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30 May 2016

Review: 'Seeking the Star' by Traci Borum (2015)

One December night, in the sleepy Cotswold village of Chilton Crosse, a drifter named Ben collapses on George and Mary Cartwright’s snow-covered doorstep. As Christmas cheer spreads throughout the village with a Dickens-themed festival, Mary nurses Ben back to health, but she becomes curious about the secrets he seems to carry. 

On Christmas Eve, one of Ben’s secrets accidentally comes to light, forcing him to confront the darkness of his past and to rediscover the faith he once knew.

Every reader has their own ticks or habits they just can't shake. I've got two: when I start a book, I need to finish it, whether I'm enjoying it or not; and I can't read Christmas books unless it's November/December. I just can't help it, but reading a Christmas-themed novel in May when the sun is shining... It just doesn't feel right! When I started reading Traci Borum's 'Seeking the Star', which had been on my review pile for too long already, I didn't even realise it was a novella with a Christmas touch to it. However, as soon as I start a book, I need to finish it, and breaking two of my habits in one go was a bit too much... So, time to share a Christmas book review, even though it's almost June!

Chilton Crosse is a small Cotswold village where nothing too exciting happens, which suits elderly couple Mary and George Cartwright just right. They've seen enough misery in their lives, and the calm and pleasant atmosphere in the town is what they appreciate and have come to love. Until one December night Mary finds a strange man on their doorstep; a man who has collapsed and needs help. Mary and George don't think twice about taking him in and slowly but surely they get to know a bit more about Ben. But it's clear Ben is hiding something; the question is whether he will be able to share his worries with others or whether he will spend this Christmas alone.

I loved the first two parts of Traci Borum's Chilton Crosse series and was really excited to read this third instalment, which is more of a novella than an actual full-length novel with its roughly 160 pages. Traci is a great storyteller; her writing style is so comfortable to read and a great mix between description and dialogue, and with Chilton Crosse she has created an amazing little Cotswold village with a fascinating group of characters which I can't get enough of. In 'Seeking the Star' we meet a few new characters, but some old and familiar faces also make an appearance. It was easy to warm to elderly couple Mary and George; they are such caring and simply lovely people, I can't imagine any reader not liking them!

While the novella has the foundations for a great story, I couldn't help but feel something was missing. There are elements of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' in the novella, but I personally missed some kind of romance element. I also thought the ending was quite sudden and it left me with quite a few questions. Personally, I think I expected a bit more because I loved Traci's other two novels so much and this one is slightly different, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, because I did. The novella can also be read as a stand-alone, if you are thinking about picking this up without having read the other parts of the Chilton Crosse series. Overall, 'Seeking the Star' is a warm and enjoyable Christmas-themed novella; not my favourite Traci Borum read, but still a story that will bring some light during those dark winter days!
Rating:8/10
 
For more information about this book: Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Goodreads

Thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

28 May 2016

Blog Tour: 'Last Dance in Havana' by Rosanna Ley!

Cuba, 1958. Elisa is only sixteen years old when she meets Duardo and she knows he's the love of her life from the moment they first dance the rumba together in downtown Havana. But Duardo is a rebel, determined to fight in Castro's army, and Elisa is forced to leave behind her homeland and rebuild her life in distant England. But how can she stop longing for the warmth of Havana, when the music of the rumba still calls to her?

England, 2012. Grace has a troubled relationship with her father, whom she blames for her beloved mother's untimely death. And this year more than ever she could do with a shoulderto cry on - Grace's career is in flux, she isn't sure she wants the baby her husband is so desperate to have and, worst of all, she's begun to develop feelings for their best friend Theo. Theo is a Cuban born magician but even he can't make Grace's problems disappear. Is the passion Grace feels for Theo enough to risk her family's happiness?

I'm both excited and honoured to be a part of the blog tour for Rosanna Ley's newest book 'Last Dance in Havana', which was released on May 19th by Quercus, today! I was first introduced to Rosanna's writing when I got the chance to read and review her novel 'The Saffron Trail' last year (click here to read my review), which I really enjoyed. I had been looking forward to checking out another one of Rosanna's works, so when I got the chance to be part of her blog tour I immediately said yes. Be sure to also check out the exclusive guest post from Rosanna herself in which she tells us a bit more about the research she did to write 'Last Dance in Havana', so don't forget to scroll down!

'Last Dance in Havana' is mainly set in modern-day England and 1950s Cuba; two completely different places connected by the main characters in the book. Elisa fell in love with Duardo as soon as she saw him for the first time, but their love is a complicated one, especially when Duardo decides he wants to be a part of the Cuban revolution. Now, many years later, Elisa can't help but still long for Duardo and Cuba, even though she has built up a new life for herself in England. Elisa's daughter-in-law Grace is facing problems of her own; her husband wants to have children, which Grace isn't too sure about, especially not now she notices she is developing feelings for her good friend Theo. Both Elisa and Grace need to figure out what it is they want from life, and, most importantly, whether they can find that in England...

Rosanna Ley has the ability to really transport her readers to another time and place with her words, and that's definitely what she also managed to do with her latest release 'Last Dance in Havana.' I loved joining main characters Elisa and Grace, who each had their own fascinating storyline, which were also connected to one another in a clever way. I particularly warmed to Elisa; I really liked her from the start and was rooting for her to find the happiness she had been longing for for quite some time already. While I had a bit more difficulty warming to Grace, her storyline did interest me and every time I had a free moment I picked up the novel, curious to see what was going to happen next.

