Algernon’s excuse for Jack needing to be careful about getting christened completely fictional but he himself is posing as the very person who nearly died.

The story is a beautifully organised mess that remains relevant and funny to this day and I am honoured to have been a part of the production.

Book of the Month: April 2017

The astute among you will have no doubt twigged what this post is about. Each month I am going to do a post about the book I enjoyed most from said month. Given that I go through about twenty books a month this isn’t going to be an easy task. In fact I’m going to break the rules from the off set as this April’s ‘Book of the Month’ is a series. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t choose.

Okay, ahem, drum roll please. (Exaggerated pause for dramatic effect to send you guys insane)

And… This month’s ‘Book of the Month’ is…

The Savant Series by Joss Stirling!

The series consists of six books in total which I read in ten days. That may seem like a short amount of time in which to read six books but I must admit I did little else. I have fallen in love with the Savant world. Each book, although they are all linked, is narrated by a different character. At first I wasn’t sure I’d like this as I grow so attached to the characters in my books that I just want to read more about them but Stirling does a wonderful job at linking back to the characters in previous books so you never feel like you’ve let someone behind. What you get, instead, is to meet six fiery and passionate girls. Each with their own personality so striking and imperfect that you can’t help but connect with them.

The stories all follow the same premise of seeking the main characters ‘soulfinder’ (a person who shares the other half of their savant gifts) and yet Stirling somehow makes sure it never feels repetitive. They have the perfect combination of romance and drama; kidnappings scattered with first kisses. One of the things I love about the series is that the relationships are never smooth sailing. Despite the ‘soulfinder’ connection it isn’t always love at first sight and although there are the same ups and downs across all the books the individuality of the characters and their issues break through to stop the stories being too predictable.

To top it all off Stirling’s writing is beautiful but don’t take my word for it, here’s a sentence from the first book in the series ‘Finding Sky’ :

“Mist drifted off the mountain slopes, cutting the sunlit summits off from the dark green base like an eraser rubbing out a picture.”

If you like what you’ve read then click here to find more about the Savant Series.

Enjoy your adventures with Sky, Phoenix, Crystal, Misty, Angel and Summer. (I couldn’t finish the post without sharing the characters’ names, I’m a little bit in awe of Stirling’s naming abilities.)

 

 

YA for Adults: How to find the right books

I think I was seventeen-years-old when I lost my love of reading. Determined to study English Literature at University I put down my kid spy and vampire books and picked up the classics. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the classics are bad, there were a few that I did really enjoy – Huckleberry Finn being one of them. But I realised one day that I was having to tell myself to read at least ten pages a day. A few months later I was in hospital and I bought myself a YA book (YA stands for young adult btw (btw stands for by the way fyi (fyi stands for for your information umt) Okay you got me, that last one doesn’t stand for anything. Back to the point in hand, I read that YA book in under a day. I finished the last page and was filled with that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you’re reading a good book. I hadn’t lost my love of reading, I’d just been reading the wrong books.

So what if technically I’m an adult? So what if the books are ‘marketed’ at teenagers? When I was ten I was reading books way above my age range. Adults all around the world are obsessed with Harry Potter – a ‘children’s book’. Writing is writing, a story is a story. If you enjoy it, read it.

There is a slight problem with this though. YA bridges a wide range of topics and writing styles. There are those that, for me, aren’t as enjoyable, not because the story isn’t as good but because the writing is closer to that of Middle Grade. This can make finding the right books for you tricky.

It sounds simple but I’ve found that the best guide for finding young adult stories with adult level writing is looking at the main characters age. For me, if the main character is under fifteen then the book will be too young. This isn’t an absolute but it’s a good guide.

If you want to avoid any sexual elements then stick to characters seventeen and under. Amazon also does a good job at high lighting when I book might not be appropriate for younger readers.

If, on the other hand you want something with a bit more romance and the sexy stuff that comes with i, then look for characters aged nineteen and above. Also try looking for New Adult books. I haven’t entirely figured out what this genre includes but I know romance is often a key part of it.

If you’re struggling to find a book then Goodreads is a great website. You can search for a book you’ve read and it will recommend others like it or you can find your favourite authors and discover others that write in the same style or genre. Once you’ve built up a bit of a list through ordering, then Amazon also does a good job at recommending books for you. Oh and always remember, whichever site you’re using, to add books to your reading lists otherwise you’ll find yourself in the dreaded purgatory of searching through your browsing history to find that one book you know you wanted to read but can’t remember the name of… trust me, you don’t want to go there.

Beautiful Words

Hi all, sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been rather busy as of late but I can’t for the life of me remember what I’ve been busy with…

I finished reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency so then I began (and promptly finished) watching the TV show. Oh yes, that might have been what I was busy doing… Well that and reading my new book of course.

