Monday, 29 April 2013

Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais

Introverted monk Seido Oda is set in his ways as a Buddhist priest in a peaceful temple in the tranquil mountains of Japan. His life is changed forever when he is ordered by his superiors to move to America in order to set up a new temple there. 

He ends up in Little Calabria, Brooklyn and it is quite a culture shock for Oda, as the American believers are astoundingly different from the devout, spiritual students he is used to. For example the rich couple who think praying will help increase their company profits, the businessman who has his own version of Buddhism to preach or the narcoleptic that sleeps through the religious lectures. 

He soon finds his patience and his own beliefs put to the test as he struggles to guide an eccentric cast of characters towards the path of enlightenment. In helping his fellow Buddhists in their own personal journeys, Oda finds that the biggest discoveries he will make are his own. 

I found reading this book quite therapeutic. The stunning descriptions of the natural, serene Japanese landscapes and even the noisy, brash chaos of the city through Oda’s eyes were told in such sober, soft tones that reading was like a meditation in itself. There were lots of details about the Buddhist religion including philosophies and practices which I found to be enlightening and interesting rather than preachy or pretentious. Oda’s story is both entertaining and endearing. Buddhaland Brooklyn is overall a charming and thoughtful tale about change, faith and acceptance and was a delight to read. 

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Caseworker's Memoirs by Dan Thompson

In this novella we are introduced to Malcolm, a retired counsellor who has just lost his wife and is struggling with his grief. To help deal with his feelings his daughter gives him a notebook and encourages him to write down memories of times spent with his wife. But as Malcolm begins to dream about his former patients, he uses the notebook to share his personal thoughts and previous cases from his time as a counsellor. 

Over the course of Malcolm’s reminiscing of the past we meet a range of characters that Malcolm treated for a variety of phobias. There is former prisoner Max Howard, ruled by routine, who went on to suffer from chronophobia. There is also the sad story of Fynn Brown, who is striving to overcome his fear of heights so that he can make a fresh start. 

I think for me, what made the overall story as a whole more touching was Malcolm’s connection to the characters and his involvement in their own individual tales. Through his eyes the reader can experience the emotions of the cases and Malcolm’s own progress in coming to terms with his bereavement is genuine and moving. 

The Caseworker’s Memoirs is quite a sombre, pensive read as it deals with issues of mental health and grief, but it is also quite hopeful as well as Malcolm shares his reflections. Having studied a psychology based degree I found this study of phobias and human emotion extremely fascinating. Phobias aren't an issue widely covered in literature so I thought that this was overall a refreshing and thought provoking read. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

After a string of scandalous love affairs, Charlotte-Rose de la Force is banished from the court of Versailles by King Louis XIV and sent away to a convent. Stripped of her fine clothes, her jewels and her precious writing materials, Charlotte-Rose is distraught. A kind nun takes pity on her and invites her to work in the convent’s beautiful garden. 

In this lush setting, the nun tells her a poignant tale about a young girl sold by her parents to a witch for a handful of bitter greens. The young girl, Margherita, who lived 100 years earlier, is imprisoned in a high tower by the witch, with the hair of previous prisoners sewn onto hers. Growing from child into womanhood in the tower, Margherita sings and dreams of rescue, until one day someone hears her. 

We also learn the story of flame-haired, artist’s muse Selena Leonelli who has become hardened by her plights and clings on to her beauty in her whirlwind life of seduction and power in Venice. Based on the original telling of the fairytale Rapunzel, the three women’s tales are plaited together like Rapunzel’s legendary hair. 

There is a fascinating foreword on the origins of the Rapunzel story, Rapunzel extracts from literature throughout the novel and a very interesting afterword about the fate of Charlotte-Rose. I absolutely adored the character of Charlotte-Rose, who being unfortunately not considered pretty at court, used her intelligence, wits and sharp storytelling skills to get by in life. With themes of love, beauty, seduction and power, I found this a fantastically compelling novel. Sexy and scandalous, Bitter Greens truly enchanted me from start to finish. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Love is Blind by Kathy Lette

Two sisters have very different takes on life. Anthea is beautiful and has a seemingly perfect life in London with her gorgeous fiancé. Ugly duckling Jane is her sister’s polar opposite and is desperately looking for love. So Jane takes drastic action and decides to move to Australia to find a husband. 

Anthea is horrified to receive a wedding invitation in the post only a few weeks later, and so rushes out to Australia in a bid to save Jane from making a big mistake. However her welcome into Oz was not what she had in mind and the outback adventure she finds herself on will certainly leave a lasting impression. 

