Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC #Histfic #Romance THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair

Today’s Review-A-Book Challenger is Arra. She blogs here

Arra chose to read The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair

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This is a historical romance set in late 16th century Scotland.  Isobell, along with her brother Jasper and their friend Ian, have run away from London in order for Isobell to escape marriage to ‘Wicked Richard’, and are to start a new life in rural Aberdeenshire.  So begins the ‘fairy tale’ story of the Mermaid and the Bear.  I call it a ‘fairy story’ because it contains so many elements of that genre and is charmingly written, although the magical elements are more prosaic than the title might imply.

The book starts with a bold and intriguing statement – “The first time the sea killed me…” a portent that is echoed much later in the book. However, we are soon led from the grime of nausea, retching and an unpleasant sea voyage to the imagery of fairy tales and stories conjured up by Jasper to remind Isobell of their destination.  Faced with an arranged marriage to a man whose actions and attitude frighten her, Isobell has arranged to escape to a castle in Scotland where she is to assume the role of kitchen helper; whilst Jasper and Ian are to work at a nearby farm belonging to Ian’s cousin. Brought up in a grand house in London it is difficult to see how she would pull off this transformation, and indeed the housekeeper, Bessie Thom, sees through her straight away.  However, as Isobell relates her story, Bessie is swayed to take Isobell under her wing.

We are soon introduced to the other main characters connected to the castle; Agnes the governess who feels resentment at Isobell’s intrusion into the household not least because they have to share a room. Duncan the friendly greeve (steward) of the castle who lives in a charming little house in the woods.  Christen Michell, secret Catholic and the stern and forbidding lady of the castle whose deceased daughter Mary had been the Laird’s wife. Wee Thomas the sweet little son of the Laird and Mary, and whom Agnes looks after, although not with any particular skill or affection.  And of course, Thomas Manteith the Laird himself, the bear of the title, and whose first glimpse of Isobell brings blushes to her cheeks.

Isobell falls naturally into the rhythm of castle life, and with a few setbacks here and there, progresses from kitchen helper to governess, supplanting Agnes along the way. Christen Michell warms to her when she nurses Wee Thomas and tries to introduce her to the Catholic faith. Isobell meanwhile relishes in the countryside surrounding the castle, the pool that she swims in and the stone circle, and the old ways that she feels connected to.

It is no surprise that romance blooms along the way, and we would be forgiven for thinking that all involved would soon live ‘happily ever after’.  However, romantic fiction needs a cruel twist, and Sinclair introduces the element of witchcraft into her fairy story with unhappy conclusions.

As you discover in the historical notes at the end of the book Ailish Sinclair took the names of three real women accused of witchcraft in 1597 – Isobell Manteith, Bessie Thom and Christen Michell, and has woven them a sumptuous story based around some basic facts.  A timely reminder of the horrors of the 16th century witch hunts, and one which Sinclair has used well in her story.

If you want to be whisked away into a magical world of 16th century Scotland with beautiful descriptions, delightful characters and an easy to read style, then this book is probably for you.

I enjoyed the book and hesitate to offer any criticism because it fits very well into the genre of historical romance that it is aimed at.  I don’t tend to read many books in this genre in general as I find it can be a bit cliched at times.  We all know who Isobell will end up with, and her life feels slightly unrealistically charmed at times.  I suspect a young girl from a grand house in 16th century London would not have fitted into a rural Scottish castle quite so well in real life and may not have even been able to understand the language spoken.  But this isn’t ‘history’ this is ‘romance’ and Sinclair has a lovely way with words that is perfect for escapism (and something we have all needed this year).  The book does take a dark turn and I think Sinclair could have done even more with the witchcraft section of the story as she has obviously done her research.

If you are drawn to historical romances I would highly recommend it, and I am sure you will be delighted with it.  I hope Sinclair has more stories within her and continues to charm her readers.

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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Rosie’s #Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC #Horror HIGHLAND COVE by @dylanjmorgan

Today we have a review from Sherry, who took part in our Review-A-Book Challenge. Sherry blogs here

Sherry chose to read Highland Cove by Dylan J Morgan.

Five friends with ambitions to become documentarians travel from London to an abandoned asylum on a Scottish island. The doctor who ran the asylum died sixty years prior and the hospital was closed and is rumored to be haunted.

The author is excellent at evoking atmosphere. The descriptions—first of the pub where the friends met the man who was taking them to the island—then of the island itself—and, finally, the inside of the asylum. The descriptions were creepy and very well done. Dark clouds hanging over the island and the storm complete with lightning added to the exquisite sense of anticipation of meeting some supernatural beings in the corridors or hospital rooms in the abandoned building. Peeling paint, dead leaves and icy wind whirling through the scenes were particularly evocative.

