Monday, 21 May 2018

Gangster School by Kate Wiseman (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E)

Here be villains...
21st May 2018, Zuntold, 198 pages, Paperback, Review copy

Summary from Zuntold
Milly and her new friend Charlie have just started at Blaggard’s.

But what’s it like to be in a school that teaches lying, kidnapping and stealing instead of Maths and English? Their parents and teachers are master criminals and want them to follow in their footsteps...but are Milly and Charlie just too...dependable?

In this funny and exciting adventure, smart Milly and super-hacker Charlie face some of the worst villains around, including the cold-hearted Pecunia Badpenny and her sidekick: Wolf the evil electronic dog.

Can Milly and Charlie beat Badpenny and her demonic plans? And are they criminal enough to keep their place in a school they’ve come to love? 


Nayu's thoughts 
The idea of villains being the hero of the book isn't a new one to me (see suggested reads), and loving a good boarding school story this one sounded my cup of hot chocolate (why say tea when I can say my favourite drink?) It's a fun as it sounds! There are too many clever concepts of the story to list, and I don't want to spoil it for you, but I absolutely loved the way the doors represented clearly which class was being taught inside them - it's something that provided a few laughs. Millie and Charlie are likeable from the start, each with a slightly different nature that ends up helping them in their adventure. The friends they make have individual talents too - I know they are all villains but they are able to rely on a few of their classmates, which I think counts as being friends. 

The teachers and philosophy of the school has to be read to be believed, but it works well and I felt sorry for Millie and Charlie because they wanted to do well at school but weren't cold-hearted villains which students at the school become. The threat of going to the worst school, Crumbly's, which would have been terrifying for the not exactly villains duo, heightened the sense of danger because I absolutely didn't want Millie and Charlie undergo that awful regime which was worse than Blaggard's. Although if they didn't succeed in stopping an evil adversary then the world really was doomed to global domination involving SPOILER. Their uniform was rather cool! I loved how Charlie had to hide his pet, and how Millie (& Charlie) did her best to decorate her room in a way that gained school approval.

There's plenty of humour spread among the perils that Millie and Charlie face, which have me wanting more books about their adventures and looking forward to rereading it because it felt like I already knew the characters and world, even though I didn't until I started page one. The world was doomed a little, but it isn't at all dystopian-y, and I had every faith that despite the obstacles Millie and Charlie would succeed. I was a bit creeped out by Wolf, but his personality did shine through to me and that's all I can say without spoilers. 

Find out more on Ruth's website

Suggested read 
Similar themed books for slightly younger readers include Alice Dent and The Incredible Germs by Gwen Lowe (Children's, 7 years +, 10E/10E)  


Free copy of Belle Cat by Patricia Furstenberg


From today until 25th May 2018 you can get a free copy of the book about my cat, Belle Cat: Whiskers On My Mat,  full post here but links are as follows: 


Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Little Wedding Island by Jaimie Admans (Romance, NetGalley, 10E/10E)

Love this style of cover!
 March 2018, HQ Digital, 384 pages, Ebook, Review copy from NetGalley

Summary from Harper Collins
Bonnie Haskett loves everything about weddings. She loves her job at a national bridal magazine and even has a deposit down on her dream dress. The only problem? She doesn’t have a fianc!

So when Bonnie is sent to Edelweiss Island, known as The Little Wedding Island’, it’s a dream come true. She’s heard the rumours, every wedding that takes place in the tiny chapel ends in a happy-ever-after.

But there’s a catch! Investigating the story, Bonnie needs to pose as a blushing bride and the only man up for posing as her groom is her arch rival (and far too handsome for his own good) journalist Rohan Carter

Nayu's thoughts
While I didn't like the fact that most of the story was based on deception I was curious about how Bonnie got in that position and where it would lead her. Let's just say a few unwise decisions later she is bound for the mysterious island which somehow knows when people are faking being engaged...or does it? 

Every single island character made me smile and made life both more difficult and easier for Bonnie and Rohan's lie. It was funny how when they initially tried to be themselves (journalists) the island literally closed doors in their face, but after a couple of misinterpreted situations they were deemed a couple and the doors to the various businesses needed for a wedding were not only flung open but they were sometimes dragged in. There were some on the island still wary of the lying duo, including the owner of a cute little dog who was sweetly obsessed with Rohan, but most did like them which made the morally wrong part of their scheme feel even worse.

