Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Dress - Kate Kerrigan

Published by Head of Zeus

ebook - 1st July 2015
Hardback - 27 August 2015
Paperback - 1 March 2016

Lily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes, made all the more precious because they were once worn and cherished by another woman. Thousands follow her fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed. One day she stumbles upon an extraordinary story.

Joy Fitzpatrick not only shares Lily's surname. She was a fashion legend, famed for her beauty and style in 1950s New York. For her 30th birthday, she is said to have commissioned a dress so beautiful that nothing in couture would ever be able to match it. She turned to a young Irish seamstress, called Honor Conlon, to create her sublime vision.

THE DRESS interweaves the passionate and surprising stories of three women. Joy and Honor, whose destinies are linked not only by a piece of timeless fashion, but by the ruthless love of one man. And Lily, determined to find out if the legendary dress still exists, and if it does, to bring it back to glorious life.

Yesterday, it was my turn for 'The Dress' blog tour, and Kate shared a very personal and moving memory of her brother Tom.  It is a beautiful post - you can read it here

The Dress is a story that slips seamlessly between 1950’s New York and the present day and it's ‘The Dress’ that ultimately binds three women together, Joy Fitzpatrick, Honor Conlon and Lily Fitzpatrick.

The story really begins in 1930’s Ireland with a young boy from an abusive family wanting to get away and make a success of his life. How this fits into the story becomes clear as the story progresses.

Joy Fitzpatrick is a New York socialite. She has beauty and wealth and a seemingly perfect marriage to Frank, but despite all this, she is still not completely happy. When she discovers a talented young seamstress Honor Conlon, a partnership and a friendship develops and Joy commissions a dress that she believes will make her husband fall in love with her again and will make her the envy of New York.

Lily Fitzpatrick is a modern day vintage fashion blogger living in London. She adores vintage clothes – she wears them, she buys and sells them and she very successfully blogs about them. However Lily has a hidden desire to be a designer but what holds her back is a lack of confidence. When she comes across a picture of a beautiful vintage dress, owned by someone with her own surname, she wants to know more – and this is how the present day story blends into the 1950's.

As is often the case with dual time novels, I often favour one period more than another. In this case I only very slightly preferred the time spent with Joy than with Lily and I think this was only because I was so enthralled by Joy and her story that I wanted to find out more before leaving her. Having said that all the characterisations are superb and Lily was a wonderful character in her own right; I really enjoyed the time spent with her best friend Sally and Gareth, the very nervous owner of the second hand shop frequented by Lily.

I have read several books by Kate Kerrigan – all 5* reads, including this one. I loved The Dress. I loved the glamour of the 1950's setting and the shifting relationships between Joy and those close to her. This is not just a story about a piece of fabric, it’s about love, betrayal and relationships and how life can so suddenly change. There were some deeper issues reflected within the story which had a rippling but devastating effect across the lives of our main characters. There were many times when I could have wept for Joy and others when I wanted to shout at her for being so spoilt. I’m trying not to give away too much of the story as you really need to discover this for yourself, but all I can say is read it – you won’t be disappointed.

My thanks to Emily and the publisher for the paperback copy to review.

At the time of writing this review, The Dress is available to download from Amazon for just £1.19 - a bargain price for a fabulous story. 

About the author:

Kate Kerrigan (real name Morag Prunty) began her career as an editor and journalist editing More! and Just Seventeen before returning to her native Ireland in the 1990's to edit Irish Tatler.  Kate is a New York Times bestselling author, whose novels are popular worldwide and have been translated into 15 languages.  Kate lives with her husband and two children in County Mayo, Ireland. 

How to find out more -

Twitter - @katekerrigan

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Dress Blog Tour - Guest Post by Kate Kerrigan

'The Dress' by Kate Kerrigan

Published by Head of Zeus

Amid the glamour of The Dress Kate also deals with the crippling disease of alcoholism. In this blog post she talks movingly about her late brother, Tom, an alcoholic, whom she adored.


My brother Tom loved life. Not ‘life’ in the sense of ‘having a life’, which is how I have always defined it. I was always focussed on moving forward, my eyes pinned on the future. Life to me meant having a career, learning to drive, buying a house, finding a husband, having children; responsibility - paying bills, working. Life has always been something of a slog - a means to an end.