This reader enjoyed the suspense of the book for most of the novel. Figuring out an essential plot point early on was interesting and upped the anticipation of what was ahead.

What was unexpected was the shock of what happened later in the story, and without any spoilers, it’s hard to say what that was, but it was almost too much for this reader. I confess, I glossed over some of that, swiping my e-reader pages faster until the tale moved past that part. I imagine many readers of this genre would revel in that section, but not this one. It didn’t ruin the story for me, but it was disturbing.

The flashes back to the past added to the overall creepiness of the novel. The author is definitely gifted with a talent for descriptiveness. I could see all the places in the story and some made my skin crawl.

If you’re a fan of horror, you shouldn’t pass on this one. The ending was particularly disturbing. Just don’t read before bed or you might wake up at 2 a.m, like I did thinking I heard someone calling my name…..

Book description

Highland Cove Sanatorium sits abandoned on a desolate island one mile off the Scottish mainland. It’s a dark, foreboding place, filled with nightmares. Even darker are the asylum’s secrets: a history of disease and mental illness, macabre experiments and murder.

The tales of ghostly appearances are said to be more fact than fiction, but no one has ever documented the phenomenon. Codie Jackson aims to change all that. Arriving from London with his small independent film crew, they plan to make a documentary that will forever change their lives.

But when one of the crew disappears, things begin to spiral out of control. A storm closes in to ravage the island, and in the darkness Highland Cove’s true horrors are revealed. Now lost within the institution’s labyrinthine corridors, Codie and his team realize that their nightmare is only just beginning.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC – Reading, Writing and the Value of Reviewers

John joins us today with an article about the importance of book reviews to authors.

As part of Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC, we continue our week of advice posts. See the link at the bottom of the page for details of the challenge and where you can sign up for a free book in exchange for a review.

Reading, writing and the value of reviewers is something that I’ve wanted to talk about for a while now. As a writer, I’m incredibly grateful when anybody reads my work. The gratitude only grows when that person writes a review. Taking the time and effort to publish your thoughts on a book is an act which connects the reader and writer in a more personal way than the somewhat abstract, impersonal idea that ‘someone’ has read your book. It adds another level to what is a very intimate yet weirdly distant interaction between reader and writer.

So, my sincere thanks go out to all those good folk busily reviewing books. It means a lot and is massively appreciated by everyone I know in the writing community. If you enjoy reading fiction and fancy trying your hand at reviewing, I’d urge you to give it a go. Writing reviews can enrich the reading experience and be a rewarding pastime.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? It’s in his own interests to support reviewing books.

Undeniably true. I won’t lie, this isn’t me just being a nice guy, there is a mercenary side to it. Reviews stimulate interest in your books, raise your profile and enhance your reputation as an author. All of which gives a shot in the arm to your confidence and belief in what you’re doing. Honest feedback also helps your writing. Any author worth their salt welcomes real, constructive reviews. They’re priceless observations, the best beta reading you’ll find for future projects.

But, believe it or not, self-interest isn’t my primary motivation here. I genuinely do appreciate reviewers and value their contribution to the literary eco-system. The title of this article represents my three Rs – reading, writing and reviewing – because they’re inextricably linked. A natural affinity exists. Reader and writer are two sides of the same coin and reviewer the place where they meet. A marvellous marriage of the two with a precious result.

Over the years, I’ve become friends with quite a few reviewers and like to think it’s given me a small insight into why they do what they do and what they get from it. The motive is rarely financial benefit. That’s another similarity between writing books and reviewing them. The majority of reviewers, like authors, don’t pursue their passion expecting a shedload of cash to be the outcome. Sure, you get free books. With a multi-genre site like Rosie Amber, you get to choose from a broad spectrum and they tend to be good quality. It’s a great opportunity to dabble, sample different subjects and styles. And as mentioned, there’s every chance that you’ll become better acquainted with the author and find a new virtual friend.

Are those the main reasons? No, I think it’s far simpler.

We share a love of the written word and a need not to feel alone in that love.

I’ll say one more thing, probably what I’ve been trying to say all along, and it’s about engagement between readers, writers and reviewers. The day of the remote author has passed. Social media makes it an obscure and unproductive angle from which to approach an essentially connective field.

Reading is the boss. Writing springs from that.

Reviewers are a vital part of this new equation. Quite rightly, we no longer blithely accept what one or two publishers put on our shelves. We need real input.

Read, Write, Opinion. There is no mathematical formula, it just exists.

Readers who write a review have become an essential part of good reading and good writing.

If you’d like to read more about Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC click here

Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC – How To Write A More Detailed #Bookreview by @OlgaNM7

Our next post to help readers write more book reviews, comes from Olga.

As part of Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC, we continue our week of advice posts. See the link at the bottom of the page for details of the challenge and where you can sign up for a free book in exchange for a review.

