The Old Dragon’s Head by Justin Newland (Blog Tour)

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What they say:

Constructed of stone and packed earth, the Great Wall of 10,000 li protects China’s northern borders from the threat of Mongol incursion. The wall is also home to a supernatural beast: the Old Dragon. The Old Dragon’s Head is the most easterly point of the wall, where it finally meets the sea. 

In every era, a Dragon Master is born. Endowed with the powers of Heaven, only he can summon the Old Dragon so long as he possess the dragon pearl. 

It’s the year 1400, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. Folk believe he has yin-yang eyes and other paranormal gifts.When Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, a bitter war of succession ensues in which the Mongols hold the balance of power. While the victor might win the battle on earth, China’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with a Mandate from Heaven – and the support of the Old Dragon. 

Bolin embarks on a journey of self-discovery, mirroring Old China’s endeavour to come of age. When Bolin accepts his destiny as the Dragon Master, Heaven sends a third coming of age – for humanity itself. But are any of them ready for what is rising in the east?

What I say:

Although outside my usual genres I was intrigued by both the blurb and the front cover of this book. I was so thrilled to find that stepping out of my comfort zone brought me into contact with a book that was a delight from start to finish. It was clear from the outset that Justin Newland has thoroughly researched this era of Chinese history, and has captured within his writing the atmosphere of the setting. I really felt that I had been whisked back in time to the location at the Eastern end of the Great Wall of China.

This is a book of historical fantasy, but in terms of the fantasy, it is subtle, and firmly rooted in cultural beliefs and superstitions within the time period covered in the book, and as someone who does not normally read fantasy, this was perfect for me. I thought that the extremely reluctant protagonist Bolin was such a charming and multi-dimensional character. His reluctance to accept his destiny was completely endearing. I also found the side characters entertaining too. There were lots of heroes and villains within this gripping tale.

It is rare for me to feel comprehensively transported to a moment in time, in another country, with different cultures and customs, but this book did exactly that, which is testament to the research done by Justin Newland, and his writing style which encapsulated this atmospheric and enchanting story. I have not read his previous novel, but I shall be making a point of doing so.

Many thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours, and the author, Justin Newland for my copy of The Old Dragon’s Head, which I received in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

The book is available to purchase at the following link:

https://amzn.to/2XjoYQz

About the author:

Justin Newland with copies of his books. Picture: MARK ATHERTON

After a long career in I.T., Justin’s love of literature finally seduced him and, in 2006, he found his way to the creative keyboard to write his first novel.

Justin writes secret histories in which historical events and people are guided and motivated by numinous and supernatural forces.

His debut novel, The Genes of Isis, is a tale of love, destruction, and ephemeral power set under the skies of Ancient Egypt, and which tells the secret history of the human race, Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

His second is The Old Dragon’s Head, a historical fantasy and supernatural thriller set during the Ming Dynasty and played out in the shadows the Great Wall of China. It explores the secret history of the influences that shaped the beginnings of our times.  

He is currently working on a novel set in East Prussia during the Enlightenment in the 18th Century which reveals the secret history of perhaps the single most important event of the modern world – The Industrial Revolution.

Justin does books signings and gives author talks in libraries in South West England. He has appeared at many Literary Festivals, including Bristol, Weston-super-mare and Exeter. He regularly gives interviews on BBC local radio and local FM radio stations. 

Further Information

E.: justin.newland@hotmail.co.uk

W.: http://www.justinnewland.com/

F.: https://www.facebook.com/justin.newland.author/

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Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

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It is my day for the Ask Again, Yes Blog Tour! Many thanks to Sriya at Michael Joseph for my copy of Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane in exchange for an honest review.

What they say:

How much can a family forgive?

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the bond between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

What I say:

Wow, this book is an epic of magnificent proportions. It follows the two families over four decades, and addresses so many of the issues that the families face over the years including mental illness, violence, alcoholism, forgiveness, love, hate and above all hope.

I had seen lots of posts about it in recent months, and was intrigued about whether the book could possibly live up to the hype, but I need not have worried, because this book was incredible and will stay with me for a long time to come.

I loved the way every incident was covered from every point of view, so when something did not make complete sense, seeing it from the eyes of another character provided the clarity needed. The prose was beautiful throughout the book, and it just felt so effortless, the way the story twisted and turned but flowed in such a way that it all intersected between the lives of both families so simply.

This book is one of my favourite novels this year, and one that I highly recommend. Please check out the other stops on the blog tour!

