Sunday, 28 September 2014

Review: No Safe House by Linwood Barclay

**** 4 Stars

I was so excited when I realised that Linwood Barclay's latest book No Safe House was the sequel to his book No Time For Goodbye. I discovered Linwood Barclay reading that book back in 2008 when it was a Richard & Judy read. I fell in love immediately with Barclay's writing style and have read every book he has written since then.

The Blurb

Seven years ago, Terry Archer and his family experienced a horrific ordeal that nearly cost them their lives. Today, the echoes of that fateful night are still audible. Terry’s wife, Cynthia, is living separate from her husband and daughter after her own personal demons threatened to ruin her relationship with them permanently. Their daughter, Grace, is rebelling against her parents’ seemingly needless overprotection. Terry is just trying to keep his family together. And the entire town is reeling from the senseless murder of two elderly locals.

But when Grace foolishly follows her delinquent boyfriend into a strange house, the Archers must do more than stay together. They must stay alive. Because now they have all been unwillingly drawn into the shadowy depths of their seemingly idyllic hometown.

For there, they will be reconnected with the man who saved their lives seven years ago, but who still remains a ruthless, unrepentant criminal. They will encounter killers for hire working all sides. And they will learn that there are some things people value much more than money, and will do anything to get it.

Caught in a labyrinth between family loyalty and ultimate betrayal, Terry must find a way to extricate his family from a lethal situation he still doesn’t fully comprehend. All he knows is that to live, he may have to do the unthinkable...

My Thoughts

In this book we revisit the Archers who we first met in No Time For Goodbye. It is now 7 years later and we see how their lives have moved on from the events that nearly cost them everything. Grace Archer is now a rebellious 14 year old and her mother being so overprotective is a great source of tension. Things have become so bad between mother and daughter that Cynthia decides to move out for a while to try and address her own issues that link back to her past.

With Cynthia moved out, Terry Archer is trying to keep things together when one night Grace lies about where she is going. Her involvement with a new slightly older boyfriend, Stuart throws her and her parents right back into the path of danger when one fateful night, Stuart convinces her to break into a house with him to take the owners car for a joyride. Without realising it the family are drawn back into the murky world of crime once again relying on Vince the man who saved their lives 7 years before. But will they be so lucky this time?

This book took a little while to get into largely because it was told from the points of view of a few different characters. It was also a little slower starting than a normal Barclay book but I feel that was largely down to him having to reintroduce the Archer family and the events of No Time To Say Goodbye to us. 

As always Barclay had me totally on the edge of my seat and once the momentum picked up it became a real page turner. I always enjoy the way Barclay tells a story and No Safe House was no exception. Barclay always plays his cards very close to his chest, revealing things little by little and the major plot twist in this book was totally unexpected. This book is a fantastic thriller that is packed with lots of action however it didn't quite live up to No Time For Goodbye but I am not sure how it ever could because No Time For Goodbye was such an amazingly awesome read. I do however highly recommend this book and it can very much be read as a standalone without having read No Time For Goodbye.

Review: Saving Grace by Jane Green

**** 4 Stars

I really enjoy Jane Green books and this one sounded like another winner from the blurb. 
I actually found this one a little different from a normal Jane Green, the subject matter just a little darker.

The Blurb

Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue.  To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity.  With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.

Powerful and riveting, Saving Grace will have you on the edge of your seat as you follow Grace on her harrowing journey to rock bottom and back.   

My Thoughts      

Grace Chapman, has been married  to bestselling author Ted Chapman for 25 years. On the outside they have what appears to be the perfect marriage, Ted is charming and they live in a beautiful house, attending lots of high society functions. Grace loves to cook and does charity work for a local halfway type house for women looking to get themselves back on their feet. Grace has the perfect life. What people don't see is that Ted's moods are very much up & down and when they are down these moods are taken out on Grace.

At the start of the book they are just losing Ted's personal assistant, Ellen who is leaving them to go and look after her mother. Ellen is the one person that keeps Ted in his place and keeps everything running smoothly. Just as Grace is thinking about looking for a new assistant, Beth walks into their lives at a charity gala, she seems a perfect fit for the job but Grace has her reservations. Ted however gets on well with Beth so Grace decides to hire her. 

Grace had a very difficult childhood whilst living in England. Her mother suffered from manic depression and died at a relatively young age, whilst at university Grace spends a lot of time with her best friend and her family who take her under their wing. Very few people know the secrets that Grace keeps about her early years as she keeps them buried deep.

At first Beth seems wonderful, always happy to help out and take on extra tasks but slowly she starts to insert herself deeper & deeper into Grace & Ted's life leaving Grace to feel that she is slowly going mad. One night things all become to much and the unthinkable happens causing Grace to flee to England to the only family she has ever really known. This leads to Grace trying to find herself again and gain the strength she needs to confront Ted and Beth.

I loved that this book was so much darker than anything I have read by Jan Green before. The book seems to settle somewhere between chick-lit and a psychological thriller and I love both genres. I found Grace a totally engaging character, a strong woman who is battling her demons hoping that she hasn't inherited her mothers psychological problems. Green also touches slightly on the theme of domestic abuse, whilst Ted is never violent towards Grace it is clear that she has to tread very carefully whilst he is one of this moods, which seemed more often than not.

