Monday, 29 February 2016

Book review: The Semester Of Our Discontent - Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean Mystery #1)

English professor Lila Maclean is thrilled about her new job at prestigious Stonedale University until she finds one of her colleagues dead. She soon learns that everyone, from the chancellor to the detective working the case, believes Lila—or someone she is protecting—may be responsible for the horrific event, so she assigns herself the task of identifying the killer.

More attacks on professors follow, the only connection a curious symbol at each of the crime scenes. Putting her scholarly skills to the test, Lila gathers evidence, but her search is complicated by an unexpected nemesis, a suspicious investigator, and an ominous secret society. Rather than earning an “A” for effort, she receives a threat featuring the mysterious emblem and must act quickly to avoid failing her assignment…and becoming the next victim.

My opinion.
The Semester Of Our Discontent is set in a prestigious university where the school's reputation and the academic rivalry set the tone for a cutthroat environment. A tough place to be the 'newby', as Lila soon discovers. 
Although this book is called a mystery, I must say that it felt more like a political thriller - be it academic politics. Lila soon finds herself in the line of fire but instead of feeling a sense of peril, I was more focused on the faculty relationships - as was the story, it seemed. I felt the 'deadly' competitiveness of the academic world more than the actual threat of violence and murder.
When arriving at Stonedale University, Lila doesn't know any of her colleagues. Like any newcomer she's trying to find out as much as she can about their personalities and the inner workings of the department she's now a part of. I really enjoyed trying to piece everything together based on the snippets of "office gossip" she gets thrown her way, and eventually joining her in mentally making notes on motive and opportunity of the possible culprit.
I have no idea how this  book could evolve into a mystery series, but I'm looking forward to finding out - and to learn and see more of Nathan's character.
Full of surprises and with some inspiring strong (female) characters, The Semester Of Our Discontent was an absolute joy to read and the vicious world of academics made for a setting that is both original and fascinating.


Cover reveal: Country Rivals - Zara Stoneley (Tippermere #3)

Country Rivals by Zara Stoneley 
Series: Tippermere #3 
Published by Harper Impulse on May 2016 
Genres: Chicklit, Humour, Love & Romance


Note from the author – Hi, I’m really excited to be working with Star Crossed Tours for my cover reveal, and thrilled with the new look that HarperCollins have come up with for my Tippermere books. I’ve always loved the covers of the first two books in the series, STABLE MATES and COUNTRY AFFAIRS, but this third one is quite different and extra special. I think it really gives you a sense of where Lottie comes from, and what the story is about. I hope you love it as much as I do! Zara x
ZaraStoneley_authorpicBestselling author Zara Stoneley lives in deepest Cheshire surrounded by horses, dogs, cats and amazing countryside. When she’s not visiting wine bars, artisan markets or admiring the scenery in her sexy high heels or green wellies, she can be found in flip flops on the beach in Barcelona, or more likely sampling the tapas!
      Zara writes hot romance and bonkbusters. Her latest novel, ‘Stable Mates’, is a fun romp through the Cheshire countryside and combines some of her greatest loves – horses, dogs, hot men and strong women (and not forgetting champagne and fast cars)! She writes for Harper Collins and Accent Press.


Sunday, 28 February 2016

Book review: The Lost Soldier - Diney Costeloe

This book was previously published as The Ashgrove.
In 1921, eight ash trees were planted in the Dorset village of Charlton Ambrose as a timeless memorial to the men killed in World War One. Overnight a ninth appeared, marked only as for 'the unknown soldier'.
But now the village's ashgrove is under threat from developers.
Rachel Elliot, a local reporter, sets out to save the memorial and solve the mystery of the ninth tree. In so doing, she uncovers the story of Tom Carter and Molly Day: two young people thrown together by the war, their love for each other, their fears for the present and their hopes for the future. Embroiled in events beyond their control, Tom and Molly have to face up to the harsh realities of the continuing war, the injustices it allows and the sacrifices it demands.