The Love Solution by Ashley Croft

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What they say:

It’s all in the chemistry…

Sisters Sarah and Molly are close, but they couldn’t be more different. Sarah runs a craft business and is obsessed with all things shiny and glam, whilst Molly is much more at home in her white coat and goggles, working in a science lab.

When Molly is put onto a new assignment, she’s over the moon. It’s a high-profile, top secret project – and she has a handsome new boss to ogle at when she’s not bending over a petri dish…

But when Sarah finds herself on the painful end of a disastrous break-up, no amount of Ben & Jerry’s or trashy rom-coms can cheer her up. She wants to take a more drastic approach to dealing with her heartbreak, and one that only her sister – and perhaps a sprinkle of science – can help with . . .

Will Sarah find love where she least expects it, or is it really all in the chemistry?

What I say:

I was excited to read this book by one of my favourite writers Phillipa Ashley, under the pen name of Ashley Croft, and I was not disappointed. It is the perfect holiday read, and is so much more than a rom-com because the true focus is on sisterhood; the relationship that Molly and Sarah have, which has some ups and downs, including an ethical issue which I must admit made me feel a little uncomfortable. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, but what I would say is persevere even if the ethics make you question EVERYTHING.

I really loved the relationship Molly has with her boss, Ewan, and I found him, even at his grumpiest, to be that fatally attractive combination of sexy and intelligent, in spite of his flaws. The charity tandem race they ended up taking part in plus the training they did beforehand was both hilarious and a great way for them to spend time together.

Sarah was a more complex character but I love the bond she had with handsome widower Liam, who she met when he attended her class to make a wedding tiara for his daughter’s forthcoming marriage. He was just adorable in every way, and so incredibly patient

Many thanks to Netgalley and Avon Books for the opportunity to read and review this book. It is out today for Kindle at the bargain price of 99p and is available on the following link:

The Cornish Cream Tea Bus by Cressida McLaughlin

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What they say:

Next stop, Cornwall! Hop on The Cornish Cream Tea Bus for a delicious, romantic adventure…‘Captivating’ Heat Magazine‘Beautiful… heartwarming’ Zara Stoneley‘A wonderful ray of reading sunshine’ Heidi Swain

Baking fanatic, Charlie Quilter, is surprised when her late uncle bequeaths his vintage bus to her in his will. Keen to give the bus a new lease of life, Charlie thinks it will be the perfect mobile café for afternoon tea, and when her friend, Juliette, suggests Charlie comes to stay with her in the picturesque Cornish village of Porthgolow, she’s thrilled at the chance of a new start.

Charlie and her cute dog, Marmite, make new friends wherever their bus stops – except for the sexy but reclusive owner of the posh spa up on the hill, Daniel Harper, who isn’t very pleased that her bus is parked outside his lovely hotel.

Has Charlie’s Cornish dream developed a soggy bottom? Or can she convince Daniel that her bus could be the start of something wonderful for the little village – and for them?

What I say:

This book is the perfect summer read. It made me want to pack everything up, set up a catering business in a vintage bus and head straight to Cornwall. I loved the setting in Porthgolow, a fictional Cornish cove that sounded idyllic. I found my own vacations in Cornwall as a child, and more recently, formed my vision of what Porthgolow looked like, and I really felt that the book transported me there.

I really enjoyed Charlie as a character, she was strong and determined, and I really loved her interactions with Daniel. It always makes me happy to have a doggy character in a book, and I thought Marmite was an adorable little scamp!

This was a real feel-good book, with a little intrigue thrown into the mix. As much as I would want to live in this Cornish book world, having driven on Cornish roads, Charlie was a much braver person than I, because I would not want to drive a vintage bus on the twisty lanes in Cornwall! This was such a wonderful read, that I can highly recommend.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Harper Collins for the opportunity to read and review this book. On sale today, I shall be getting a copy for my bookshelf too!

The Beijing Conspiracy by Shamini Flint

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Welcome to my stop on the Love Books Blog Tour for Shamini Flint’s latest novel, The Beijing Conspiracy.

What they say:

“I need your support. There is no one else I can trust. Please help her. Please help our daughter.”

When ex-Delta Force operator Jack Ford receives a letter containing news of a daughter he never knew he had, he feels compelled to return to China, a country he hasn’t visited since 1989 when, as a young American spy, he fell in love with a beautiful student activist and found himself caught up in the horrors of the Tiananmen Square massacre. But why has Xia got in touch now, after a thirty-year silence?

On arrival in Beijing, Jack finds himself accidentally in possession of an explosive piece of information both the Chinese and American governments are desperate to get their hands on. Alone in a strange city, suspected of being a traitor by his own side, not knowing whom to trust, Jack is faced with an impossible dilemma: should he save his new-found daughter or prevent a new world war from breaking out?