This story is funny and heartfelt. Throwing a prim and proper character like Anthea into the Australian outback was truly amusing to read. The characters were all entertaining and the Aussie setting provided the unpredictable backdrop for the sisters’ self discoveries.

 Love is Blind is part of the Quick Reads set which comprises of stories that are easier to read and shorter than standard novels but are just as great. Cheerful and entertaining, Love is Blind is a really fun read; a perky pick-me-up in 100-odd pages! 

For more information about Quick Reads check out my post about the literary charity and the other books they have available. 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Scare Me by Richard Parker

Wealthy businessman Will Frost’s life is turned upside down when he is asked to Google himself via an anonymous late night phone call. From the search he finds a disturbing website featuring photographs of his home, alongside six unknown houses. He learns that his daughter has been kidnapped and he must follow instructions from the website if he has any hope of seeing his daughter alive again. 

Things take an even more sinister twist as Will discovers a grisly murder in the first house, which sets the theme for the subsequent houses. Seven houses, seven horrific homicides and a harrowing journey around the world that threatens not only his beloved family’s safety, but puts his own life at risk too. 

The storyline for Scare Me is so well thought out and written. The believable characters facing such heinous but not impossible situations makes for chilling reading. Once the ball is rolling on Will’s macabre quest, it becomes a nail biting thrill ride to the astounding climax. I really enjoyed how breadcrumbs of clues are scattered throughout and where they lead to at the end. 

I've seen online that Scare Me is set to be adapted into a film by Prison Break star turned screenwriter Wentworth Miller, which is such an achievement seeing as the novel hasn't been formally released yet! Either way, it will definitely be a movie on my one to watch list! Scare Me is fast paced and satisfyingly gruesome; a tantalising psychological thriller not to be missed.

US/Canada/Ebook: 30th April
UK/RoW: 2nd May 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Cover Reveal: Not of Our Sky by Sharon Sant

Today I am very excited to be part of the cover reveal for the final book in the Sky Song Trilogy by Sharon Sant. I've already reviewed the first two books. In Sky Song, we meet Jacob who learns he is not who he thinks he is and must leave his family and his best friends Ellen and Luca. In The Young Moon, Jacob has returned to Earth and is hunting for his long lost sister Alex, who could relieve him of his responsibilities in his home world. Not of Our Sky is the third book, and below is the stunning cover and blurb for the last in this fantastic YA series.

Jacob fights for his life and Ellen faces her toughest decision yet: whether to finally reveal his true identity to his parents. For Jacob is one of the Watchers of Astrae, a race of beings with extraordinary powers, and sworn to protect the natural order of the universe. But Jacob has broken one of Astrae’s oldest laws and chaos threatens to cover the Earth.

Alex faces the fall into darkness that has long been prophesised. Her only ally is Makash, their bitter and twisted uncle, and Jacob has already succumbed to the shadows.  Who will be there to catch her?

With the first part of the ancient prophecy already coming to pass, it seems their only hope lies in the second part – the riddle of the star that will bring them back to the light. But what does it mean? And why do Jacob, Alex and Ellen all dream of the same lighthouse, night after night? 

Friday, 12 April 2013

666 Park Avenue by Gabriella Pierce

My interest in this book was sparked from the recent ITV2 series of the same name. Let me tell you straight away that the book and the series are completely different. Don’t get me wrong, I very much like the book and the TV series in their own right, but they are different stories. 

The book introduces us to Jane Boyle, raised in rural France by an overprotective Grandmother; she now lives in Paris. She’s just been swept off her feet by handsome and wealthy American Malcolm Doran. He’s just proposed and she plans to move to New York with him to start a new life together. 

However before she leaves France, a tragedy occurs and Jane learns that she is a witch. Although she has a history of accidentally blowing up electricals, Jane is sceptical about witches and magic and makes her move to New York into the Doran’s imposing family building in Park Avenue. Once there Jane finds herself at odds with Malcolm’s dragon of a mother, who has taken control of Jane’s imminent wedding. But feuds about cakes and dresses soon become insignificant as Jane uncovers dark family secrets that threaten lives. 

I liked the balance of stylish chick-lit with the paranormal witchy themes. There are lots of references to fashion which compliment the scenes for when Jane is navigating her way around elite New York society. As she nurtures her new found powers, there are references to witchcraft from history which I personally would have liked to see more of. Overall I thought this was an enjoyable read. With some steamy scenes and plenty of female focussed power struggles, this is ideal for more adult readers of paranormal romance.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Beauty of Murder by A.K. Benedict

Unconventional philosophy lecturer Stephen Killigan shakes things up in Cambridge when he stumbles across the body of a missing beauty queen. However, when the police arrive to retrieve the body it has disappeared. 

