Review: Hold Back The Stars by Katie Khan

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After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world. As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Sometimes, you need a book that is different from your usual genre. A book outside your comfort zone. And that is what Hold Back The Stars was for me. I’ve stated multiple times that I watch plenty of sci-fi films and I love them. However, when it comes to reading, sci-fi it’s not a genre that I find particularly appealing, maybe because I prefer to watch the story take place on a screen. Still, every now and then, there are some titles that catch my attention and Hold Back The Stars was one of them. It came highly recommended, part Gravity, part One Day, two stories that I quite enjoyed back in the day. And this book ended up being quite a unique read for me.

This is a love story, plain and simple. It’s basically like the Gravity film, but with romance and a lot of flashbacks. I know it will sound weird because I usually love flashbacks, but in Hold Back The Stars, their present scenes were my favorite part. There were tension and great dialogue, and I couldn’t wait to know what happened next.

At times, I wish I could have read two different books, one focused on Carys and Max in space and another one dedicated to exploring Europia’s world. I find utopian/dystopian realities fascinating and the universe created by Katie Khan was incredibly attractive, but I felt like we were never given enough of it. I enjoyed both Carys and Max’s perspectives, as they were really likable characters and I wished the best for them. So yes, of course I wanted them to be together, but I didn’t fall in love with them or their relationship.

The ending is probably what made the whole story more meaningful for me. I had no idea of what was going on and I was confused but fascinated at the same time. I know some of you disagree because it’s a risky technique and it won’t be for everyone, but I love to be surprised and Hold Back The Stars managed just that.

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Netgalley, Gallery Books 2017

Guest Post & Review | The Returning Tide (Liz Fenwick)

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Two sisters and one betrayal that will carry across generations… In wartime Cornwall, 1943, a story between two sisters begins – the story of Adele and Amelia, and the heart-breaking betrayal that will divide them forever. Decades later, the efforts of one reckless act still echo – but how long will it be until their past returns? The Returning Tide will sweep you away to the beautiful Cornish coast, full of secrets and mystery.

A Guest Post by Liz Fenwick 

(Thanks to the wonderful Liz for writing this great post so quickly and letting us know about her writing process and sources of inspiration. And for the amazing soundtrack!)

Writing a novel that is two thirds historical gave me sleepless nights – many of them. All my previous books had been contemporary with historical touches. I love history, always have. My editor had to reassure me on a regular basis that I could do this. And I tried my best to believe her, I really did, but in the middle of the night I would wake worrying. It was a trying time.

I’d learned from writing A Cornish Stranger it was best not to do all the research before I finished the first draft. I only needed enough to put the story together. Because when writing A Cornish Stranger I was certain my older heroine was going to be in the SOE so I researched like mad…half way through the first draft I realised she was not…so much time had been lost.

Lesson learned this time I began writing with just enough to leave my draft full of XXXXs telling me I needed to return to these spots and fill in the missing pieces. This allowed me to discover the story.

The Returning Tide began with my mother-in- law. She was a Wren telegraphist during WW2. One night over dinner we were discussing something that had been mentioned in the papers that morning about the Slapton Sands incident. She turned to me and said she was working that night with the Americans. She heard them die. The men went from code to using plain language. I shivered then and I shiver now. Although I asked several times for her to write down her experience she never did. Only while researching did I realise that she was still under the Official Secrets Act and she had held that experience inside her all those years carrying it alone.

From my mother-in- law’s experience, I built the story. I read the fabulous Debs At War by Anne de Courcy. This was a book I kept coming back to…to ‘hear’ the voices of the past. At the same time as writing I tried to discover more about my mother-in- law’s experience but somehow all her photos and letters from that time had been lost. I knew she’d been in Weymouth and Portland so through Twitter I contacted the Wrens Association there.

Christine Baker who runs the Twitter account was wonderful and she put me in touch with two women who served at HMS Attack the same time as my mother-in- law. Talking with both these women gave me an insight into a world that was so different.

Looking out to Portland on a glorious spring day it was hard to imagine it filled with ships and sailors. But their memories began to colour in the experience. One of the woman loaned me her diary from 1944. I cannot tell you how using a primary source helped. The hardest thing for me to understand was the not knowing. Today almost as soon as a bomb drops it’s on the news. But in the war no one really knew anything. By looking through her diary I knew what she saw on 28 th April 1944. She saw the bodies of young American soldiers on the quay side but she didn’t know why. That was incredibly powerful.

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After speaking with these women, I began tracking down books written by women who served as Wrens. Many of them were privately published. They had wonderful titles like I Joined for the Hat. These books helped to understand the mind-set of a young woman in the 1940s. Stockings or the lack thereof was almost universal in all the memoirs. In today’s world of plenty it’s important to understand the lack of things.

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I spoke with people who lived in Cornwall during the war. Currently Cornwall is a picture of loveliness but if you look you can still see evidence of the war along the Helford River.

Despite these relics, it’s hard to imagine it filled with landing craft. There are some fantastic film clips of the 29th Division available on line through Critical Past. Even though the beach at the bottom of Trebah Gardens is still mostly concrete, it’s hard to imagine it could have happened.