Tom simply loved the feeling of being alive in the moment. He loved laughing and talking, being creative and revelling in what others had created. He loved dancing, and making music and getting high. Tom found the world a difficult, unjust and cruel place so he created what he called “bursts of happiness” as he called them, to get him through each day. That was why he drank, because it made him feel more alive. I drank too. But then the drink stopped working and made me feel dead, so I stopped. Tom kept going back to try to recreate the magical feeling of excitement he once had - but in the end, it failed him.

Tom and I were Irish twins, 9 months apart. When we were together our spirits melded and often we created the natural high we had experienced through love and laughter as children.

I took Tom to see the pop group Bow Wow Wow at the Camden Palace when I was sixteen, and he was fifteen. Small and baby faced, I knew there was no way he could have got in without me. Already working as an apprentice hairdresser, I carried myself like an adult and with the heavy New Romantic eighties make-up I easily passed for mid-twenties.

I put some of my signature black kohl on Tom’s big blue eyes, and dressed him in a torn punk T-shirt and skin-tight jeans and gave him instructions on how to act as we travelled on the tube together to cool Camden Town.

“Don’t smile – let me go in first, just stand close behind me and DON’T mess about and make me laugh.”

It was a Saturday night and the queue to get into the Palais shuffled briskly with bewilderingly fashionable New Romantics. Tom was into punk: driving us mad with it’s tuneless pounding; worrying my mother buying frightening-looking singles and T-shirts with names like The Slits and Discharge emblazoned on them. He wasn’t a pop music fan and was disgusted with my love of bands like ABC and Heaven 17, punk seemed to reach his very soul. Punk became big at the same time as Tom was reaching puberty. He was angry, but unable to express it in the same way as many of his peers, on the football pitch or by scrapping in the schoolyard.  Punk gave voice to Tom’s pent-up masculine anger in a way that nothing else could. Plus it was all about safety pins and vomit and snot – so his sisters found it disgusting and our horror always amused him.

We blended easily in the crowd. I was wearing a voluminous white frilly blouse – and my maroon-dyed hair had been streaked with white blonde that day in a hairdressing experiment at work. I had scooped it up and sprayed it into an enormous, fluffy quiff. Tom had gelled his hair into spikes and had safety pins stuffed into the side of his mouth, hoping that nobody had noticed he hadn’t pierced them through. He did an impression of a depressed zombie and I had to restrain myself from laughing. He was determined to get in – to prove himself to me.

We passed by the enormous security men unnoticed, and when we got inside, it was all I could do to stop him running up and down the stairs of the enormous, gilded amphitheatre with childish excitement. “Calm down,” I kept telling him, “we could still get chucked out!”

We didn’t even go the bar. Drinking wasn’t the point then. It was the music and just being there.

From the top balcony we watched the band. Tom said they were crap. A Malcolm McLaren invention. Then we went down to the floor and danced wildly, mimicking the ludicrous sway of the fake New Romantic pirates in the audience, laughing out heads off. Neither of us felt truly a part of that scene, we were too young, and too suburban. We were safe and happy in our little twosome, throwing our arms around under the strobe lights - drunk on life.

Tom died six years ago. My heart broke. For a long time I mourned his wasted talent, his drinking, the hopelessness of a life half-lived.

Since then, bit by bit, in my baby sons smile, a rainbow stretched across Killala bay, a shared old joke with my husband, I have come to realise that life is, perhaps, best lived from one little burst of happiness to the next - exactly the way Tom lived it.

He burned bright and that night in Camden we exploded into life together.

That’s more happiness than some people experience in a lifetime.

Lily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes, made all the more precious because they were once worn and cherished by another woman. Thousands follow her fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed. One day she stumbles upon an extraordinary story.

Joy Fitzpatrick not only shares Lily's surname. She was a fashion legend, famed for her beauty and style in 1950s New York. For her 30th birthday, she is said to have commissioned a dress so beautiful that nothing in couture would ever be able to match it. She turned to a young Irish seamstress, called Honor Conlon, to create her sublime vision.

THE DRESS interweaves the passionate and surprising stories of three women. Joy and Honor, whose destinies are linked not only by a piece of timeless fashion, but by the ruthless love of one man. And Lily, determined to find out if the legendary dress still exists, and if it does, to bring it back to glorious life.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Tea Planter's Wife - Dinah Jefferies

Published 3 September 2015 by Penguin

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past - a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds - that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can't stay buried forever . . .