I figured out who Rohan was before Bonnie did, and while I sort of understood her anger towards him I silently urged her to give him a chance because sometimes who people are at work isn't who they are in their personal life. I'm not saying that's a good thing, because later in the story Bonnie encounters a huge misunderstanding because of not communicating with Rohan, but slowly both she and I got to know what Rohan was really like, which like Bonnie was a decent person. The way the genuine love grows between them is sweet and entirely expected for this type of romance. It's on my reread pile, as well as my wish list for there to be a book 2! 

Find out more on  Jaimie's website.

Suggested read
Another feel good tale which has fairy tale elements is a book which I think is The Cosy Teashop In the Castle by Caroline Roberts which I haven't reviewed but I have read. I think this is the tale I'm thinking about...If it is then the romance parts are quite strong.
 

Ruin by Samantha Towle (Romance, 10E/10E)

Apologies, the cover isn't appropriate for my blog (especially during Ramadan)

March 2018,  Headline Eternal, 352 pages, Paperback, Review copy 

Summary from Headline Eternal
And the new heavyweight champion of the world is...

Those are the words that Zeus Kincaid has been waiting to hear since he first put on a pair of boxing gloves. He just didn't think they would come with a tragedy that would change how he viewed the sport forever. 

Cameron Reed was in her second year at Juilliard when her childhood sweetheart, Zeus Kincaid, walked away from her. A few months later, Cam realized that she would never fulfill her dream of dancing for the New York City Ballet.

Now working as a dancer in an upscale club in Manhattan, Cam is brought face-to-face with the man she once loved. And it's her turn to walk away from him.

After five years of missing Cam, Zeus isn't prepared to let her go again. But when he finds himself standing on her doorstep the next morning, things don't go quite as he expected...

Nayu's thoughts
This book was so lovely! I've read books where the hero is a boxer (see suggested read) and I have to say while I would prefer boxing not to exist as a sport due to the severity of potential injuries, I'm no longer as anti-boxing as I used to be because I see how it does keep trouble makers off the streets and not going into illegal fighting. That's not to say that Zeus is squeaky clean, since he is only human despite being named after an ancient Greek deity. On the whole he is a decent guy who gets into Cam's life again after a lot of trouble. I felt sorry for Cam when I discovered a few key plot points which I accurately guessed from the start of the story-that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the tale. I liked how she did have a little girl which adds another element to her life and why she and Zeus's relationship is even trickier. There were so many touching moments that warmed my heart, especially the interaction between the trio. Cam's daughter is a sweetheart, providing many aww moments. I wish there could have been more interaction with Zeus's family who are equally lovely. 

There is the usual amount of misunderstandings that I come to expect in a romance like this. I liked how the steamy sections were few in number and easily skippable. Cam grows so much as a person because she isn't just looking out for herself but Gigi, a fact that makes her extra protective of letting Zeus back in her life. I sincerely hope there will be more books about them as I'm already eager to reread their fairytale like story. 

Find out more on Samantha's website.

Suggested read 
Definitely check out the other boxing story I've read which is both similar and different to Ruin: The Aftermath by R. J. Prescott (Romance, 10E/10E, short 'n' sweet review)
While this cover is actually ok for my blog I'm afraid I can't share it during Ramadan.

Over on Nayu's Crochet Dreams #42 Ramdan is here!


Head on over to Nayu's Crochet Dreams to learn about Ramadan, what I'm doing in this Islamic Holy month, and what it's all about!

Note: as usual apart from books I've already committed to I'm not reading romance stories during Ramadan. Due to life stuff including technology requiring several hours of update making it impossible to post up reviews before Ramadan I'm a little behind on my reviewing, so over the next few days there will be a lot of books with romance appearing, but that's something that needs to be done. Most of the reviews were written before Ramadan, it's simply a case of putting the posts together. Since God created the technology errors and a poor health body I'm fairly sure He will understand ^u^

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Blog Tour: Review + Guest Blog Post for In the Blood by Ruth Mancini (Thriller, 10/10E)

Check out the other stops on the tour!
 May 2018, Head of Zeus, 400 pages, Review copy

Book summary
In southeast London, a young mother has been accused of an unthinkable crime: poisoning her own child – and then leaving him to die.
 
The mother, Ellie, is secretive and challenging – she's had a troubled upbringing – but does that mean she's capable of murder?
 
Balancing the case with raising her disabled five-year-old son, criminal defence lawyer Sarah Kellerman sets out in desperate pursuit of the truth. But when her own child becomes unwell, Sarah realises she's been drawn into a dangerous game.
 
