Book Review: Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll

FrosthollowhallThe gates to Frost Hollow Hall loomed before us. They were great tall things, the ironwork all twisted leaves and queer-looking flowers. And they were very definitely shut.

Tilly’s heart sinks. Will’s at the door of their cottage, daring her to come ice-skating up at Frost Hollow Hall. No one goes near the place these days. Rumour has it that the house is haunted . . . Ten years ago the young heir, Kit Barrington, drowned there in the lake. But Tilly never turns down a dare.

Then it goes horribly wrong. The ice breaks, Tilly falls through and almost drowns. At the point of death, a beautiful angel appears in the water and saves her. Kit Barrington’s ghost.

Kit needs Tilly to solve the mystery of his death, so that his spirit can rest in peace. In order to discover all she can, Tilly gets work as a maid at Frost Hollow Hall. But the place makes her flesh crawl. It’s all about the dead here, she’s told, and in the heart of the house she soon discovers all manner of dark secrets . . .

Frost Hollow Hall is a thrilling historical fiction debut. Told in Tilly’s unique voice, it is a tale of love and loss, and how forgiveness is the key to recovery

Received off Netgalley as an ebook and read on an ipad using kindle software.

10 years after the drowning of the young Kit Barrington, Tilly is sitting at home with her sister and mother, awaiting the return of her father who has been working away. Will, the local butcher’s boy, arrives and dares her to go skating with him. She accepts without realising that he means to go skating on the very lake where Kit had drowned 10 years before.

The ice breaks under Tilly, making her fall into the water. Whilst she is drowning, she is visited by a blond and beautiful angel, who ensures that she doesnt drown – however she gets the impression that he has saved her, in order that she saves him.

Over the next few days, and with the help of Will and the downstairs staff, Tilly spends more time with in Frost Hollow Hall, and even seeing the remaining family members. She finds out how she can the angry young spirit inhabiting the house and tries, even when the adults around her dont want her to. There are secrets held by many, in and outside of the house, and that adds strain to the situation. 

There are hauntings at several different layers – the house as a whole gets haunted by angry spirits that hurt and break things, Tilly gets haunted with dreams of her blond haired angel calling to her to return to her, and Kit’s mother is haunted by memories of her dead son who never comes back to visit her in dreams or otherwise.  Tilly also has to deal with personal grief of her own, when she realises that neither her father nor her sister are the people she thought they were.

In the end (trying not to do plot spoilers here), Tilly is the agent that brings certain issues to a head, and moves people to action where they have previously been stuck in a moment. She is also able to come to some level of acceptance of what her father and sister have done, and she can see her own, better, path without them.

This is down as a “Children’s book” and I’m certainly impressed with it whether that’s the right category or not for it. I have already recommended it to someone with teenage boys as an October read. Well done Emma!


Book Review: Maid for the Billionaire (Book 1) (Legacy Collection) by Ruth Cardello

maidMaid for the Billionaire (Book 1) (Legacy Collection) by Ruth Cardello

Dominic Corisi knew instantly that Abigail Dartley was just the distraction he was looking for, especially since having her took a bit more persuading than he was used to. So when business forces him to fly to China, he decides to take her with him, but on his terms. No promises. No complications. Just sex.

Abby has always been the responsible one. She doesn’t believe in taking risks; especially when it comes to men – until she meets Dominic. He’s both infuriating and intoxicating, a heady combination. Their trip to China revives a long forgotten side of Abby, but also reveals a threat to bring down Dominic’s company. With no time to explain her actions, Abby must either influence the outcome of his latest venture and save his company or accept her role as his mistress and leave his fate to chance. Does she love him enough to risk losing him for good?

Dominic, having heard that his estranged father has just died, tries to escape to one of his boltholes, only to find his housekeeper (actually her sister), in the place cleaning.  When she doesnt behave the way he wants or expects, he realises that he’s come upon exactly the person he needs in his life right now.