I'm thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this book, which starts on 7 September.  My spot will be on the 10 September so do check back then.  In the meantime, my review is below. 

When 19 year old newly wed Gwendolyn arrives in 1920's Ceylon to join her much older husband Laurence, the owner of a tea plantation, she is excited and looking forward to her new life. However, the reality is far from what she expected. Laurence seems to have changed towards her, he is no longer as loving and seems to be withdrawing from her; her youth and inexperience make her ill equipped to cope with him and the household responsibilities she is now expected to take on. She is unaccustomed to the people and their cultures and her natural sense of fairness brings her into conflict with others.  The arrival of Laurence’s spoilt and spiteful sister, Verity, does not help matters and Gwen’s feelings of isolation are keenly felt.

This was such an evocative and atmospheric novel that I was captivated from the beginning and it really was a book that I didn't want to put down. The Ceylon landscape, the hustle and bustle of the city, its colours and its people are all vividly described and I really felt as if I were there, watching the story unfold. The different cultures and resentments, the political unrest, the racial prejudices – these all add an element of unease and danger to the story.

This is a beautifully written drama of jealousy, deception, devastating decisions and guilt that will impact on the lives of Gwen and Laurence and others around them, some parts were just heartbreaking.  All the characters were so expertly drawn, especially Gwen, who had to quickly mature and find an inner strength. Other characters that stood out for me, were the mysterious but charming artist Savi Ravasinghe, the brash American banker Christina, and Verity – Laurence’s sister who refuses to relinquish her hold on her brother.  I'm deliberately trying not to give away much of the story as it really is one that you need to read and enjoy for yourselves.

I really enjoyed Dinah's debut novel last year, 'The Separation' (reviewed here). I was very much looking forward to The Tea Planter's Wife, and I wasn't disappointed. When I finished the book, I had a distinct feeling of loss, which is quite unusual for me - I had been so caught up with the lives of these characters.  I absolutely loved it and am certain it will be one of my top books of this year.

My thanks to the publisher, Penguin, for the paperback copy to review. 

About the author:

Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaysia and moved to England at the age of nine. She has worked in education, lived in a commune and exhibited work as an artist. Dinah's first novel,The Separation, was published by Viking in 2013; The Tea Planter's Wife is her second novel. She is a contributor to the Guardian and other newspapers and lives in Gloucestershire with her husband

How to find out more: 

www.dinahjefferies.com      @DinahJefferies      Facebook

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Secrets of Midwives - Sally Hepworth - Review and Giveaway

Published by Pan - 27 August 2015

The Secrets of Midwives tells the story of three generations of women devoted to delivering new life into the world—and the secrets they keep that threaten to change their own lives forever. 

Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. 

Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. 

For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back 60 years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—a secret which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?

'The Secrets of Midwives' is published today -  and I have a brand new copy to give away (see at the end of this post).

'The Secrets of Midwives' is set in Rhode Island and tells by alternate chapters, the story of Floss (an 83 year old grandmother and ex midwife, her daughter Grace and grand-daughter Neva (also both midwives). Throughout the story, they all at some time have their own secrets to keep, however it is Floss who has the biggest secret of all.

Neva is 29 and pregnant with her first child.  She has kept her pregnancy a secret for as long as she can and refuses to disclose who the father is but her mother Grace is desperate to know which puts even more pressure on an already complicated and fractious relationship. 

Floss, the 83 year old grandmother, lives with her partner Lil, and has a secret which she been holding close for over 60 years.  For me, she was the most interesting character as her story includes her time as a young midwife in England in the 1950s.  I could quite happily have spent more time with the younger Floss and her friends Evie and Elizabeth.  

Neva was not an easy person to get close to and seemed to push people away. She was extremely good at her job and looked after her patients very well but I didn't really care for her, or feel any kind of warmth towards her until much later in the story. As for her mother Grace, I thought she was overbearing and far too pushy and I could understand why Neva wanted to keep her distance from her.  

The midwifery element of the story has clearly been well researched and the story does go into some detail about the birthing process; some descriptions may be a little graphic but not gratuitously so.  Grace, in particular, seems to have a chip on her shoulder with regard to hospital doctors and the way that midwives are treated and I felt that the 'home birth is better' theme was maybe pushed a little too much, however it was clear that all three women as midwives genuinely cared about their patients and in some instances went beyond the call of duty.  It was interesting to compare the differences between Floss' experiences in the 1950s and the birthing options available to women with modern day facilities.  