Nayu's thoughts
Any thriller involving family life peaks my interest because it means the stakes are even higher for the protagonist, and Sarah is no different. This may make me seem weird but I enjoyed how tough life was for Sarah because I believe it portrayed real life accurately. Being a single mother to any child is tough, add in a child with developmental issues and Sarah has a mountain to climb before you add in any other life issues. She didn't have the immediate extra support from a spouse, which made her a stronger person, a quality that impacted on how she dealt with Ellie's case. Sarah isn't alone, as she soon discovers because when she needs help her friends are there for her, she just has to let them in. Ben is a sweetie, and the hurdles he overcomes had me tearing up as much as Sarah. While she provided him with a lot of stress, he was worth every frantic moment. 

 Her current case is full of twists, even if I did correctly guess a major one at the start of the tale, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of what happened next. There is a lot of thrilling drama that made me scared for Sarah, Ben, Ellie and young Finn who was at the heart of the story. Ellie didn't make life easy for Sarah, even when she seemingly agreed to some conditions Ellie then went off the rails a little because she didn't see that there were other ways of doing things, mostly because she didn't know options existed and she didn't trust anyone in authority to help her. Her story gave me a lot to think about, as here must be countless cases where a mother is incorrectly accused of hurting her child. The agony Ellie went through, and to a certain extent Sarah, was heartbreaking to read because their love for their child shone through their thoughts and actions. 

FYI I didn't read the post Ruth wrote for me until after I'd written this review - I had no clue one of her children is a special needs child - I was too when I was little, but not in the same way, so I can understand a little of what life is like.

It was clear Ruth knew her subject matter inside out, and I enjoyed learning about family law. I confess to peeking at the end when I started the novel-I needed to know if it was a happy ending or not because I needed a feel good book. What I read had me even more intrigued so I kept reading from the front of the book until I naturally reached the end. There are characters I hated for being unsupportive and understanding, and those who were the complete opposite who made me cheer because both Sarah and Ellie need people like them in their lives.

Disclaimer: I don't gain anything by you using any of the links below. 

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Guest Blog Post by Ruth Mancini


Here's Ruth!
 Tell us about yourself…
I was born in South-West London and grew up in Hertfordshire and Essex. After doing a languages degree, I got my first job in publishing, where I worked for several years. I then went on to re-train as a lawyer, but I also knew that I wanted to write. I’ve been an avid reader all my life and was very much influenced by the strong, bold women I read about – Jo March in Little Women, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Tess of the D’Urbervilles to name but a few. I had two brothers who were very close in age to me and there was a lot of competition between us, which I think spurred me on to become a bit of an achiever - my mother says I was never going to let the boys do something without doing it too!  The deeper reality is that I could see a big difference in the way that they were treated by virtue of having been born male, and it made me angry. Everyday sexism and other kinds of social injustice continued to bother me through my teens and into my twenties, and this influenced both my writing and my choice of career. 

I met my husband in my early thirties and now juggle my work as a criminal defence lawyer with writing and raising my two children. My eldest child is severely learning disabled and autistic so, as you’d expect, that’s added an extra layer to the difficulties all women face in trying to balance family with career. But I truly love all my jobs! Every day is interesting, if exhausting, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have found my way to this point in my life, and to the place I needed to be.

… And about your books?
In the Blood is a crime thriller and was inspired in part by a real-life case. I was waiting in court one morning when a young woman was brought up from the cells. The charge was murder, the victim her newborn child. I’ve dealt with many cases over the years involving maternal child neglect or physical abuse, but the facts of this one were unusual and it really stayed with me.  As this wasn’t my case or my usual court, that was where my brief involvement was to end. But the spark that ignites a story had been lit.

I can’t deny that I’ve drawn heavily on my own experiences in creating my protagonist, Sarah Kellerman. I wanted to create a series of crime stories in which Sarah faces the kinds of real-life challenges that women will relate to. Fortunately, we’ve evolved from the days when women in crime were either helpless victims, femme fatales or elderly sleuths and we now have a good range of clever, capable female detectives, lawyers and private eyes – better reflecting real-life professions involving the law. There is a notion, however, that women – both as sleuths and as real-life professionals – should be as hard-hitting as men in order to fight their way successfully through a male-dominated culture. I much prefer the idea of our gender being recognised for its own massive strengths – such as empathy, emotional intelligence, the ability to get people to open up and talk, the ability to spot hidden dangers, to multi-task, etc. – strengths which often go hand in hand with the practicalities of raising a family – and that’s what I’ve tried to portray.

