Emma Jackson's Blog: Falling in Love with Fiction
July 15, 2014
Harper Impulse have been running a competition for writers to submit the first paragraph for their Written Fireside. All the other entries and details of what the Written Fireside is about can be viewed at their blog but the basic gist is that fourteen different authors will write their own version of the story expanding from the winning paragraph to create a Christmas anthology.
This was my entry, and I must admit that – having written it late at night – when I viewed it the following morning, it was obvious that I’d stretched the definition of ‘paragraph’ somewhat. But hey, I enjoyed writing it and if I don’t win, it will be fun to create a short story of my own from it.
The chime of the doorbell was closely followed by a shout from the kitchen of: ‘Can you get that, Marie?’ She looked down at her teddy bear dressing gown and monster feet slippers; not exactly appropriate attire for answering the door. Not exactly appropriate attire to be seen in at all, by anyone, ever. ‘Marie? I’m up to my elbows in pastry here.’ ‘Yeah, okay, Mum, I’m going,’ she sighed and forced herself to her feet, clutching her coffee mug. She’d been back in her parent’s home less than a day and she was already regressing to adolescence. She took a fortifying sip of sweet, black coffee and unlatched the front door. All the heat in the hallway immediately evaporated. There was no one on the doorstep but in the centre of the path, obscuring her view of the gate, was a tree. ‘What the…?’ She squinted through the haze of silently falling snowflakes and made out the round body and small head of a bird, nestled in the branches. The inch of settled snow soaked into the bottom of her slippers as she hurried out to investigate, circling the tree, searching for some clue as to where it had come from. A note tied to the trunk with red ribbon stated simply: For Marie, on the first day of Christmas Who would do something like this? She scanned the quiet road and spotted the dark head of a tall man disappearing around the corner. Could that really be Christian? Her mind immediately tried to reject the idea but her heart leapt at the possibility…until she remembered what she was wearing.
March 6, 2014
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
I haven’t devoured a book like this for a while. It took me a week to finish, which may not seem that fast but when you factor in it’s size and the fact I only get a couple of toddler-free hours a day for reading, it was pretty quick for me.
If I described to you what happened in the first third of the book, it might be quite surprising that it was addictive; Diana goes to the library, she rows, she has a couple of vague arguments with other witches, she goes on some dates with a vampire and drinks a lot of wine. Sounds a bit boring right? But somehow the author is weaving a whole bunch of mystery into Diana’s attempt to maintain normality. She is introducing and developing important relationships, teasing us with romance and notching up an atmosphere of threat and danger that really starts to pay off by the midway point in the novel. What might be seen as a lot of waffle in a rather long book, all contributes to different threads of the story – some that make sense by the end and others which left me hankering for the next book in the series.
The love story at the heart of book is nothing very new or original to the genre (though I enjoyed it immensely all the same) but the academia, with the detail it went into and questions it asked, really set it apart for me. I loved the different representation of daemons, even though they play second-fiddle to the vampires and witches. This book isn’t perfect: I felt that Matthew knew far too many famous historical figures throughout his long-life and one of the events near the end was a bit disappointing and cliche, but I’m sure that there will be a reason for that in the long run. I can’t wait to read the sequel and I’m so pleased the final book in the trilogy will be out this year too.
February 19, 2014
In a sizzling prequel novella to her new series THE DARK ELEMENTS, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout draws readers into the extraordinary, irresistible world of Wardens and demons.
Dez wasn’t just Jasmine’s crush. A gargoyle Warden like Jas, he helped her come to terms with her destiny—fending off demons and maintaining balance between good and evil. He was her everything…right until the moment he disappeared without a trace. It didn’t help that Jas’s father had just announced that she and Dez would one day be mated. Hard not to take that personally.
And now he’s back, three years older, ten times hotter, ready to pick up exactly where they left off. But Jas isn’t taking that risk again. Dez has seven days to meet all her conditions and earn back her trust. Seven days filled with terrifying danger and sweet temptation. Seven days to win her heart—or shatter it all over again…
This is a solid, bite-size introduction into a new mythology and series by the author, centred around Wardens (Gargoyles) and Demons. It gives some insight into the history of the Warden’s, their social hierarchy and (in another twist to the normal angels and demons troupe) details about how the ‘human world’ is aware of them. At the same time not every answer is given, keeping the readers interest for the first full length instalment which will be White Hot Kiss.
