Dot Scribbles

21.6.17

BLOG TOUR: All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

What if you did a very bad thing... but that wasn't the end of the story.
Twenty-one-year old Beth is in prison. The thing she did is so bad she doesn't deserve ever to feel good again.
But her counsellor, Erika, won't give up on her. She asks Beth to make a list of all the good things in her life. So Beth starts to write down her story, from sharing silences with Foster Dad No.1, to flirting in the Odeon on Orange Wednesdays, to the very first time she sniffed her baby's head.
But at the end of her story, Beth must confront the bad thing.
What is the truth hiding behind her crime? And does anyone- even a 100% bad person- deserve a chance to be good?

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 240

I can't quite believe that All the Good Things is Clare Fisher's debut novel. It is highly accomplished, relevant and thought-provoking.
The book is narrated by 21 year-old Bethany who is in prison; all we know is that she has done something completely awful, something so bad that she has decided she has no right to ever feel happy again. She is seeing a counsellor in prison called Erika and she has asked Bethany to write a list of all the good things in her life, however small they may be. This takes us into the story; each point on Bethany's list shows us something from her past and we slowly build up a picture of events leading to her present situation.
Bethany has been let down so many times, firstly by her own mother; her illness led Bethany to be placed into care which led to many foster placements, resulting in a deeply unsettled childhood. She has not had one positive, consistent figure in her life which has meant she has had no support when she has had to face the consequences of her mistakes time and time again.
All the Good Things is written so well but it is not pleasurable  read yet I would say it is an important one. Whilst Bethany is a fictional character, she is very close to the truth. There are so many people being let down by the system, some come out the other side but many suffer the same fate as Bethany. This book touches on mental illness, social care, the education system, depression and vulnerability. Clare Fisher is clearly not one one to shy away from difficult subjects and she handles them with care and humility.
All the Good Things will open your eyes and make you think. What a fantastic debut, I would highly recommend this one.

Many thanks to Penguin for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, please check out the other blog stops! The book is available to buy now, simply click here!


14.6.17

BOOK REVIEW: Blood Sisters by Jane Corry

Three little girls set off for school one sunny May morning. Within an hour, one of them is dead. Fifteen years later, Alison and Kitty are living separate lives. Kitty lives in a care home. She can't speak, and she has no memory of the accident that put her there, or her life before it.
Art teacher Alison look fine on the surface. But the surface is a lie. When a job in a prison comes up, she decides to take it- this is her chance to finally make things right.
But someone is watching Kitty and Alison. Someone who wants revenge for what happened that day. And only another life will do...

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 464

Jane Corry's debut novel, My Husband's Wife was fantastic so I was excited to see what she would do next. Blood Sisters is just as thrilling, Corry demonstrates her knack for writing dark, tense, psychological stories.
Three little girls set off for school many years ago, one ended up dead, the other with life changing injuries and the third girl was physically unscathed but it becomes apparent that her mental trauma runs deep and still has a hold over her life in the present. Alison will never forget that walk to school with her sister Kitty. They now lead very different lives; Kitty is locked in a body that she can barely use and Alison is still struggling to come to terms with the events of her past. She thinks she can somehow make things right by taking a job as an art teacher in a prison  but this just sets off a devastating chain of events. Someone else remembers that awful day and they are watching Alison and Kitty, all they want is revenge, a life for a life.
I was surprised by just how much is going on in this book. There are so many layers and events to prise apart. You have the accident, Kitty and Alison's childhood, their relationship as sisters, Alison's father's identity, Alison's current mental state, the list goes on. But somehow Jane Corry brings all of these separate strands together and ties them up beautifully. I felt that she truly showed the complex relationship that sisters have. I have an older sister that I am very close to but I know that it is very different to a sister/brother relationship. I would have liked to have seen the story line about Alison's father explored a little more as
I was left with a few questions as to how certain events had taken place.
Blood Sisters by Jane Corry has the perfect balance, on one hand it is a fraught, psychological thriller and on the other hand it is much more emotive, taking the time to explore different relationships and behaviours.
This book would be great to take on holiday as it will completely grab your attention , you will not be able to stop turning the pages.

Many thanks to Penguin for sending me a copy of the book to review. 

6.6.17

BOOK REVIEW: About Last Night by Catherine Alliott

Molly has moved from London to rural Herefordshire chasing the good life. Swapping the tube for the saddle, she is living the country dream.
Apart from it isn't really her dream. It's her husband David's. And David is, well, rather dead now.
Then a distant relative of her late husband kicks the bucket, leaving a London townhouse in her possession, and Molly dares to consider chucking it all in. Quitting the Good Life and going back to her good life.
But there's a problem. A rather tall, handsome problem. In the shape of a man already living in Molly's new house. And when a face appears from her past, Molly is more confused than ever.
Will Molly's London dream replace her muddy reality? Do any of the men in her life have honourable intentions? And has she said goodbye to country life too soon?