I despised the character of Ted, hated him with a passion and was willing Grace not to return to him. He was one of those character that you find yourself wanting to shout out but not being able to as you are reading in public. 

Having been touched by the issue of domestic abuse and having dealt with a family member who suffers from mental health issues this book really touched me and I found myself emotionally invested from the start. At times it was a little bit predictable but overall it was a great read that kept me hooked from start to finish. One thing I would lose though is the recipes that feature a lot at the end of the chapters.

Review: Return To Mandalay by Rosanna Ley

***** 5 Stars

This was the first book that I have read by Rosanna Ley & it certainly won't be the last. Initially I was drawn to the book by the beautiful, vibrant cover and upon reading the blurb I knew that it was my kind of book.

The Blurb

Eva Gatsby has often wondered about her grandfather Lawrence's past, and exactly what happened to him in Burma during the Second World War. But it is only when Eva's job as an antiques dealer suddenly requires a trip to Mandalay that Lawrence finally breaks his silence and asks her to return a mysterious artefact of his own - a chinthe - to its rightful owner.

As Eva arrives in Burma her mission soon proves dangerously complicated, and the treasure she is guarding becomes the centre of a scandal that will have far-reaching consequences. Caught between loyalty and integrity, Eva is determined to find the truth about her grandfather's past, of her own family origins, and of the red-eyed chinthe itself - enigmatic symbol of the riches of Mandalay.

My Thoughts

Eva Gatsby, is an antiques dealer working for a company based in Bristol. When she is offered the chance to go to Mandalay to view some antiques for her employer she jumps at the opportunity. She knows a little about Burma, now Myanmar from her grandfather, Lawrence who worked out their before the Second World War for a logging company and then left after the war was over. She is eager to go a visit where her grandfather lived and to see the country for herself.

When she tells Lawrence that she will be going to Mandalay he asks her to return an heirloom to a woman he once knew when he lived in Burma. It turns out that the woman in question was the love of his life and he had merely settled for his wife, Eva's grandmother out of some misguided loyalty. He never returned to Mandalay but not a day had gone by when he hadn't thought about his lost love, writing letters to her that he never sent. The heirloom an antique chinthe with glowing eyes is part of a pair and part of Burma's royal history and Lawrence desperately wants it returned to where it belongs.

Also in the story is Eva's mother, Lawrence's daughter. She is now living in Denmark having left her life in Dorset not long after she lost Eva's father and her mother. When Eva's grandmother died her mother found some of the letters that Lawrence had written and is left devastated. She moves to Denmark with her new husband and distances herself from both her daughter and her father still wrapped up in the grief of her own lost love.

Unfortunately for Eva she stumbles right into the middle of a smuggling operation that puts her life in danger.

Ley's writing left me totally immersed along with Eva in a different world, Ley's descriptions bringing the sights and smells of Mandalay to life. I personally enjoyed Ley's writing style but I have seen other reviewers describe it as simple and that the book is one step up from a Mills & Boon. Sometimes I like simple, I want the story to tell itself and I don't want the beauty to be overshadowed by big words or convoluted sentences. Sometimes I just want an easy read that I can lose myself in, all the better if it is set in an exotic location such as Mandalay.

I found the book rich with Burma's history and culture, and uncovered for me a country that I knew very little about. Ley, truly captures the beauty of Burma, exploring the teak industry, the discontent and how Burma is now recovering from years of dictatorship. Ley writes about the history alongside a love story in the past and another in the present. She looks at the many different aspects of family relationships and how complicated those relationships can become.

I found the book totally engaging and Ley sets a good pace from the beginning. I found myself caring about the characters, feeling so sorry for Lawrence and his lost love, that things never worked out for them. I loved the contrast between the past and the present and the element of crime just adds an extra layer of intrigue.

A thoroughly enjoyable book, that was a perfect holiday read

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Review: The Far Side Of The Sun by Kate Furnivall

**** 4 Stars

As a cover junkie, I just had to share two of these books gorgeous covers with you. Both are so beautiful and having read the book totally capture the exotic location of the Bahamas.
I am a big fan of historical fiction that is set in more recent times, particularly books that are set during the Second World War. I am also a big lover of crime fiction so The Far Side Of The Sun being a murder mystery set against the backdrop of World War 2 ticked a major box for me. I have read a number of Furnivall's previous books and she never disappoints.
Thanks to NetGalley & Sphere for the ARC.

The Blurb

Bahamas, 1943. Twenty-two-year-old Dodie Wyatt has escaped her turbulent past and now lives in a shack on a beach near downtown Nassau, where she works in a hotel. But one night her peace is shattered when she tries to help a man she finds stabbed in an alleyway.

On the other side of town, wealthy diplomat's wife Ella Stanford is content keeping her husband out of Britain and away from his Nazi friends in Germany while she throws herself into charitable work for the town's poverty-stricken community and entertainment for the military troops.

But when one of the richest men in the world is found killed in his Nassau mansion, these two very different women - Dodie, a shy introvert, and Ella, a confident socialite - are drawn together. The gruesome death spirals the already unstable island into violence, deceit, greed and death, and Dodie and Ella have only each other to rely on as their ordered lives are blown apart...

