Monday, 18 May 2015

The Italian Wife - Guest Post by Kate Furnivall

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Italian Wife, published on 7 May 2015 by Sphere and would like to say a big hello and welcome to My Reading Corner, Kate  

Hi, it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

What drew me to write about Italy?

Well, let’s face it, who wouldn't want to write about Italy? It is a spectacularly beautiful country with an amazing passionate history, and during the Renaissance its people produced a creative brilliance that still stuns the world.

When I write a book, I nearly always start with place, and from the place emerges the plot. I like to find a point in a country’s history when change is taking place. At times like this, conflicts arise. People are pushed to their limits. Often the veneer of civilisation breaks down and fracture lines open up.

That’s when you see what people – and friendships – are made of. I love to explore these moments. To delve into how people react when the props of their lives fall away. I had always wanted to write a book set in Italy but hadn’t yet found my story, and then out of the blue my husband happened to mention that he’d seen a programme years ago about Mussolini building new towns on a drained swamp. I was intrigued and started digging!

Instantly I knew I had found my story. Oh yes! I can still recall that moment of visceral joy. I decided to make my heroine an architect in 1932.

The Pontine Marshes were a 300 square mile basin of malarial swamps just south of Rome, trapped between the Lepini Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Nero and Napoleon had both tried to drain it but failed. But in 1930 Mussolini brought in the might of the Fascist regime and modern machinery to drain the marches, using 125,000 workers, in order to build five new modernist towns on the land.

This was an amazing and exciting project that attracted the attention of the world, and I knew it would make a wonderful story. It was a dangerous world for my heroine to enter, a maelstrom of ambition and political intrigue, as well as a setting for romance, adventure and fierce loyalties. Mussolini kept a close eye on the creation of each town, but to risk displeasing him was to risk prison. So tensions arose and fear spread its tentacles. Each day I adored plunging into the thrill of this intense and fragile new world I was creating.

Of course, I had to do research. Lots of it. I learned about the hardships of Mussolini’s Fascist regime, about the brutality of his Blackshirt militia. And about what he called his Battle for Births policy which condemned women to staying at home to produce as many bambini as possible. This was a period in Italy’s history that I wanted people to read about and to see how one strong-minded woman like Isabella could make a difference.

All this naturally involved research not one, but two research trips to Italy. Well, someone had to do it! Someone had to go there to check out the local vino and stracchino cheeses, to sink teeth into succulent olives and amaretto cakesin one of the sunlit pavement cafes. And a swim in the warm waters of the cobalt Tyrrhenean Sea was obligatory. Of course it was!

I was utterly beguiled by Italy, by its wonderfully friendly people and the sumptuous food. I might even set a second book there …..

Perfect for readers of Santa Montefiore and Lucinda Riley, this powerful and evocative novel transports readers to 1930s Italy, before the dawn of World War II…

Italy, 1932 – Mussolini’s Italy is going from strength to strength, but at what cost?

One bright autumn morning, architect Isabella Berotti sites at a café in the vibrant centre of Bellina, when a woman she’s never met asks her to watch her ten-year-old daughter, just for a moment. Reluctantly, Isabella agrees – and then watches in horror as the woman climbs to the top of the town’s clock tower and steps over the edge.

This tragic encounter draws vivid memories to the surface, forcing Isabella to probe deeper into the secrets of her own past as she tries to protect the young girl from the authorities. Together with charismatic photographer Roberto Falco, Isabella is about to discover that secrets run deeper, and are more dangerous, than either of them could have possibly imagined.

From the glittering marble piazzas to the picturesque hillside villages and winding streets of Rome, Kate Furnivall’s epic new novel will take you on a breath-taking journey of intrigue, romance and betrayal.

The Kindle and paperback versions of The Italian Wife are published by Sphere and are available to buy now

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

We Are All Made of Stars - Rowan Coleman

Published by Ebury Press

Kindle and Hardcover - 21 May 2015

Paperback - 22 October 2015

From Goodreads:

What if you had just one chance, one letter you could leave behind for the person you love? 

What would you write?

Stella Carey has good reason to only work nights at the hospice where she is a nurse. Married to a war veteran who has returned from Afghanistan brutally injured, Stella leaves the house each night as her husband Vincent, locks himself away, unable to sleep due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

During her nights at the hospice, Stella writes letters for her patients containing their final wishes, thoughts and feelings – from how to use a washing machine, to advice on how to be a good parent – and usually she delivers each letter to the recipient once he or she has died.

That is until Stella writes one letter that she feels compelled to deliver in time to give her patient one final chance of redemption… 

* * *

Rowan Coleman you have made me cry, again!  Followers of this blog will know that The Memory Book was one of my Top 10 reads of last year and now Rowan has written another emotional story which will tug at your heart strings.

The main character is ex-trauma nurse, Stella, who works nights at the Marie Francis Hospice and Rehabilitation Centre. She works nights so that she and her former soldier husband Vincent can mostly avoid each other. Stella looks at Vincent with love. Vincent looks at Stella and hates himself. He has returned from Afghanistan a broken man – both physically and mentally and even Stella’s love can’t bring back the man he used to be. 

