Month: March 2016

The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato (4/5)

Posted March 31, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato (4/5)The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on February 11th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: BookBridgr
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Of all the dangers she faced, the greatest was discovery...
When Irish beauty Kit Kavanagh's husband is taken for a soldier, Kit enlists in the Duke of Marlborough's regiment, disguised as a man, to follow him across war-torn Italy. Risking her life in battle, she forms a close bond with her wry and handsome commanding officer, Captain Ross.
But even when she dresses once more as a woman to evade capture, the war is not over for Kit. She catches the eye of the scheming Duke of Ormonde, who recruits her to spy upon the French.
Torn between Captain Ross and her husband, and under the orders of the English Crown, Kit's life will be in more danger now than on any battlefield.

I received a copy of this book from Hodder via BookBridgr in return for an honest review.

I have to say I loved this book. It follows the story of Kit Kavanagh, an Irish woman, who dresses up as a man to try and find her husband who has been “press ganged” into being a soldier. She embarks on a tremendous journey across Europe, fighting on the battlefields during the Spanish War of Succession. When she unearths the truth about what’s happened to her husband, she is placed in even more danger by being brought into the circle of the scheming Duke of Ormonde, who recruits her as a spy.

The book is split into two halves. The first covering Kit’s adventures on the battlefield, and the second covering her time with the Duke of Ormonde. I have to say the transition between the end of the first half and the start of the second wasn’t exactly smooth, and I felt that the pace that had built up through the first half just disappeared at the start of the second. It took a little while for the pace to pick back up again. But this didn’t remove from the overall enjoyment of the book.

It’s even more astonishing when you realise this is based on a true story. It just goes to show that feminism was alive and well in the 1700’s!!

As usual with historical fiction my main niggle is when historical facts get incorrectly reported. I’ve been known to have a wobbly over Philippa Gregory’s premature introduction of the potato into Britain!! This book isn’t perfect on that front (Kensington Palace, not Buckingham Palace, was the main seat of royalty in the 1700’s!). But again, it didn’t distract from the utterly fantastic storyline.

I’m not the biggest fan of historical fiction. It’s a genre I like and enjoy to read now and again. But this was an absolutely brilliant book! I have to say it’s the first book by Fiorato that I have read, but I’m sure it won’t be the last!

Huge thanks to Hodder and BookBridgr for this fantastic book.

The Woman who Stole my Life by Marian Keyes (2/5)

Posted March 29, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Woman who Stole my Life by Marian Keyes (2/5)The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes
Published by Penguin on May 21st 2015
Genres: Chick Lit, Contemporary, Fiction
Pages: 560
Format: Paperback
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'Name: Stella Sweeney.
Height: average.
Recent life events: dramatic.'
One day, sitting in traffic, married Dublin mum Stella Sweeney attempts a good deed. The resulting car crash changes her life.
For she meets a man who wants her telephone number (for the insurance, it turns out). That's okay. She doesn't really like him much anyway (his Range Rover totally banjaxed her car).
But in this meeting is born the seed of something which will take Stella thousands of miles from her old life, turning an ordinary woman into a superstar, and, along the way, wrenching her whole family apart.
Is this all because of one ill-advised act of goodwill? Was meeting Mr Range Rover destiny or karma? Should she be grateful or hopping mad?
For the first time real, honest-to-goodness happiness is just within her reach. But is Stella Sweeney, Dublin housewife, ready to grasp it?

It’s been years since I last read a Marian Keyes book, so I was looking forward to this which has been on my shelves for quite a while now.

It’s a decent-enough story, following the highs and lows of Stella Sweeney from a seemingly innocuous “fender bender”, through a life-threatening illness and family upheavals, to becoming a best-selling author. This book certainly has a lot going on.

Like most Keyes books, the writing is good and it’s an easy read. I did find some of the characters were unnecessary though. Without wanting to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, I couldn’t really see the point of Georgie or Zoe, and Jeffrey’s idiosyncrasies were annoying rather than adding anything to the story. Stella herself wasn’t particularly likeable. The words “doormat” and “wet dishrag” spring to mind when I think of her. I also couldn’t really see the point of the car accident either. It just ended up being incidental to the overall storyline in the end, and again, didn’t really add to the book in any way. The storyline also jumps around between time periods, and some sections have random headings – “HER”, “HIM”, etc – which makes it tricky to follow the flow of the story.

