Thursday, April 11, 2019

Blog Tour: Black Wood by Derek Flynn

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Links to buy via Amazon are affiliate links.


Hi!

I'm thrilled to be able to bring you this post today as a part of the blog tour for Derek Flynn's latest release, Black Wood.



"How far would you go to get out?" 
This is the question three unlikely friends living in a dead-end town in America ask each other. The answer would come to haunt them. 

The narrator is a writer in his late 30s, living alone in New York, eking out a living as a college lecturer. Samantha Pierce, a woman he hasn't seen in years, re-enters his life and tells him that she is being blackmailed - because of something they did twenty years before in the Black Wood.

There's nothing I love more than a good, heady thriller set in a small town full of secrets. An unreliable narrator comes a close second, and that's what we get here. He's a writer, an observer, and when he was in High School, he was obsessed with local popular girl Samantha and her relationship with dropout Charlie. An unlikely pairing, they intrigued our unnamed narrator to the point of obsession. Now, two decades later, Samantha needs his help.

I was unsure about this as I began to read it - I'm not a huge fan of books set in the first person/present tense but almost immediately I started to read the story through the eyes of the narrator and I completely forgot about both. Our narrator brings us back to that Summer, the one that changed everything, and I felt like I was there with him, spying on Samantha and Charlie. This added another layer for me, I felt as if I was going to be caught too and it really added to the whole reading experience. As he goes back and forth to explain what he remembers from that time, the story slowly unravels - but can we trust a word he says? After all, he is a writer. He controls his story.

This is an addictive, fresh, clever thriller and I'm delighted that the author asked me to be a part of this tour - for those who haven't read The Dead Girls or Broken Falls, this one is not part of the John Ryan series and can be read as a standalone. What are you waiting for?




Thank you to Derek for allowing me to read the book and be a part of the tour. 

Black Wood is available now.

Kindle 

You can keep up to date with the author via his Website, Twitter or Facebook

You can check out what others have to say about Black Wood below (and please give them all a follow too if you enjoy book reviews). 





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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Throwback Thursday: The Babysitters Club #8 - Boy-Crazy Stacey

Hi!

So, in the last book, we ended with the information that the Pike family were going to go to Sea City on holiday and needed two sitters to go with them. Stacey and Mary Anne are the lucky pair, and off we go. 


The U.S version of the series included a "Dear Reader" letter from Ann M. Martin at the back of every book that explained how she came up for the concept of each story. This one was based on family holidays she had herself as a kid - Sea City is based on Surf City in New Jersey. 


Stacey served as my introduction to diabetes (I'd imagine many of us can say the same). As an adult, I really appreciate this - it wasn't who she was, it was just something she lived with and had to manage. Her friends were all understanding and accepting, and Claudia always had some plain crackers or popcorn for Stacey while the others snacked on candy.

So, it's August 1987 and the girls are all gathering at Kristy's new home for a last hurrah before the new school year. Stacey bemoans the fact that she really wants her ears double pierced, which led to an obsession with me wanting, and getting, mine double pierced. When the gang arrive, Kristy is sitting at the front door reading People magazine. 

One of the August 1987 issues of People featured Ryan White on the cover, a teenager who contracted AIDS via a blood transfusion. The whole article (Breaking America's Heart) is available to read on the People archive and I'd highly recommend it, it's still a powerful piece of writing 32 years later. I love that Kristy was reading something like this - I'm hoping it was intentional on behalf of the author to show that the kids were aware of what was going on in the world. Actually, reading this recent New Yorker article featuring Ann M. Martin, I'm convinced that it was intentional. 

Back to the story - Stacey and Mary Anne are going to Sea City for two weeks to be "mother's helpers" and mind the eight Pike kids. I LOVE that Stacey muses on the term, wondering if they should be called "parent's helpers" as they'll be helping Mr. Pike too. She boldly packs a bottle of Sun-Lite, which I assume is the same as the Sun-In we used to use to lighten our hair in the 1990s. 

At Sea City, Stacey almost immediately spots a couple of hunky lifeguards that she reckons are about seventeen years old and immediately declares herself in love with the blond one. She wears her new bikini proudly, and Mary Annes eyes "nearly bug right off her face" when she sees how skimpy it is. The hunky lifeguard is wearing "Noskote and lipcoat" which are both Sunscreen, but teenage me thought he was sporting lipcote, which was a lipstick sealer that my mother wore. 