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 400

I haven't read a book by Catherine Alliott for ages and I really enjoyed this one. Molly is barely holding it together  in rural Herefordshire. She has bills mounting up, three children to care for as well as a selection of farm animals to upkeep. It has been her husband David's dream to leave London and live in rural bliss. But David has been  dead for five years and Molly is at breaking point. Her mother saves the day with the news that David's rather wealthy uncle has died and with no other family, Molly can claim the lot, it is an answer to her prayers. The inheritance, including a beautiful house in Kensington could not have come at a better time but Molly starts to question whether she wants to go back to her old life or is she actually happy where she is? Throw in a dashing art dealer, a disgruntled but kind vet and Molly certainly has her hands full.
I was after a light and entertaining read when I chose this book and it was perfect. There were some aspects of Molly's character that I didn't like but it didn't put me off and I still wanted to her to make the right decision and be happy. The interactions between her and her three children, Lucy, Minna and Nico were brilliant and brought a lot of humour to the book. Molly is trying to be balance being a responsible mother whilst also finding some happiness for herself.
My favourite character in the book was Paddy, the vet; Molly just views him as a disgruntled, grumpy, judgemental man until her shows his true colours and comes to her rescue on more than one occasion.
The contrast between London and Herefordshire was very entertaining and it was very easy to see why Molly was so torn between the two. As we discover David's real reason for wanting to move out of London, it becomes obvious why Molly my have reservations about going back.
About Last Night is a funny, touching and enjoyable read. If you are looking to escape for a while then Molly's chaotic life would provide the perfect distraction.

1.6.17

BOOK REVIEW: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted for murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe. Merricat must do everything on her power to protect the remaining family.
In her final, greatest novel, Shirley Jackson draws us into a dark, unsettling world of family rivalries, suspense and exquisite black comedy.

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 146

I have wanted to read this book for such a long time, it is like nothing else I have read and one that I will always remember. 
Merricat lives at the Blackwood family home with her older sister Constance and their uncle Julian. Constance has been acquitted of murdering the rest of the family with arsenic in the sugar bowl. Even so, the family live in isolation; the local villagers believe Constance to be guilty  and want nothing to do with any of them. Merricat is shown journeying into the village early on in the book and it really highlights the fear surrounding them. People do not want to even touch Merricat, it is as though she is cursed. Merricat now hates the villagers and has visions of walking on their dead bodies; one prejudice leading to another. 
As the story develops we learn a little more about the deaths of  the other family members. There are a few shocks along the way but this is a book about characters rather than an intricate plot. Shirley Jackson introduces us to Merricat and then goes to some lengths to show the reader her current situation and how she arrived at it and then she throws cousin Charles into the book, almost as a device to show how Merricat behaves when faced with new circumstances. 
The book is considerably eerie and sinister yet their is no inclusion of the supernatural at all. It is Merricat's behaviour that is unsettling, she is bordering on being a sociopath; she has created her own world and she will not allow it to be threatened. Constance suffers from agoraphobia (as the author did too) so you question whether she is trapped with her sister or would she choose to leave if she could?
This is the first novel I have read by Shirley Jackson  but I know I will go on to read her other books. Her writing is masterful; the way she chooses language is wonderful. The book is only 146 pages long but it is so rich in detail, there are no wasted words. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is unsettling and uncomfortable but I didn't want it to end. 

24.5.17

Dot and Darcey Review: Too Many Bears in the Bed by Andrew Baylis

All children love teddy bears so how could you have too many?!
'Too Many Bears in the Bed' is the story of a young boy who has so many teddies there is no room in his bed for him.
Meet over one hundred of the boy's favourite teddy bears as he explains to his mother why he can't bear to part with any in this charming rhyming story. 

This is the first Dot and Darcey review and we have a great book to kick off this new feature, Too Many Bears in the Bed, written and illustrated by Andrew Baylis.
This rhyming story is lovely and it is packed full of charming and detailed illustrations. Darcey has a huge selection of teddy bears on her bed so she very much identified with the little boy in the story as I'm sure most children would.
Too Many Bears in the Bed is a very simple story but one that provides so many talking points with young children. Darcey loved talking about all the different bears that feature and which ones were her favourite (Slimy and Golden Bear). We talked about how people come in all different shapes, sizes and colours too. She really loved the last few pages which talks about all the different jobs the bears have (fireman, magician, pilot and waiter to name a few) and she wanted to make her own stories about some of them; this is a book that most definitely sparks the imagination. We have read this book so many times and Darcey still finds something new to enjoy so you can't really ask for more. Too Many Bears in the Bed is a great book which I highly recommend to young readers. The only problem is that I think I am going to struggle even more now to get Darcey to part with any bears at the end of her bed.

Click here to visit Andrew Baylis' website to find out how you can buy the book.

3.5.17

BOOK REVIEW: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

If you could change the past, would you?
It is only after her mother's death that Luna begins to discover her secrets.
While in New York to settle the estate, something impossible happens to Luna. She finds herself in 1977, face to face with her mother as a young woman, in the week that changed her life forever.
If time can be turned back, can it also be rewritten? Luna becomes convinced she can save her mother from the moment that will eventually drive her to suicide.
But in doing anything- everything to save her mother's life, will Luna have to sacrifice her own?