All in all this is an OK book. Nothing more, and certainly not up to the usual standard of Keyes’ work, which is a disappointment.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (4/5)

Posted March 29, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (4/5)I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
Published by Sphere on November 9th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Psychological Thriller
Pages: 371
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In a split second, Jenna Gray's world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.
Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

Happy Easter! I must admit I was a little lax with my reviews over the bank holiday weekend, so I have two updates today!

First up is I Let You Go, the debut novel from Clare Mackintosh. After a fatal car accident, Jenna Gray’s life is turned upside down. To get away from what has happened, she moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, where she lives a quiet life, insulating herself from the local community. As she starts to soften and make friends, her past catches up with her, and she’s forced to face some hard truths.

This is a difficult book to review without giving away any spoilers. But that said, it’s a GREAT read. There are twists and turns, as there should be with any good psychological thriller, but I can honestly say I didn’t see them coming (which is unusual for me!).

As a mum, I did find the first chapter very difficult to read. But don’t be put off by that and keep going if you can. I’m really glad I did as this is a superb book. The first half sets the scene, but the second half really packs a punch and is a lot darker and edgier. By the end of the book I was on the edge of my seat and could barely put it down!

How to Get Free Books – Part 2: Books for Review

Posted March 28, 2016 in Book Chat / 0 Comments

How to get Free Books - Part 2Last week I discussed how to set up your online presence so that you can be in a good position to request Advance Reader Copies – or ARCs – of soon-to-be published books.

ARCs (particularly paper ones) cost money to produce and send out, so you need to be able to show publishers that you can provide a return on their investment in you. That “return” is your review which will be shared with your followers of your blog and social media posts. Reviews are very important to authors and publishers – particularly on Amazon – so from their point of view you are worth the investment if you have a good following.

There are, of course, “degrees” of ARCs. eBook copies of soon-to-be-published books by self-published authors and independent publishers are easier to come by than the big blockbuster titles. However that doesn’t mean to say they’re impossible to get. Over the last few months I’ve received ARCs of The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, both longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016; as well as a copy of Little Boy Blue by MJ Arlidge, which is currently in the Amazon Top 10 for crime books.

I choose not to read self-published and independently published books, and instead concentrate on the established publishing houses. But that is my own choice as it’s what I prefer to read. The good thing about ARCs is there is something for everyone, no matter what your preferred genre.

eBook ARCs

eBook ARCs are far and away the easiest type to get hold of, as the costs for the publishing house are much less than producing paper ARCs. Most sites offer ARCs in multiple formats to cover different eReaders, but it’s always worth checking before you request a book to verify that you can read it!

If you don’t have an eReader, you can still access eBooks via your smartphone, tablet or computer. Products such as Google Play, free Kindle reading apps and free Kobo reading apps mean that there are few restrictions on the devices you can use to access eBooks.

There are loads of websites available for requesting ARCs. I have listed some below along with some personal thoughts about each.

  • NetGalley – Far and away my favourite site for ARCs. There’s a good range of genres available from a wide range of publishers. They request feedback and reviews for the titles you receive, so don’t go mad and request a whole lot to begin with as it’ll show up on your stats if you don’t review them. Once you have an established reputation, you will start to be pre-approved for some of the bigger titles, which is great!
  • Edelweiss – This isn’t a site I have used, but it gets good reviews. Personally I find it a little harder to navigate than NetGalley, but it has a wider range of genres, particularly for academic and business books.
  • BookLook Bloggers – This site is run by HarperCollins Christian publishing, so that will give you an idea of the kinds of books you can expect to see. When you request a book you’re committing to writing a 200-word review on your blog as well as leaving a review on a “consumer website”. They also offer paper-based ARCs as well as eBooks for some titles.
  • Bostick Communications – This is a PR site which aims to link authors with book bloggers and reviewers. Once you sign-up you receive emails pitching the book to you. If you like the sound of it you can reply and receive a copy. The emails are infrequent (less than 10 a month) and the books are mainly self- or independently- published books.
  • BookBlogging.net – This is a relatively new website set up with the aim of bringing all book bloggers under one roof. They offer a number of eBooks for review, although they’re mainly self-published titles. The interface isn’t the easiest to use, but as a new website you can expect more developments to it in the future (it’s also a good site on which to register your book blog).
  • Grey Gecko Press – This is a US-based independent publishing house who offer eARCs of their titles in exchange for an honest review.
  • Library Thing Early Reviewers – Library Thing run a monthly early reviewers’ programme covering a wide range of titles. You can sort by country and book type (eBook, paper or both) which is great for narrowing down the selection. However eBooks are much more common, and there are limited numbers of each.