There is an instant attraction between the pair, despite his arrogance and bullish behaviour. The next few days are a whirlwind, taking Abby into a world she’s never known, facing both Dominic’s sister at the reading of their father’s will, and an emergency trip to China to recover a major business deal.   There are threats that Abby faces but wonders – perhaps too late – whether she’s in over her head and done the right thing.

This is the first in the series, so there are some strings left untied (the issue over the will and Dominic’s sister and you can see that some other relationships have started in order to be carried over into other books), which is fairly standard in series. Not entirely sure I’m happy with the “kidnapping is sexy” scenarios (I’m sure there’s a Feminism diatribe in there somewhere if I tried hard enough, but I wont).  Some of the scenes are a little “racy” but should be acceptable to all but the most easily offended

Sunday Salon: Bookcases and finishing TBRs

TSSbadge1How many bookcases do you have, and are they all in one room or different rooms? Do you think you will ever read every book in your TBR stack? How many bookcases do you have, and how do you organize the shelves?

My bookshelves are all in one room, however….

I have two sets of bookshelves on either side of my fireplace.   To the right are three longish shelves that contain my “permanent collection” books – the ones that I’m am not willing to get rid of. These are my hardbacks, the Persephone greys, the signed editions etc. These shelves are single deep, but are slowly filling up with overflow (usually hardbacks) from the other shelves

To the left are three shorter shelves, double deep and packed to the gills. These are the books, usually paperbacks, that I plan to get let go sooner or later, usually once read.  Occasionally I do a cull here and give people the book before I’ve read it. Down on the bottom shelf are the hardback graphic novels, another set of books that I dont plan to give away.

As I spent 2013 reading primarily ebooks, I’ve not kept a check on my paper books, and therefore have not added any into general circulation with my friends. Unfortunately I’ve not done a corresponding stop on adding to this pile, so it’s spilled out onto the coffee table as another bookcase!  2014 I tried to read more paperbooks  – I still haven’t cleared down as many as I need, but I’m getting there!

2015 is the year I plan to have a better balance between paper and ebooks to stop myself getting into this situation again! At the very least I will have my paperbacks back onto the right side of the fireplace!  A few months ago I did a “tidy” round that meant books were put in themes – dont know if that made things better or worse!

So tell me about your bookshelves

Author Spotlight: Simon Fairbanks

SimonI first met Simon at a local Spoken word Event in Birmingham, England in September 2014. After some conversation about reading, writing and blogging, we agreed on an interview.

Hi, so introduce yourself

Hello, I am Simon Fairbanks, a writer living in the West Midlands (in the middle of England). I have written a large number of short stories since joining the Birmingham Writers’ Group three years ago and I published my first novel in March.

Tell us about your current story. What’s it about and where can we get it?

My novel is a fantasy called The Sheriff and it would appeal to fans of His Dark Materials. It takes place in a world called Nephos, set on top of the clouds above our own world. The magical creatures fled to Nephos three hundred years ago because of the persecution they suffered at the hands of non-magical people. Now, the magical races live across the clouds in peace and a team of Sheriffs keep an eye on them to make sure the peace continues.

The Sheriff is a small taste of this world. It focuses on Sheriff Denebola who encounters a village being tormented by a winged demon. Denebola does not believe in demons so he investigates. However, he soon discovers that the demon is not the only shadow cast over the village. There are lots of twists and turns, not to mention some humour and heartbreak.

The Sheriff is available for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Apple devices and in paperback. [Editor: I have a copy of the book, and will be doing a review in due course - keep an eye out for it!]

Why and how did you write The Sheriff?The Sheriff For Amazon

I had written short stories for two years and thought it was time to graduate to novel writing. Short stories are like running on a treadmill. They are a great way to build your ability but you need to run a marathon if you want to win a medal. The Sheriff was my marathon.

