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Welcome to my World by Miranda Dickinson

This is an even better read than Fairytale and I pretty much gobbled it up in one sitting. Welcome to my World tells the story of Harri, a travel agent who hasn’t actually been on holiday anywhere outside the UK yet, which is in stark contrast to her best mate, Alex, who has recently returned home to the Black Country village of Stone Yardley, after extensive travelling.

The Hating Game by Talli Roland

From the original quirky purple and pink cover (which has since changed for the ebook at least) and the title and blurb of Talli Roland’s debut novel, The Hating Game, I knew that this was no cosy, formulaic boy-meets-girl chick-lit romance and I was looking forward to reading it all the more because of that. I wanted a feisty heroine who wouldn’t melt into a puddle within metres of her dream man. I wanted a strong voice and some of the sharp wit I’d come to know from Talli’s tweets and blog posts and I wanted a great story in an unusual situation or setting with its own set of highs and lows, featuring characters that seemed more like real people than characters in a book. Talli delivers on all counts.

Cardiff Bay Lunch by Simone Mansell Broome

Simone reading at the Cardiff Bay launch for Cardiff Bay Lunch on 21 October 2010
Simone reading at the Cardiff Bay launch for Cardiff Bay Lunch on 21 October 2010

I first heard Simone Mansell Broome read her poems at a poetry magazine launch in 2009. Hers were the poems that stood out for me that night because they spoke of real life events that I could identify with but they were also delivered with a healthy dose of humour, real warmth, empathy and a highly-perceptive understanding of human nature and all its foibles.

Simone’s first full-length poetry collection, Cardiff Bay Lunch, is no light and insubstantial buffet but a satisfying spread to feast upon and I guarantee there will be something from the extensive menu to suit everyone’s taste. It is an eclectic mix of poems covering subjects ranging from childhood illness to the death of a parent; compassion fatigue from constant demands for donations to offering temporary housing to a relative in need and family members returning home; everyday work and life in rural west Wales to holidays abroad; the joy of living with cats to how dementia sees tigers instead; the visit of a troublesome distant cousin to that of the Pope; an exuberant Hen Party weekend to a more sobering look at the dismal wedding breakfast of the title poem. They cover universal themes of love, loss, dejection, rejection, hope, doubt, guilt and joy in the context of relationships, home, family, community, Wales and the wider World.

Simone’s poetry is both immediate and accessible: almost deceptively simple at first sight, peel away the layers and it has real depth; it is observant and insightful, sometimes cuttingly so; it is often funny but with serious undercurrents and concerns; it looks at small events in everyday life yet manages to find the beauty or poetry in those moments, often at times when most of us would struggle to find anything remotely poetic. In doing so, Simone helps you see their importance: that ultimately everyone’s life is comprised of a series of small moments, some seemingly inconsequential, and larger events, such as illness or death, which all combine to make us the person we are and create the world we inhabit. Her poetry is often about the moments we overlook or dismiss or rush past but she clearly shows how it is those that often say more about us and our lives than we can imagine or give them credit for.

Some of the highlights of the collection for me were as follows: Simone traces her daughter’s days off school through the years in Under the Quilt with Rocky, mapping various stages of her daughter growing up through her changing taste in films. The poem ends on a wistful note when she realises that her daughter’s childhood is over; In For a Dead Princess Simone looks back at the dignified funeral arrangements she wanted to make for her mother, compared to how the funeral service itself played out with a wry look at how her best-laid plans were thwarted by the church organist. Despite this, she touchingly reveals how the music chosen, so butchered on the day, still brings tears to her eyes. The wedding breakfast in the title poem Cardiff Bay Lunch is heartbreaking in its bleakness and you fear for the bride’s prospects of future happiness surrounded by the ominous “sulk of black clad staff” and “a flushed pink-shirted groom telling a guest, / male, conspiratorial, how he had / your sister first.” Gorge Walk is a terrific example of a poem that shows how a walk in a gorge in Greece brings on not only the normal fear of falling and heights associated with the terrain but also more deep-rooted self-doubt and fears. Afterwards, as most of us do, this is forgotten or swept aside so that we can offer up the sanitised account of our day – “Oh yes, a good day… challenging: / you plan the postcard, draft the script – / all-in-all, good.” It offers up such a telling contrast between the workings of our inner minds and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world.