This is a warm and engaging story of three women all trying to decide what to do for the best but fearful of the consequences. I suppose their family unit called be regarded as dysfunctional, certainly Grace and Neva's relationship was hardly that of mother and daughter, particularly as Neva didn't call her 'mum' but used her christian name. Although Neva was determined to keep the baby's father a secret, it didn't stop people talking and Neva found herself the subject of unwanted speculation and gossip.  I did find the romance "will they, won't they" element reminded me a little of the Mills & Boon books that I read as a teenager but as this is only part of the story, it didn't spoil my enjoyment.        

I would certainly read another book by Sally Hepworth.  I see that the next book 'Things We Keep' is due to be published early next year and it's already on my wishlist. 

My thanks to Lucie and the publisher for the paperback copy to review. 

For the giveaway, please go the Rafflecopter box at the end of this post, and if you are entering, good luck! 

About the author:

Sally Hepworth has lived and travelled around the world, spending extended periods in Singapore, the U.K., and Canada. While on maternity leave, Sally finally fulfilled a lifelong dream to write. While pregnant with her second child, Sally wrote The Secrets of Midwives. Her next novel, Things We Keep, will be published in 2016. Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two children.

To find out more visit Sally's website or Twitter and Facebook pages 


I have received a duplicate copy of this book and, with the publisher's permission, I have a brand new finished paperback copy to give away.

To enter, use the Rafflecopter box below (sorry, but for postage costs I have to restrict this to UK/Ireland entrants only).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 24 August 2015

In a Dark Dark Wood - Ruth Ware

Published by Harvill Secker

ebook and Hardcover - 30 July 2015

Paperback - 7 January 2016

Someone's getting married. Someone's getting murdered.

In a dark, dark wood 

Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back. 

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room.... 

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

I’ve never been on a hen weekend and after reading this story that could be something to be thankful for.

Out of the blue Nora receives from an email from someone called Flo, inviting her to a hen weekend that she is organising for an old school friend Clare.  Nora hasn’t been invited to the wedding and so is bit bemused as to why the hen invite. There has been no contact between the two for ten years and she is really not keen on going – hold that thought Nora!  However, she is reluctantly talked into it by another mutual friend Nina, and the two of them make their way to a remote part of the Northumberland countryside.

If you are creeped out by the book blurb then the house where they are staying could send you over the edge. It’s not old and haunted – but new, and mostly made of glass with no curtains or blinds, everyone can see out but then anyone outside can see in too. It’s set by a forest – that alone would give me the creeps.

It is clear that there is history between Clare and Nora, but we don’t exactly what or why they lost contact. There are 6 people in the house for this hen weekend, they don’t all know each other and that claustrophobic feeling of being cooped up with strangers and trying to pretend that everyone is having such a jolly time really comes across so well. When tensions start to fray and it all starts to kick off - I would have been out of there.

There is a wonderful atmospheric and sinister feel to the story - the wintry darkness and oppressive feeling from the wood, the chilly and snowy landscape. From the beginning the reader knows that something dreadful is going to happen, it’s just a question of when, what and to whom.

I have to admit there were times when I was less convinced by the storyline, particularly when long held secrets are revealed, but on the whole it was an addictive and engrossing read and I read it in less than 2 days.

This was a really good, dark debut thriller.  As the weekend continues Nora's unease grows, as does the reader's and I was beginning to distrust everybody in turn.  It's not a horror story but nevertheless after reading the book, I made sure all the doors were thoroughly locked before going to bed.

My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the copy to review. 

About the author:

Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in East Sussex. After graduating from Manchester University she moved to Paris, before settling in north London. Married, with two small children, she has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer. In a Dark, Dark Wood is her debut thriller. 

Website: www.ruthware.com

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Mistake I Made - Paula Daly

Published by Bantam/Transworld

Ebook and Hardcover - 27 August 2015

Paperback - 21 April 2016

We all think we know who we are.

What we’re capable of.

Roz is a single mother, a physiotherapist, a sister, a friend. She’s also desperate.

Her business has gone under, she’s crippled by debt and she’s just had to explain to her son why someone’s taken all their furniture away.

But now a stranger has made her an offer. For one night with her, he’ll pay enough to bring her back from the edge.

Roz has a choice to make.