 

Paper ARCs

Paper ARCs are much harder to come by – purely due to the costs involved and the relatively low numbers of ARCs that are produced. One site which is worth investigating is Bookbridgr – which is only for UK and ROI bloggers at the moment. They aim to “bridge” between bloggers and traditional publishing houses by facilitating your requests directly to the publishing house. The up-side of this approach is that there are a good number of high quality books on offer. However the down-side is that there are probably loads of people requesting copies, and you may never hear back from the publishing house again!

 

Other Sources

You can also be proactive in sourcing out your own ARCs.

You can take part in a book tour on your blog. There are lots of bloggers who facilitate book tours. Google and Twitter are your friends for finding book tour hosts.

You can also contact authors and publishers directly. Twitter is a good place to start with this, by interacting with authors and tagging publishers in book reviews for books you’ve really liked. It’s also a good way to keep an eye out for any requests for reviewers for up-coming books. You can also email publishers requesting an ARC of a new release. This is much more hit-and-miss, purely due to the number of ARCs produced (small) and the number of people who are looking to review them (high). In order to be successful you should also include your blog and Twitter statistics – e.g. how many visitors to your blog, how many Twitter followers, how many people subscribed to your newsletter, etc. This will help publishers see what “return” they can get from investing in you. This route is really only for well-established book bloggers, so don’t get disheartened if you don’t receive anything via this route for quite a while.

 

Next week I’m going to be discussing how to get free (and very cheap!) eBooks without any requirement to review them on your blog!

Heft by Liz Moore (2½/5)

Posted March 23, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Heft by Liz Moore (2½/5)Heft : a Novel by Liz Moore
Published by Random House on 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, General
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
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Former academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn't left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty milesaway, in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising sporting career-if he can untangle himself from his family drama. The link between this unlikely pair is Kel's mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur's. After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene's unexpected phone call to Arthur - a plea for help-that jostles them into action.

Through Arthur and Kel's own quirky and lovable voices, HEFT tells the winning story of two improbable heroes whose sudden connection transforms both their lives. It is a novel about love and family found in the most unexpected places.

This is an odd book. Even after digesting it for a couple of days, I’m still not very sure what to make of it.

Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and is virtually house-bound. He lives a secluded life, shunning everyone and everything in the outside world. His only regular exchanges are via letter with a previous student of his called Charlene Keller. Charlene calls Arthur out of the blue and asks him to help with her son, Kel, who’s in high school. From there we find out more about the three main characters and how their stories tie up.

The two stories – Arthur’s and Kel’s – almost run in parallel with each other, and barely (barely!) cross over. It’s almost like two separate books. The content should be emotional and sentimental, but it’s not. As a review from The Times quoted on the front cover says:

The most unsentimental sentimental journey you will read this year.

That feels very apt. I did find it unsentimental, and couldn’t get tuned in to the writing at all. That said, I didn’t hate the book. But it just kind of ambled along until I got to the end and I thought “Is that it?!”.

Not one for me, I’m afraid.

How to Get Free Books – Part 1: Online Presence

Posted March 21, 2016 in Book Chat / 0 Comments

E-book library concept with laptop computer and books

A lot of people ask how to get free copies of books – either for review, or just for reading. There are many ways to get free books legally and without bending any rules.

I should point out at this juncture that I support authors and traditional publishing, and I would never advocate book “piracy” to anyone just to save a few pennies on buying a book. It’s not fair on the people who put a lot of effort into crafting their work – so don’t do it!

This is a short, 4-part series which I’m going to run from today and over the next 3 Mondays. In this post I will cover the basics of getting an online presence which will help with Part 2 – Getting Free Books for Review. Part 3 will cover How to Get Free (and Very Cheap!) eBooks, and part 4 will cover How to Get Free (and Very Cheap!) Paper Books. All the sites will be accessible to mainland UK, but check for other geographies.

Building an Online Presence

In today’s electronic world, having an online presence through which you can review and recommend books is a must. If you want to start receiving good quality ARCs (advance reader copies) of top authors’ books from publishing houses, you need to be able to show that you can provide something in return. There are a number of ways you can do this, all of which are free or very low cost.

1. Get Blogging!

A blog is a great way to start getting your name “out there”. If you just want to set up a free blog then Blogger and WordPress are two good places to start. However with a free blog you’re limited to using their URLs – e.g. www.anywebsite.wordpress.com – which can look a little unprofessional. If you want to project a truly polished image then you can buy your own domain name and host the website yourself. This is a little more technical, but not too difficult to achieve.

