This is another post inspired by the lovely Zoé – over at Zooloo’s Book Diary – and her wonderful idea of the #AuthorTakeOver. She featured one of my favourites, Kim Nash, a few weeks ago – do call in and take a look at some of the excellent posts. But at the moment she’s featuring – every day, for 18 days – the equally wonderful Amanda James.
Now I really had to join in with this one – Mandy was one of the very first authors I reviewed on my blog: when you go back that far (and the author has become a friend – we’ve been through a lot of life’s ups and downs together!) providing a quote for one of Zoé’s posts just wasn’t quite enough, and I really wanted to share a few of my reviews again.
So let me take you back – way back! – in time. I never did get round to reading her first, Dancing in the Rain (published again for kindle in 2014 – sorry Mandy!) and the first time I tried her writing was with the wonderful A Stitch in Time.
I read and reviewed this one back in March 2013: I’d only been blogging for a month, and if Mandy’s writing has changed a little over all those years, my ability to write reviews has changed rather a lot too. In those days I didn’t include the “blurb”, and tried to tell the story myself (you live and learn, eh?) – but I hope you can still tell how very much I enjoyed it…
This is such a clever book, a really easy read which I enjoyed immensely. Amanda James has such an imagination…
I really don’t want to tell the whole story and spoil it for others but the Amazon blurb will tell you that Sarah is a history teacher – getting over the break up of her marriage in the worst possible circumstances – who is presented with the proposition of time travel by evening visitor with a clipboard, John Needler. Her reaction is wonderful and very real – she’s wholly convinced she’s hallucinating.
The whole set up – the mysterious controllers (the spindly ones), the Time Needles and the Stitches in Time saving nine – is so well thought through, and Sarah begins her mission to change history. She travels back to the blitz in Sheffield, to the time of the suffragettes and to the locust-infested US west – and the ways in which she tries to complete her missions are so cleverly and entertainingly told. And Sarah’s present day story continues throughout, a more conventional story of misunderstandings, trust and love which proceeds and finishes quite perfectly.
The slices of historical life during Sarah’s time travels are beautifully done, a brilliant reinterpretation of life-changing events, wonderfully entertaining and constantly tongue-in-cheek seen through Sarah’s modern eyes. She’s an excellent character, feisty, sharp. I particularly loved the reinterpretation of some common sayings from the perspective of the Stitches and Needles.
Overall, great fun and an excellent escapist read that leaves you with a smile on your face.
Here’s my review…
Having so enjoyed A Stitch in Time, I was rather expecting more of the same, the vivid imagination and escapist fun – but, other than the same gentle humour and excellent writing, it was totally different. But different in a wholly good way – I absolutely loved it and would unreservedly recommend it to all.
The book opens with an unidentified character making a neat pile of their clothes on a beach at night-time, placing a note on top weighted down with a pebble, and swimming out to sea to end it all. We then meet the lovely Tristan, vividly described with his floppy hair and over-large glasses, a doctor who has moved from Swindon with his wife Karen and two young children to live in the village of Kelerston in Cornwall, near to where he grew up.
Karen suffers panic attacks – in the words of Harold the village butcher (part of a wonderful cast of supporting characters) she is “agorapheebric “. Through her friendship with Jenny, the young vicar’s wife, Karen starts to emerge from her isolation, joining the village choir – but the possibility of entering a TV competition becomes a serious threat to their new life. Into the idyllic setting there comes blackmail, abuse, death and betrayal – the book is a real page turner, while never losing its gentle touches of humour, an absolutely engrossing read.
I loved the slow reveal of the links between the book’s opening and the main characters, and the building tension as secrets are revealed and problems are faced up to. I absolutely loved Tristan – warm, funny, long-suffering, loyal and loving, a fantastic father and husband. In fact, all the characters are wonderful, beautifully and vividly drawn, from the bubbly Jenny to the evil blackmailer, through to Tristan’s sister Emma, the kindly childhood teacher and the toy shop owner who reminds Tristan of Mr Benn.
This book was quite exceptional – don’t miss it, whatever you do.
We all have secrets……
Ambitious journalist Rosa Fernley has been asked to fulfil her grandmother Jocelyn’s dying wish. Jocelyn has also passed on a secret – in the summer of 1968, fleeing from the terror of a bullying husband, she visited the mysterious Tintagel Castle. Jocelyn wasn’t seeking love, but she found it on the rugged clifftops in the shape of Jory, a local man as enigmatic and alluring as the region itself.