I’ve loved both of Paula Daly’s previous books, What Kind of Mother Are You and Keep Your Friends Close (click the links for my reviews) and have been eagerly awaiting the publication of this third one.

In The Mistake I Made the main character is Roz. She is separated from her husband Winston (a waste of space as a husband, but with a certain charm about him) and lives alone with their young son, getting by on a hand to mouth existence. She has a job as a physiotherapist but after paying the bills and the debt that Winston left her with, she cannot meet all her payments and reaches her lowest point when the bailiffs are called in and she faces eviction. When her path crosses with rich and handsome Scott Elias, he makes her a proposition which is so hard to resist. Although Roz struggles with the morality of the situation, his proposition could be the answer to her financial worries – just once, and she could start to clear some debts and give herself some breathing space. However nothing can be that straightforward and Roz unwittingly finds herself caught up in the consequences.

Paula Daly has a talent for taking an ordinary person and placing them in desperate situations where they have to make a decision, for good or bad, quite often without realising what the consequences could be. Sometimes they seem naive or reckless and you want to shake some sense into them but you still have to ask yourself ‘what would I have done’? Her characters are suitably flawed and realistic - and some are just downright twisted but her stories are written with compassion and dark humour. I think her wit is her trademark throughout all her novels – no matter how twisty the story gets, there is always some relief from the tension.

This story is again set in the beautiful Lake District, not only is the landscape vividly described but the author’s first-hand knowledge of physiotherapy adds an interesting and authentic element.

This was such an addictive and suspenseful story that I sat up until the early hours of the morning to finish it, I just couldn’t put it down.  Although all three books are standalones, it was great to see a familiar character return, albeit having a slightly smaller role this time.

Three books in and Paula Daly is most definitely a favourite author whose books I always look forward to.

My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the digital copy to review.

Although I now no longer live there, as a born and bred Billericay
girl for much of my life, I was both surprised and delighted to see my home town get a specific mention - ".....a quiet bookish newly wedded couple from Billericay...." . Despite the impression given on 'Gavin & Stacey', I would agree that us Billericay folk can definitely be 'bookish'

About the author:

Paula Daly lives in Cumbria with her husband, three children and whippet Skippy. Before becoming a writer she was a freelance physiotherapist.

You can find out more by following on Twitter and Facebook

Saturday, 22 August 2015

All That Glitters - Vicky Pattison

Published by Sphere/Little, Brown

2 July 2015

Three years ago Issy Jones walked away from her dream because her family needed her. Today, she spends her days working in her mum's salon and her nights going out with her best friend, Molly. Life is good yet Issy can't help wishing for something more.

When Issy's dad puts her forward for a sensational new reality TV show, no one expects her to actually be selected. With her family urging her to grab the opportunity with both hands, Issy suddenly finds herself surrounded by glamour, fame and celebrities. Full of excitement, Issy embraces it all - it's what she needs to do to achieve her goals. But when the reality of what she's signed up for doesn't match the dream Issy is chasing, things begin to fall apart. Issy is so close to getting everything she ever wanted - but just how much of herself will she have to sacrifice to get it?

Bold, thrilling and romantic, Vicky Pattison's first ever novel is a rollercoaster ride full of glitz, warmth and drama. It's a must-read for fans everywhere!

This isn’t my normal type of read and I hope I don't offend anyone when I say that when I received this my heart did sink just a little, as I am clearly not the intended targeted age group for this story. I’m not a fan of reality TV shows; despite living in Essex, I have no time at all for TOWIE – I also had no idea who Vicky Pattison was (thank heaven for Google) but I have to be completely honest and say that despite my initial misgivings All That Glitters really was a very funny and entertaining read and had me snorting with laughter throughout. There was a real mixture of characters and personalities, both inside and outside the ‘apartment/studio,’ and although some had more likeability factor than others (in fact there were some that were downright obnoxious), they were all written very well.  Her best friend Molly was adorable and I was disappointed with Issy for taking her support for granted at times.

Issy Jones is clearly a very likeable but ambitious young girl. Having given up her place at a London Hair Academy to be with her family after a family illness, she is just plodding along in her mum’s Manchester hair salon doing blue rinses. However her family think she now deserves more and without her knowledge put her forward for a new reality TV show – ‘Can You Cut It?’ – (think ‘Big Brother’ in a hairdressing environment) with the ‘Confession Cam’ substituted for the Big Brother Diary Room. The rest of the story is about Issy’s time on that show and how the seduction of fame can change even the most grounded person into someone that family and friends do not recognise.  It also shows that you shouldn't believe everything you read in the papers!

