Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Top 10 Books Of 2021 So Far...Which Reads Made Our Favourites List From Q1 of 2021?


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Guest Review: A Fatal Affair by Faith Martin

She was dressed in a long white gown, embroidered with tiny flowers. Her body was wrapped in colourful ribbons that floated in the breeze. But underneath the swathe of golden hair, a string of darkly smudged bruises ringed her neck.

As May Day dawns in the peaceful village of Middle Fenton, a young woman is found brutally strangled, her body tied up with ribbons in the middle of the green. A week later, her boyfriend is found hanged in a local barn, and the police assume guilt over murdering his beloved has driven him to suicide – but not everyone is convinced.

WPC Trudy Loveday and coroner Clement Ryder are sent to investigate, and quickly realise that there’s a double murderer on the loose.
 
But the killer has already shown willingness to remove anyone who threatens to discover their identity… As Trudy and Clement circle in on the culprit, can they crack the case before they too come to a nasty end?


Review: This is the sixth book in the Ryder and Loveday series from Faith Martin. These stories tell of the investigations carried out by Oxford city coroner Dr Clement Ryder with the assistance of WPC Trudy Loveday, a young police officer in the early days of her career. All the books are set in the early 1960s in Oxford and surrounding villages. They can all be read as standalone stories.


In this case, Dr Ryder and Trudy are called in after a young village girl is found murdered early on May Day and her boyfriend is found hanged at a local farm a few days afterwards. The boy in question is the son of a high-ranking police officer who is keen to clear his son of suspicion of murdering the girl and then committing suicide. The coroner, ably assisted by the WPC, digs into activities in the village, turning up quite a few surprises and many possibilities for what may have happened to the girl and the young man. After many twists and turns, the story reaches a thrilling climax as the chain of events finally becomes clear.

Having read and enjoyed all of the books in this series so far, I sat down looking forward to another story filled with mystery and intrigue. I was not disappointed. As so often before, I found myself quite unable to guess at the outcome of the investigation; there were suspects aplenty and Faith Martin led me down many a blind alley before the truth was revealed in truly dramatic fashion. The characters that the sleuthing duo met along the way were so skilfully described that I felt I knew each one, but then, which were passionate about family or others in their lives and which really evil? I can thoroughly recommend this book to lovers of thrilling mystery stories. I am enjoying the pairing of the coroner and the young police officer and hope that there may be more books to come in this series.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Books From Q1 of 2021

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Today is not an official Top Ten Tuesday but I am going to be looking at my favourite release of Q1 of 2021 with some honorable mentions for backlist titles I read in that time period too. Since I'll be doing this is video form with my mum as well half of this list is going to be her contributions and half is going to be mine.














A couple of special mentions from authors' back catalogues...






















Monday, 29 March 2021

Review: Girl 99 by Andy Jones

 Before Tom finds The One, he needs to find himself.

When Tom’s girlfriend walks out on him the day before Christmas, he feels humiliated but not necessarily heartbroken. Sadie wasn’t, after all, The One. If we’re being precise, she was number eighty-five.

Tom’s first mistake is sharing this information with his best friend El. His next mistake is listening when El suggests that he bring his eighty-five up to a nice, neat one hundred.

It was never going to be a good idea, not least because everything else in Tom’s life is in complete chaos. His best friend is dying of a slow and cruel disease, his teenage sister is at war with his well-meaning but dogmatic father, his elderly neighbour is having romantic problems (and makes a dreadful cup of tea), and he has to shoot four commercials with four children and a bad-tempered producer.

And then Tom meets Verity. Whether she’s The One remains to be seen, but she’s certainly more than just another number.


Review: I have read and enjoyed Andy Jones's books previously so I thought this one would be similar. I was certainly pleased to see a character returning from Andy's debut novel El. He is Tom's best friend and is also the best friend in Just The Two of Us. I love the fact that El is gay and living with a disability but is still a fully formed character with a wicked sense of humour. Authors too often put in a disabled or gay character just to tick a box in their writing and so it was great to see El back again. 

I had a hard time warming to Tom, our main character, as this book went on. I think that this is because he's just not the kind of person I would be friends with or really even cross paths with in real life and so I had trouble getting to know what he was all about. In my opinion he was really quite sexist and narrow-minded and so I really didn't warm to him. He is also well-written though and this is just a personal opinion. 