But she was already married, and knew her husband would never let her find happiness and peace in Jory’s arms. Now as her days are nearing their end, she begs Rosa to go back to Tintagel, but is unwilling, or unable, to tell her why. Rosa is reluctant – she has a job in London, a deadline that won’t wait and flights of fancy are just not in her nature. She realises it might be the last thing she will do for her beloved grandmother and agrees to go.
Once in Tintagel, Rosa is challenged to confront secrets of her own, as shocking events threaten to change everything she has ever believed about herself and her family. She also meets a guide to the castle, Talan, a man who bears a striking resemblance to Jory. Will the past remain cloaked in tragedy, sadness and the pain of unrequited love? Or can Rosa find the courage and strength to embrace the secrets of the past, and give hope to the future?
In tone and style, I think it’s fair to say that this lovely read sits somewhere between the Stitch books and the romantic suspense. It opens dramatically with a vivid scene from childhood memory – the relevance of which later becomes pivotal to the story – then focuses on Rosa’s relationship with her grandmother and her promise to visit Tintagel to fulfil her last wish. I warmed to Rosa instantly – a well drawn twenty-something, she has an infectious enthusiasm and sense of humour, as she explores Tintagel, encounters the local characters and finds herself involved in a series of events that are as much of a surprise to her as they are to the reader.
There’s a strong psychic and supernatural flavour to the story, but nothing that ever becomes in the least uncomfortable – the strangeness and magic (what Rosa calls the “spiritual hoo ha”) is handled with a light touch, and sits well with the setting, with much of the action focused on the vividly described castle and the church on the headland. And there’s a good balance between the psychic elements and day-to-day life – meals in the pub, full English breakfasts, walks over uneven ground in unsuitable shoes, the choice of clothes for a day out when you’ve dropped chips on your only sensible t-shirt, encounters with a surly waiter… and the most endearing white witch in Morganna that you’re ever likely to meet. And as for Talan, the castle guide – he’s simply gorgeous, a quite perfect romantic hero, but a sequence of misunderstandings and the shadow of the past mean that the course of true love never runs as smoothly as it should.
Family relationships, history and layered secrets give the book a little more depth than you’d expect – all handled really well, and never heavy. Despite the seriousness of some of the themes, the humour is always present – but at a perfectly judged level. I’m not usually a laugh-out-loud person, but some of Rosa’s observations and conversations were simply wonderful.
If I’m really honest, this book wasn’t what I was expecting at all – maybe partly because of the dark and brooding (but beautiful) cover – but I really loved it. Don’t overlook this one, whatever you do – it’s a perfect read for the summer.
Who can you trust, when you can’t trust yourself?
Holly West has turned her life around. She’s found a successful and loving husband in Simon and is expecting twins. She is definitely a woman who has taken back control of her future.
Until she gives birth, only for one twin to survive. Holly can’t let it go.
Holly’s world is in a tailspin and suddenly she can’t trust herself or anyone else. No one believes her, not her husband or her best friend. Because she thinks she knows the truth…her son is still alive and she won’t stop until she finds him.
Yes, this was the point at which I decided my strength was writing reviews… but I will admit this book did worry me a little. I was reading less and less on the dark side, and I was afraid I really might not like it. But of course, I really didn’t need to worry at all…
Do you know, I really don’t like reviewing psychological thrillers – but only because I find it so difficult to do. I want to say “what about that bit when…”, and know I just can’t because it would give the entire story away. The story behind this one is quite mind-blowing – cruelty, deception, lies, arrogance – and so magnificently done. But I’m not going to tell you anything more about it. No, nothing.
Instead, I’ll talk about the characters. And, do you know, I’ll admit that Holly left me a bit cold at first. I haven’t come across many beautiful five foot nine ex-models with a resolved drug addiction, married to a millionaire. I far preferred her dippy friend Demi – I even tried to find common ground with her mother. But she won me over. As she grows in strength throughout the book, I like her more and more. By the end, I was ready to cheer and fist-pump on her behalf.
Her husband Simon? I liked getting inside his head, behind the smiling face. Well no, I didn’t like… but you draw your own conclusions. Other characters worked really well for me too – but I can’t tell you about them… but their motivations rang true for me.
OK, so let’s look at the story telling. Do you know, at times this book is actually quite slow? People navel-gazing, reflecting, talking about what’s going on. But it works – it really works. Every time the action starts, you’re glad to have had a bit of a respite – a bit like the flat parts of a fairground ride. The action is explosive, edgy, exciting, non-stop – and, thank goodness, slows down again before the next peak.