Writing More Detailed Book Reviews

I tend to write fairly long reviews, but there isn’t an ideal length. Some readers prefer them short and sweet, others longer, but there is a lot of information that we can include even in a shorter review.

I compiled a list of the things I like to include in my reviews that you might find helpful.

1.            Author

If I’ve reviewed other books by the same author, I like to include a link to one of them, or the latest in the series, when I share the review on my blog. Talking about the author and how I came across the book can work as an introduction to the review, and other information (awards, media attention, etc.) can also be included.

2.            Plot

A brief overview only; potential readers can read the blurb if they want to know more.  Avoid spoilers.  Mention the genre, or the mix of them.  A ‘thriller’ can mean all sorts of different things!

3.            Themes

This is different from genre.  This means the themes included in the story, e.g., family loyalty, abandonment, deception.  I talk about the themes when they are not evident in the blurb or my plot description, particularly if I think that those themes make the book more interesting or distinctive – and also if I think some people might prefer to be warned about those kinds of subjects.

4.            Characters

Not all, but main and secondary.  I will also mention which were my favourites.

5.            Point of view

Whether each character’s point of view is written in the 3rd or 1st person.  It is important to mention these as some people prefer one or the other, or don’t like changes in POV.

6)            Writing Style

It is not necessary to be technical when talking about the writing style, but commenting on the pace of the story, how well it flows, the type of language, (many people also talk about spelling or grammatical mistakes, especially if they are distracting), and sometimes sharing some short quotes can help readers get a good idea of how well suited the book is to their tastes.

7)             Ending

I tell readers about my subjective impression of the ending, of course, not about how it ends (not revealing any spoilers is fundamental, especially for certain genres). Ah, some people hate cliff-hangers, so I mention that if the story ends like that.  Was the ending a shocker?  A disappointment?  Happy?  Was there a great twist in the tale?

8)             Summary

I summarise my opinion and recommend it to the type of readers I think will enjoy it. We have all read books that were well-written but perhaps didn’t suit our taste, and sometimes we might think of a person who would have enjoyed it much more. I am a firm believer that most books have readers who’d love them out there, and I hope I can help them find each other.

In a series, it is worth mentioning if you think the book can be read independently or it is better to read the books in the intended order.  It is a good idea to include a disclaimer if you’ve received an ARC copy of the book for review. And, if you’ve accessed the book in a particular format (audio, hardback, etc.), you might want to add extra information if you feel it is relevant (a comment about the narrator, photos, maps…).

These are some suggestions, but remember that you are writing your review and the most important thing is to enjoy writing it and to let other people know what you have thought about the book. If you’ve loved the book, shower them with your love for it. If you decide to write a negative review, don’t just write you hate it. Explain why. The reasons that made you hate it might be precisely the reasons that will make somebody else love it.

I hope this has been useful to you, and happy reviewing!

If you’d like to read more about Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC click here

Tomorrow Alison will be giving advice about how to write a review for a book which you didn’t enjoy.

Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC – How To Write A Review For #NonFiction or #Poetry

Georgia joins us today to talk about reviewing non fiction and poetry.

As part of Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC, we continue our week of advice posts. See the link at the bottom of the page for details of the challenge and where you can sign up for a free book in exchange for a review.

I find non-fiction and poetry easier to review than fiction; I’ll explain why. If you have chosen to read a non-fiction book, you will presumably have done so because the subject matter is of interest to you. For example, the non-fiction books I read are usually on the subject of writing, although one recently was all about poisonous plants in the hedgerow… research, of course!

When you have finished the book, you will know if it has satisfied the question you were hoping to have answered, and you can write your review accordingly. Consider these questions:

Did this book educate or enlighten you in the way you had hoped?

Was the information presented in a way that was easy to digest?

Was it enjoyable to read?

Having read this book are you left with more questions than answers and therefore in need of further research?

Would you recommend this book to someone else seeking similar information?

If you can write the answer to each of those questions, then you have your review and anything else you can add is a bonus. Remember, reviews are for the benefit of other readers, to help them decide whether or not to pick up that book.

Reviewing a book of poetry is slightly different, although, I believe, it’s easier than a novel. This is because it is generally a shorter, quicker read, and one that you may pick up and put down over a period of time.

Poetry is, of course, subjective, so when you’ve finished just think about how it made you feel, generally. Were there particular poems in the book that you enjoyed more than others? Mention them if so, and give a general sense of the mood of the book – upbeat, romantic, depressing or scary – that is the sort of information readers would find useful. Again, any other detail you want to add is terrific but don’t be put off by feeling you have to write something of great length. Readers will appreciate your feedback and authors will be delighted you’ve taken the time to read their work and the trouble to review it.

If you’d like to read more about Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC click here

Tomorrow Olga will be giving advice about how to write a more detailed book review.