You need to purchase two things – your domain name (e.g. the www.mywebsite.com address that people will type into their internet browser to find your site), and hosting (i.e. space online) for the website.

If you want a super-cheap domain name, take a look at Namecheap who offer domains starting at 88¢ (or approximately 65p) – as long as you don’t mind your domain ending with “.xyz” or some other random suffix. If you’d like a traditional “.co.uk” domain they cost around £7 per year with a registrar like TSOhost. As well as your domain you need hosting. In the UK I would always recommend purchasing hosting from TSOhost. Their “lite” package starts at £14.99 per year and their support team, which are all UK based, are amazingly helpful and friendly. They will help even the most novice of novices set up their own website (I’m a web developer by day and I recommend TSOhost to all my clients, as well as using them myself).

The last thing you need to start blogging is blogging software. For this I would recommend downloading WordPress which is free to install on your own website. There are lots of guides to installing WordPress on the WordPress website, YouTube and various other websites, as well as a plethora of resources available for you to use – both free and paid – so with a little effort you can have a fantastic and professional website for £22 a year!

If you’re going to start a blog for book reviews, make sure the majority of your content is book reviews!! You can have a little bit of off topic stuff here and there, but if your books reviews aren’t the main focus, publishers are less likely to ask you to review for them.

2. Get Socialising!

Social Media is the next area to concentrate on. Reposting your reviews and blog posts on Facebook and Twitter is a good way of increasing their social reach. A single tweet can get hundreds or thousands of views within minutes, driving traffic to your blog. It’s also a good way of thanking authors and publishers publicly for any ARCs you may receive. As your mother always said – good manners cost nothing!

Once you get a good bank of reviews built up (and if you’re running your own WordPress website) then have a look at adding a plugin such as Revive Old Post to automatically post your reviews to social media at regular intervals. It’s a good way of keeping up your online presence when you’re away from the computer.

3. Get Reviewing!

Once you’re all set up, then all that’s left is to start writing your reviews. It’s good to have a review policy on your blog setting out the genres you like, the kinds of books you’re accepting for review, your rating scale and how authors and publishers can contact you. This is more likely to generate requests to your contact email address.

When you write a review you should always state if the book has been received as a review copy, but make sure your review is honest. If you didn’t like the book then say so – but be constructive! Authors and publishers know not everyone will love every book, but don’t just say “I hated it” and leave it at that. Always try and include some positives in every review if you can.

Even the most prolific of bloggers will take time to build up a following – so make sure you join recognised review sites such as Amazon and GoodReads to cross-publish your reviews. Always link back to your blog in your review so that people know you have a blog as well. But these are good sites for contributing directly to a new book’s success by reaching out to a large number of people.

 

Next week I’m going to cover how to get free books for review. If you don’t want to miss the post, then subscribe to my weekly newsletter by filling in the box with your email address. I never share your email with anyone and you can unsubscribe at any time.

The Doll’s House by MJ Arlidge (4/5)

Posted March 20, 2016 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
The Doll’s House by MJ Arlidge (4/5)

I’m rattling through the books this weekend! I have offered my collection of MJ Arlidge books to a friend, so I needed to catch up with books #3 and #4 in the series. After a disappointing experience reading Pop Goes the Weasel, the second book in the series, but loving Eeny Meeny and Little Boy Blue, books #1 and #5, […]

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (5/5)

Posted March 20, 2016 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (5/5)

This is a phenomenal book. I’d give it 6 stars if I could! Matt Haig was a normal 24 year old when he suffered a catastrophic depressive episode. This is his memoir about his journey from the brink of suicide, suffering from debilitating panic attacks, through self-healing to where he is now. It’s not a […]

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan (2/5)

Posted March 19, 2016 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan (2/5)

This book is very similar to Alexander McCall Smith’s series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. There are numerous parallels between the two books, and the main characters are very similar. However, while the McCall Smith books are engaging, well written and good page-turners; Khan’s book falls short on a number of levels. The book starts off promisingly, and […]

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø (2/5)

Posted March 19, 2016 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø (2/5)

For all I’m a lover of psychological and crime thrillers, this is the first Nesbø book I have read. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Scandinavian writers. A few – Steig Larsson springs to mind – I thoroughly enjoy. But the majority I find mediocre, and some, unreadable. So I haven’t really been inspired […]