I’m branching out at the moment, trying to find some adult fiction that I like and I finally managed to succeed with G.M Barlean’s Thorns of Rosewood. I enjoyed the story (a two-thorned – get it… thorned – mystery), I adored the characters (four kick-ass old ladies and a reporter desperate for answers) and I loved Barlean’s writing.

She made me laugh with Gloria’s (the protagonist) internal narration:

“Dear God, please don’t let him be a serial killer because I think I just fell in love.”

There’s a truth in that which is rather sad when you think about it but it was funny none-the-less. And don’t worry, he’s not a serial killer. Not yet at least… it is a series so who knows?

What else, ah yes, Barlean wrote a line so beautiful I oo’ed and ah’ed as I re-read it a half a dozen times.

Naomi is the book’s antagonist. She’s flat out mean and is the town of Rosewood’s resident villain. At a particularly tense part of the book Barlean describes Naomi with her hands on her hips,

“her long red nails like drops of blood against her silken white robe.”

Excuse me whilst I float off on my little cloud of happiness. I’m a little bit in awe of what Barlean’s done here. This sentence could have been cringe worthy cliché with the classic juxtaposition of red on white, evil and innocence and so forth. Yet somehow, instead of working against Barlean the cliché strengthens the words. The imagery of the ‘long’ nails against the soft ‘silken’ robe holds the threat of such violence that, when the thought of blood is added, becomes over-powering and beautiful. Feel free to come join me on my cloud…

I’m on to book two in the series now so I shall keep you updated on any more hidden gems I find but for now farewell. I’m off to read!

 

West Midlands Safari Park

You may have heard about my train journey to Birmingham. It was a great start to the weekend but the fun didn’t end there. The next day my brother took me to the West Midlands Safari Park so I’m going act upon our reserved rights to blog about camels. (No mascarpone though I’m afraid.)

Our trip got off to a rather stationary start when the car broke down just inside the gates of the Safari Park. I tried to magic it back to life but all that did was confirm that my Hogwarts acceptance letter didn’t get lost in the post. We did, eventually, get the car up and running and we set off through the Safari Park.

There were plenty of deer…I’m pretty sure that’s a deer… yep definitely a deer…maybe…IMG_0171 2

Then some goats… I’m calling this one Billy (original I know)

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A Rhino and it’s baby…

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We saw one of these little guys jumping across the road, like actually bounding kangaroo-style.

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We made it all the way to the Elephant enclosure when the car spluttered to a stop. Our three trunked friends didn’t stay long which was probably for the best as two of the Safari’s keepers and my brother had to jump start the car. We then revved through the rest of the park and shot straight out onto the road home as we’d established that if my brother took his foot off the accelerator the car would die.

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So we left the Safari Park, but not before we spent some time with this guy…

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Have you ever seen a camel before? Because I hadn’t and oh my God they are fricken’ ginormous! Here’s the camel standing next to a car to give you some perspective.

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I mean seriously, they’re humps are half my height!

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This one stuck it’s head in our car – that was fun.

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And look, they’re bums are so fluffy!

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I now love camels. I would also recommend West Midlands Safari Park, it was great fun and if your car breaks down half way through then the staff are wonderful!

My Train Journey to Birmingham

Readers brace yourselves because boy do I have a story for you. This post will restore your faith in humanity (for those of you who have lost it), leave you laughing so hard milk spurts out of your nose (even if you’re not drinking milk), possibly unite you with  a new best friend (in cat form), and make you swoon over Italian men.

I had thought that my Friday afternoon train journey from Reading to Birmingham would be quiet and I had hoped uneventful. I can now assure you that my future predicting skills are somewhat dodgy and hopes and wishes are futile – what if the most amazing thing in the world is something you can’t even imagine? How can you wish for that?

There is no way on earth I would ever have been able to imagine the events that occurred on this particular Cross Country train, which is saying something, given that I’m a writer. Right that’s enough preamble, let’s get on with it.

Meet June and Karen, mother and (grown up) daughter respectively. I got on the train at Reading station, platform 12b and June and Karen were sitting across the aisle from me. Our conversation started, as all good conversations do, with cats. I quickly learnt that June, her daughter, and her grand-daughter were big cat lovers and her grand-daughter even runs a rescue cat charity. (This is the part where you might find a new best friend by visiting Bay Cat Rescue) From what June told me on our train journey Bay Cat Rescue sounds like a wonderful charity that takes in strays and looks after them until they are ready to be re-homed.