Then there’s the writing – and the setting. I’m happy to group those two together. When writing about Cornwall, the happy place, some of the descriptions are quite beautiful – and a far cry from the London scenes that are all spiky and hard-edged. The emotional content is great too – the joy and pain of motherhood, the acute sense of loss and betrayal, the tearing in half between what you want to do and what you must do.
Now, I haven’t told you the story, have I? Let me just check… no, we’re ok! 100% a winner for me – go on, please try it, see if you agree… but just wait until you get that bit when…
And I suspect that’s the point at which I stopped reading and reviewing Mandy’s books for a while – although I’m still annoyed I missed out on reading The Calico Cat in 2018 because it looked far more my personal cup of tea, and it was just bad timing from me.
But I can see she’s been doing rather well without me – thank goodness for Bloodhound Books, eh? – and her later books have brought her so many new fans. And I just couldn’t resist dipping in just one more time – with The Feud in April 2019.
When secrets run deep, revenge will surface…
Matthew Trevelyar leaves his job in London to return to his Cornish roots in the village of St Agnes. After losing his wife to leukaemia, he wants to make a fresh start.
His new life is going well until Matt returns to his cottage to discover a grim warning on his doorstop. The message is clear – Leave now and go back to London.
Not wanting to give up his new life, Matt eventually discovers that there has been a 200-year-old feud between his family, the Trevelyars, and another local family, the Penhallows.
When Matt learns that one of his ancestors burned down a barn belonging to the Penhallows, and that there were tragic consequences, he understands why his family name is mud. But why is Matt paying for the sins of his ancestors now? And is there more to the feud than meets the eye?
And let’s take one more look at my review…
While Matt moves to the Cornish village of St Agnes hoping for a fresh start, escaping the sadness of his loss, he most certainly never expected to be subjected to an escalating campaign of revenge and hatred that threatens his life. It was a really refreshing change to see a male main character and viewpoint – and I very much liked Matt with his wry humour as the events that befall him become increasingly bizarre and threatening.
There’s a love story here – not with predatory fellow teacher Jess (an excellent character, a touch over-the-top but totally believable), but with artist Lavender. But Lavender’s a Penhallow, and Matt’s a Trevelyar – and the book’s dramatic opening scenes have already shown us the long-standing enmity between the two families. But the current campaign is inspired by a rather more recent “wrong”, something more personal – and its twisted and evil perpetrator will stop at nothing to ensure that Matt’s days at St Agnes are numbered.
I do suspect this book might have more appeal for readers of romantic suspense than a fan of hard-edged thrillers, but that’s in no way a criticism of a story, full of unexpected twists and turns and more than a touch of evil manipulation that I found compelling. The writing is excellent, the author a superb story-teller, the pacing absolutely spot-on as the early warnings increase in danger and threat and become something considerably more dangerous.
I began by being intrigued, a little aghast at the extent of hatred and manipulation – and the tension continues to build, the atmosphere thickens, and the dramatic scenes that follow are both shocking and gripping. The twist in the story towards its end is cleverly done – and all the better for being entirely unexpected.
And I particularly enjoyed the setting – vividly described, a strong sense of place, the small Cornish village where stories spread in an instant by word-of-mouth, peopled with eccentric and well-drawn lesser characters, the shadow of past history, and the touch of everyday witchery.
I’m really pleased to have tried the author’s writing again. Although I’ll admit this was a book I wouldn’t usually be attracted to, I very much like the direction her writing has taken – this was an engrossing story told with confidence and great assurance, but still with those original and quirky touches that have always distinguished her writing.
And that’s quite a fitting note to finish on, isn’t it? I’m so delighted by Amanda James’ tremendous success, she’s always been one rather special writer and one of my favourite people. If you’ve never tried her books, this might just be the moment.. if you follow Zooloo’s Book Diary and her daily posts, and there will be a giveaway to win a signed copy of Mandy’s latest book, Dark Deception (but hey, at just 99p for the e-book at the moment, you might like to try it anyway!).
About the author
Amanda James has written since she was a child, but never imagined that her words would be published. Then in 2010, after many twists and turns, the dream of becoming a writer came true.
Amanda has written many short stories and has twelve novels currently published. Her time travelling debut, A Stitch in Time, was published in April of 2013 and met with great success.
Amanda lives in Cornwall and is inspired every day by the beautiful coastline near her home. Six suspense/mystery novels are set there: Somewhere Beyond the Sea, Summer in Tintagel, Behind the Lie, Another Mother, Rip Current (now called Deep Water), and Dark Deception.
Amanda can usually be found playing on the beach with her family, or walking the cliff paths planning her next book.