Monday, 30 July 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I've been lucky enough to be a reviewer for New Books Magazine for some years now, and was delighted to receive a copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's latest instalment in his series of novels featuring the mysterious Cemetery of Lost Books set in Barcelona.

The Prisoner of Heaven was published by Orion Books on 21 June 2012 and is the third in the series, following The Shadow of the Wind (October 2005) and The Angel's Game (April 2010).

It is just before Christmas 1957 in Barcelona.  Daniel Sempere and Bea are now married and have a small son Julian.

The bookshop Sempere and Son is struggling along and their friend Fermin is preparing to marry Bernarda.  It is the appearance of a stranger, out of the shadows, that thrusts these characters back into the murky depths of the past and back to the Cemetery of Lost Books.

The Prisoner of Heaven is Firmin's story.  As he at last reveals the truth about his background to Daniel, the reader is transported to the prison cells of Mountjuic castle - the place where Franco's followers would incarcerate, torture and later 'dispose' of political enemies.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's writing is atmospheric, descriptive and totally compelling.  His words draw such solid pictures in the head of the reader that the sounds, sights and smells of underground Barcelona jump from the page.

The dark gothic feel of the city is wonderfully drawn, and his characters are so realistic that they become friends of the reader by the end of the story.

Although Ruiz Zafon assures readers that each of the books in this series can be read as stand-alone stories, I would recommend that they are read in the order that they are written.  Personally, I think anyone new to the series would struggle to fully enjoy and follow The Prisoner of Heaven without having read at least one of the previous instalments, not least because it is so much shorter than the others.

For me, The Prisoner of Heaven is yet another triumph from Ruiz Zafon, lively and full of dark humour and an almost perfect cast of characters.  My one complaint is that it is too short, I wanted more than the 278 pages offered by the hardback edition and only hope that we don't have to wait for too long for the final book of the series.

My thanks, as always to the team at New Books Magazine for sending my copy for review.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Winner of the Louise Douglas giveaway announced!

I'm really pleased to announce that the winner of the Louise Douglas giveaway is:

Josie B - from the wonderful blog Jaffa Reads Too

The winner was picked using Rafflecopter, and is totally independent.

Congratulations Josie (and Jaffa), I will get the book out to you this week, and I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Anne xx

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Meet Louise Douglas and win a copy of her latest book; In Her Shadow

Louise Douglas was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Somerset for the past twenty years.  She has three sons and a partner who works in construction.  She is the author of three previous novels; The Love of My Life (2009), Missing You (2010), The Secrets Between Us (2012), and the newly released In Her Shadow. You can read my review of In Her Shadow here .

Louise Douglas
I am delighted to welcome Louise to my blog today, she has very kindly agreed to answer some questions for me, I am also delighted to be able to give away a copy of In Her Shadows to one lucky reader. You can find the instructions on how to enter the give away at the end of this post.

Questions and Answers with Louise Douglas

What are you reading at the moment? 
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood. 

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously? 
I do read reviews and take them seriously, especially those of bloggers I respect and follow. I stay away from Amazon though as it can be really hard to move on from the more negative comments.

How long does it take to write a novel? 
About a year - I have a full time day job too.

Do you have any writing rituals? 
I walk the dogs then make a cup of coffee then sit down and I’m gone.

What was your favourite childhood book? 
I had a picture book of The Sleeping Beauty that I adored. When I was a little older I was mad for the Ruby Ferguson pony books. 

Name one book that made you laugh? 
50 Ways to Find a Lover by Lucy-Anne Holmes

Name one book that made you cry? 
Recently the Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt had me crying my heart out!

Which fictional character would you like to meet? 
Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 
I just gave her The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book? 
Wuthering Heights is my favourite book ever.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
Donna Leon’s inspector Brunetti series. Although I don’t feel very guilty about it!

Who are your favourite authors? 
Sylvia Plath and the Bronte sisters.