Publisher: Ebury
Pages: 400

Rowan Coleman writes beautiful books and I think The Summer of Impossible Things might just be my favourite. I felt very different to her other books due to the time travel element but the author's talent at drawing out deep emotions from her characters shines through.
Luna has lost her mother to suicide, devastated, she and her sister travel to New York to settle their mother's estate. Whilst there, Luna finds herself travelling in time to 1977, to a time when her mother was blissfully happy. Once Luna comes to terms with the idea that she can time travel and that she is not going mad; she realises that she may be able to alter the past. What if she can prevent the event which triggered her mother's depression which led to her suicide? But what if stopping that event means that Luna won't exist? Is she prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice?
It's tricky to review this book without spoiling the plot so I shall try and be very careful. If you can go along with the idea of time travel then you will love this book. I really enjoyed the parts of the book set in 1977 and how Luna has to fir into a different time and  being with a very different version of her mother.
Rowan Coleman uses Luna's ability to time travel to explore the idea of love and sacrifice. Luna loves her family, it is clear to see through her relationship  with her sister. She loved her mother and would do anything to change how her mother had felt. She is given the chance to alter the events of her mother's life and she has to decide if she is prepared to lose her own life in order to do so.
The Summer of Impossible Things is brave, thought-provoking and beautifully written; Rowan Coleman shines yet again.

Many thanks to Ebury for allowing me to review this book via Netgalley.

25.4.17

BLOG TOUR: The Body in the Ice by A.J. Mackenzie

I am delighted to be on the blog tour today for A.J. Mackenzie's new novel, The Body in the Ice. It is the first in the new Hardcastle and Chaytor series, here's the synopsis:

Christmas Day, Kent, 1976
On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In it's grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond.
It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace at St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate. But with the victim's identity unknown, no murder weapon and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task. Working along with this trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor, and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared.
With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor's attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

Sounds fantastic doesn't it! I am just about to start reading it this evening so shall share my review with you as soon as I can. A.J. Mackenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, a collaborative Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife duo; they have kindly written a piece for the blog tour discussing Ann Radcliffe and the rise of the gothic novel:

Search through the lists of ‘great authors’ in the English canon, and you will not find her name. But in the 1790s, Ann Radcliffe was the best-paid author in Britain, and the hottest thing in fiction writing. Publishers scrambled to attract her attention. She was the J.K. Rowling of her day.
            The foundation text of Gothic fiction is Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. Walpole broke away from the established, highly formal canon of literary fiction and concentrated on story-telling. Atmospheres were dark, gloomy and deliberately scary. Clara Reeve, another early writer, often added supernatural elements such as ghosts. There was sometimes a pretence that these were actually tales written in earlier times, ‘rediscovered’; Walpole, for example, claimed that The Castle of Otranto was written in medieval Italian, and he had merely translated it.
            Successful though Walpole and Reeve were, they were nothing next to Ann Radcliff. Her breakthrough novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, pulls out all the stops. It is a gloriously rich, extremely long, preposterously spooky story about mysterious goings on in a castle in Italy. Critics derided it as rubbish. But the public loved it. In the 1790s, an author would count himself fortunate to earn £10 from a book. Robinsons the publisher paid Miss Radcliffe £500 for The Mysteries of Udolpho, and her later books sold for still more.
            And the critics were wrong. In many ways, The Mysteries of Udolpho was in advance of its time. The hero, Emily, is a woman; more than that, a strong, forthright, active woman who takes on the sinister forces in the castle of Udolpho and comes out a winner. And Radcliffe also knew quite a lot about the new and emerging discipline of psychology. She gets inside her character’s heads and explains their feelings and motivations in a way that not many eighteenth-century writers did.
            Even more important has been her influence. Ann Redcliffe knew both Jane Austen and Charles Dickens when they were young. Miss Austen was unimpressed – her own first novel, Northanger Abbey, was an attempt to take the mickey out of the entire genre – but Dickens adopted some of that dark brooding tone into his own writing. Miss Haversham could have stepped straight out of the pages of The Mysteries of Udolpho.
            Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker were all influenced by Ann Radcliffe, and from them the modern genre of horror was born, continuing down through Hammer Horror films to present day writers such as Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz. Crime fiction, too, owes her a great deal. Many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories have a gothic element, and The Hound of the Baskervilles, with its dark fogbound moor, creepy houses and satanic great dog again reflects the atmosphere of The Mysteries of Udolpho.
            Come down to the present day, and ‘noir’ fiction authors, whether they know it or not, owe a great debt to Ann Radcliffe. Conventions have changed; modern books are much more violent and gruesome and have considerably more sex. Somehow, we doubt that would have bothered Miss Radcliffe. Had she been born today, she would be writing ‘noir’; and, probably topping the best-seller lists.

            Calpurnia Vane, whom we introduce in The Body in the Ice, is unashamedly modelled – in her career, not her personality – on Ann Radcliffe. Mrs Vane is our own salute to an often overlooked heroine. We are happy to acknowledge her influence.

Make sure you check out the other blogs on the tour, The Body in The Ice is available now!  

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