This is only my second novel by author Rosanna Ley but I've really come to admire her vibrant and realistic descriptions of faraway locations, such as Cuba in this particular book. It's clear she's an author that does her research and as I was reading the book I could easily imagine myself walking down the streets in Havana, putting myself into Elisa's shoes. While I do feel the book could perhaps have been a bit shorter (it's almost 500 pages) in order to keep a steady pace at all times, I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait for Rosanna to treat us to another gorgeous read. 'Last Dance in Havana' is a vibrant, well-written, convincing tale about love, family and finding happiness; a great piece of women's fiction and definitely a read to pick up if you're looking for a quick escape or a bit of sunshine!
Rating:9/10
 
For more information about this book: Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Goodreads

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.



Guest Post by Rosanna Ley!

I'm both honoured and excited to welcome Rosanna Ley to the blog today; in the post below she tells us all a bit more about the research she did before writing 'Last Dance in Havana'.

Cuba was way outside my personal experience - writing this novel would be a challenge. 

To help me on my way I began with an overview of the country – culture, history, geography - from books such as Enduring Cuba by Zoe Bran; documentaries and films like Soy Cuba directed by Mikhail Kalatozov.  And then there’s the Internet, of course... 

I had some themes in mind. Massage and magic (I don’t know any magicians but I had some lovely massages) power and control and dancing. In Biography of a Runaway Slave by Miguel Barnett I discovered the amazing Esteban Montejo. This young African slave on a Cuban sugar plantation, was also a runaway, fought in the War of Independence and experienced the Cuban Revolution before he died at the age of 113, in 1973 - the hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Cuba. Wow. What a life...

No Way Home by Carlos Acosta helped me imagine how it would be to leave Cuba, and since I was planning to write about the rumba, I also enjoyed watching him dance! And Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara helped me explore how it might have felt to fight in the Revolution.

And then it was time to go there... I visited Havana, Trinidad, Vinales and Cayo Levisa. I walked the streets, looking for where my characters might live, work, play. I imagined places as they might have been in the 1940s, during the Revolution, when slaves worked on sugar plantations in Valle de los Ingenios. And I talked to as many Cuban people as possible to get their take on the politics, the living conditions, the culture. It was a challenge, yes. But it was so much fun, trying to get the flavour...

27 May 2016

Review: 'The Callahan Split' by Lisa Heidke (2015)

The Callahan Split: No one knows you better than your sister. In tennis, as in life, nothing ever goes truly to plan.

Samantha and Annie Callahan are successful doubles champions — the toast of the Olympics, Wimbledon, and Flushing Meadow. But their winning partnership spirals out of control when Annie’s new boyfriend announces their engagement at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Bear, the sisters’ coach, guides Annie as much as she’ll allow. But when she insists on dropping Samantha in favour of a singles career, her game and rankings plummet. Samantha is left floundering. Disillusioned, her only sweet spot is the growing passion between her and Bear. 

Amidst rising anger and betrayal, Samantha completely changes both their destinies when she does the unthinkable after a devastating Wimbledon loss. The sisters are driven to create new lives by confronting the past and taking control of the present. But can Samantha and Annie both win?

I've never really been the sporty kind of girl; I was never good at them and have never been really interested in sports in general. Yes, I enjoy watching the Olympics every now and again (who doesn't?), but that's really where it kind of stops, if I'm honest. However, when it comes to books I think it's important as a book blogger to give everything a shot at least once, so when I was contacted about reviewing Lisa Heidke's 2015 novel 'The Callahan Split', in which tennis plays an important role, I said yes. While sports definitely form a big part of the story, I was intrigued by the blurb and curious to check out this author who I hadn't heard of before... And who knows, perhaps I would learn a thing or two about tennis along the way!

Professional doubles tennis players and sisters Samantha and Annie Callahan have everything going for them. After winning a gold medal for Australia at the Olympics, they are now the favourites to also win the Australian Open. However, their position as favourites is jeopardised when Annie's new boyfriend unexpectedly proposes to Annie right before the start of an important match. Annie is over the moon, but her game obviously suffers from it and this is only the start of a downwards spiral for both the partnership between Annie and Samantha, which also influences their bond as sisters. Annie and Samantha find themselves at a crossroads, both wanting different things. But will they be able to work things out, both on a professional as well as on a personal level?

'The Callahan Split' is author Lisa Heidke's sixth novel already, but my personal first experience with her writing. I wasn't too sure what to expect exactly when I started reading, but I was really captivated by Annie and Samantha's story from the first chapter and just didn't want to put the book down, but see what was going to happen next. I also really enjoyed the tennis/competition element in the book, to my personal surprise; I really felt myself rooting for Samantha and Annie and hoping they would overcome their differences and win. Unfortunately, this feeling didn't last throughout the entire book; at a certain point the story slowed down a bit and it didn't captivate me as much as the first part did, even though I was still curious to see what would happen to Annie and Samantha. 

While I was interested in both Annie and Samantha and their storylines, I didn't really warm to them. If I had to pick one sister I could relate to it's probably Samantha, but some of her actions just made me want to jump into the novel and slap her in the face. I also missed a convincing romance storyline for both sisters; there is an element of romance in the book but I thought it was a bit disappointing. I know this review will probably come across as a negative one, but it definitely isn't all negative. I enjoyed this read; I think the great and addictive first 100 pages just made me expect something different than the direction the novel eventually took. Overall, though, I think 'The Callahan Split' has been a promising first Lisa Heidke read for me and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
Rating:7,5/10
 
For more information about this book: Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Goodreads

Thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.