It was around about now that my faith in humanity was restored a little bit more. We were deep in discussions about our cats when I felt a firm tap on my shoulder. I braced myself for the scolding I was sure to be coming my way for talking too loudly or some such matter and turned to face the lady sitting next to me. Instead, our little train party grew in size as my neighbour stated, somehow both timid and assured that  “My cat was like that” and joined our conversation. As if that wasn’t enough when we arrived at Oxford and my neighbour got up to leave, June and Karen invited me to sit at their table where I would have more room. June, the dear that she is, insisted that we wouldn’t have to talk, I could put in my headphones and ignore her if I so pleased. I am very glad I didn’t because my train journey only got better.

I continued to chat with June and told her that I was a writer. (I must remember to tell people this more often as it seems to lead to some fabulous stories.) June’s story was like none other…

“Oh you’re a writer are you? You know what I think they should write about: Viagra.”

I swallowed the water I had just sipped before I could decorate her shirt with it. June continued…

“You know how men, when they get to seventy, go to the doctors because they can’t get an erection.”

My eyebrows shot up. Even if I had wanted to say something at this point I wouldn’t have had a chance. June was on a mission.

“Well the doctors go and give them Viagra. And then you have all these men who are hard twenty four hours a day and all they want to do is go at it.”

I should mention that Karen had nipped to the toilet so was not there to witness her mother’s initial Viagra Awareness Campaign.

“All these men want to do is have sex all day long and Charlie, I think it’s dreadful because their poor wives don’t want to be romping around. Their vagina’s are all dry and shrivelled -”

I cough to cover my laugh,

“And the men are just ramming in there and I tell you Charlie, none of my friends like it. I’ve thought about writing to the papers you know because it’s just awful… What do you think Charlie?”

Well reader, I was thinking so many things at this point. I tilted my head, gave a measured nod and said,

“To be quite honest with you June, I can’t say I’m very experienced in the matter.”

June cracked up, patted my knee and said “No, of course not!”

If I did not already think that June was the greatest person I’ve ever met then I certainly did now. And she only got better.

We had a brief stint of musical chairs when some other women boarded the train, they were on their way to Manchester for a Hen Do. They departed to join the rest of their group once they found some empty seats and I was back with June and Karen.

Enter smoking hot Italian guy.

“Are you going to sit here?” asks June.

“If you don’t mind” (Oh he has an accent too!) replies the rather suave Italian.

“Ooo we get a man joining us!” June gushed. It would seem she only frowned upon men once they hit their seventies and Viagra came into play. Italian guy took the seat.

“Well you should be all right, we might talk about things you don’t want to hear but if that’s the case you can pop your headphones in. We’ve covered men so you should be safe”

This, I very much doubted.

“Where are you from?” asked Karen.

“Italy.”

And it began…

“What’s your name?”

“Giovanni.”

Honest to God, June gasped. I grinned. The next five minutes consisted of June pronouncing Giovanni’s name.

“Giovaaaani” “GiOvanni”

“It’s quite nice if you say it seductively, isn’t it? – Oh honey, Giovaaani. Karen, you try, say Giovanni.”

Karen shook her head, “No Mum.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to and I don’t have to.”

Giovanni and I tried not to laugh. But wait for it, here it comes,

“Giovanni, you know Viagra?”

Karen’s eyes go wide. I double over in silent hysterics. And yes, poor, beautiful Giovanni received the whole Viagra Awareness Campaign speech. To his credit he listened with utmost interest and a straight face. Karen and I, on the other hand could not stop laughing.

“Well now you know,” June rounded up her story, “So when you’re seventy you can remember this conversation.”

I wiped away my tears and looked up at Giovanni.

“I don’t think I will ever forget.” he said. Nor will I Giovanni, nor will I.

We then went on to discuss the usual things: menopause, oversized breasts and PMS.

“Would you like some fresh orange juice Charlie?” June asked me out of the blue as we pulled out of Leamington Spa. Unsure where this orange juice was going to come from I declined.

Giovanni was put on the spot:

“So Giovanni, I’ve talked enough, what would you like to know? You can ask us anything, what do you want to know about life?”

What do you mean you didn’t prepare a list of questions about life that you want to ask three generations of women on your train journey to the airport? Who doesn’t carry that list around?

And I fell a little bit in love with all three of my companions.

We arrived at Giovanni’s station and said farewell to our Italian friend. I turned to Karen, we gushed over sexy Italian men and I confided that I had spent the latter part of the journey debating whether or not I could give Giovanni my number.

“I think he liked you” piped up June, “you had all his attention, he was much more interested in you than me.”

***

To my utter disappointment we arrived at my station and parted ways. I’d been fully informed about June’s Viagra Awareness Campaign, two strangers (though I would no longer call them that) offered to buy me a coffee, twice no less. Part of my heart fell for an Italian student. And towards the end of my journey I discovered that June’s granddaughter (Karen’s daughter) is the famous Youtuber Emma Crompton. It’s not hard to see where her charisma comes from. Needless to say, my book sat untouched in my bag.