What I say:

I was so intrigued by this that I jumped at the opportunity to take part in the blog tour. I can remember so vividly the sight of the ‘tank man’ standing in front of the tank holding his shopping bag, during the Tiananmen Square massacre. My daughter was an International Relations in Asia postgrad, so I know that there are people who were not born at the time who are also aware of the incident and the iconic image it created. It was one of only a handful of the images of news events in my life that will stay with me forever, and like many people I always wondered what happened to him.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks to the troubles in Tiananmen, and it was clear to see that events that took place back then shaped the person Jack Ford was to become. My only minor bugbear with the present day story-line, involving rising tensions between China and the United States was that I would have preferred all present day politicians to have been fictional. Although the current US President was not specifically named, he was identifiable by his foibles. A completely fictional President would have been better. That being said, that was my only minor issue with the book. The rising tensions, however, were completely believable because of the current state of world politics, and international relations, which really added to the tension in the story-line.

I loved the spy element to the story, and found the side characters both compelling and interesting, particularly Confucius, whose personality jumped off the page for me. I found the action gripping, and as the main character, Jack Ford was a commanding force to be reckoned with. As heroes go, Jack Ford was pretty much perfect, just the right level of jaded cynicism combined with a sharp mind and excellent military skills. I really hope that Shamini will write another book starring him, because I would love to read it!

Please check out the other blogs on the blog tour!

This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman

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This book intrigued me from the very start and I was thrilled when Gallic Books gave me the opportunity to read it. Many thanks to Gallic Books for my gifted copy of the book. Fiona Kidman has written a book that is part fact, part fictionalised accounts about one of the last criminals to be sentenced to death in New Zealand in the 1950s.

Based upon the documentation from the trial, and additional research, this book is a fictional account of the real life of Albert Laurence Black, or Paddy as he was known by friends, who moved as a young man, to New Zealand, in search of a better life than the life he had in Belfast with his parents and younger brother. It follows his arrival in New Zealand, and what lead to him to becoming a caretaker of a boarding house where his path crossed with that of Alan Jacques, who he was eventually convicted of murdering, and sentenced to death.

With my own legal background, I was horrified to read of the trial, and how it was affected by the prejudices of New Zealand society, where there were concerns that the morality of young people was being affected by the influx of immigrants and outward influences, such as the writing of Mickey Spillane, and rock and roll music. It is clear that this is a story of a young man who was a victim of a miscarriage of justice, having been judged more harshly as an immigrant. Not all witnesses were called and there were other errors in the trial which suggested that his treatment in the courts was inadequate. It also seems strange and sadly disappointing that some 60 years later, immigrants are still unfairly judged the world over, and castigated simply because they have arrived in a new country in search of a better life.

I found this book was sympathetically written but it left me feeling so angry at the injustice of it all, which I suppose is the intent. Applying laws here in the present day, at the very most Paddy Black would have been convicted of manslaughter, and not murder, and that in itself is an injustice. He was the penultimate person to be sentenced to death in New Zealand, and we can but hope that such injustices are a thing of the past. This was a fascinating read, and is a book I can heartily recommend.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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What they say:

Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?

Sayaka Murata brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. With some laugh-out-loud moments prompted by the disconnect between Keiko’s thoughts and those of the people around her, she provides a sharp look at Japanese society and the pressure to conform, as well as penetrating insights into the female mind. Convenience Store Woman is a fresh, charming portrait of an unforgettable heroine that recalls Banana Yoshimoto, Han Kang, and Amelie.

What I say:

This was a very quick, really fun read. The popularity worldwide for this book had appealed to me so when I finally saw it in a bookshop I had to get it. I wasn’t disappointed, it really does live up to the hype. It was an incredibly quirky insight into the thought processes of Keiko Furukura, who is the eponymous ‘Convenience Store Woman’.

I really found myself warming to Keiko, who does not fit in to societal norms, but feels that she should do what she can to fit in, or at least to give an appearance that leads people to imagine she fits in, when she clearly does not. I felt sorry for her in the way she constantly felt that she had to respond in a certain way to situations, and relied upon her skills at mimicry to do so.

I felt sorry for her when she found Shiraha, a detestable character who also failed to fit in to the society around them, and she decides to use him just to make her sister and friends think she was ‘normal’. What I took from this humorous novel was that the moral of the story is that if you find a niche in life where you know your own identity, you don’t need to change to suit anyone else.