The descriptions and imagery in Simone’s poetry are vivid and immediate. In Against the Grain a lazy dog “drops his boredom like a spent match”; a woman’s fate, bartered over a market table in marriage, is likened to “spilt salt” in Last Chance in Narberth; in On Meeting My Cousin Simone remembers his “bright / button eyes, travelling light, / trailing the unexpected” of an antipodean cousin who brought a whole lot more baggage with him than first appeared; and in Notes from a Carmarthenshire Landlady, Simone recounts playing hostess to a hen party for the weekend “hens – some happy, some weepy / all well watered, are decanted into / your coop.”

Cardiff Bay Lunch is a wonderful, vibrant collection of range and insight from a gifted and talented poet. It is full of life and everything associated with it. Together with the energy, humour and vibrancy, you’ll also find those darker elements of death, disappointment, sadness and illness that cast their shadows over it. Because, after all, that’s what life itself is all about. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. It’s one that I will keep going back to and re-reading.

Simone has very generously donated a signed copy of her collection, Cardiff Bay Lunch. Just leave a Pick Me comment below by midnight GMT on Sunday 14th November.

Cardiff Bay Lunch is published by

) and amazon.com.

Simone Mansell Broome was born in West Wales. She now lives on a Carmarthenshire farm, co-running a small centre for groups, workshops and courses – Ceridwen. Since 2006, Simone has been successful in written and spoken poetry competitions. She has been published in anthologies, magazines and represented Wales in BBC Radio 4’s poetry slam. Not exactly getting anywhere but… a pamphlet of her poetry was published in 2008 and was followed by a slim volume, Juice of the Lemon, in 2009. She’s a fervent believer in both page and stage and finds humour in the darkest moments. Cardiff Bay Lunch is her first full-length collection.

Turning the Tide by Christine Stovell

I loved this book. I don’t know about Turning the Tide but it certainly kept me Turning the Page. I had only meant to read a couple of chapters before bed but, each time I tried to put it down, I thought I’d just read the next chapter and then couldn’t put it down until I finished reading it at 2am!

This is a captivating story of one young woman’s determination and struggle to hang onto the boatyard that she sees as her only link to the past and her dead father. It leads to her clashing with a devilishly appealing property developer, Matthew Corrigan, who wants her boatyard and its land for his future development. As this will breathe new life into the surrounding area, forcing it also to modernise, it’s not just Harry Watling, the gutsy tomboy heroine, but others in the nearby town, who have to adjust to the changes Matthew and his development are introducing.

I warmed to Harry immediately (it is so refreshing to have a tomboy heroine), felt the same attraction and repulsion that she feels for Matthew, while also falling for most of the townsfolk, especially the irascible George who is Harry’s right hand man and surrogate father-figure and the local florists, who are like brothers to Harry and as brilliant creations as their floral art.

This is the second ChocLit title I’ve read in as many weeks and, if this and Trade Winds (reviewed here) are anything to go by, I can see myself going through their entire selection box.

Turning the Tide is Christine Stovell’s debut novel, published by ChocLit. She has previously been published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press. To find out more about the author, Christine Stovell has an Author Website and you can Follow Christine on Twitter.

Trade Winds by Christina Courtenay

I knew I had to read this book as soon as I saw its gorgeous cover. It promised the irresistible lure of adventure on the high seas and more than delivered on that.

Set in 1732, Trade Winds tells the story of roguish and handsome Killian Kinross who is forced to leave his native Scotland and forge a new career in Sweden. There he meets and is able to help out Jess van Sandt, the spirited step-daughter of his new employer, by entering into a marriage of convenience with her. Shortly afterwards, he sets sail for China on a voyage which could make both their fortunes.

I got thoroughly caught up in the stories of Killian and Jess and loved them both, reading the book in two sittings because I just couldn’t put it down for any length of time and leave them hanging. They are such fantastic main characters that you’re really rooting for them.

This book is one of contrasts – feuding and happy families, love and passion, greed and self-sacrifice, loyalty and betrayal, adventure and the daily slog of survival.

Peopled with a great cast of characters who bring alive the period this novel is set in, it also provides a fascinating look at a period in history and at trading centres – Gothenburg in Sweden and Canton in China – with which I was less familiar.

I loved it and devoured it (Perhaps unsurprisingly as it’s published by ChocLit!) and will definitely be keeping a weather eye out for more of Christina Courtenay’s books in future.

You can read extracts from Trade Winds and find out more about both the book and its author on the ChocLit website. Alternatively, Christina has her own Author Website and you can Follow Christina on Twitter. She is also one of the contributors to a fantastic blog called The Heroine Addicts.

Without Alice by DJ Kirkby

I am thrilled to welcome D.J. Kirkby to The Nut Press today. D.J. is here as part of a blog tour to promote her debut novel Without Alice.