I think the romantic premise of this novella would have served a full length novel better for me, giving the characters time to really develop and examine their feelings for each other. The description of Dez before he actually appeared in the book promised a feral Heathcliff figure but as it turned out, he was a bit too much like a card-board cut out of JLA’s other hero’s. Think Aiden with different hair and eye colour.
So this one was a little hit and miss for me, but since it’s only a novella and is still written with an energetic, humorous and swift style, it never became frustrating or boring at all. Apparently, it is free in the US on the lead up to the release of White Hot Kiss, so if you are interested in a taster of the series, it is definitely worth picking up.
February 13, 2014
Miles and Nicky are getting married. Unfortunately, their wedding party is a tangle of ex-housemates, ex-friends and ex-lovers. So this wedding isn’t just a wedding, it’s a reunion. Can anything be salvaged from the past? And what really happened between them all, back at university?
Find out in this wonderful contemporary romance.
If you are looking for some nostalgia about your student days (be they college or Uni), multi-dimensional characters and events which refuse to be black or white, this is a book for you.
It took a little while for me to get into, given that there is a large cast of characters, and the narrative chops from scene to scene fairly quickly, but both these things helped to make it interesting and a page-turning read too, once I’d got it straight in my head as to who was who.
This book is almost more about the complexity (and incestuousness) of those friendships you form as a new adult, the ones who become your family once you’ve flown the nest, than it is about romance. The romance is still pretty great though and kept me hoping for the happily ever after, right up to the end.
This is a refreshing story because all the characters are flawed and make mistakes. I think it would be an excellent book club selection, since it would provoke some brilliant discussions about who was most in the wrong – I bet not everyone would agree.
It’s sad and happy and infuriating and fun and very relatable. At times it felt a little bit too long but I never got bored with it. This book offers a lot more than first impressions may suggest. If you are a fan of Mhairi McFarlane, you might really enjoy this too.
This book was provided to me as an ARC from the publisher via Net Galley in return for an honest review.
January 29, 2014
There has been a sudden and universal deterioration in girls’ mental health, starting in primary school and devastating the teen years. Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls is both a guidebook and a call-to-arms for parents. The five key stages of girlhood are laid out so that you know exactly what matters at which age, and how to build strength and connectedness into your daughter from infancy onwards. Raising Girls is both fierce and tender in its mission to help girls more at every age. It’s a book for parents who love their daughters deeply, whether they are newborns, teenagers, young women – or anywhere in between. At last, there is a clear map of girls’ minds that accepts no limitations, narrow roles or selling-out of your daughter’s potential or uniqueness. Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls explores how to help your daughter feel secure, become an explorer, get along with others, find her soul, and become a woman. All the hazards are signposted – bullying, eating disorders, body image and depression, social media harms and helps – as are concrete and simple measures for both mums and dads to help prevent their daughters from becoming victims. Parenthood is restored to an exciting journey, not one worry after another, as it’s so often portrayed.
I find it quite hard to review non-fiction books. Particularly those offering advice, since its extremely hard to say how good the advice is until you’ve put it into practice. For me to give this a totally accurate rating I’d have to get back to you in 18-20 years once my daughter has grown up and I’ve either used or disregarded the contents of this book.
What I can say however, is this has a lot of interesting and thought-provoking information specific to raising girls in current, Western society. These are issues I’ve been aware of because I’m a woman myself whose grown up in this society and seen the changes happening but of course I was naive to some of it and reading about all of it back to back is actually kind of terrifying. Sometimes I feel like being a parent is a near overwhelming responsibility. I don’t see it as a bad thing that this book underlined that in my mind – it’s just scary.
The structure of the book is easy to digest, split between chapters focussing on the particular needs of girls at certain ages and then on the key problems facing parents of girls, i.e. body image. The advice itself sounds like a lot of common sense but what is really useful is the way it corresponds to your daughters psychology at each stage in her life. How she understands things, what is important to her, what she is looking for from you and others in her world.
I do find the stories, with the way parents responded to their daughters problems with such textbook behaviour, a little hard to swallow but that is probably because a) these are examples aimed to demonstrate and encourage and b) they are short entries that can’t really give you a full flavour of the angst and mistakes that were probably experienced along the way.
A lot of the research and experts are from Australia since that is where the author is based but I didn’t feel that was a problem. My only other issue was that sometimes it seemed as though today’s society was being demonised in comparison to previous generations when, lets face it, girls had a more difficult time. Women being sold to and told they need to look pretty and care about fashion and being sexually attractive are not new problems – corsets were invented a long time ago. Still, the overall point is what’s important and that is what the book focuses on.