In fact I struggled to come down on whether I actually enjoyed this book or not because of all the talk of getting to a certain number of sexual partners. That's just not the kind of thing I would sit down and judge someone by. I feel like the concept or trying to get to a higher number or stopping because your number is already to high is just really out dated and there are other judgements you make at the same time as making that one. I understand that this book wasn't written yesterday and so the attitudes were slightly different a few years ago but the whole concept just didn't sit with me. 

There are also other things that the male characters do that kind of go hand in hand with talking about Tom's sexual conquests that I really didn't enjoy either. Their judgement of others is very much based on looks and their assumptions they make about a lot of the women they discuss is based around how that women dresses and how easy she might be to get into bed. I did persist in listening to the entire book because I wasn't sure if there would be a moral to all the laddish behavior exhibited by a lot of the characters and I was also hoping that the sensitivity displayed by Andy Jones in his previous books might shine through. Unfortunately it didn't and it wasn't and so I can't in good faith recommend this book. 

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US


Saturday, 27 March 2021

Guest Review: Bletchley Park: The Secret Archives By Sinclair McKay

This is beautifully slipcased presented collector’s edition of the best selling title, The Lost World of Bletchley Park, a comprehensive illustrated history of this remarkable place, from its prewar heyday as a country estate, its wartime requisition and how it became the place where modern computing was invented and the German Enigma code was cracked, to its post-war dereliction and then rescue towards the end of the twentieth century as a museum.

Removable memorabilia includes:

  • 1938 recruiting memo with a big tick against Turing’s name
  • Churchill’s ‘Action this day’ letter giving code breakers extra resources
  • Handwritten Turing memos
  • Top Secret Engima decryptions, about the sinking of the Bismark, German High Command’s assessment of D-Day threat and  the message announcing Hitler’s suicide
  • A wealth of everyday items such as call-up papers, security notices and propoganda posters

Newly redesigned interiors with 25% new content, high end slipcase package featuring removable facsimile documents, this is an essential purchase for everyone interested and wanting to experience the place where code-breaking helped to win the war.


Review: Having read “The Secret Listeners”, a book describing the exploits of the Wireless Interception Service during the Second World War and written by the same author, I was keen to read this book about Bletchley Park. Although famous nowadays as the home of the codebreakers who decrypted the raw material supplied by the Wireless Interception Service, Bletchley Park was originally an estate with a Victorian mansion in Buckinghamshire. In 1938 the estate and house were bought by the government and converted into the secret establishment known as Station X. The following year, the Government Code and Cypher School moved from London to the estate. It was here that an eclectic and highly talented collection of civilian and military personnel worked to break enemy codes. To assist them in this, sophisticated calculating machines such as the “Bombe” and “Colossus” machines, the forerunners of today’s computers, were developed.

The book covers the history of the estate and house; its conversion to a wartime code breaking centre during the war; the staff who worked there and how they spent their off-duty hours; the machines that were developed; and what happened after the end of the war, when the estate became a training centre for the General Post Office for a time before falling into disrepair. In the 1990s, the Bletchley Park Trust was formed to preserve the site and convert it into the museum and tourist attraction that it is today. The final chapters bring the story up to the present, covering the place of Bletchley Park in popular culture with films such as “Enigma” and “The Imitation Game” and the television series “The Bletchley Circle”.

At 176 pages long, the book is quite short and the chapters, of necessity, fairly brief and, at times, frustratingly superficial. It is more a pictorial history of the estate and this is probably it’s strongest point in that there are numerous images throughout, although in some instances, the captions of the images appear to be incorrect. In the acknowledgements section of the book, it states that some of the material appeared in a previous publication by the author “The Lost World of Bletchley Park”, and some of the images are the same as those used in “The Secret Listeners”. However, at the back of this book is a sleeve that contains removable copies of various documents relating to the codebreakers’ work, including a memo from Winston Churchill agreeing to a request from some of the staff for extra administrative support. Overall, I found this to be a fascinating, though brief, history of the Bletchley Park Estate.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Friday, 26 March 2021

Celebrating World Poetry Day With 5 Films From inVERSE

I may have completely spaced and missed world poetry day which I am really mad about since you know how much I love poetry but I do have some exciting poetry news to share with you today...

Launching on World Poetry Day on Sunday 21st March 2021, inVERSE is a collection of five of the world’s oldest surviving poems, re-imagined for the 21st century through the medium of film. Filmed during lockdown 2020, the inVerse series is the brainchild of BAFTA nominated film maker Jack Jewers – the film director behind the award-winning adaptations of CJ Daugherty’s bestselling Night School series, published by Little Brown. The inVerse series also features narration from Adam Roche, host of the Secret History of Hollywood podcast.