I’m assuming the author has based the story around her experience on the reality TV show, Geordie Shore, and if that is the case it is a real eye opener as to the manipulation by the TV production team that goes on behind the scenes. I had always believed that parts of these shows were set up anyway but these contestants were even provided with a list of topics to ‘spontaneously’ chat about. Almost their every move was recorded and monitored and every aspect of their life whilst in the studio environment was strictly controlled by the producers, with any developing romances quickly being encouraged for TV ratings and public consumption.

Although I enjoyed this, it was a little out of my usual comfort zone but If you are a fan of Vicky Pattison and/or reality TV shows and are looking for a fun and easy read then you can’t really go wrong with this one.

Author bio

Vicky Pattison is one of the original Geordie Shore cast and appeared in nine series of the hit MTV show. Her autobiography, Nothing but the Truth, was a Number One Sunday Times bestseller in hardback and remained in the Top Ten for seven weeks. Before appearing on Geordie Shore, Vicky studied drama at Liverpool John Moores. Vicky is a genuine Geordie Girl, born and bred in Newcastle. This is her first novel.  Twitter - https://twitter.com/VickyGShore

Guest Post by Fiona Cane - author of 'The Other Side of the Mountain'

I'm so pleased to welcome Fiona to My Reading Corner.  Her fourth novel The Other Side of the Mountain' is now available to buy in both ebook and paperback. I do have a copy to read and, going by the reviews I have seen for it, it looks just my type of story.  I will be posting a review soon.

In the meantime, Fiona has written a post explaining how the idea for the book came about.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Story Behind The Other Side of the Mountain

The idea for this story didn’t explode in a burst of inspiration but rather, like the Haitian proverb Little by Little the bird builds its nest, it arrived in pieces and had to be built, bit-by-bit. The seed was sown when I was reading the newspaper coverage of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince on 12 January 2010. Aside from Papa Doc and the Tonton Macoute, I knew I knew very little about Haiti but quickly discovered its many layers: its violent history, the unbalanced class system, the heartbreaking poverty, the racial conflict, Voodoo, the courage its people have always shown in adversity. Intrigued, I decided to do some research of my own. I ordered a book from Amazon, then another and another. I was hooked. 

Of all the books I read in those early months ‘Walking on Fire: Haitian’s Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance’ by Beverly Bell, was the one that left the deepest impression. In it thirty-eight women talk about their suffering, their resistance and their fight for survival in a world dominated by brutal dictatorships, violent husbands and coercive landowners. Described by Haiti’s first democratically elected president, the once shy, young priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide who’d bravely campaigned for reform, as the poto-mitan of society (after the central pillar of the Voodoo temple because they did everything), these women were subjected, nevertheless, to years of humiliation, physical abuse, rape, torture and murder – real-life heroines who were determined to ‘cross the hot coals’ and build a better life for themselves and their family. It was both a heart wrenching and an uplifting account and I began to imagine a central character that fitted this mould. 

And so Yolande Molaire was born. The beloved only daughter of a Haitian peasant farmer, she’s lived all her life in a village in the mountains of the Central Plateau. Her idyllic childhood, however, is over. Everyone she’s ever loved has gone, including her sister, Yvie, her abusive husband has sold into slavery. Desperate to be united with Yvie, she leaves the village in search of her. Only now I had a problem. Coming from a white, middle-class background, I was nervous about writing from the point-of-view of a black Haitian woman. How could I possibly understand the depth of her suffering? And bearing in mind that I couldn’t speak her language, how could I even begin to put it in words? After much deliberation I realised that if the thread of the narrative was the suffering of its women, I had to at least give it a go. 

Yolande embodies the time and the place, so I needed an outsider whose reactions to this tough, volatile environment would resonate with the reader. Enter Maddy Banks, the eager but impulsive young British journalist on her first overseas assignment, trailing a failed relationship with an older man behind her. Maddy has always railed against her cosseted upbringing, but it’s not until she’s nineteen when her father angrily lets slip that her real mother was the acclaimed war reporter, Cynthia Stone, and not his wife, Penny, who brought her up, that the reasons why become clear. Desperate to emulate her birth mother’s daring journalistic feats and in spite of her father’s wishes, she contrives to be sent to Port-au-Prince. Her brief, such as it is, is to bag an interview with President Aristide but within hours of her arrival she realises that she is wholly unprepared for the politically turmoil that awaits her.