Still new to his job, Stephen unintentionally attracts negative attention from the police, the press, disapproving University colleagues, and more disturbingly, a killer. Stephen soon finds himself on the trail of the mysterious Jackamore Grass, on a murderous jaunt through history where corpses begin to appear with no rational explanations for their discoveries. 

With his professional and psychological reputation on the line, Stephen finds himself turning to a number of people for help, from tattooists and librarians, to fellow scholars, to try and save future victims from terrible fates. 

Stephen Killigan is a witty and unorthodox main character and the sinister Jackamore Grass is so charmingly arrogant, you’ll just love to hate him, in spite of the gruesome acts he is involved in. The Cambridge setting, with the history-steeped University grounds and the famous river are the perfect backdrop for this thrilling crime fiction tale of history and philosophy. 

The Beauty of Murder is highly intelligent and eloquently written; I really couldn't get enough of it. Books like this are the reason I love to read, and alongside Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, this may be one of my favourite crime thrillers of the year so far. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Young Moon by Sharon Sant

Following on from Sky Song two years later, we are reunited with Jacob Lightfoot or Ioh as is his true name, who has just returned to his earthly home. He finds that there is a distance between himself and his friends, and he also learns that his father is very ill; all of which leave him with feelings of guilt. Despite his powers he cannot interfere with the course of nature, especially seeing as the last time nearly killed him. 

Even though he is only on temporary leave from his home world of Astrae, Jacob doesn't want to leave the family that raised him and his best friends who know his secrets. So he makes it his mission to find the second successor; his long lost twin sister who could take his place on Astrae as The Watcher, a role he does not want.

This seemingly impossible task takes him halfway around the world to find a complete stranger who has no idea of her destiny. Things are made more difficult by the return of the evil Makash, who is also seeking out the girl for his own dark means.

I absolutely flew through this book. After reading the first book, I felt more for the characters and cared more about what happens to them. Despite being the powerful one, Jacob relies a lot on his human friends Luca and Ellen, and I find the trio more and more endearing as I move through the trilogy. What with warnings and danger at every turn and the imminent uprise of a dark power, The Young Moon keeps you turning pages and the end will leave you hungry for the next book. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Enter the strange world of Frank if you dare. Just sixteen years old and he has already killed three members of his family. 

He calmly thinks back to those individual acts but insists it was just a phase he was going through, and has no more intentions to kill people. The animals on the island where he lives are a different story. As Frank does not attend school, he spends his days walking the island and occasionally waging wars with the resident rabbits and seagulls. 

Frank lives with his eccentric father, who likes to tell lies and is keeping secrets in his permanently locked study. Frank leads a near solitary life exploring the island and carrying out his peculiar little rituals. That’s when he’s not receiving manic phone calls from his older brother Eric who has just escaped from an asylum and is making his way back home. 

This is a twisted story, made even more disturbing by the casual, measured tone of Frank, even as he describes some disgusting things. The Wasp Factory has been reprinted several times since it’s first appearance in 1984. It is one of those truly unique stories that hooks you in with oddball characters and piques your curiosity so much, that before you know it you've almost finished the entire book. 

The Wasp Factory is bizarre and unsettling but is also strangely compelling, and will stay with you long after you have read it.  

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

SEAL Team 666 by Weston Ochse

From the start this title jumped out at me as something I would want to read, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Without warning Navy SEAL Cadet Jack Walker is pulled from his squad and chosen to join the US’s secret supernatural special mission unit SEAL Team 666. 

Straight away Jack is plunged in at the deep end, facing demons, mass-murdering gang members and a host of unimaginable creatures he never even knew existed. As he begins to get to know his team members and the workings of the squad, SEAL Team 666 discover a supernatural adversary that threatens the safety of not only the US but the entire world. 

Set in the exotic yet treacherous location of Asia, this novel intensely immerses you into SEAL Team 666’s deadly world. There is plenty of military lingo and a lot of acronyms for me to keep up with, but then the story moves quickly and the team face another nail biting danger that hooks your attention.

I really enjoyed learning about the individual team members of SEAL Team 666 and their interactions as a group both on and off missions. I also liked the way Jack Walker’s own unnatural past begins to creep into his adult life, potentially affecting the missions. I warmed up to this novel very quickly; there is plenty of horror, mythology and inventive plot lines amidst all the military action. SEAL Team 666 is cleverly thrilling read that should definitely not be overlooked.