Do you read books while you are writing? If so, what are they?
 Yes. I always have a book on the go. On the whole, I read the kinds of books I like to write: books about women and their lives and relationships, domestic suspense, and legal thrillers with strong female leads as well as a good plot. I’m also a big fan of movies and TV dramas. I’m currently following a great Irish legal drama set in Dublin, called Striking Out. I also love The Good Wife. I’d love to see my character, Sarah Kellerman, taking her place on the screen alongside the likes of Tara Rafferty and Alicia Florrick, although Sarah is not quite as glamourous as the women in those shows. But I don’t believe you have to wear a cape or an expensive suit to be a hero…

 Book Extract: Chapter 1


It’s a Tuesday in mid-August when I get the call. Ben has kept me up half the night and I’ve come to the office with his lunchbag (pureed carrot and ricotta, Marmite soldiers, Peppa Pig yoghurt), while he’s at nursery with mine (tuna bean salad and fizzy water). It’s eleven thirty when the phone rings, and I’m playing the game I play where I divide the day into manageable quarters. I’ve already made it from breakfast to the mid-morning crime team diary meeting and, by lunchtime, I’ll be halfway there. There will only be another two quarters of the day – I can’t even begin to think of it as a fourteen-hour stretch; that’s way too long – until I can crawl back under the duvet and close my eyes, even if just for a while.

I pick up the phone. Lucy, our receptionist, says, ‘Annalise Finch for you,’ and then she’s gone.
‘Sarah! How are you?’ Annalise speaks earnestly into the receiver, with an emphasis on the ‘you’. She waits for an answer (which not everybody does).

‘Yeah, good. Good,’ I tell her, and then I feel the bitter sting of tears. This is my latent, Pavlovian response to any gesture of kindness towards me, no matter how small. Annalise is an ex-work colleague, but I also think of her as a friend. Do I tell her that I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in months? That my head is throbbing and my eye sockets ache? Do I warn her that I’m scared to open my mouth and talk, on days like today, for fear of jumbling up my sentences or dropping nouns?

I know Annalise well enough to know that she’s not the sort of person that judges you, and besides, she’s a woman who has had small children, so she’s halfway to knowing what this is like. Although her children are ordinary, regular children, of course. Her children are normal. I wonder, fleetingly, whether I will ever be able to think about another woman’s ordinary, regular children without feeling overwhelmed with grief and pain.

‘Sarah?’ she asks. ‘Are you still there?’

‘Sorry. Yes,’ I tell her. ‘How are you? It’s nice to hear from you.’

It is. I had forgotten how much I liked Annalise, or Anna as I’ve always known her at work. She’s a family lawyer. She gets called a divorce lawyer but that’s not really what she does. She deals with child custody, mostly, specifically public law cases, the ones where there are child protection issues and the local authority want to take the child away. We used to see each other at the local magistrates’ court sometimes when we both worked at Cartwright & Taylor, and when we were both there late, as we often were, we would stop off for a drink on the way home.

Of course, that was before Ben. I don’t get to do things like that very much these days, but I’m happy to hear a friendly voice on the phone, the voice of someone with whom – on a day like today, when I’m feeling at my very most mortal – I don’t have to pretend to be the sort of professional superwoman that I’m always reading about in the Law Society Gazette.

‘I’d love to chat,’ Anna says, ‘but, listen, I’ve got a case for you.’ Her voice echoes a little down the receiver. I’m guessing I’m on speakerphone. ‘It’s serious. It’s an attempted murder. Of a child.’

And then she’s off, talking rapidly, and I’m missing what she’s said. I reach for a pen, grabbing the notebook that’s on the desk in front of me and finding a fresh page. As I do so I nudge my coffee cup and a stream of light brown liquid leaps over the rim and across the desk. I’m instantly overwhelmed with the urge to either punch somebody or throw myself out of the window, the small puddle of coffee in front of me magnified by lack of sleep into Atlantic proportions. Instead I tuck the phone under my chin, pull a pack of baby wipes out of my handbag, take out a handful and drop them, one by one, onto the desk.

‘You’re really the best person I can think of for this,’ Anna is saying.

‘I’m really sorry, Anna,’ I interrupt her. ‘I didn’t catch all of that. Would you mind starting again?’
‘Oh. No. Of course not.’ She picks up the phone, and her voice comes into focus. ‘It’s one of my clients. She’s accused of trying to kill her eleven-month-old baby. Her name’s Ellie. She’s a young mum – twenty years old. Cut a long story short, she’s poisoned him. Then, while he’s in hospital recovering, she’s gone onto the ward and tried to kill him again.’