My Thoughts

The year is 1943, the location is the exotic island of Bahamas, the world is at war and two very different women are brought together under unusual circumstances.

Dodie Wyatt, is a 22 year old hotel worker who has not had the easiest of starts in life and now lives a peaceful life in a small shack. One evening on her way home from work she finds a man dying on the street. That man, Mr Morrell, has been stabbed and refuses to be taken to the hospital, something has scared him and Dodie decides to help him taking him home to treat where he later dies. Dodie reports his murder to the police with devastating consequences.

Ella Stanford, is married to a British diplomat and is living the high life in Nassau. She is known for her charitable work on the island and the luxury in which she lives is a total contrast to that of the poverty stricken islanders. Ella frequently attends high society events that bring her into contact with the Duke of Windsor, who has been given the post of Governor of the Bahamas to keep him out of trouble and his wife, Wallis Simpson. One night, Ella, inadvertently witnesses something she shouldn't that raises her suspicions and sends her on a search for answers.

Both women are unaware of the danger that they have put themselves in, they have both witnessed two different incidents that tie them together in a bid for survival. The murder of the richest man on the island , Sir Harry Oakes just adds to the mystery and the drama and the women are thrown into the murky world of the mafia.

I was totally swept along with the mystery and intrigue of the plot, the fact that the story was loosely based on real life events helped add to that intrigue. I loved the location and Furnivall did a wonderful job of bringing the Bahamas to life for me, it was intoxicating and sultry, an island paradise. In the previous year there had been riots on the island and the unrest and racial tension are palpable, add into that the involvement of the mob and the suspense just keeps building.

I became so involved with what was going to happen to the central characters, they were both such strong and independent women who were not prepared to sit back and do nothing when faced with danger. The books is full of conspiracies, lies and betrayal plus a murder in paradise and the contrast between the lives of the islanders and the British who are living there pulls you in and doesn't let you go until long after the book is over.

The book is well written with plenty of twists to keep you hooked, I will admit that I was left totally shocked by some elements of the plot and that is what made it the perfect murder mystery to me.

Review: The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

**** 4 Stars

Victoria Hislop is one of my favourite authors. I love the research that goes into all of her books and her ability to make me feel as though I am there. She writes the perfect mix of fiction and history all wrapped up in one. I loved The Island and was left totally in awe but The Thread so I was ecstatic when I received a copy of Hislop's latest offering from Headline, The Sunrise

The Blurb

In the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island's most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city's façade of glamour and success, tension is building.

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

My Thoughts

This book is set in the resort of Famagusta, Cyprus in 1972 before the invasion when the island was changed for good. At the centre of the book are hotel owner and businessman, Savvas Papacosta and his beautiful wife, Aphroditi. The couple own the Paradise Beach Hotel and Savvas is keen to extend his empire and build bigger and better hotels. Famagusta, is a go to holiday destination, it is where the wealth and glamorous go to relax and soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches. The Papacosta's are living the high life, wrapped up in their own little world largely unaware of the political unrest rumbling around the island.

Their newest hotel The Sunrise is something to be awed, a hotel only the very wealthy can afford, a hotel that was a head of it's time and a hotel that put Savvas Papacosta firmly on the map. Working at the Sunrise are employees from all over the world including Greek & Turkish Cypriots working side by side these employees include, Markos Georgiou, nightclub manager who quickly becomes Savvas's right hand man. There is a hatred and a tension between Markos and Aphroditi that leads to a passionate affair that is only halted by the Turkish invasion of the island.

Until the Turkish response to the Greek coup, Famagusta remained largely untouched by the violence and unrest that had begun to impact on the rest of island. The invasion changes that causing people to flee their homes, many taking nothing with them and never knowing when they will be able to return. The Papacosta's lock the Sunrise down tight and flee to their apartment in Nicosia but not everyone is lucky enough to be able to flee.

The Ozkan's and the Georgiou's are families living in the same street and some of them work at the Sunrise, one family is Turkish Cypriot and the other is Greek Cypriot. Unfortunately for both families they are unable to leave Famagusta so end up being left behind enemy lines as Famagusta is sectioned off with barbed wire from the rest of the island. Together the two families have to overcome the differences between them and fight for survival, scavenging for food, avoiding soldiers etc.

The Sunrise is a book about betrayal and loss at it's very worse. It is a book that explores the rising tensions between the Greek & Turkish Cypriots focusing on a recent history of an island that was devastated by civil unrest. Even to this day, 40 years later a section of Famagusta remains fenced off from the rest of the island. Unbelievable in this day an age particularly with Cyprus once again being a popular holiday destination.

I found myself thoroughly absorbed by the storyline and the turmoil that the Cypriot people lived through. Hislop writes with such authority and passion, transporting you right into the heart of the lives of those she is writing about. For me those people were the Ozkan's and the Georgiou's, I was captivated by the families, willing them to survive.

Hislop took the story in a very different direction to what I had been expecting especially the relationship between Markos & Aphroditi. The Sunrise, was a wonderful read and I was swept along with the history and the characters, however the little bit of magic that I felt at the end of both The Island and The Thread was missing. I can't quite put my finger on it but regardless The Sunrise was still a captivating and absorbing read.