The other research that helped me ‘feel’ the past was music. Music for me acts as a time machine. Recently my teenage daughter has been discovering the music of my youth. Out of the blue she played a song I hadn’t heard in years…Smoking in the Boys Room. In that moment, I was in primary school with Sister Brigid Mary teaching and I could smell the disinfectant that they used to clean the floors. I then turned to the music of the war.

However I can’t write with music playing as I will drift into the story told by the song. But I found that I could use it before a writing session to put me in the ‘time’ or to wind down afterwards. I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the music referenced in The Returning Tide.

The Returning Tide was also the novel I found Pinterest came into its own for me. As I hunted down pictures I collected them on a page. The more I added the more Pinterest sent me to. I have done a board for every book but for this one the visuals were really important as I didn’t live through it.

Each story presents its own challenges and The Returning Tide aside from the lack of sleep allowed me to dwell in the past and gave a greater appreciation for those who lived through WW2. I hope those reading the story become as immersed as I did!

My Review

I knew I had to read this book as soon as I saw the beautiful cover. And the blurb said for fans of Kate Morton, so I was already sold. The Returning Tide was a dual-time novel featuring a beautiful love story and a complicated relationship between twin sisters. There’s nothing I love more than a tragic ending and this novel certainly delivered.

The prose was engaging and elegant, subtle and easy to read. I was equally interested in both the past and present story; the past because it was the main focus, and the present because I wanted the characters to reunite. Lara was my favorite and I admit I had a soft spot for Jack and his moody ways as well. They didn’t properly “meet” until later in the book, but I already felt the chemistry.

The past story, featuring Amelia, Adele and “the American” was simply wonderful. I loved that even though I already suspected what was about to happen, I nearly gasped out loud when I learned about the betrayal. And there was one part of the mystery that I definitely didn’t see coming and I admit I shed a few tears. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because it’s better if you find out by yourselves.

It’s no mystery that I love reading novels set in the past. I’ve always thought that letters and old tradition make for great stories and they never fail to engage me. The events of this book would’ve never happened nowadays, which is definitely good for the characters, but at the same time our loss because we wouldn’t get to enjoy these beautiful tragedies.

All in all, this was a classic historical novel: poignant, beautiful and sad… I read it all in a sitting and it wasn’t exactly a short book. What can I say? I was swept away by The Returning Tide.

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ARC, Orion Books, 2017

Blog Tour | When We Danced at the End of the Pier (Sandy Taylor)

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Brighton 1930: Maureen O’Connell is a carefree girl, but her family is on the brink of tragedy, war is looming and life will never be the same again. Jack and Nelson have always been dear friends to Maureen. Despite their different backgrounds, they’ve seen each other through thick and thin. As Maureen blossoms from a little girl into a young woman, the candle she’s always held for Jack burns bright. But just as she’s found love, war wrenches them apart. The man she cherishes with all her heart is leaving. When the bombs start to fall, Maureen and her family find themselves living in the most dangerous of times. With Jack no longer by her side and Nelson at war, Maureen has never felt more alone. Can she look to a brighter future? And will she find the true happiness she’s dreamt of? An utterly gripping and heart-wrenching story about the enduring power of love, hope and friendship during the darkest of days. Perfect for fans of Pam Jenoff, Nadine Dorries and Diney Costeloe.

First things first: the title. Isn’t it beautiful? I absolutely adore it. I was worried: what if I didn’t like the book? No one wants to say they dislike a book with such a beautiful title :O Fortunately, When We Danced at the End of the Pier was a truly enjoyable novel that I can’t wait for you to read.

This is a story about family, friendship and love. A family saga that spans quite a few years and features Maureen, Brenda, Jack, Nelson, Monica, and Maureen and Brenda’s parents. If I had to choose a favorite part, I’d say that the father story broke my heart (and it will break yours too). I desperately wanted to know what was going on, although I kind of suspected. He was a sweet and loving dad and I wanted him to get better. When We Danced at the End of the Pier is one of those novels where all the main characters are good-natured people and you can’t help but root for them. They deserve to be happy (especially my little Brenda!)

Maureen was the protagonist and a classic goody two-shoes. I’m not saying she wasn’t as interesting as the others (after all, she was the key of everything), but there were times when I wanted to sit down and talk to her, knock some sense into her. For example, she falls in love with Jack the very first time they meet and she already knows they’re going to marry one day. She doesn’t even tell him about it! I wanted to tell her that you can fall in love more than once, that there are different types of love, and that your teenage sweetheart isn’t always the person you’re supposed to be with. Maybe yes, of course, but not always. I think you can now guess who I was rooting for 😉

Even though I was completely engaged from the beginning, I still felt the writing was maybe too saccharine, as I don’t have much patience when it comes to cheesy stuff. However, I noticed that, as the main characters grew up, the writing evolved as well. And I kind of liked that, as it felt natural and fitting: the writing being a reflection of the characters’ minds. It was a rather short book but it made a lasting impression.