What book have you re-read? 
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

What book have you given up on? I just can’t get on with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Thanks so much Louise, for answering my nosey questions!   I'm with you on the Atticus Finch answer, he's my dream man and a wonderful character.  I also have to agree with the Amazon reviews, I always post reviews on Amazon, I'm part of the Amazon Vine programme, but I've found that I've had some pretty scathing comments on some of my reviews.  I can't begin to imagine how those sort of comments would make an author feel.

Louise and Transworld have very kindly sent a copy of In Her Shadow to me which I'm going to give away to a reader of 'Random Things'.   To be in with a chance of winning, please leave a comment on this post, for  one extra chance please follow me on Twitter @annecater, and for one more extra chance please Tweet about this giveaway.

Good Luck!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In Her Shadow by Louise Douglas

In Her Shadow is Louise Douglas' fourth novel and was published by Transworld earlier this month.

This a complex story that draws the reader in from the beginning, I found it very difficult to put down and when I was not reading it, I was thinking about it.

Hannah is a young woman who works at a Bristol museum, from the off it is clear that she has some issues from her past that shape her behaviour.

Hannah 'sees' her childhood friend Ellen in the museum, but Ellen died many years ago, so how could that be?   Hannah narrates the story in chapters that alternate between the present day and her childhood.  

Ellen Brecht and her family lived in a big house in the sleepy Cornish town where Hannah and her adopted brother Jago were the only other children.  The Brechts appeared different, and glamorous and soon both Hannah and Jago were entranced by them.

There is an air of mystery and drama about Ellen and this is what attracts Hannah to her, coupled with her attractive and attentive father who is so different to her own staid, somewhat stuffy parents.

There is an air of darkness about this story and because the reader knows from the beginning that Ellen is dead this makes it even more compelling.  

As Hannah tells the story of their childhood with Ellen firmly in the centre of it, the reader becomes more and more desperate to know what will happen, and why is Ellen no more?  

This is a very clever way of hooking the reader, and as the story becomes more involved, the pages are turned quicker and quicker.   Towards the end of the story there is an almost unbearable air of tension and suspense, that certainly quickened my heartbeat.

Louise Douglas is a very capable author who is able to combine the menace of a psychological thriller with a coming of age drama and a sprinkling of romance too.  Her characters, whilst not always likeable are always believable and often unpredictable.

In Her Shadows will not disappoint existing fans of  Louise Douglas and I hope will win her many more.

My thanks to both Louise and Transworld for sending my copy for review.

Look out for a Question and Answer session with Louise and a chance to win a copy of In Her Shadow, here on my blog in the next few days.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Ruby by Marie Maxwell

Ruby is the first novel from Marie Maxwell, and was published by Avon books earlier this year.

Marie Maxwell is better known as Bernardine Kennedy, author of seven contemporary novels.  I can remember clearly reading her first novel Everything Is Not Enough, in Cyprus, in 2001.  I was hooked and have read each of her books as they were released.   It's been a while, but she's back - with a new genre, a new publisher and a new name.

Ruby is the first of four books and is set in the 1950s and 60s and although not quite as 'edgy' as her previous stories, it really is a compelling read.

Ruby is 15 years old and has been living in the peaceful town of Melton for five years.  An evacuee, she was sent to live with Dr George Wheaton and his wife Babs who have treated her as their own daughter.  When Ray, Ruby's older brother arrives unexpectedly and demands that she returns home to London, Ruby is devastated.  She knows that with her Father now dead, and bully Ray as the head of the household, she will be expected to cook, clean and look after her elderly Grandmother.  Her dreams of continuing her educations and becoming a nurse are dashed.
Once back in London, Ruby's fears are realised.   Ray appears to be more evil and hateful than ever and her Mother shows her no affection.    She does find affection from bad-boy Johnnie Riordan - Ray's arch-enemy, older and quite intriguing to her.
When Ruby realises that she is pregnant, she knows that she has to leave London and flees back to her beloved Melton.
Ruby grows and matures and deals with heartbreak and tragedy along the way.