Review: Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

***** 5 Stars

I am a huge Temperance Brennan fan having discovered Kathy Reichs ten years ago so I was really pleased when I received an ARC of her latest book via NetGalley. Bones Never Lie is Temperance Brennan's 17th outing and the last couple of books in the series have been slightly off the boil so knowing this book picked up on a case from an earlier book I was keen to see if Reich's was back to her best.

The Blurb 

Unexpectedly called in to the Charlotte PD’s Cold Case Unit, Dr. Temperance Brennan wonders why she’s been asked to meet with a homicide cop who’s a long way from his own jurisdiction. The shocking answer: Two child murders, separated by thousands of miles, have one thing in common—the killer. Years ago, Anique Pomerleau kidnapped and murdered a string of girls in Canada, then narrowly eluded capture. It was a devastating defeat for her pursuers, Brennan and police detective Andrew Ryan. Now, as if summoned from their nightmares, Pomerleau has resurfaced in the United States, linked to victims in Vermont and North Carolina. When another child is snatched, the reign of terror promises to continue—unless Brennan can rise to the challenge and make good on her second chance to stop a psychopath.

But Brennan will have to draw her bitter ex-partner out of exile, keep the local police and feds from one another’s throats, and face more than just her own demons as she stalks the deadliest of predators into the darkest depths of madness.

In Bones Never Lie, Kathy Reichs never fails to satisfy readers looking for psychological suspense that’s more than skin-deep.

My Thoughts

Tempe gets a call from Charlotte PDs Cold Case Unit a young girl has been murdered in North Carolina and DNA links the case to an old one of Tempe's, the murder of a young girl in Canada. Brennan is shocked when she learns that the DNA belongs to an old adversary of hers, Anique Pomerleau. Pomerleau is in fact the one who got away, almost killing Tempe in the process. She is the person who has haunted Tempe's dreams for years.

There is only one person that Tempe feels can her help with this case & that is ex-boyfriend, Detective Andrew Ryan. Unfortunately left reeling by the death of his daughter, Ryan has disappeared so before she can even immerse herself in the case, Tempe sets of the track Ryan down, discovering him in Costa Rica. All she has to do then is convince him to return to North Carolina with her to help with the investigation.

It would appear that several girls have been murdered and cold cases are being reopened. With a string of murders from Vermont to North Carolina and a new girl vanishing pretty much from Tempe's doorstep it seems that the serial killer is moving into Tempe's home territory and getting just a little too close for comfort. Is Pomerleau working on her own? Has she teamed up with a new partner? Why is Tempe so firmly in her sights? All the clues point strongly to the one who got away but is it all really as it seems.

I loved that in this book Reich's take us back to one of her earlier novels Monday Mourning. It is great to see Tempe facing the demons of not only what happened with Pomerleau but also those around her relationship with Ryan. Ryan hasn't really appeared in the last two books so it was good seeing playing such a big role in Bones Never Lie. I enjoyed seeing Ryan and Brennan together again even it it was only as friends. Tempe obviously still has feelings for Ryan but knows that he is beyond reach and decides it will be better having him in her life as a friend than not at all. Be warned there is a huge surprise at the end of the book that will just leave your jaw hanging open.

We see more of Tempe's mother in this book, she's ill and in a kind of care home with not an awful lot of time left but when she is lucid she is able to help Tempe with her case as she proves to be a bit of a whizz on the internet. The book has plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing and overall is a fantastic psychological thriller that left me wondering right up until the very end.

As always with a Reichs book it is full of great forensic detail and the plot is tense and full of suspense. It is a book that can be read without having read anything else by Reichs or indeed Monday Mourning as Reichs gives enough insight that it can be read as a standalone. 

This book was truly Reichs back to her best and I am now desperate to read book number 18.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Giveaway: Don't Stand So Close by Luana Lewis

Don't Stand So Close is the fabulous debut from author Luana Lewis which came out in paperback on 11th September.

Luana, has very kindly given me a copy for a giveaway which she will happily sign for the lucky winner.

The Blurb

A lingering, compulsive debut novel that will keep you tightly in its grip.

What would you do if a young girl knocked on your door and asked for your help?

If it was snowing and she was freezing cold, but you were afraid and alone?

What would you do if you let her in, but couldn't make her leave?

What if she told you terrible lies about someone you love, but the truth was even worse?

Stella has been cocooned in her home for three years. Severely agoraphobic, she knows she is safe in the stark, isolated house she shares with her husband, Max. The traumatic memories of her final case as a psychologist are that much easier to keep at a distance, too.

But the night that Blue arrives on her doorstep with her frightened eyes and sad stories, Stella's carefully controlled world begins to unravel around her.

About The Author

S.L. Lewis is a clinical psychologist and author of two non-fiction books (written under Sharon Lewis ): An Adult’s Guide to Childhood Trauma (1999, Cape Town: David Phillip Publishers) and Dealing with Rape (1994,Johannesburg: Maskew Miller Longman). As well as writing for several newspapers, magazines and journals, she has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She has also attended workshops at Arvon and City Lit.