Each short film takes a historical poem, ranging from 15,000 BC to 1,000 AD, as a prism through which to explore our modern world. Far from being dry, remote echoes of a long-gone age, each poem chosen for the collection feels like it could have been written yesterday, offering new meaning and a fresh perspective on some of the key global issues we face today.


Far from being dry, remote echoes of a long-gone age, each poem chosen for the collection feels like it could have been written yesterday. And why shouldn’t they? People are people. Our dreams are nothing new. Our ancestors had the same hopes and fears that we do. And if we can understand this, perhaps it helps to put some of the problems of our modern world into perspective.  


The five films being released to mark World Poetry Day on Sunday 21st March are: 


  • Love Song -  An Egyptian love poem written in 1400 BCE reveals a meditation on the meaning of relationship and gender in 2021.  

  • Long Wall - A poem about loss and suffering from the Han Dynasty in China, opens up a conversation about Europe’s refugee crisis. 

  • My Heart - Originating from ancient Mesopotamia, “My Heart Flutters Hastily” is a delightful reminder that those giddy, dizzy feelings you can get when you really like somebody are nothing new. 

  • The Look - A first century poem taken from Ovid’s Ars Amarosa is reimagined as a celebration of inclusivity and tolerance.

  • The Dawn - The ancient Indian poet Kālidāsa’s Salutation to the Dawn transforms into a rallying cry for a better tomorrow led by young street protestors. 


All five of the films are available free to watch via the inverse website inversefilm.uk.



ABOUT THE FILMS

Love Song

Based on the poem The Flower Song Anon. Egypt, c.1400 BCE. (Abridged).

Watch here: https://inversefilm.uk/watch/love-song 


A timeless declaration of love and desire, this poem feels as fresh today as it did when it was written – a long, long time ago. The imagery is strikingly sensual; how the narrator describes the sound of their true love’s voice as being like the taste of sweet wine; or wishing they were her very her clothes, so that they could forever be close to her body. It’s passionate, erotic, and quite beautiful



Production Notes: None of the couples you see in the film had met before they came into the studio on the bright, spring day on which it was filmed – with one exception. The older couple are Alfred and Leila Hoffman, who were 92 and 83 at the time of filming, who have been together for over 60 years. The velvet-voiced narration is provided by Adam Roche, host of the Secret History of Hollywood podcast – required listening for all classic movie fans.

 


Long Wall

Based on the poem He Waters His Horse By A Breach in the Long Wall Anon. China, c.120 BCE

Watch here: https://inversefilm.uk/watch/long-wall 



Jack Jewers says: The first time I read this anonymous poem – dating from the Han Dynasty in China, sometime around 120BCE – I was blown away by its age. How can a poem this rich and vivid be so old? The idea for this whole series of films grew from there. The poem conveys such poignant feelings of separation and loss that it seemed to be perfectly suited to a tale of refugees, far from home.


Production Notes: The refugee crisis is close to actress Sophia Eleni’s heart. Her mother fled the war in Cyprus in the mid-1970s, Most of the footage that ends the film was donated by the charity Refugee Rescue, who undertake tireless work saving desperate people at sea.

 


My Heart

Based on the poem My Heart Flutters Hastily Anon. Mesopotamia, c.1500 BCE

Watch here: https://inversefilm.uk/watch/my-heart 


Originating from ancient Mesopotamia, “My Heart Flutters Hastily” is a delightful reminder that those giddy, dizzy feelings you can get when you really like somebody are nothing new. Whether it’s in a world of dating apps and socially-distanced love, or from a time that feels unimaginably distant, people have been falling in love the same way forever.



Production Notes: inVERSE started life in a world before anyone had ever heard the word ‘Covid’ and lockdown was something to do with home security. So when the world ground to a half in the spring of 2020, Jack had to find alternative ways of finishing the project. Working with Los Angeles-based actress Joanne Chew, Jack devised a method of directing over Zoom while she recorded the takes on her phone, as selfies. The result is the lightest of the five films, and the sweetest.

 


The Look 

Based on the poem Take Care With How You Look from Ars Amarosa by Ovid. Italy, 1st Century CE.  (Abridged).