Stacey is jealous of other girls who are friendly with the guards, and grumbles about not having "the supreme honor of doing favors for them. These girls got to bring them sodas and pick up anything that fell off the sand, one was even asked to fix them sandwiches for lunch". Stacey soon begins to neglect her responsiblities and forget why she's there, leaving Mary Anne to do the bulk of the babysitting while she obsesses over Scott, the eighteen year old lifeguard who calls her cutie, princess, love, honey, sweetheart, beautiful and continues to flirt with her even though she has told him from the beginning that she is thirteen. He later gives her his whistle (which is ridiculous, I mean it's a fairly crucial piece of equipment for a lifeguard). Stacey buys him a massive box of chocolates, but then sees him kissing a different girl (thankfully one his own age). 

Stacey is embarrassed and decides to avoid Scott for the rest of the holiday, and meets a boy her own age, Toby. She has her first kiss and all is right with the world once more.

The two notable outfits this week both come from Stacey: 

To Kristy's House: A pink shirt with bright green and yellow birds splashed all over it. A pair of baggy shorts, a wide green belt around my middle, silver bangle bracelets and a pair of silver earrings shaped like bells.

On Holiday: A white cotton vest over a pink cotton dress and a big white bow in my hair. 


Reading this as a teenager, I probably just fangirled over Scott and felt inadequate. I had regular crushes on people but generally was so lacking in confidence that I wouldn't have dreamed of having a kiss at 16, never mind 13. Reading it as an adult, I'm glad that this was a part of my little bubble when I was a child. Subtle little things (like the "parent's helper" quip, the part where Mary Anne's Dad openly cried, Stacey being perfectly responsible with managing her diabetes and the fact that there was a boy sitter on holiday) are what I definitely needed to read about in that era, when I consumed a huge amount of American teen TV and the only peers I saw were pretty cheerleaders who were devoted to boys. I'm glad that Stacey saw through Scott and came through the whole experience with a fond memory to look back on rather than something that could have been really damaging.  

No snack watch this week as Claudia didn't really feature, but the Pop Culture references were strong: 

Stacey packs an Agatha Christie mystery book. 

Mary Anne is reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. 

The group make an ice-cream stop at Howard Johnson's - HOJO were once as popular as McDonalds, with 28 ice cream flavours on the menu. Only one official branch remains. 

Mallory read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and talks about Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

The younger kids mention Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 



See you next week!















Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Tuesday Three: Contemporary Romance

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Hi, 

I very much enjoy a romantic comedy read. Especially if it has a bit of substance, a pop culture reference or ten, and a swoonworthy love interest. For me books like this are like a big cosy cardigan - something I know I can rely on to bring me comfort. 

I've read some really good ones lately, so I thought I'd put the spotlight on three of them in case you were also looking for a funny, warm read with great characters. 



The One Who's Not the One by Keris Stainton



Cat’s life has hit a brick wall. Since her ex ditched her without ceremony five years ago she’s quit stand-up comedy, landed in a steady but dull job, and lives in a tiny flat with roommates she knows only as The One Who Eats All My Food and The One Who Has Really Loud Sex.

So when she bumps into old friend Harvey and sparks fly, Cat is surprised – and horrified, because Harvey is her ex’s brother, and so absolutely, 100% off-limits romantically. Even if his dimples do make her insides fizz…

When she’s offered a new job abroad, Cat is tempted to accept – and leave her depressing flat and mess of a love life behind her. But will running away from her problems really solve them?

I loved this. It was sweet, funny, and Harvey was hot as all hell. I really loved the female friendship, and I very much enjoyed the pop culture references. It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. I've read a couple of Keris' books and have several more on my TBR pile - I love her writing style.



Don't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane


It began with four words.
‘I love your laugh. x’
But that was twelve years ago. It really began the day Georgina was fired from The Worst Restaurant in Sheffield (© Tripadvisor) and found The Worst Boyfriend in the World (© Georgina’s best friends) in bed with someone else.
So when her new boss, Lucas McCarthy, turns out to be the boy who wrote those words to her all that time ago, it feels like the start of something.
The only problem? He doesn’t seem to remember Georgina – at all…

I loved this book so much - Georgina was a great main character, and I loved her immediately. She has been carrying something around with her for years, something that completely ruined what she had with Lucas, and I was aching for her to let it go - I bawled my eyes out thinking about it. This was so lovely, and the romance was perfect, but it was also a book about being yourself and finding your own definition of happiness. There were genuinely helpful tips in here about dealing with grief and moving on, plus there were important discussions about relationships, feminism and sexism. I loved it. 