DON’T STAND SO CLOSE is her début novel, a gripping psychological thriller about a reclusive psychologist who is forced to confront trauma from her past and secrets in her marriage.

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Guest Post: Luana Lewis Shares Her Top 5 Inspirational Crime Novels

My first novel, Don’t Stand So Close, is categorized as crime.  When I started writing the story, I hadn’t set out to write a crime novel, but then a series of crimes came to lie at the heart of the story. Stella Davies is a psychologist working as an expert witness in custody cases. She confronts her worst nightmare when she begins to unravel the case of a troubled teenage girl whose parents accuse each other of abuse.

Here are five other crime novels where the central character is not a detective, and which have inspired me:

1.     I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

This novel is translated from the Italian, and was a bestseller. The hero is Michele Amitrano, a nine-year-old boy living in a tiny village who discovers a terrible secret involving blackmail and murder that changes his view of his family and shatters the innocence of his childhood. I love novels that surprise me, and this one does on so many levels. It is exquisitely written, completely different from anything I’ve ever read before and despite the fact that I usually don’t choose novels with child narrators, this one tops my list of favourites.

2.     Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

With its gothic undertones and domestic setting, this is my favourite psychological suspense novel. Much of the action takes place inside Manderley, a remote country house. A new bride – whose name we never learn – becomes increasingly isolated and insecure as the memory of her husband’s deceased first wife casts a powerful influence over the present. The forbidding housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, also contrives to make the young bride’s life a misery.

3.     Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

I’m cheating slightly here because one of the main characters in this novel is a detective. The story takes place in a small Mississippi town, where a teenage girl disappeared 20 years before while on a date with one Larry Ott. Because of a lack of evidence, Larry was never convicted, but the town’s residents have shunned him ever since. Twenty years later, the crime is re-investigated when someone tries to kill the reclusive Ott and another young woman goes missing. This is a beautifully written and intricately plotted mystery which centres around an unspoken secret that hangs over the lives of two men - one black, one white.

The police procedural aspect soon fades into the background as the characters take centre stage and the policeman and criminal find they are bound together in ways they did not suspect.

4.     Marathon Man by William Goldman

William Goldman is a screenwriter and a novelist. The protagonist in this crime thriller is marathon runner Tom Levy, and his running is both literal and metaphorical as he tries to distance himself from the scandal of his famous father's suicide. A visit from his older brother plunges him into a violent world of assassins, espionage and torture, and he is forced to race for his life. Warning: traumatic scenes involving a dentist. The pace of this novel is extraordinary, you simply have to know what happens next At the same time the tenderness in the relationship between the brothers is compelling.

5.     When the Bough Breaks by Jonathan Kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman’s books, involving psychologist Alex Delaware, are a particular inspiration because, like me, Kellerman is a psychologist, who also writes psychological textbooks. There are now more than 30 novels in the series featuring fictional psychologist Alex Delaware. I’ve picked the first ever in the series, When the Bough Breaks, which focuses in part on his training as a psychologist and his introduction to detective Milo Sturgis.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Review: Mexican Kimono by Billie Jones

***** 5 Stars

As soon as I saw the cover of this book I knew it was a book I wanted to read regardless of what it was about. It has one of those covers that just reaches out and grabs you. Oh & the main character has a really cool name, Samantha. No reason not to want to read it :).Thankfully I have been lucky enough to be included as part of Billie Jones blog tour to promote the book which was released on the 4th September.

I admit that I did not have a clue what to expect from the book having read nothing by the author previously but the beautiful cover totally lived up to what was written inside.

The Blurb

Samantha knows what she wants from life – and she’s got it!

1.A loving family. OK, her Mum’s plan to marry her off to the world’s most metrosexual man might not be ideal… but it’s only because she cares!

2.A great job. Or at least: a job that leaves plenty of time to update Twitter and shop for designer bargains online…

3.A credit card, with a very generous limit. So generous that she’s just spent over $10,000 on an antique kimono…

But suddenly Samantha’s charmed life starts to fall apart! From a hair-related fire to losing her job, Sam’s facing bad karma – and it all started when she bought that kimono…

Sure, it’s ridiculous. How could a piece of silk ever bring bad luck? But it can! Because, whether Samantha likes it or not, someone wants to teach her a lesson: it’s what’s inside that counts.

My Thoughts

We first meet our heroine Sam, on her way home from work when she passes an auction house and is immediately drawn inside. She is mesmerised by an antique kimono that is being auctioned and is pulled into the bidding, winning the kimono for over $10,000. That's what credit cards are for after all- free money!

The kimono is beautiful and Sam is captivated, I mean who doesn't need an antique kimono right! Unfortunately for Sam the purchase of the kimono starts a run of some very bad luck all with hilarious consequences.

Sam, has lived a rather priviliged life- she's young, she is beautiful, she has a wonderful job. Everybody loves her or do they? Unfortunately Sam lives her life by a series of unwritten rules that only she knows and abides by. These rules in turn lead some acquaintances/friends to feel rather differently about Sam than she actually thinks they do. She also has a little habit of thinking that every man is attracted to her- why wouldn't they be. She is beautiful right! Some very hilarious moments in the book come with the internal conversations that Sam has in her head between herself & her many suitors, conversations that she actually believes are real some of the time.