I was inspired by lots of local writers, particularly Katharine D’Souza and Andrew Killeen. I attended their talks at Book To The Future, a festival organised by the University of Birmingham in October, and they gave me the motivation to write a novel.

Happily, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) began one week after the festival and I accepted the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I reached the target with just ten minutes to spare! It was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to aspiring novelists.

Have you got anything else in the pipeline?

I have almost finished my short story collection, Breadcrumbs, which contains a mixture of horrors,

fantasies and fairy tales. It also contains a novella that returns to the world of Nephos and features Sheriff Denebola. I hope to release the collection next month. You can see some early artwork on my Facebook page.

I am also one of the ten co-writers of Circ, a collaborative novel which was written as a result of the Ten To One writing competition. Each of the writers wrote from the perspective of one character and a writer was voted out each month based on the chapters that they wrote. It was essentially the writing equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing!

circCirc is a hard novel to summarise but it follows a misfit of characters and their interactions with an old Romanian with a mysterious past, all taking place in Skegness! My character is a clown called Mungo. Joey with an equally dark past. The novel is being launched at the Library of Birmingham on Friday 28th November and you can purchase tickets now.  [Editor: I have a copy of this book to review too - keep an eye out around the 28th November to find out what I think!]

How do you write? What are the tools of your trade?

I write my stories on a laptop using Microsoft Word and store them safely on Dropbox.

However, my wife recently bought me a series of super-cool moleskine notebooks, with themed covers such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Lego! I now sketch out story ideas on the train. Bizarrely, paper and pen works really well for hammering out ideas. Sometimes whole reams of dialogue and description come flowing out of my pen, uninterrupted. This makes it so much easier when you eventually get to the laptop. There is nothing worse than staring at a bright white, vacuous screen for half an hour, waiting for the right words to come along.

Who are your writing heroes?

I am in awe of Stephen King and Terry Pratchett for their sheer prolificacy of high quality writing. They write one book a year (sometimes two) and they are always worth a read.

However, I particularly admire Philip Pullman for writing His Dark Materials, my favourite book of all time. He has a knack for conveying very complicated adult themes to young readers without ever losing focus on story, character or adventure. His writing style is brilliant: simple and clear but full of great language and dialogue.

What is your favourite kind of character?

I enjoy reading about lovable, well-meaning underdogs who become unlikely heroes. There are many examples of this in popular literature. Some of my favourites are Lee Scoresby in His Dark Materials, Jon Snow and Tyrion in A Game of Thrones, Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings, Sam Vimes in Discworld and Eddie Dean in The Dark Tower.

Traditional Publishing or self publishing? Would you recommend it to someone else?

I wrote The Sheriff with a clear intention to self-publish. I hated the idea of working really hard on a novel, creating something I was proud of, only to then leave it stored on my hard drive for years, whilst I desperately searched for an agent and a publisher that might not even want it.

Self-publishing was quick, simple and free. My novel is now available in multiple formats on various sites, gathering reviews, and I even make a little money. I believe it is the way forward for first-time novelists.

All self-publishers hope for a traditional book deal one day. That seems to be the only way for overnight fame and fortune because publishers have the right connections to get you a review in The Guardian. But for now, I am happy to spend some time developing my craft and building up my number of titles.

If you had any advice to give to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Firstly, write. Quite simply, if you don’t write, you cannot be a writer so find time to write stories.

Secondly, start small. Don’t launch into writing a seven-book epic to fill the void left by Harry Potter. Write a short story, then another, then a few more. Keep practising and training and flexing that creative muscle.

Thirdly, and most importantly, find a writers’ group. You cannot write alone. Writing can be hard and lonely and most people don’t understand the appeal. You need peers to give you motivation and feedback and empathy. Without the Birmingham Writers’ Group, I would never have rediscovered the joys of writing fiction. Their support has been priceless.

Where can we find you on the internet?

My website is and it features a blog with writing advice and book reviews. I am also available on Twitter and Facebook.

If you would like to stay in touch then you can sign up for my infrequent newsletter.