Watch here: https://inversefilm.uk/watch/the-look 


The Romans knew how to have a good time. The Look is an abridged version of ‘Take Care With How You Look,’ a chapter from Ars Amarosa (“The Art of Love”), by the poet Ovid. Its themes of rejecting false nostalgia about the past, and embracing the richness of the modern age, sounded to me like a celebration of inclusivity and tolerance. Of course, Ovid was writing about a very different age to our own, but the message holds as true today as it always has been. And what more fabulous harbingers this message than Drag Queens United?


Production Notes: This is the only INSIGHT short that was put together from found footage, rather than filmed specially for the series. The lovely, colourful, joyous shots of Drag Queens United were taken at Amsterdam Pride in 2017.


 


The Dawn

Based on the poem Salutation to the Dawn by Kālidāsa (attributed) - India, c.400 CE

Watch here: https://inversefilm.uk/watch/the-dawn 


Considered the greatest poet of ancient India, Kālidāsa is a founding figure of world literature. And yet, a lot of mystery surrounds Kālidāsa. Some scholars even question whether he was a real person, suggesting instead that his work a kind of collected greatest hits of the ancient Sanskrit world. And perhaps it's appropriate that such an inspiring poem was written by a semi-mythical figure. It sounds to me like a rallying cry for a better tomorrow. And who better to get that across than young street protestors?



Production Notes: ‘Bullet time’ is an effect that makes objects and people look like they are frozen in thin air. Creating true bullet time requires two things we did not have – time and money. So instead, Jack took a low-fi approach. Aside from a few simple computer-generated touches to enhance the overall effect, everything you see is done for real. The protestors are all professional dancers, who had the strength and balance necessary to be able to keep still for extended periods of time – often in difficult and uncomfortable poses.


ABOUT THE POEMS 


The five poems that the have been reimagined for a 21st century audience are: 


  • The Flower Song  Anon. Egypt, c.1400 BCE. (Abridged).

  • He Waters His Horse By A Breach in the Long Wall Anon. China, c.120 BCE

  • My Heart Flutters Hastily Anon. Mesopotamia, c.1500 BCE

  • Take Care With How You Look from Ars Amarosa by Ovid. Italy, 1st Century CE.  (Abridged).

  • Salutation to the Dawn by Kālidāsa (attributed) - India, c.400 CE


You can read all five poems on the inverse website here: https://inversefilm.uk/the-poems 



ABOUT JACK JEWERS 

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Jack Jewers is a filmmaker and writer. Passionate about telling stories in all media, his body of work crosses film, TV, and digital. His short films and web series have been shown in and out of competition at dozens of film and web festivals, including Cannes, New York, Washington D.C., Marseille, Dublin, and London’s FrightFest.


In 2014 he developed and directed Night School, a web series based on the popular young adult novels of the same name. It quickly grew from a couple of low-budget short films to become one of the highest-profile British web series to date. Jack’s numerous short films as director include the critically-acclaimed Shalom Kabul, a dark comedy based on the true story of the last two Jews of Afghanistan. 


Jack has won several accolades for his film work, including an award from the Royal Television Society and a nomination for Best Short Film by BAFTA Wales. He has been invited to speak about his work at several major film and TV industry events, including Series Mania in Paris. Jack has also worked in advertising.


Through his production company, Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack is currently in development on the fantasy TV series Whatever After, featuring Jessica Brown Findlay. He is also working on a small slate of feature film projects, including a thriller set in the international protest movement, entitled Generation Revolution


Away from the cinema in all its forms, Jack has a deep interest in literature and history. He writes historical fiction, and is the co-founder of the publishing company Moonflower Books


He lives near London with his wife, the author Christi Daugherty, a small menagerie of pets, and a friendly ghost. But that’s another story. 


Thursday, 25 March 2021

Blizzards, Books and Too Many Emotions For a Reading Vlog...Kindle Clear Out Readathon 2021


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Guest Review: Summer Kisses at Mermaids Point by Sarah Bennett.

Laurie Morgan runs a café in the small seaside community of Mermaids Point, named after the beauties rumoured to live in the waters a few miles off the top of the point. When a hazy image is posted online of what appears to be a mermaid, the café and the village are soon full to bursting with curious sightseers.

The most eye-catching of the new arrivals is handsome author, Jake Smith, who has rented a cottage for the summer while he works on his new book. Or so he says. In fact, he is a journalist, burned out and disillusioned with life, whose editor has sent him on a crack-pot hunt for mermaids...

