It’s Got To Be Perfect – Haley Hill

HaleyCover(APPROVED)“When Ellie Rigby hurls her three-carat engagement ring into the gutter, she is certain of only one thing, that she has yet to know true love. Following months of disastrous internet dates and conflicting advice from her dysfunctional friends, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Although now, instead of just looking for a man for herself, she s certain her life’s purpose is to find deep and meaningful love for all of the singles in the world. Five years on, running the UK s biggest matchmaking agency, and with hundreds of engagements to her name, she has all the answers she needs. She knows why eighty-five percent of relationships fail. She knows why twenty-eight is the most eligible age for a woman. She knows that by thirty-five she’ll have only a thirty-percent chance of marriage. Most of all, she knows that no matter what, it has to be perfect. Or does it?”

It’s Got to Be Perfect details the humorous fictional exploits of matchmaker Ellie Rigby. Following a disastrous split from her fiancé, she realises her calling in life is to find true love – for other people. She sets up a new matchmaking business which gets off to a slightly rocky start – her initial tactic is to approach strangers at some of the hottest clubs in London – but soon she has so many clients that she needs to hire more staff.

Enter the effervescent Mandi – a true hopeless romantic – and the no-nonsense, all-business Mia, and together the trio make happy couple after happy couple. But no matter how many people Ellie finds true love for, she can’t ignore the growing feeling that her own happy ending might be just around the corner – in the form of Nick, an ex-client and ex-boyfriend who she can’t stop thinking about. A group ski trip does nothing to take her mind off of him – but it could be what brings them back together…

Chock full of characters so colourful they jump off the page, It’s Got To Be Perfect is an amusing read, peppered with too-funny-not-to-be-true anecdotes (inspired by the author’s own matchmaking experiences) that leaves the reader wanting more. Will Ellie and Nick get it together? I hope Haley starts work on the sequel soon so we can find out…

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Napoleon Xylophone – Frank Lambert

“Napoleon Xylophone hates his name; that’s why his friends call him Zam. He doesn’t know it yet, but he is set to become a hero – a hero with a walking disability. When adventure comes knocking, Zam doesn’t let his disability get in the way of fighting the changelings, wytes and gargoyles that come to life in the underworld beneath Newcastle. Not when he has a wheelchair that can fly, a ghost for a best friend and a grandfather who has created a new life form that allows whoever wears it to speak to Time…”

Napoleon Xylophone is an inspiring, uplifting work of children’s fiction about disabled superhero Zam (don’t call him by his full name – he hates it). Zam goes to visit his grandfather Eli one day – but Eli has mysteriously disappeared from his lab, which is stuffed full of clever inventions. The only person Zam and his friend Ezzy can find is a ‘shade’, with a knot tied in his arm, called Slink. His grandfather has been taken away by Mandrake Ackx, a nasty ‘whyte’ who is determined to speak to Time. Only Eli and his inventions can make that happen. Napoleon’s grandfather doesn’t want to put Napoleon in danger by bringing him face to face with this horrible creature, so he leaves him a message to tell him not to worry. However, the message has the opposite effect – Zam becomes determined to find him, with the help of Ezzy (his best friend who he’s also got a crush on), Slink (but why has he got a knot in his arm?), and a brilliant wheelchair his grandfather has invented called Q.

Armed with his friends and all of Q’s handy features, Zam, Ezzy and Slink journey through the Underground under Newcastle City Centre. But when they meet Mandrake Ackx they made have bitten off more than they can chew – can they all make it out safely, or will they perish in Mandrake’s quest?

Napoleon Xylophone is a brilliant work of fiction with a hero that anyone can look up to. Zam gives a voice to disabled children everywhere, and all young readers will be able to sympathise with him in some way. Brilliantly written, with fantastic characterisation and with a sprinkle of Steampunk – Frank Lambert’s debut novel is a must-read.

This review will appear in a future issue of The Self Publishing Magazine. Many thanks to Matador for the review copy.

Ante’s Inferno – Griselda Heppel

“Twelve year-old Ante (Antonia) Alganesh has a problem. It’s lunchbreak and Florence’s gang are after her. Desperate for a place to hide, she climbs the forbidden staircase to the old organ loft, where a hundred years ago a boy tumbled to his death. No one will think of looking for her there… Except Florence. Petrified, Ante watches her enemy approach, leaning on the rotten hand-rail. She shouts a warning, but it’s too late. There’s a crash – and a boy appears from nowhere, just as a door opens in the wall behind them. All three find themselves in a tunnel leading to a river bank where people queue to be rowed across by a filthy old ferryman…”

When I received this book in the post to review, two things grabbed my attention: one, its brilliantly gloomy yet colourful cover that somehow reminds me of The Deathly Harrows from Harry Potter (the gold stick bearing a resemblance to the Elder Wand, in case anyone was wondering how I made that connection). Two, that it was a work of fiction mixed with Greek mythology. As a big fan of the subject myself, I couldn’t wait to start this novel and see how well the two would go together.