‘Jesus. How?’

‘He was on dialysis after his kidneys failed. She pulled out the tube – the line, they call it – that took the blood out of his body and into the machine, and of course the machine just kept pumping the blood out of him. She covered him with a blanket to hide it. He nearly bled to death.’

‘Jesus,’ I say again. ‘What’s the evidence that it was her?’

‘Well, no one saw it happen. But she was there when they found him. She was asleep on a camp bed beside him – or pretending to be; that’s what the police are saying. A nurse spotted a pool of blood under the cot. He’d lost around a quarter of it, gone into heart failure. They managed to resuscitate him, but he’s still in a critical condition.’

‘Which hospital is it?’

‘Southwark St Martin’s.’

I feel a sharp jolt of pain. St Martin’s. The same hospital. I throw the bundle of soggy wipes into the bin under my desk and sit back in my chair. I can see the ward; I can feel the heat of it, smell the antiseptic air. I can see the cot and the blanket – white, crocheted with a blue and white Southwark St Martin’s trim. I can see the baby, pale and still. I can picture it all, as if I’m there.

‘Also, he was with her when he was poisoned,’ adds Anna.

I pull a fresh notepad from my drawer. ‘How was he poisoned?’

‘Salt.’

Salt?

‘Yep. It causes a potentially fatal electrolyte imbalance. It’s called hypernatraemia.’

I think about this for a moment. I think about Ben. ‘How do you force salt into a one-year-old?’

‘I don’t know. But somebody did. And he was with her. Ellie. She’d had him overnight, unsupervised, for the first time in months. He was in care at the time. He’d already been taken away from her.’

‘Why?’

‘They found injuries. Bruises – and burns – when he was around eight months old. That’s how I got her case. Although we managed to fight it that time. Our expert report was favourable; it said that no one could be certain that the injuries were non-accidental. She was well on the way to getting him back again, but then he’s admitted to hospital with what they think is a virus, which turns out to be sodium poisoning.’

‘And they left her alone with him, in hospital?’

‘They knew he was seriously ill, but they didn’t know he’d been poisoned at that stage, not until the tests came back.’

Anna pauses. My pen hovers above the page while I take this in.

‘I’ve got to admit, it doesn’t look great for her,’ Anna says. ‘The prosecution case is that the three separate incidences of harm combine to build an overall picture of deliberate abuse. They each support each other. It all kind of stacks up. And Ellie… well, unfortunately, she doesn’t come across well.’

‘Why? What does she say?’

‘Oh, she denies it – all of it. Says she’d never hurt her baby. But she wasn’t great in interview. She can’t explain how it happened, any of it, other than to say it wasn’t her. She doesn’t... well, volunteer information. She just gets angry and then clams up. I know she’s scared. She’s a “looked after” kid herself – she grew up in a care home in Stockwell – and she’s like many of our young people: naturally reticent and suspicious of the authorities. She has no faith that anyone is going to believe her side of things. But it comes across the wrong way. She appears… overly defensive. And secretive, as if she’s hiding something.’

‘What’s her previous?’

‘Thefts, cars and stuff as a youth. Peer pressure probably. Nothing like this, and nothing for a while.’

‘So, when’s the first hearing?’ I look up as the door opens and Matt, my colleague, walks in. He takes off his coat and sits down at the desk next to me. I flash him a smile. He purses his lips and switches on his computer.

‘That’s the thing,’ Anna says. ‘It’s been and gone. The case has been sent to Inner London Crown Court. She’s been remanded to Bronzefield. There’s a bail hearing tomorrow.’
‘Tomorrow?!’

‘I’m sorry, I know it’s short notice. But I was on holiday when they arrested and charged her. We went to Sri Lanka, Tim and I and the girls, for a fortnight. I didn’t find out until I got back into the office this morning.’

‘Sri Lanka. Wow. Sounds wonderful.’ I can’t help feeling a stab of envy; I can’t take those sorts of holidays any more.

‘Look, are you OK with this?’ Anna asks me. ‘I mean, I did think about it, that it might drag stuff up for you. But that’s why I also think you’d be the best person to take this on. You spent a lot of time in hospitals when Ben was small. You know what it’s like to have a sick child.’

‘Yes, I… it’s fine. Really,’ I say. ‘I want to do it.’