All those now hopelessly in love with Lucas McCarthy, form an orderly queue behind me.


The Time of Our Lives by Portia McIntosh

Kindle | Book Depository (Released April 12th)

Luca is used to being the ‘single one’ at weddings – it happens, when all your other friends are engaged, married or taken. But when she bumps into Tom, her friend from university who broke her heart into a million pieces, she finds herself wondering what could have been.

It’s ten years later, surely she should be over that Tom by now? So why is he looking even more gorgeous than ever – and why doesn’t he seem to be able to keep his eyes off her either?

And as the champagne flows and old secrets resurface, Luca realises that perhaps the time to take a chance on love and life is…now?

I appear to be a sucker for those "let's meet again in 10 years" books, as this is yet another one that involves meeting someone you once loved from your past (my worst nightmare) - this is a really sweet, funny romantic comedy about a group of University friends all meeting again at a wedding. Secrets are spilled, things are discovered, and there's a spark still there between two of the gang - but will it lead to anything? I laughed a lot and really enjoyed the writing. I'd also recommend The Accidental Honeymoon by the same author, her books are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. 


I think that books like this can be subject to a little bit of snobbery, but they do so well for a reason - they're clever, they're funny, they're sweet, and they're perfect for a holiday/plane/evening on the couch. I know I'll be working my way through the back catalogue of all three of these authors to start with, but if you have any recommendations of a similar genre (especially if there's a reunion) then let me know below. 

I've included direct links to buy these books, but don't forget your independent bookshops and you local library!



Thursday, March 21, 2019

Throwback Thursday: The Babysitters Club #7 - Claudia and Mean Janine

Only links to Book Depository or Amazon are Affiliates. 

Hi!

Firstly, the response to this series has been so great, so thank you! It's nice to know that the BSC hold a special place with loads of us of a certain vintage. In that vein, Aoife has done a great post about where she thinks the main club members would be now:


This week, I'm up to Book 7 and my favourite sitter, Claudia Kishi.


It's July, so there's no school, but the Kishis are all still busy. Claudia is taking art classes, her older sister Janine takes advanced summer courses at the University, and their parents are off to work (her mother is a librarian and her father is a partner in an investment business). Claudia thinks that Janine is blah, and Janine thinks Claudia is immature. Their mother thinks they're both jealous of each other.

The way Janine speaks is reminiscent of the time Joey Tribbiani discovered a thesaurus - "I was simply trying to uphold my end of a meaningful conversation with my sibling". This drives Claudia up the walls, as she already feels like she lets her family down by not being as smart or interested in schoolwork. Unbeknownst to her, Janine wishes that she had Claudia's circle of friends and feels that her only role in the family is to become a physicist. 

In this book, we learn that Claudia's family are Japanese immigrants, and arrived to the U.S when her Grandmother Mimi was in her thirties. Mimi is a calming influence, always supportive of Claudia and doesn't seem to be as obsessed with success as Claudia's parents are. Unfortunately, also in this book, Mimi has a stroke and this serves as one of those classic BSC "life isn't fair" storylines. Honestly, I feel like at times these books prepared me for adulthood better than anything I ever learned at school. When Mimi gets ill, the sisters have to figure out how to work together. Janine isn't actually "mean" (Claudia's kind of mean, tbh), she's just devoid of personality and doesn't have anything in common with Claudia. 

We get another reminder of the infamous BSC phone number, KL5 - 3231. In a previous recap, I linked a really good article about the use of Klondike in TV shows and books - here's another great one if you fancy a trip down a Pop Culture wormhole: This is Why the Fake Phone Numbers in Movies Start With 555

The rest of the story involves a Summer Play Camp that the club set up, which is the usual Karen Brewer/Morbidda Destiny nonsense, Jenny Prezzioso (the original Toddlers & Tiaras kid) swanning about in party frocks, and the washing of a dog that ends up with Mallory Pike painting his nails and the ever-problematic Kristy saying "You don't think Louie looks too much like a girl, do you? If anybody asks tomorrow, I'll just say his name is Louella"

My moment of the week is a shoutout to Auntie Nora, whoever she is. There's a christening party happening at the Newtons, and Nora is clearly planning to get lit to the tit on cocktails because she has her very own bespoke jar labelled "Auntie Nora's Swizzle Sticks". You go, Auntie Nora. 