I was lucky enough to meet D.J. Kirkby at a book launch* in May. Since then, I’ve read D.J.’s first book, From Zaftig to Aspie, which is an incredible sensory memoir filled with beautiful descriptions from her extraordinary childhood. We’ll be meeting again at the beginning of October for another book launch in London and this time it’s for her debut novel, Without Alice.

Before I even held a copy of the book in my hand, I wondered who the Alice of the title was and who the someone was that couldn’t be without her and why?

There’s an attractive but wistful-looking young man being hugged by a woman on the book’s cover. So… is the woman on the cover Alice or is he holding someone else while thinking about Alice? Here’s what the blurb has to say on the back of the book:

Have you ever had a secret? One so important that it feels as if it will tear you in two? Stephen’s got one. He’s also got a great job, beautiful wife and an adorable son. Outwardly his life seems perfect but it means nothing without Alice. Read Without Alice and meet a man who you will love to hate until you learn to love him.

Okay, so this establishes that it’s Stephen who can’t manage without Alice but it’s not giving much else away, is it? Especially not about who Alice is or why she’s so important to him. I absolutely had to know the answers but, when I started reading, it quickly became apparent that D.J. Kirkby wasn’t about to tell me anytime soon.

The book starts with a prologue set in July 1977: three seemingly unconnected couples, one of them pregnant; one giving birth and the other ‘enjoying’ early parenthood. After reading it, I just had more questions: who are they? and what do they and their individual stories have to do with each other (if anything)?

Chapter One opens with a birth. Now I had another question: why do people write such graphic birth scenes? (No, I am not a mother. Yes, I am a complete wuss.)

Within a very few pages, I put my initial queasiness and outstanding questions to one side. I was hooked, caught up in people’s lives and sucked into their story, as if I were in the same room and living through it with them in real time. D.J. Kirkby’s writing is extraordinary and dazzling. She works on every one of your senses: the world she creates feels so real that the characters are more like people you know whom you’re eavesdropping.

D.J. does something remarkable in this, her debut novel. She makes her main character intensely unlikeable and sustains this for half the book. That’s difficult for a reader to cope with and potentially disastrous in the hands of the wrong author. But D.J. has a light touch and handles it deftly. I knew from the blurb that I wasn’t supposed to like Stephen initially (“meet a man who you will love to hate until…”) but I was surprised at how strongly I raged against him throughout Part One. But I didn’t throw the book at the wall or stop reading because, not only did I still want to know who Alice was and why she mattered so much to him, but I also had to know why he was behaving in this way to people I liked and sympathised with. There seemed no good reason for it.

D.J. drops the reader hints and clues along the way but she doesn’t fully explain Stephen or his behaviour until Part Two. I had my theories as to what was behind it all and an idea as to who Alice was but I couldn’t put the book down until I had the answers. Then I had to keep reading to find out if and how it would all be resolved.

Without Alice looks at the important relationships in our lives and raises questions about duty, loyalty and love within those same relationships. But, perhaps most interesting of all for this reader, the book forces you to look at how quickly and easily you can form an opinion or reach a conclusion about someone, not knowing all there is to know about them, only to have to later reassess it when you have more information available to you.

Without Alice is an incredibly accomplished debut novel. It’s a story with many strands to it but somehow D.J.Kirkby threads them all seamlessly together to create an enthralling and credible whole. It is a harrowing story, beautifully told, and one which shows the redemptive power of love. She is a gifted storyteller, an exciting writer to watch, and I can’t wait to read what she does next.

I have one copy of the book to give away (UK only). Just leave a ‘Pick Me’ comment below by Friday, 3rd September 2010. You can find details of more competitions to win a copy of Without Alice (one of which ends today and another tomorrow) here.

Without Alice is published by Punked Books and is available exclusively from the Punked Books’ website before it goes on general sale on 4th October 2010, although you can also now buy it from amazon.co.uk. Watch the promotional video for Without Alice or join in the discussion on the Without Alice Facebook page. If you would like to know more about the author, D.J.Kirkby has a Website, and a Blog. You can also Follow D.J. Kirkby on Twitter.

* The May book launch was for Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes. (You can read about the launch here and read my review of the book here.)

Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes

You know that feeling you sometimes get when you step off an aeroplane in a Mediterranean country? When the warm air envelops you like a deep sigh? Your whole body relaxes and that’s the moment when you realise that you’re in a foreign country, and now properly on holiday. That’s how it feels to open the pages of Like Bees to Honey and start reading.

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