Book Review: Under the Eagle by Simon Scarrow


It is 42 AD, and Quintus Licinius Cato has just arrived in Germany as a new recruit to the Second Legion, the toughest in the Roman army. If adjusting to the rigours of military life isn’t difficult enough for the bookish young man, he also has to contend with the disgust of his colleagues when, because of his imperial connections, he is appointed a rank above them. As second-in-command to Macro, the fearless, battle-scarred centurion who leads them, Cato will have more to prove than most in the adventures that lie ahead. Then the men discover that the army’s next campaign will take them to a land of unparalleled barbarity – Britain. After the long march west, Cato and Macro undertake a special mission that will thrust them headlong into a conspiracy that threatens to topple the Emperor himself..

 This story is told primarily from the POV of Cato, mixed with Macro the new Centurion. Cato arrives as a new recruit to the Second Legion, son of a slave, made a freeman on proviso that he joins the army, and having spent most of his short life reading and writing in the Emperor’s Palace.

Being young, weak and untrained makes him a target for the more experience soldiers he is now in command of, and not only has to undergo the training but be faced with bullying.

However, the situations he is put in, along with the mentoring of Macro, much of the book is spent as he comes to terms and grows up in the army. Soon they are on their way to Britain – the land of dragons and vicious locals who would be waiting on the beaches in order to slaughter the army as they landed.

Meanwhile there is much intrigue, blood, battles, dangerous missions, murder, spying, blackmail, double and triple crosses and the search for a secret buried treasure.

This is not high literature, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s faced paced, and easily pulls you from one chapter to the next. The battles are staged well and easily demonstrate the physicality of hand to hand combat where people are fighting to the death. It’s a nice demonstration of Cato’s growth from never having handled a sword or javelin before to being in the middle of the final battle.

Book Review: The King’s General by Daphne Du Maurier

kingsgeneralHonor Harris is only eighteen when she first meets Richard Grenvile, proud, reckless – and utterly captivating. But following a riding accident, Honor must reconcile herself to a life alone. As the English Civil war is waged across the country, Richard rises through the ranks of the army, marries and makes enemies, and Honor remains true to him.

Decades later, an undaunted Sir Richard, now a general serving King Charles I, finds her. Finally they can share their passion in the ruins of her family’s great estate on the storm-tossed Cornish coast-one last time before being torn apart, never to embrace again

Set in Cornwall during the English Civil War of the 1640’s and  told from the viewpoint of an elderly Honor Harris as she reflects back on her life and love. Eighteen year old Honor loses her heart and prepares to marry Richard Grevile until an accident permanently cripples her from the waist down. Richard and Honor separate, and meet years later during the Civil War as he is now the King’s General in the West for King Charles I,  as they fight the Parliamentarian rebels. While Honor refuses to marry Richard, her feelings for him are as strong as before and they begin a relationship as the tides of war ebb and flow around them.

For protection, Honor takes up residence at Menabilly, the family home of Honor’s brother-in-law, Jonathan Rashleigh. She is not the only section of the family to do so, and there are continual undercurrents of strain that are only made worse by the war coming close by. Richard visits Honor here regularly and persuades her and Jonathan to hide his son Dick there. There is only the implication of anything more than a platonic relationship, in the form of gossip, name calling, and Richard’s repeated staying overnight in Honor’s bedroom. Menabilly suffers at the hands of the Parliamentarians however, who wreck the place in reaction to the losses they have suffered. Honor soon finds herself homeless not once, but twice, as her family react badly to her friendship with the domineering Richard.

Being a woman and a cripple, living on the humour of others during a civil war, means Honor can often be on the outskirts of the war, and much of her updates on the war is from second hand gossip and from the rare letters from Richard  – even rarer when he is forced to the continent.