I do think this book will help me, if only to give me a chance to realign my perspectives whenever I’m reaching a parenting hurdle.
January 22, 2014
One dark evening in London, photographer Serena Folkes is indulging her impulsive side with a night-time shoot. But someone is watching her – mysterious entrepreneur Gustav Levi. Serena doesn’t know it yet, but this handsome stranger will change her life forever…
Serena is fascinated by Gustav, the enigmatic owner of the Levi Gallery, and she soon feels an irresistible pull of attraction. The interest is mutual, and Gustav promises to launch Serena’s photographic career at his gallery, but only if Serena agrees to become his exclusive companion.
To mark their agreement, Gustav gives Serena a bracelet to wear at all times. Attached to it is a silver chain of which he is the keeper. With the chain Gustav controls Serena physically and symbolically – a sign that she is under his power.
As their passionate relationship intensifies, Gustav’s hold on the silver chain grows stronger. But will Gustav’s dark past tear them apart?
First, I should caveat this review by saying that most of my issues with this book are due to it falling into that contemporary erotica/romance genre that Fifty Shades of Grey and Bared to You also belong to. If you don’t like melodramatic relationships with tormented, domineering heroes and neurotic, tempestuous heroines, this genre really isn’t for you – and it appears not for me either. In my defence I wanted romance and it was on sale with Amazon for 50p.
That said, my rating is not entirely because I picked the wrong genre. This had some problems with pacing, almost as though halfway it was decided there wasn’t enough drama and so the characters started to act a lot ‘bigger’, sometimes in contradiction to earlier feelings they’d expressed. They also began to act as though they’d known each other a lot longer than the timespan portrayed. I felt like I’d missed a chunk of development in the middle. This wasn’t helped by the style the author adopted of setting up a scene and then almost immediately coming out of it to describe events which took place just before, changing the tense and becoming unnecessarily confusing.
Some other pedantic issues I had were with consistency; like Serena wearing trousers one moment and a skirt the next and it could be hard to have a clear image of what was going on. Maybe it’s my conservative Britishness getting the better of me but I also disliked how open Serena was about her troubled background, it made her come across as though it wasn’t a big deal since she would happily tell perfect strangers all about it. Plus, complaining that she only got pencils and books for birthdays and they wouldn’t buy her a horse when she asked for one undermined the real neglect and abuse she suffered.
What I did like was the gothic feeling to book, it had genuine atmosphere and some great settings. The introduction of Gustav really made me optimistic that he would be a little bit more human that the usual alpha-male (although he did fall into that trap later) and it was different for him to be an entrepreneur in the Arts, rather than just something corporate. There were some original aspects to this, like the central premise of the chain, but where it followed the established conventions of the genre was where it didn’t work for me – and that’s just a matter of individual taste really. If you enjoy fast, energetic, saucy stories with high drama, you may well love this one too.
January 20, 2014
There are six months left of Emma Reiss’s twenties. . . and she has some unfinished business.
Emma and her friends are about to turn thirty, and for Emma it’s a defining moment. Defined, that is, by her having achieved none of the things she’d imagined she would.
Her career is all wrong, her love life is a desert and that penthouse apartment she pictured herself in simply never materialised. Moreover, she’s never jumped out of a plane, hasn’t met the man she’s going to marry, has never slept under the stars, or snogged anyone famous – just some of the aspirations on a list she and her friends compiled fifteen years ago.
As an endless round of birthday parties sees Emma hurtle towards her own thirtieth, she sets about addressing these issues. But, as she discovers with hilarious consequences, some of them are trickier to tick off than she’d thought…
This was a great book to start the year off as Emma’s list is similar to all those resolutions I make and don’t do very well at keeping. It has even inspired me to make a wish list of things I would like to do before I’m forty. In a sometimes funny and sometimes heartfelt way, it is a good reminder not to fall into the routine of adult life, to reevaluate and try new things out.
I liked Emma because she was very normal; sometimes comically daft but also a recognisable grown up and it was nice to have a different city as the setting (Liverpool, rather than London). I will definitely try out some more of this authors work.