My opinion.
The Lost Soldier is a beautiful read.
The poppies and quiet, romantic image on the cover fit the book perfectly. This mystery about the ninth ash tree and Rachel's quest to find out the story behind it really held me in its grip from the start. I loved Rachel's approach to the town's history and when the book switched to Molly's story after a while, I got even more lost into this novel.
It's an incredibly moving and captivating account of a brave girl, joining in the war effort but (almost) forgotten by history. Molly has seen and experienced some horrible things, but she still has so much determination and courage - it's inspiring.
I really enjoyed how this story told the story of a woman facing the horrors of war, instead of the often told tale of the "brave young men".
Because the book starts out with present-day Rachel, along with whom we get to discover the story of Molly by diving into the past, The Lost Soldier made for a layered account of this small piece of history in the chaos and ruins caused by WWI. 
I do regret how Molly and Tom's story ended. It's a very real and hard reality, of course, and it's a part of that history that has to be told as well. 
Although war and happy endings usually don't fit into the same tale, Diney Costeloe still found a way to make this into a truly beautiful read. Her writing and characters did not leave me devastated, despite the story of war. They moved me and really made me appreciate love and life. They make me think of all the stories - both beautiful and tragic - behind those black and white pictures of men and women during the war, soldiers and nurses, parents and children.
I enjoyed reading this insightful and intimate war story about love, friendship, duty, faith and family.


Q&A: Robert Bryndza

Today we're having a chat with the wonderful 
Robert Bryndza, 
author of the Coco Pinchard books and the recently published The Girl In The Ice
Click here to see my previous posts on Robert and his books.

Welcome to M's Bookshelf!

So Robert, most of us know you from your hilarious Coco Pinchard books. What made you decide on going from romantic comedy to crime/thriller?
Hi and thanks for welcoming me onto your blog. I’ve always wanted to write a crime thriller, and I realised that if I didn’t do it soon, I never would. For the past year the character of Erika Foster has been slowly taking shape in my mind, and I’ve been scribbling down notes and story ideas for the past few years. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced in taking on a new genre? 

I think it was moving from writing in the first person to writing in the third person. I found that it was very liberating, but challenging.

Will we be seeing both genres from you again in the future?

Absolutely! I love writing in both genres, and I have an option in my book contract to write both. 

In The Girl In The Ice you introduce us to an incredible heroine, DCI Erika Foster. What inspired you to write about her, and what do you love about her character the most?

Erika is a mixture of loads of people. A girl I went to school with who went into the police force, another friend who is very tough and fierce but extremely loyal. There is also a bit of Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison character too. I love how loyal she is to her friends, and how she always does the right thing, even if it causes her personal anguish.

She has a link to your home country, Slovakia. Which place would you most recommend us to visit there?

The town I live in Nitra, is beautiful. There are lots of historical buildings and parks, and it has a vibrant night life. I love it here.

Which is the last book you read that had a big impact on you?

I recently finished reading Do No Harm written by the brain surgeon Henry Marsh. He spoke candidly about his career, his mistakes and triumphs. And it was fascinating to read all about brain surgery.

Thank you so much for this little chat, Robert. I can't wait to see (read) what's next ;-)

Click here to find out more about The Girl In The Ice by Robert Bryndza.

Author Links

Robert Bryndza on Goodreads
Robert Bryndza on  Twitter @robertbryndza
Coco Pinchard on Twitter @CocoPinchard

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Book review: The Madwoman Upstairs - Catherine Lowell


Think you know all about Charlotte, Emily and Anne? Think again.

Samantha Whipple - a young American woman - is the last remaining descendant of the famous Brontë family, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame. After losing her father, a brilliant author in his own right, Samantha travels to Oxford in search of a mysterious family inheritance, described to her only as 'The Warnings of Experience'.

While at Oxford, Samantha studies under Dr J. Timothy Orville III, a disarmingly handsome tutor who seems nothing but annoyed by her family heritage. With Orville as her tempestuous sidekick, Samantha sets out on a mission to piece together her family's history - which, it turns out, could also be literature's greatest buried secret.

A witty modern love story that draws from the enduringly popular classics.