Notable outfits this week include:

Claudia: Black jeans, a bright blue t-shirt and a snake bracelet above her elbow
Stacey: Knee-length lime green shorts, matching green high-top sneakers, long white t-shirt with a yellow Taxi Cab on the front.
Dawn: Striped pants with suspenders over a red shirt.
Claudia: A big, loose white shirt with black splotches all over it, white pants that come to just below her knees, with dainty gold sandals that laced partway up her legs. She wore pink flamingo earrings and beaded bracelets. 


Cupcakes in her desk drawer
Licorice in her pencil case
M&Ms in her jewelery box
Gumdrops "somewhere"

Snacks, books and clothes must have been really cheap in Connecticut in the 1980s, because I have no idea how Claudia is able to maintain this level of materialism on a 13 year old babysitters wage. 

This week, I'm adding a new section that I hope to go back and include on the other installments - a Pop Culture watch. The series mentions so many TV shows, books and movies from the mid 80s right up to the late 1990s, and I think it'd be a shame to ignore them. 


Claudia is addicted to Nancy Drew books, and mentions a number of titles that she owns: 

The Clue of the Tapping Heels
The Message in the Hollow Oak
The Clue in the Crossword Cipher
The Phantom of Pine Hill

I remember seeing Nancy Drew books in the library as a child but don't recall reading many of them. All of the ones mentioned above are real titles. She also mentions that she has a copy of  The Guinness Book of World Records in her room. 

Bohren's Movers get a shout out via an old t-shirt worn by Kristy, they're a family owned moving business based in New Jersey. 

For the kids, Candy Land crops up in this installment. It's the board game that presumably served as a source of inspiration for Candy Crush, given that the main screen looks exactly like the traditional board. To date it's still popular, selling over a million copies a year.

The Saggy Baggy Elephant by Kathryn Jackson was mentioned as one of the younger kids favourite books. We had a Great-Aunt who regularly sent us little Golden books from the U.S  - they're still being published, and are available on Book Depository.

Next week is the one in which a thirteen year old girl develops a crush on an adult man, who completely encourages it. Brace yourselves. 



Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spotlight: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Hi!

Every so often, I come across a special book. One that sucks me in immediately, turns me into a complete fangirl, and consumes me. It doesn't happen too often, and it's a wonderful surprise when it does. As someone who reads 100+ books a year, these rare ones stand out for all the right reasons, and they're ones I want everyone to read so we can all fangirl together. 

Daisy Jones & the Six is one of those rare finds. 


The book chronicles the rise and fall of a cult 1960s/1970s rock band, and talks about the abrupt ending and how it affected the members and their extended families. From the struggles of frontman Billy, to the wealthy yet sad upbringing of accidental frontwoman Daisy Jones, the narrator speaks to everyone about that time and finds out what they did afterwards. 

I knew at 9% in on my Kindle that this was one to try and slow down and enjoy, rather than race through. Although the band are fictional, this reads exactly like a real biography. Told in a unique interview style, this also works well on audiobook where an ensemble cast of over 20 (including Judy Greer and Benjamin Bratt) take on the characters and bring them to life. I wish the audio version had some original music on it - but I was delighted to discover a playlist featuring tracks that inspired the atmosphere of the story. 


I was also really happy to hear that Reese Witherspoon had acquired the TV rights to it - it's going to work so well as a series. There are three really strong female characters in the story - Camila, Karen, and our iconic frontwoman Daisy. Karen's story was fascinating to me, it gave me a real insight into feminism during the sixties. I adored Camila - funnily enough, she reminded me a lot of Melanie Hamilton from Gone With the Wind. She made difficult decisions and was determined to do the best thing for her family, and while I felt that her faith in Billy was sometimes undeserved, her strength and determination was admirable. I really liked her a lot. 

I loved the book so much that I bought a physical copy too - I purchased mine from Kennys, a great Irish website who provide free shipping. You can also purchase from:


I'd love to read more music based books, so if anyone has any suggestions please leave them in a comment below!





Thursday, March 14, 2019

Throwback Thursday: The Babysitters Club #6: Kristy's Big Day

Nothing to disclose.

Hi!

After a short (okay, almost a year long - I'm a Gemini, it's not my fault) hiatus, and the news that our favourite group of sitters are getting a whole new TV show soon courtesy of Netflix, it's time to dive back in to our weekly recaps and see what the girls are getting up to in book six. 

Kristy Thomas (my least favourite, FYI) takes the lead in this one.


Kristy's mother Elizabeth is marrying Watson, a millionaire. He has two children, Andrew and Karen (who gets her very own very annoying spin-off series). After the wedding in September, the plan is for everyone to move across town to Watson's mansion.