October 27, 2013
Without knowing much more about this collection of romantic short stories, other than their focus on the holiday season, I was so pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones was first up with a boss and his new secretary fighting their incendiary sexual tension in order to remain professional and achieve their own personal goals. Needless to say, the reader is routing for them to fail. I really enjoyed the way this story appeared to adopt the corporate clichés but actually subtly side-stepped them. The Thanksgiving aspect was practically non-existent but the interesting characters and grown-up attitude towards a relationship at work made up for it.
Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers was next and started with a much more festive feeling, immediately warming me to the funny and optimistic voice of Jenny, the heroine. As I said at the start of this review, I hadn’t read any kind of synopsis, so the reveal that Jenny is losing her sight came as a sobering shock. I was already a big Jenny fan and my heart went out to her. From that point it just started getting better and better. It was funny, heart-breaking, uplifting, sweet and oh-my-God sexy. I was well and truly wowed and will absolutely be seeking out more of this author’s work.
After Midnight by Serena Bell was probably the most strongly themed of them all, and the author really nailed that New Year’s Eve feeling. I loved the inventive back-stories which created genuine hang-up’s and the chemistry between the two main characters was very convincing, particularly the telephone conversations.
Overall, this is a brilliant anthology and one I will definitely pick up again and again.
This book was provided for free by the publisher in return for an honest review.
October 16, 2013
Turquoise blue waters. Sandy white beaches. Mojitos… Film location scout Kenzie Cole has found herself in paradise. Working in the Caribbean for a week is just what she needs to escape the long line of exes in her closet. Though the last thing she expects is to be picked up at the resort bar by a disgraced former Prince! Luckily for Kenzie, exile is suiting the man formerly known as Prince Fredrik very well. And it’s not long before his rugged, pirate charm is proving hard to resist.
But Rik’s been spending his time in paradise exorcising demons of his own and he has danger written all over him. If Kenzie was sensible she’d run a mile instead of lose herself to lust – although, they do say sometimes you have to get lost before you can be found….
This novella is listed as contemporary romance but I think it could just as easily be called an adult fairytale. It has princes and pirate curses and abandoned tropical islands and, of course, a happily ever after.
I really enjoyed the premise and the way that it gradually became clear to Kenzie that Rik was no bad boy, just a bit lost like she was. Yes, it did feel a little instalove-ish at times but this is a novella so it would be unfair to expect a slow burning relationship development – plus in the heady heat of a tropical island, I think most of us would fall head of heels for a prince!
The Caribbean setting could not have come at a better time for me as autumn has well and truly arrived in rainy old England. I could practically taste the mint leaves in all those mojitos and feel the sand between my toes. This is a great slice of fantasy, ideal for anyone who wants to indulge in a little escapism.
This ARC was provided free of charge by the publisher in return for an honest review.
October 14, 2013
Natalie Sullivan is on the verge of a breakthrough most archaeology grad students only dream of: discovering a lost city. Her research points to a farm in Ireland, but to excavate she needs permission from the new owner: the Michael O’Connor, popular NFL running back.
On TV Mike seems so charming and good-natured that Natalie figures getting his cooperation will be a breeze. So she’s not prepared to deal with the arrogant—and adamantly opposed—man she meets in person. Or the way one look from him sends shivers down her spine…
Determined to kick-start her career, Natalie travels across the Atlantic and finds herself sharing an inn with Mike, who has come to Ireland in search of his roots. She tells herself her interest is strictly professional, but the more she gets to know him, the harder it is to deny her personal attraction to the sexy sports star. And when Mike confides why he refuses to allow the dig, Natalie must decide if she can follow her heart without losing sight of her dreams.
Sometimes, when I’m about a quarter of the way through a book, I feel like I don’t want it to end because it is so entertaining and because the characters are the kind that I want to spend a lot of time with. Running Back was one of those books for me. I ate up the remaining 75% and was left feeling very satisfied.
Natalie and Michael have one of the best kind of romances, in that it is genuinely believable and they are both such good characters that there was no conflict from my side about them getting together. I was behind them every step of the way. Their attraction is heavily based on personality, as well as physicality, and very sweet. They are both funny and flawed and the cast of secondary characters are strong too.
What really made this fresh and original though, was the strength of Natalie’s passion for her career in Archaeology and the hard decisions she is faced with making. Those life decisions where it is so difficult to know whether you are using your head or your heart, and which would be the right one to use anyway.
Just as a side note, if you are looking for a novel about football, this isn’t it because it really only features as Michael’s occupation. I don’t feel it is any the poorer for that but if you were pulled in by the sports theme, you may be disappointed.
This book will be released on 21 October 2013. I received this ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review.