Clare Thompson, the third character, is a world-weary ex-pat gynaecologist who’s spent the last eight years working in Port-au-Prince. Having fled England on the back of an unspoken personal tragedy, she has just started dating again. Every now and again she helps out at a hospital in the mountains and is much admired by one of the surgeons there. She speaks Creole and understands Haiti’s ways so that when the three women eventually meet, she becomes Yolande’s translator, in every sense of the word. Level headed and responsible, Clare is the antithesis of Maddy Banks and yet it is up to her to bridge the cultural gap if they are to have any hope of finding Yvie. With fifty thousand children living on the streets of Port-au-Prince and three hundred thousand more living as restaveks, abused by their host families, Clare alone understands the enormity of the task.

Now I had a setting for a story in which three very different characters, divided by language, lifestyle and personality, unite to hunt for a missing child. In essence, it is a story of love and loss, of self-discovery and finding the strength to face your fears, of acceptance, of letting go and moving on.

The Other Side of the Mountain

It’s 2001, and amidst the political turmoil in Haiti, three disparate lives collide: Yolande, an impoverished farmer desperately looking for the sister her abusive husband has sold into slavery; Maddy, an eager British journalist on her first overseas assignment, set on making a name for herself; and Clare, an ex-pat gynaecologist who’s devoted the past eight years to healing Haiti’s downtrodden women. 

Divided by language, lifestyle and personality yet all driven by painful memories buried in their pasts, the three women unite to search for the missing child. It’s a quest that takes them deep into the city’s underworld, where poverty is rife, black magic thrives and violence is king; a world in which appearances can be deceptive and where survival is by no means certain.

You can find out more from Fiona's website, and by following on Twitter - FionaCaneAuthor

Friday, 21 August 2015

My Mother's Secret - Sheila O'Flanagan - 20th Anniversary Blog Tour

My Mother's Secret by Sheila O'Flanagan

Published by Headline Review

Kindle & Hardback - 2 July 2015

Paperback - 25 February 2016

I'm delighted to be taking part in Sheila O'Flanagan's 20th anniversary blog tour for the publication of her latest novel, 'My Mother's Secret'.  I hope you enjoy Sheila's post.  

Sheila O’Flanagan’s Top 3 memories of 20 novels

I wrote my first book, Dreaming of a Stranger, while I was still working in financial services. Unbelievably that's over 20 years ago, and at the time laptops were a rarity. I bought myself a Mac laptop and used to bring it into the office with me. At my lunch break I'd find a deserted conference room and write the book while I was eating my sandwich. At night, I wrote in our garage which had been converted into a small office by the previous owners of the house. It was absolutely freezing and I had a pair of fingerless gloves to ward off the cold! I felt like a character from a book myself as I hunched over the computer in my fingerless gloves and nibbled on cheese and crackers to keep me going!

Eventually I decided that the time had come to upgrade the garage into a proper office and the builders arrived just as I started My Favourite Goodbye. I think that part of the reason I set some scenes in Sicily was to put my head in a different place because I couldn't believe how much mess there was in my house. They tried very hard not to disturb me, but the soundtrack to My Favourite Goodbye was the sound of the walls being knocked down. Even now I can open a page a remember exactly which building crisis happened as I was writing it. The day they were due to finish I was writing the scene where Ash gets caught in the rain. I was working really hard on it when a drop of water appeared on the desk in front of me. For a moment I thought my book had come alive! What had actually happened was that one of the guys had accidentally hammered a nail into the water pipes….

I like the characters in my books to have jobs that are an interesting part of their lives. Of course not every character can have a glittering career but I hate giving them anonymous office jobs. Obviously that means doing some research so for Too Good to be True, where Carey works as an air traffic controller, I spent a couple of days at ATC in Dublin and Shannon airports. It was probably the most interesting research I've ever done although looking at the sheer number planes on the radar screen was a bit scary! While I was in the control tower one of the approaching aircraft had to do what's known as a 'go around' where the landing is aborted and they have to do it again. The reason was that a dog had somehow made it onto the runway and airport staff had to catch it before we could land. A few months later I was in a plane which did a 'go around' and I wasn't as terrified as I might have been otherwise - our go around was because a piece of debris had fallen off a departing aircraft!