Ruby is a feisty character, she sometimes makes the wrong decision, she can be headstrong and stubborn, but her story is a great read.   With a cast of characters that are so well drawn this is a gritty tale of family and relationships.  Tackling some hard-hitting social issues including unmarried mothers, mental illness and black market dealings incorporated with charismatic characters, this is a really satisfying read.  A great start to the series - I'm really looking forward to reading about Gracie next.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Alyson Richman is a new author to me, her latest novel; The Last Wife was recommended to me by the lovely Josie, host of the wonderful blog Jaffa Reads Too.

The Last Wife was published in March this year by Hodder & Stoughton and is a story of love, hope and despair set in worn torn Czechoslovakia.   The story opens in  New York City in the year 2000, where we find Josef preparing for the wedding of his much-loved grandson.  When Josef meets the bride's grandmother for the first time, he is shocked to the core - could this really be his 'lost wife' Lenka.  The woman who has been in his heart for the last 60 years, the woman who he thought had died in Auschwitz?

Josef and Lenka were two young Jewish people who were very much in love and were planning their lives together, dreaming of their future children and a long and happy life together.   Their dreams were snatched away from them by the War and purely because they were Jewish.

Alyson Richman
This is a cleverly woven story of their two lives, as Lenka is transported first to Terezin; the ghetto-like town that the Nazis have created for the Jews, and then finally to Auschwitz - the name alone installs fear into both the characters and the reader.  Josef lives a very different life, but Lenka is never far from his thoughts.

Even though the first chapter of The Lost Wife reveals the outcome for Josef and Lenka, this is still a book that captured me from the off.   The characters have been created with such warmth and humanity that the reader can do nothing else but care deeply about them.   Although this is ultimately a love story, it is also often a very harrowing read, nothing has been spared in the descriptions of both Terezin and Auschwitz, and despite the fact that most of us are very aware of just what happened in these places, I was still shocked and horrified by some of the scenes of barbaric cruelty doled out by humans to other humans.

I have been very impressed by Alyson Richman's writing, it is evocative and powerful.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Light Behind The Window by Lucinda Riley

I read and reviewed Lucinda Riley's last novel The Girl On The Cliff back in January this year, you can read my review here.

I was really delighted to receive a proof copy of her latest book The Light Behind The Window which will be published by Pan Books in August 2012.

Yet again, I have been totally entertained by another great story that is well-written with an intricate plot that is multi-layered but tied together so well.

The Light Behind The Window is told in dual-time narrative, a concept that works so well and that Lucinda Riley has mastered excellently.

Weaving the modern-day story with the historical background adds a further dimension to the story.

Emilie de la Marinieres finds herself the sole inheritor of a grand chateau in southern France, the death of her Mother has evoked many feelings for her, not all of them good, and many of them very painful.

Emilie has always distanced herself from her Mother and has been living a very ordinary life in Paris.  As Emilie begins to sort through her family affairs, she discovers a notebook of poems, written by her Father's sister Sophia.  Sophia was never spoken about and is something of a mystery, as Emilie begins to dig deeper into the family secrets she become more and more involved in the past.

Back in 1943, Constance Carruthers has been chosen to become part of the Special Operations Executive, she's an ordinary office worker, newly married to a husband who has been missing in action since almost the beginning of the war.  After intense training, Constance finds herself in occupied France on a dangerous mission that could cost her her life.

Constance finds herself caught up in a complex situation masterminded by Edouard de la Mariniers, and so the connection between the two families begins.

Lucinda Riley
Back in the modern day story, Constance's grandson Sebastian has appeared, and he and Emilie become closer and closer.   Does Sebastian know more than he is admitting to?

I became really emotionally attached to these characters, although I did find Emilie's story a little slow in the beginning, everything soon began to move at a very quick pace and the connections to Constance's war-time story were riveting.

Churchill's Special Operations Executive programme was completely new to me, a part of the war that I knew nothing about and I found the details entralling.

This novel really is a joy to read, expertly woven together and mixing social history with family dramas and love and relationships - the perfect blend.