This is not a book filled with action, as you can expect from the title, the cover and the blurb. I remember reaching 25% and thinking that not much had happened yet, but still, there hadn’t been a dull moment. I was totally engrossed by the setting, the story and these characters. I already felt they were part of my family and their day-to-day tribulations were as engaging as any thriller I’ve recently read.

I also remember moments when I felt I had something in my eye… Finally, don’t worry if you see this is #3 in a trilogy. I didn’t know that but this can be read as a standalone. And what a lovely read!

 

Netgalley, Bookouture, 2017

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About the author
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Sandy Taylor grew up on a council estate near Brighton. There were no books in the house, so Sandy’s love of the written word was nurtured in the little local library. Leaving school at fifteen, Sandy worked in a series of factories before landing a job at Butlins in Minehead. This career change led her to becoming a singer, a stand up comic and eventually a playwright and novelist.

The Devil’s Daughter (Katee Robert)

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Growing up in a small town isn’t easy, especially when you’re the daughter of a local cult leader. Ten years ago, Eden Collins left Clear Springs, Montana, and never once looked back. But when the bodies of murdered young women surface, their corpses violated and marked with tattoos worn by her mother’s followers, Eden, now an FBI agent, can’t turn a blind eye. To catch the killer, she’s going to have to return to the fold. Sheriff Zach Owens isn’t comfortable putting Eden in danger, even if she is an elite agent. And he certainly wasn’t expecting to be so attracted to her. As calm and cool as she appears, he knows this can’t be a happy homecoming. Zach wants to protect her—from her mother, the cult, and the evil that lurks behind its locked gates. But Eden is his only key to the tight-lipped group, and she may just be closer to the killer than either one of them suspects…

I don’t know if many of you are familiar with The Devil’s Daughter. I hadn’t come across any reviews before I decided to read it myself. As soon as I read the blurb, I knew it would be an ideal choice for me. The plot was beyond intriguing and focused on one of my favorite themes ever: CULTS. I thought Elysia was fascinating and Martha, the leader, too. I’m always attracted to stories about manipulation and cult following, as well as ritualistic killings (such a romantic, I know) and this one had it all. And the prodigal daughter returns home…

I really liked Zach’s character, he was the classic tortured sheriff (yes, I have a weakness for stories about sheriffs and small towns) and he was very protective of Clear Springs’ citizens. I thought his character was easy to identify with. The mystery was compelling enough, although there aren’t too many suspects, so you can probably guess the culprit in the end. Still, I thought it was a captivating story and I was able to read it in just one day.

So what didn’t work for me? The romance. As simple as that. It’s not that I hate romance, in fact, I read a romantic suspense series not so long ago and I absolutely loved everything about it (The Gates of Evangeline), but here, I just couldn’t connect with their relationship at all. And I believe the book would’ve worked better without it. When a character that it’s supposed to be a fierce FBI agent and around 30 years old starts thinking stuff like: “He’s so attractive I can barely make eye contact”, I lose my patience. And the romance was so sudden and unnecessary that I wish it hadn’t happened. And it’s a pity, since everything else was right up my alley.

Anyway, The Devil’s Daughter is still a worthy book if you love cults and romantic suspense. I’d love it if the author decided to focus completely on the creepy side of things.

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Netgalley, Montlake Romance, 2017

Before The Rains (Dinah Jefferies)

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1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband’s death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza’s only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she’s determined to make a name for herself. But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince’s handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families – and society – think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what’s expected, or following their hearts. . .

After all the murders and creepy plots, I knew I wanted to read something much different. I needed a book that allowed me to travel around the world in my mind and I knew Dinah Jefferies would be perfect for that. I had always wanted to read her books but I didn’t know where to start.

Before The Rains (don’t you love the beautiful title?) was a captivating and colorful historical novel set in India. Eliza, a young widowed woman, is sent to Rajputana’s castle to photograph the royal family during the course of a year. There, she falls in love with Jayant and discovers many secrets about her childhood and her family that she never knew about…

While this wasn’t my favorite historical read, I found the descriptions and the setting to be wonderful. Dinah Jefferies is a lovely writer and makes you feel like you’re actually living the adventures along with the characters of her books, which is something I really appreciate. The beginning part was my favorite, where we get a glimpse of Eliza’s childhood memories and her first days living in the castle. The ending was too neat in my opinion, but satisfying nonetheless.

The plot was appealing enough and I quickly found myself engaged, I just wish there had been more family secrets and politics and less romance between those two. It’s not that I disliked Jay or Eliza (in fact, Eliza was a pretty amazing main character: strong, considerate and smart), but I didn’t connect with their relationship as much as I would’ve liked. Other characters like the queen and the young miniaturist came across as fascinating and I wanted to know more about them.

In the end, Before The Rains was an evocative and beautifully written book that perhaps felt a bit too long for me. Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend it if you’re into historical fiction set in exotic locations, but I wish I could’ve loved the plot a bit more. Maybe the next one? I’m definitely in.

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Netgalley – Viking, 2017