My Mother's Secret 

When Steffie helps her two siblings organize a surprise wedding anniversary party for their parents her only worry is whether they'll be pleased. What she doesn't know is this is the day that her whole world will be turned upside down.

Jenny wants to be able to celebrate her ruby anniversary with the man she loves, but for forty years she has kept a secret. A secret that she can't bear to hide any longer. But is it ever the right time to hurt the people closest to you?

As the entire family gather to toast the happy couple, they're expecting a day to remember. The trouble is, it's not going to be for the reasons they imagined...

Monday, 17 August 2015

The Summer of Secrets - Sarah Jasmon: Guest Post

The Summer of Secrets is Sarah Jasmon's debut novel and was published on 13 August 2015 by Black Swan/Transworld

I'm delighted to welcome Sarah to My Reading Corner for my stop on the blog tour.  Sarah has written a piece for my blog stop which I hope you enjoy. 

I wrote The Summer of Secrets without thinking of it as a coming of age novel. It was only later that I realised that my subconscious had known all along. What I don’t know is whether decisions - about plot, character, setting, tone – were made because of this underlying knowledge, or if my early choices led it to be that kind of book.

Coming of age is a genre which focusses on growth from youth to adulthood, a process that can take months (Bonjour Tristesse) or years (Brideshead Revisited). It also needs the element of looking back. In Michael Frayn’s Spies, the main character, Stephen, is a grandfather before he goes back to visit the road he grew up in. Cecil, the narrator of The Greengage Summer, doesn’t take anything like as long to look back but, as her sister comments, none of them were the people they had been before that summer in France. By returning to the significant time and working through the memories, though, all of the protagonists come to a degree of self-knowledge, the growing up part of the process.

I chose for Helen to be sixteen for the main part of the book and I chose for it to be set in the summer, and I think these two things are intimately connected. Sixteen is an odd age, bringing such a mix of independence and uncertainty. It’s an age when you haven’t had the experiences to make decisions based on knowledge, but you really don’t want advice from anyone. It’s when you start to experiment with who you are beyond the confines of your family, but are still seen as a child within the family circle. And the summer holidays can seem to be the place when it all happens.

Late teenage summers. Time off has been earned by all of the exam work. You’re old enough to be at home without holiday clubs and supervision. All possibilities in the world exist somewhere in a hazy future, and the sense of that coming time can be enjoyed without the weight of responsibility for anyone or anything. And the time stretches ahead into infinity. I knew that adolescent summers were special. When the publication date for The Summer of Secrets was approaching, I thought it would be interesting to find out what other people remembered from the summer they were sixteen.

What came back to me were memories both touching and funny by turns. First love features heavily, of course, but also the place of that first love, the location connected with the intensity of the emotion. Through the fragments written down, whole stories emerge of uncertainty and excitement and self-conscious despair. And, amongst the laughter of remembering, there’s often a sense of melancholy. ‘I wish that I had…’ ‘If only I’d known…’

I’ve been turning them into postcards and posting them on my website here: http://sarahjasmon.com/thesummeriwassixteen/ The postcard format seemed so appropriate, the place for Twitter-ish length narratives from the time before. The summer was when we all sent postcards, the time when we all experimented with who we were. We made mistakes that were crushing at the time, but faded to gentle memory with time, becoming the layers of our personal geography. 

Helen is having her own postcard moment, but it’s one that has never faded because she has never been able to move on from it emotionally. Her layers are paper-thin, giving her no foundation for happiness. It’s only by going back that she can learn about herself, and get to a place to start again. I’d love to know what you think happens to Helen after the book finishes. And if this has stirred up a memory from the summer you were sixteen, I’d really love to hear about it! 

One day she was there . . . 

and the next day, the day after the fire, she was gone.

In the summer of 1983, when Helen is sixteen, Victoria Dover and her eccentric family move in next door, at once making her lonely world a more thrilling place. But the summer ends with a terrible tragedy, and everyone involved – her father and the entire Dover family – simply disappears.

Then one day, thirty years later, Victoria comes back.

A suspenseful, spell-binding coming-of-age story about young friendship, damaged families and how one simple action on a long, sultry summer can echo through the years. Perfect for fans of Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard, Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret and Helen Dunmore's The Lie.