My opinion.
The Madwoman Upstairs is unlike anything I've read before. There was something about it that made it near impossible to put down.
It's a thought-provoking novel that made me take a moment to consider what it means to me to be a reader - what it is that I look for in a story and why some books speak to me more than others. This book may have changed the way I read and appreciate books and authors for ever. It somehow intensified my love for books and reading, and it makes me want to revisit some of the classics - both those I've read and those I haven't.
Even though a very significant part of the book is devoted to literary discussions and theories, it was still very much Samantha's story. Catherine Lowell found a perfect balance here.
I don't know much about literary studies and I only read two Brontë novels so far, but that didn't stop me from being captivated by this novel from the first chapter on. Its characters and the subdued story-line had me enthralled until the very last page.
It may not be to everyone's taste, but I'm impressed by this - at least to me - unique story and I'm stunned that this was Catherine Lowell's debut novel. I loved every minute of this reading experience. Stunning!
My only 'regret' is that I read it as an eBook, and I simply have to have this book in print. *adds to wishlist*



Monday, 22 February 2016

Book review: The Day We Disappeared - Lucy Robinson


Annie has a secret. But if she's not going to tell, we won't either. It's a heart-breaking secret she wishes she didn't have - yet Annie isn't broken, not quite yet. Especially now there's someone out there who seems determined to fix her.
Kate has run away. But she's not going to tell us why - that would defeat the point of running, wouldn't it? It's proving difficult to reinvent herself, however, with one person always on her mind.
Scratch beneath the surface and nobody is really who they seem. Even Annie and Kate, two old friends, aren't entirely sure who they are any more. Perhaps you can work it out, before their pasts catch up with them for good . . .
A gripping and unpredictable story of two young women running from their pasts. We defy you to guess the twist . . .

My opinion.
Speechless. At a complete loss for words. Flabbergasted. In short, not the best state of mind to be in when you're trying to write a review. I will get back to you after I've processed this reading experience...
Ok, so nothing much has changed about how I felt after just finishing The Day We Disappeared. I'm still struggling to put into words how I feel about this stunning book. (Ha, "stunning", as if that even begins to cover it!)
The Day We Disappeared was probably one of the most talked about books when it first came out. I can't believe it has taken me this long to finally pick up my beautiful copy and see for myself what all the fuss was about. 
I can't remember the last time - or even if ever - a book has had this big of an impact on me. I have been incredibly moved or haunted by characters, I've fallen in love with book-boyfriends and inspiring heroines and I've felt really strongly about a select few brilliant books in the past. But this one is just something I need to recover from. I felt so connected to Katy and Annie. Although their traumatic pasts thankfully have nothing in common with mine, some of their present struggles really hit home and Lucy Robinson found a way to really hit me with every single emotion her characters felt. I smiled at my book, I cried, I felt first-love-butterflies and at some point I even felt physically sick. 
Even though I've now written a few lines already, I still feel I can't put into words what this book did to me. 
Maybe I'll revisit this post one day to try and tell you more about why you should read this. Right now however, I can't think of anything else to say. Those of you who've already read this story may understand why I - someone who's been terribly betrayed by a loved one [*] and struggles with anxiety - feel so strongly about it. The Day We Disappeared is a glorious, gorgeous, stunning, beautiful, magnificent book.



Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Book review: Secrets Of The Last Nazi - Iain King

Berlin, 2015 - a well-connected SS Commander is found dead, having protected the last secret of the Nazi empire for seventy years. A discovery by Nazi Scientists so potent it could change the balance of world power - forever. 
Led by misfit military historian Myles Munro, an international team begin to piece together the complex puzzle left by SS Captain Werner Stolz. As their hunt across Europe gathers pace, the brutal killing of one of the group signals that they are not the only ones chasing the answer. Plunged into a world of international espionage, Myles only has his intellect and instincts to keep him alive. As the team edge closer to an explosive truth, it becomes clear to him that there is a traitor amongst them. 
Who can Myles trust? And can he unravel the clues of the past in time to save the future? 

Secrets of the Last Nazi is as controversial as it is compelling. A heart-stopping, action-packed and scarily plausible adventure which will captivate fans of Dan Brown, Scott Mariani and Clive Cussler. 

My opinion.
"Mind-blowing" is definitely a correct way to describe Secrets of the Last Nazi. There were so many different things going on that your mind just went into overdrive trying to keep up, and keep ahead.
The "secret" they're uncovering is controversial enough, but the characters do anything but ease you into the conspiracy. I didn't quite get the international politics behind the reason for the investigation, and the awkward way to members of the team worked together. 'Cause basically, they didn't. Just when their communication got better and they were actually starting to sound and behave like a team, everything fell apart and the madness of their interactions overpowered everything else that was going on.
The investigation itself gets more interesting and the threats towards the team greater and scarier, but to me the awkward characters took away from the story and the actual conspiracy. 
So despite my failed connection with the characters, this - indeed  - "mind-blowing" thriller deserves 4 nice stars.