As the book progresses we learn more & more about Sam's upbringing, the men in her life and little by little her secrets are revealed. It becomes very apparent that someone has put a curse on Sam, but who is that someone because after all everyone loves her. So she begins a mission to try to find out who is messing with her.

This is one of those books that you just can't put down. It is hilarious from start to finish with the morale being don't just look at the outside it is what's on the inside that counts. I've been trying really hard to think of a way to sum up Sam, she is probably part Stephanie Plum from the Janet Evanovich novels, with a little bit of Elle Woods thrown in from Legally Blonde, although probably not quite as intelligent, add a dash of Phoebe from Friends and I think you are pretty close.

She is a character that you should hate because she is self centred & selfish most of the time, believes herself to be far superior to anyone else and is basically living in a world that she feels should revolve around her. However it is very difficult to hate her as she has a naivity about her, a child-like quality & charm that you can't help but like. She really is a walking disaster and things become even more messy for her when not one but two men from her past come back into her life to confess their dying love for her.

I finished this book in pretty much one sitting, eager to learn who cursed Sam? Which man she ends up with? Would she learn the error of her ways? Would she finally succumb to her mother's mumbo jumbo? The only way you are going to find out is by reading the book, a perfect read for the Autumnal evenings that are setting in. Enjoy!

About The Author

Billie Jones is a writer from Australia who enjoys imaging herself wrestling killer crocodiles and swimming with great white sharks. She thinks she may have to attempt base jumping so she can write about it and Bungee is on the list too.

You can find her either in front of her computer writing about her fictional adventures or at the beach searching for the next perfect wave.

Extract: Mexican Kimono by Billie Jones

I'm sharing an extract with you of the fantastically funny new book Mexican Kimono by Billie Jones.

The book came out on the 4th September and I will be posting my review later today.