But, because things going smoothly does not an interesting read make, disaster hits when Elizabeth is told she will be in Europe for work in September. Plus, OH NO, the Realtor has just found a buyer for their house. They have to bring the wedding forward immediately so they can move to Watson's.

Holy loose plot, Batman.

Co-habiting obviously is not acceptable in Stoneybrook in the late 1980s (even though Watson and Elizabeth have six children between them), so there's a huge panic and it's all hands on deck. This means that all of Elizabeth's family are coming to stay for the week to help organise a quick wedding, bringing with them a frankly ludicrous eleven children under ten. Add in Kristy's younger brother and almost step-siblings, and that makes fourteen kids - the BSC's most adventurous undertaking yet. Elizabeth and Watson are paying them a massive $120 each to watch the fourteen kids for the week.

It's fairly solid BSC stuff from there on - Karen being a massive arsehole and scaring younger kids with stories about aliens and witches and Morbidda Destiny, other kids misbehaving, etc. Eventually the wedding goes ahead without a hitch and Kristy gets to wear her gross-sounding yellow dress with "the special shoes that they can dye to match" for her role as Bridesmaid.

The special moment this week goes to the phone call from Mrs. March, which went like this:

"Hello, this is Marmee March. I need a sitter for Amy tonight, someone who has experience with little women."

If you know, you know. 

Also worth mentioning is another school dance - this time called  The Final Fling. 


This series (and SVH) served as my introduction to many, many American words and concepts, including two found here - for years I thought "hors d'oeuvres" and "orderves" were two different things, and I thought a "pocketbook" was a pocket sized book and that people in America must really love reading if they bring miniature books with them everywhere.


On to the notable outfits - given that we get very little details about Kristy's dress apart from the fact that it's yellow, the outfit spot this week has to go to the one who never lets us down, Claudia Kishi:



Claudia was wearing a black leotard & skintight red pants under a white shirt that was so big it looked like a lab coat. She had pinned her long black hair back at the sides with red clips. 



A huge bag of M&Ms under her bed in a box labelled "ARTWORK: STILL LIFS AND PORTRTTS"
A snickers in the drawer of her jewellery box
Ring Dings from the "STILL LIFS" box
A roll of Life Savers from her pocket

M&Ms and Snickers are fairly self explanatory, We've seen Ring Dings before in Book 4, and Life Savers are essentially Polo Mints and my beloved Polo Fruits that have vanished off the face of the planet. 

Until next week! Or next year, who knows.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Almost Love by Louise O'Neill: Review + Giveaway

ARCs clearly defined in accordance with review policy here


Hi!

Louise O'Neill's third book (her first written for an adult audience) has recently been released in Paperback format, and I have been very generously offered a copy to give away.


When Sarah falls for Matthew, she falls hard. So it doesn't matter that he's twenty years older. That he sees her only in secret. That, slowly but surely, she's sacrificing everything else in her life to be with him. 

Sarah's friends are worried. Her father can't understand how she could allow herself to be used like this. And she's on the verge of losing her job. But Sarah can't help it. She is addicted to being desired by Matthew.

And love is supposed to hurt. Isn't it?

I read this book upon its initial e-book & hardback release last year, and it's one that has stayed with me - Louise is a master at writing a main character who isn't easy to love. In Almost Love, our protagonist Sarah (as with Asking For It's main character Emma),  isn't someone that most of us would automatically warm to. She makes horrible decisions, she treats people badly, and she does unforgiveable things to her friends. But, does this mean she deserves to be unhappy? 

I assumed that this book would be about an abusive, controlling boyfriend. I should have known better than to assume anything with Louise's writing - this ended up being very reminiscent of a relationship I had when I was eighteen, which I wasn't expecting to have to face again. As a result I had a degree of empathy towards Sarah - I completely understood her obsession with wanting to be loved by this horrible man, but her inability to recognise (or even cope) when someone truly cared for her. 

It's uncomfortable, it's sharp, it's raw, it will probably make you angry on more than one occasion, but more importantly - it will make you think. Louise O'Neill is one of the most important authors we have in Ireland at the moment - she writes about subjects that resonate with so many young women, but does it in a way that sneaks up and consumes you. 

If you'd like to win a copy of the newly released paperback version of Almost Love, which features an interview with Louise and the wonderful Marian Keyes, please follow the steps in the Rafflecopter widget below.

T&Cs 
This giveaway is open to residents of Ireland & the UK only.

 The winners information will be shared with the publisher for the sole purpose of sending the prize, they will not be added to any database.



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