Very well, as it turned out. It’s easy to make fiction stuffy once history gets involved, but with this book, Griselda Heppel breathes fresh air into children’s fiction. It makes for an intelligent reader that serves to educate the reader and improve their current knowledge of the subject, rather than patronise them.

Ante’s Inferno is a story about Ante (Antonia) Alganesh, who is always being bothered by Florence. One day, following an altercation, Ante accidentally throws pepper in her eyes – a move she instantly comes to regret as the girls begin chasing her to drag her to the Head for punishment. She runs into the disused, rotting organ loft to hide – but Florence has predicted her move and follows her in there. Fear turns to terror as Florence edges over to where Ante is hiding and the balcony rail she is holding comes away from the wall. They both fall into the darkness, but but when they wake up, they’re not in the organ loft… And they’re definitely not alone…

Enemies Florence and Ante must journey the Underworld with Gil, a boy who died years ago but hasn’t yet passed on, to meet their reckoning and find out what is to become of them. The Shopping Maul and the Multivice Complex are just two of the terrifying places they have to navigate through to reach their destination – and all three must combine their wits and school education to get back to where they belong.

An intelligent, fascinating piece of fiction that is refreshingly different from the dystopian, vampire-stuffed young adult books currently dominating the market.

This review will appear in a future issue of The Self Publishing Magazine. Many thanks to Matador for the review copy.

Breath in the Dark – Jane Hersey

“Jane Hersey’s biography is told through the thoughts and voice of a traumatized, isolated child, enduring the stresses and strains of day-to-day life under difficult circumstances in 1960s Manchester. As a six year old child with sole care of a mother suffering with clinical depression, diabetes and eating disorders, Jane is ostracized by the Jewish community and the community at large. Breath in the Dark is the heart-rending story of a girl socially isolated, neglected, physically, emotionally and sexually abused and living in poverty.”

Although my library usually consists of light-hearted fiction, I also love reading memoirs from time to time. Not celebrities – memoirs of struggles through life, tragic childhood tales. Stories of people suffering great ills to get to where they are today. Breath in the Dark is Jane Hersey’s story, and falls into the same category as Dave Pelzer’s books, most notably A Child Called It. After reading the first couple of pages of this book, I was hooked and had to keep going.

Jane starts her story as a young child, struggling to take care of her mother on her own, who is ill and cannot cope without medication. Forsaking school and any semblance of normal life, Jane keeps her and her mother’s head barely above water, scavenging for food, money and tablets to keep her beloved mum alive. Characters flit in and out of her life – her two brothers, who contribute little towards Jane’s efforts, her abusive father, who occasionally gives her a little money, and figures from the Jewish Benevolent Society who sometimes help out with clothes, food, support and money. But Jane, single-mindedly and often single-handedly, is the driving figure in keeping her mother alive. Until one day, when her mother takes a turn for the worse and Jane’s life is plunged into turmoil.

What follows is a visceral, harrowing tale that barely seems as if it can be real life at times, as Jane is ‘cared for’ by unfeeling relatives and guardians. Her past continues to haunt her and drag her down as she struggles to continue her life and happiness seems impossible. Suffering seems to consume Jane’s life at every turn and as we reach the end it threatens to continue, leaving us in the middle of her story. I can only hope that there is a sequel to Breath in the Dark – and one that delivers a better life for Jane, and at the very least some semblance of peace.

This review will appear in a future issue of The Self Publishing Magazine. Many thanks to Matador for the review copy.

Never Mind the Botox: Alex – Penny Avis and Joanna Berry

Meet Alex, a hot-shot lawyer who has to land a deal for her firm if she wants to make partner one day. When she hears about the Beau Street Group deal, she thinks it’s perfect. But soon she realises that everything isn’t as it seems… The glittering cosmetic surgery business reveals a dark secret that Alex has to work hard to uncover. At the same time, her engagement to flippant rcker Elliott is on the rocks – not helped along by her attractive co-worker Dan, lingering in the background.

I simply couldn’t put this book down. With its fast-paced writing, sparkling wit and likeable characters, Alex draws you and keeps you hooked. A glamorous novel with a down-to-earth protagonist you can’t help but cheer on, Penny and Joanna have carefully crafted a set of believable characters. Sex, scandal, and – what I enjoyed most of all – an intelligent insight into two professions that are worlds apart that educates and informs the reader. There’s no meaningless clunky jargon or business speak lost on anyone who’s never been involved in these industries. I can’t wait for the next in the series!

Move over Bridget Jones… and move over Louise Bagshawe!

This review will appear in a future issue of The Self Publishing Magazine.