5. The Hair Psychologist
I held my breath until I reached the taxi rank. Once I flagged an incoming taxi, I managed to relax and do a big old evil belly laugh. I pictured JJ finishing the bottle of chardonnay, ordering another perhaps even more expensive wine. He’d eat my main meal, then his. Then it would dawn on him. I was not coming back. He would have to leave his fake Prada sunglasses as collateral and make some frantic phone calls for cash to get out of there with any shred of dignity.
The taxi pulled up, and I jumped in without taking any notice of the driver’s details. I was too distracted picturing JJ’s handsome face trying to explain to Alberto why he couldn’t pay. Then, JJ takes Alberto’s soft manicured fingers in his strong warm hand, and convinces him he could pay in other ways. Alberto’s eyes light up and he kisses... eww, hang on. Damn it! That’s not the right fantasy. Bloody cheating bisexual men. It’s rife around here, I’m telling you.
I shook the image from my mind and glanced at the registration of the driver. I began to text it to my mum when a distinctive voice pipes up and says, “So, how was lunch, love?”
You’ve got to be friggin’ kidding me. Beer belly Bob. Of all the luck.
I was left unsatisfied, if you must know, Bob.”
Boy trouble, love?”
You could say that.”
What’s the trouble? He’s not a vegetarian too, is he?”
Hmmm, I’m not sure how to answer that, Bob. I’ve heard lesbians described as vegetarians, so does the same apply to straight men that turn gay, then straight, then almost definitely gay again?”
You’ve got me there, love. I have no idea. So, your boyfriend’s gay?”
Yes. He’s gay and the only slot he is interested in is the one that swipes my credit card.”
Beer belly Bob looked slightly shocked, but managed to change the subject back to himself, like most good cabbies do. “So, I called my sheil - I mean Val - like I told you I was gonna. I’m all set to take her out to this Indian vego place tonight. I was thinking of buying her some flowers and maybe some chocolates.”
Yeah. I thought I might get a hotel room, you know, with a spa. Get some of that non-alcoholic champagne she loves.”
Ew. Go away naked mental picture of Bob in the bath.
Yeah, then I thought I’d surprise her and scatter rose petals all over the bed, you know, all romantic-like.
You’re very original, Bob. Did you think of that all by yourself?”
No, love. I wish. Saw it on a movie.”
I just wanted to get home, but it’s the saint in me, I tell you. I had to, something literally forced me to. “Bob, what are you planning on wearing tonight?”
Well, my birthday suit eventually,” cue disgusting bawdy laugh.
Another mental picture I’ll need erased by regression therapy.
To the date, Bob. What are you planning on wearing on your date?”
Oh, I’ll just chuck a shirt on over this one I think, love. Maybe spray on a bit of Old Spice.”
Aptly named. Old.
Hmm. I was thinking, Bob, you really need a new look. You look like a truck driver that’s been on the road. For a few months. With sheep. Who have fleas.”
A new look? Val likes me just as I am.”
I bet she makes you take a shower before she kisses you. Am I right?”
He narrowed his bloodshot eyes at me.
I bet she bought you a ‘special’ toothbrush just for her house. Am I right?”
Well, yeah, but that’s only ‘cause...”
I bet she came to your house only the once and has never been back. Am I right?”
He hung his head and said, “Yes. You’re right.”
It’s like I have a gift. I had to help him. For the sake of his poor girlfriend.
Right, Bob. I’m very busy you know. Stop at these shops here. Bring your credit card and let’s go.”
Bob pulled in to a narrow car park and wearily followed me into the shop. He really was very shabbily dressed and I was risking my reputation just by being seen with him. What can I do, though? I’m just a good person. Saint-like.
Bob followed meekly behind me with his head hung as low as his thick neck would allow, like he was trying to hide his face in his chin folds. I filled my arms full of clothes and directed him to the change room. I sat expectantly on a blue and yellow striped chaise lounge. I knew Bob could be transformed from booze hound barfly to, well, one step up from that.
I’m ready, but I’m not coming out. I look ridiculous,” Bob whispered sharply over the change room door.
That’s an impossibility. You looked ridiculous before we came in here. Be a man for God’s sake and come out so you can see yourself from every angle.” Big tough men were all the same deep down. Sensitive and scared.
Bob walked out in loose fit denim jeans coupled with a navy blue long sleeved shirt that nipped in slightly at his waist. It had small white pinstripes running down the length of it. He looked like a different person.
What’s wrong with that? You look great. What size shoe are you?”
What’s wrong with my thongs?”
Bob. I’m on a schedule here. Things will move quicker if you just listen.”
The shadow cleared from his eyes. He had no fight left. “Size eleven.”
I walked to the shoe section, which sold genuine leather shoes in every colour imaginable. I picked a black, brown and beige and six pairs of matching socks. He could wear his thongs on Sundays.
Try these.”
The black boots fit perfectly and again I realised how gifted I was. I had a natural talent for shopping.
Bob stood in front of the mirrors and eyed himself cautiously. “I like it, but it doesn’t feel like me any more.”
Will you miss the grubby old polo, Bob? Now try on the rest of the clothes. We’re running out of time.” I shooed him back into the plush-purple carpeted change room and decided I’d call Kylie even though she was a no good, gossiping liar, to see if she could fit Bob in for a mercy cut.
What now?”
I decided to ignore her curtness and get straight to the point. “I have an emergency client for you. He has a date tonight and he can’t possibly go looking like the Bee Gees. The dead ones. Bad hair coupled with pallid and pasty skin, it’s not nice to look at.”
What? Who is he?”
Bob. A taxi driver I met today. Can you meet at my place?”
You want me to cut the hair of some random taxi driver you met today and you’re taking him to your house?
God, when you say it like that it sounds creepy! Good point, though. Let’s meet at your house in half an hour.”
No, I’ll meet at yours. He’ll be the last client anyway.”
Ok, if I’m not there on time just make yourself comfortab ...
Samantha, this is not a social experiment, just friggin’ get there on time!” And with that, she hung up on me for the third time that day.
I glanced over at Bob, who was still looking at himself sceptically in the full-length mirror. “C’mon, Bob, we’ve got another appointment. Grab the clothes and pay. I’ll meet you in the cab.”
Five minutes later, Bob returned to the car. His face was devoid of all colour and his eyes seemed vacant, dead almost.
Bob, what happened? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
He glared at me and said, “Are you on commission for that shop? Jesus, that little bundle of clothes just cost me two months wages!”
God, is that all? I thought something serious had happened! Let’s go, my friend Kylie is going to try and do something with that hair of yours.” He looked at me and went to speak, but thought better of it.
During the elevator ride up to my floor, I explained to Bob how many CCTV cameras he’d been seen on today with me just in case he was some kind of homicidal maniac. He looked at me blankly and said something totally nonsensical: “I think I’d be let off once a jury of my peers met you.”
As if. I pictured myself flouncing around a court room, yelling, “Objection!” I’d wear those thick black spectacles so people would notice my intelligence and not just my looks. Then I’d wink at the cute juror, the one that looked like Keith Urban, but with shorter hair. Why oh why did he have to be married to Nicole?