Jake quickly finds himself drawn to village life, and to the gorgeous woman who runs the local café. But he soon suspects there’s trouble lurking beneath the idyllic façade, and when it looks like Laurie’s family might be involved, Jake faces a difficult choice. Pursue the truth, or protect the woman he’s beginning to fall in love with…



Review: I always enjoy a book from Sarah Bennett and was pleased to find that a new one was in the offing. This is the first book in her latest series, set in the seaside village of Mermaids Point, a warm and welcoming community where I would love to spend some time. I was instantly drawn into this book and found it a quick read. 


Central to the story is the Morgan family, all of whom live in the village. Laurie runs a cafe serving the most delicious-sounding cakes, while her mum and dad run the gift shop next door. Brother Nick takes tourists out on his boat to view the coast and islands off the point. Unfortunately, a couple of wet summers have left businesses that are dependent on the tourist trade worried about the future. Reporter Jake Smith arrives in Mermaids Point to recharge his batteries and at the same time follow up on a strange report. Somebody has posted on social media a series of pictures apparently showing a mermaid slipping off the rocks at the end of the bay into the sea. He is interested to establish if this is a stunt perhaps intended to attract visitors to the struggling seaside village. When he arrives in the village, Jake is instantly attracted to Laurie and soon becomes friendly with the whole family. However, when it seems that Nick may be at the centre of strange goings on, Jake is conflicted between his job as a reporter and his connection to the family, Laurie in particular. 


I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and can highly recommend it to other readers, whether fans of Sarah Bennett or new to her work. There are many interesting and eminently likeable characters in the story, Laurie and Jack taking centre stage. They are a lovely couple, but there is always the worry that Jack’s job may come between them. I enjoyed the mystery associated with the mermaid sightings and was surprised when the answer was revealed. The Morgans are a delightful family unit, always looking out for each other and considerate of the community where they live. I was very moved by the way in which they supported Jack when he needed help. I’m now looking forward to the next story in the series; the prologue, which appears at the end of this book, suggests that we are going to learn more about the characters we have met in this story. 


To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Guest Review: A Fatal Truth by Faith Martin

As the Hughes family celebrate bonfire night, a terrible accident leaves the garden shed in flames – and father and grandfather Thomas trapped inside.
 
Tragic though it is, Thomas’s death passes without suspicion – until a local journalist makes accusations of a police cover-up in the press. WPC Trudy Loveday is sent to investigate, and asks coroner Clement Ryder to help.
 
But the more questions the two ask the less clear the case seems. There’s no evidence of foul play, and yet the dead man’s family are obviously hiding something. Then there are Thomas’s dubious business practices – was someone out for revenge?
 
All Trudy and Clement know for sure is that everyone is lying – and that they must find the truth…

 

Review: This book is the fifth in the mystery series by Faith Martin in which city coroner Dr Clement Ryder and WPC Trudy Loveday join forces in investigating suspicious deaths. The stories are set in the Oxford area in the 1960s, when female police officers were less common than they are in the present day, and were often treated more like secretaries than investigative officers. Trudy Loveday therefore considered herself privileged to be able to work in the field with the coroner. I am enjoying witnessing their growing friendship with each successful case, despite the differences in age and background between them.

In this case, the pair are called upon to investigate the death of an elderly man on bonfire night, when the garden shed in which he is working goes up in flames. His death would have been dismissed as a tragic accident, but a local newspaper reporter casts doubt upon the veracity of the police investigation, prompting calls for a more in-depth study. Since the victim was a ruthless business man who has made many enemies over the years, there is no lack of motive for murder, but also no clear suspects. The family, too, appear to have no great love for the man. As the reporter becomes more persistent in his allegations, Dr Ryder and Trudy begin to wonder just what is behind his apparent dislike of one of the man’s sons in particular. Although they are sure that something is being hidden from them, they are frustrated at how difficult it is to discover what that is.

I have read all of the books in this series and have enjoyed every one of them, this one being no exception. Every time I sit down to read one, I think that I may be able to spot the perpetrator before the end, but the plots are so skilfully engineered that I fail every time. This is surely the sign of a good mystery writer. The present story was slightly different from the others that I have read so far; I can’t reveal more than that without giving out spoilers. I, personally, liked the way in which this investigation ended. I would recommend this book, and the others in the series, to fans of cosy crime - I’m sure they would not be disappointed. I hope there will be many more books in this series.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US