The New Model Army are brought in under Cromwell, and those people previously supporting Parliament realise just how worse things could be under a Puritan leader and Richard returns to lead the potential new uprising. However, he has burnt too many bridges, fallen out with too many people of influence, for his Royalist rebellion to be any success, so he is forced back to the continent to waste his days uselessly until his death.

Honor and her brother Robin, two of the few remaining members of what was previously a large extended family, finish their lives in quiet retirement, with Honor writing this tale.

Richard is not necessarily a sympathetic character – he is fickle of temper, willing to pit one person against the other (even family members), use and discard people to his own ends, doesnt care for those who may hate him in the process, including his own sons, legitimate and otherwise. Even though he loves Honor, he isnt faithful at any point even when courting back in the early days.

Honor is stubborn and wilful in youth, and her disability in older age slows her down slightly, in body if not in spirit. Some would say she is blinded by love and ignorant of Richard’s flaws, but she sees them (she believes) and still follows him as necessary

As per other Du Maurier novels, the story – though fictional – is based somewhat in fact (apparently!) but it takes someone like Du Maurier to produce a novel as good as this .


Book Review: The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne Du Maurier

flightAs a young guide for Sunshine Tours, Armino Fabbio leads a pleasant, if humdrum life — until he becomes circumstantially involved in the murder of an old peasant woman in Rome. The woman, he gradually comes to realise, was his family’s beloved servant many years ago, in his native town of Ruffano. He returns to his birthplace, and once there, finds it is haunted by the phantom of his brother, Aldo, shot down in flames in ’43.

Over five hundred years before, the sinister Duke Claudio, known as The Falcon, lived his twisted, brutal life, preying on the people of Ruffano. But now it is the twentieth century, and the town seems to have forgotten its violent history. But have things really changed? The parallels between the past and present become ever more evident

I read this years ago, had a vague remembrance about it, but my review at the time was appalling. I had a newer copy on the shelf so decided it was time to bite the bullet and read it again.

It starts with Armino working in Rome with his Anglo and American tour group, and through various means, ends up leaving a 10,000 lire note on the body of a drunken woman lying on the steps of the local church. The following morning he finds out that the woman has been murdered, the large note having disappeared and that he did in fact know the woman as someone who had worked for his family 20 years before.  Armino returns to his home town – ditching his tour group and his company – to find out more. Times have moved on, and there are few people who remember him as an 11 year old, who was driven off one day by his mother and her lover, the Nazi German Commandant (his father having died several years previously).

Armino gets pulled into the organisation of a local Festival that, to his shock, is being organised by his older brother Aldo, who he had believed killed in action during the war. The Festival is to celebrate the life and influence of Duke Claudio.  There are mixed views on Claudio, with most people thinking him rather mad and brutal. Some people think he flew off a tall building (being the Flight of the Falcon), others thinking he drove 18 hours chariot through the town, massacring loads of the local population.   Aldo is the driving force behind the festival, believing that Claudio is misunderstood and should be celebrated.  Armino has always remembered the older Aldo being a dominating personality even when younger, so his personality hasnt changed much since the family split during the war (although Aldo has a different view of his mother after she took up with various men in the years after her first husband’s death).

In the following days some shocking events happen, ultimately resulting in public humiliation for certain individuals, all with a backdrop of the students getting rebellious in the lead up to the Festival.  Meanwhile Armino is trying to reestablish a relationship with his brother having been apart for 20 years, and both believing the other was dead for so long.

The book leads up to the Festival when, refusing Aldo’s command to get out of town, Armino ends up taking part in the rarely performed 18 horse chariot ride through the town (which previously resulted in the deaths of thousands). This is part of an exciting but ultimately tragic ending. Both Aldo and Armino learn the meaning of family, and confront some horrible truths from the past.

Parallels can be drawn with what went on in the country during World War Two – it’s the new C and E students (the ones who have brought the money into the town) against the old Arts faculty (who havent the money and are rather living in the past) and the youth and vigour of the first is rebelling against the old staid latter with a certain level of armed violence.