I opened the front door of the unit and walked smack bang into hundreds of tiny little mirrors hanging from the ceiling on thick silver wire.
What the hell?” I said, as I tried to untangle myself from their tentacle-like clutches.
The house smelt like coconut. Hmm. I walked over to where my hall table usually sat, to find a row of three pot plants with round leaves. Hmm. There was some kind of waterfall music playing – the kind that stresses you out because you know it’s meant to calm you and the more you think about being calm the more stressed out you get.
I walked to the kitchenette and snatched up a hastily written letter.
I feng shui-ed for you. The mirrors should turn your fortunes around. Your front door faces your back door and your money walks in and right out again. Dont forget to water the plants. Its bad feng shui to kill a living thing. (You might want to consider this when youre eating meat. Cows have feelings too, you know.) Ive taken the liberty of moving your furniture around so you have good Chi. Please, please get rid of that dress! Heed my...
I screwed up the letter and boiled quietly on the inside. Crazy woman! I made a mental note to get my locks changed. My Mum was obviously practising some kind of occult ritual on me, her innocent daughter and guinea pig, so she could perfect her craft and charge unsuspecting customers. She was a crook, a charlatan, a swindler even.
Kylie knocked on the door and let herself in. “So, where is he?” she said as she walked into the mirrors and was momentarily blinded by the swirling prisms of light. “Whoa, your Mum’s been here, I take it.”
You’re late!” I screamed at her, maybe somewhat unwarrantedly (that goddamn waterfall music had me on edge), “Can you start on Bob here, so I can finally relax? It’s been a hell of a day.”
OK, OK. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. Geez, I’ve come all the way over here for the second time in two days!”
What do you mean ‘all the way over here’? You live next door!”
So? So, next door isn’t even two metres away!”
So?” Kylie kept going, she couldn’t let me get the last word in. “I could be relaxing too, you know!’
Fine, fine. Can you just get started then?”
Kylie huffed and puffed like she was the big bad wolf while she unpacked her tools. Bob was busy trying to look inconspicuous.
Hi, Bob, I’m Kylie. Have a seat for me here, will you?” she said, pointing to a dining room chair.
Hi, love. I just need a small trim, I think.”
Kylie nodded and summoned me. “Sam, what’s the plan for Bob today?
Well a metro-sexual style won’t suit will it?” I asked.
No, he’s definitely not sharp enough for that. What about retro-sexual?”
It’s gotta be better than bet-tra sexual! Hair style for the chronic gambler!”
Kylie laughed and then remembered the seriousness of the situation and became a little bit emotional.
She held Bob’s hair between her fingers and tutted, “Now, Bob,” she said in a soothing tone, “I can fix this, but we have to get to the source of this flagrant self-abuse. Your hair is a living thing too, you know. Why would you spend years hiding behind dirty unkempt hair, Bob? This is a safe environment, Bob. You can be honest. I won’t judge you.” Bob looked at me like he feared for his life. I guess he’s never had his hair cut by a hair psychologist before.
Ah, I’ve just been busy. It’s only hair, love.”
Oh, God. Wrong answer. Who says that to someone holding razor sharp scissors?
Kylie sucked in her breath so severely I thought she was going to pass out.
She shook her head and walked away from Bob. “Samantha, I’m going to need a minute here,” and she sat on the lounge with her head between her knees and concentrated on shallow breathing. She muffled through her red cotton skirt. “This is more serious than I thought!”
I walked to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of white wine, hoping a glass or two each, would help diffuse the situation.
Glass of vino, anyone?”
Kylie stood up and walked back over to Bob. “I can only have green remember?
Well, white wine is made from green grapes.”
Kylie smiled for the first time in a while and said, “Of course, I’ll have a big glass, then. This is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Bob lifted his knees up and hugged them into his body. He started rocking back and forth a little strangely. Kylie whispered to me, “This is all part of the process, don’t let it scare you.”
She put on her serious voice and said, “Bob, was it your Mum? She cheated on your Dad, didn’t she? It made you feel invisible didn’t it?”
Bob ignored her and continued rocking, only adding a small mewing sound like a lost cat.
Or, was it the kids at school, Bob? You were always picked last for sport weren’t you? You had asthma and couldn’t run fast, could you?”
I must say I was fascinated. I think we were getting somewhere here.
It was your ex-wife, wasn’t it, Bob? She started buying your clothes from K-Mart and cutting your hair herself, didn’t she? You kept quiet even though you started to resemble Bob Hawke, didn’t you?”
Bob’s eyes widened and his body stiffened. The rocking stopped as suddenly as it started. Kylie nodded to me and said, “It’s OK, Bob. It’s OK. There, there. We can fix this.” Bob started sobbing and cried, “Yes, please, I’ll do anything! I’m so sick of the Bob Hawke jokes. She did it on purpose, you know! She was evil, pure evil!”
Ok, you’re going to have to commit to a six week treatment plan. Every six weeks you need to see me. Now it’s not going to be cheap. Cheap is what got you into this mess, remember?
I can pay!”
Hallelujah, Bob. I’m going to start cutting now. Try to relax. This is a safe environment. If you need a break, you just let me know, ok?”
OK,” he sniffed, wiped away his tears and looked suddenly hopeful. I left them to it, it was becoming a little too Tyra Banks for me.
My phone started playing the Jaws theme song.
Hi, Mother. I noticed you did some redecorating.”
Darling. You sent me a message about Bob? And I just wanted to say …”
Oh, it was nothing, just the taxi I was in, for precaution.”
Right, so … you didn’t actually talk?”
No, not really,” I could see where this was leading, some kind of new therapy she’s designed targeting taxi drivers. Bloody con woman, she’d rob children if she could get away with it. “So, I noticed you broke into my house, again.”
Darling, I wouldn’t call it breaking in, I have a key you know, and I’ve been so worried about you. Tell me everything that’s happened since I saw you yesterday!”
Well, I think you of all people know exactly what’s happened to me since yesterday.”
Darling, what does that mean?” She used that mawkish mother voice that sounded very innocent, thus implying to me, she was very guilty.
I think you should use your powers for good not evil, Mum.”
Darling, are you on that sugar-free diet again? You sound a little on edge.”
I thought about all that had happened. Really, I was some kind of machine to keep going with all I’d been through, who wouldn’t be on edge? I decided to change the subject.
JJ is back in town. I escaped from a potentially expensive lunch date.”
Mum sighed. “I love JJ, darling. I think you get too caught up in that imagination of yours when you are with him. He loves you. I’ve done his numbers. You two are well suited.
Oh, please, Mum! He’s obviously gay!”