One of the kindnesses that Stella carries out for her patients is letter writing. She puts those poignant last words in a letter to their loved ones and promises to post it once they have passed. One of the many joys of this story are the letters separating each chapter. We never know who the people are but each letter tells its own story of sadness and humour – from a declaration of love to instructions on how to do the washing and where the life insurance policy is kept. Even though I am guilty of preferring to send an email rather than sitting down and penning a letter, there is no doubt of the pleasure and comfort that a letter can bring to the recipient.

The story is told from several viewpoints and even those patients who we meet only briefly, such as teenager Issy and her mother Thea, make their presence felt. Besides Stella, the other main character is Hope - one of the young patients in for respite care. She has Cystic Fibrosis and when we first meet her, she has fought off a severe infection from which she nearly died. Having faced death and won, she must decide how to make best use of however much of her life she may have left. The scenes with Hope and her best friend Ben were charming, even if sometimes the misunderstandings between them were a little frustrating.

There were two characters that I had a really soft spot for. One was Stella, and the other was Hugh. Hugh lives alone with a cat called Jake (- a cat who appears to have multiple personalities). He is a museum curator and lives a very solitary existence, unaware of the impact that the arrival of new neighbours will have on his life. At first he seemed to be a random character but as the story progresses his role becomes clear and it was actually the scenes with Hugh that made me cry the most.

Rowan Coleman has seamlessly weaved together a diverse set of characters to form a tender and uplifting story. The setting of a hospice does make this an emotional read, but it's certainly not a depressing one. It's a beautifully written story told with love and care relying on the sharpness of the dialogue and some of the wonderful letters for a much appreciated humorous touch (one of my particular favourites was from a 91 year old advising her newly born great-granddaughter). A very gentle tale of seizing second chances and fighting for those that you love, this was another 5* read for me and another sure fire success for Rowan Coleman.

My thanks to Amelia at Ebury for the paperback copy to review.

Rowan Coleman lives with her husband, and five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire. She juggles writing novels with raising her family which includes a very lively set of toddler twins whose main hobby is going in the opposite directions. When she gets the chance, Rowan enjoys sleeping, sitting and loves watching films; she is also attempting to learn how to bake.

Rowan would like to live every day as if she were starring in a musical, although her daughter no longer allows her to sing in public. Despite being dyslexic, Rowan loves writing, and The Memory Book is her eleventh novel. Others include The Accidental Mother, Lessons in Laughing Out Loud and the award-winning Runaway Wife, a novel which lead Rowan to become an active supporter of domestic abuse charity Refuge, donating 100% of royalties from the ebook publication of her novella, Woman Walks Into a Bar, to the charity. Rowan does not have time for ironing.

To find out more about Rowan Coleman, visit her websiteFacebook or Twitter 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

A Memory of Violets - Hazel Gaynor - Review and GIVEAWAY

Published 3 February 2015 by William Morrow

From Amazon:

From the author of the USA Today bestseller The Girl Who Came Home comes an unforgettable historical novel that tells the story of two long-lost sisters—orphaned flower sellers—and a young woman who is transformed by their experiences

"For little sister. . . . I will never stop looking for you."

1876. Among the filth and depravity of Covent Garden's flower markets, orphaned Irish sisters Flora and Rosie Flynn sell posies of violets and watercress to survive. It is a pitiful existence, made bearable only by each other's presence. When they become separated, the decision of a desperate woman sets their lives on very different paths.

1912. Twenty-one-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London to become assistant housemother at one of Mr. Shaw's Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the homes have cared for London's orphaned and crippled flower girls, getting them off the streets. For Tilly, the appointment is a fresh start, a chance to leave her troubled past behind.

Soon after she arrives at the home, Tilly finds a notebook belonging to Flora Flynn. Hidden between the pages she finds dried flowers and a heartbreaking tale of loss and separation as Flora's entries reveal how she never stopped looking for her lost sister. Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie—but the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.

* * * 

Having loved Hazel’s debut novel, The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic (reviewed here), I was very much looking forward to this and I was lucky enough to win a signed copy in a competition run by the author. The story is inspired by true events which makes it an even more of a poignant read.   My copy was a proof and not a finished one but it had beautiful black and white sketch drawings of flowers at the top of each new chapter page.

It is 1912 and 26 year old Tilly Harper leaves her home in the Lake District to become an assistant housemother at Shaw’s Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls, located in London and Clacton.   Something dreadful has happened which drives a wedge between Tilly and her family and to get away from the stares and the gossip, Tilly moves to London.

When she arrives at the Home, she finds hidden in her room a notebook, written by a previous occupant, Florrie (Flora) Flynn.  There is obviously heartbreak in the story and Tilly is intrigued and wants to find out more.

Crippled Flora and her blind little sister Rosie were flower seller girls, living in London in the late 1800’s.  They were orphans and Flora is Rosie’s protector until one day when Rosie suddenly disappears.  Flora is heartbroken and it is extracts from her notebook that form the basis of the story, and which moves Tilly so much.

For young girls such as Flora and Rosie, orphaned and who lived in poverty, life in London was terrifying and brutal, they made pennies from selling their flowers and watercress and were often barefoot, cold, hungry and homeless.   It was thanks to men like Albert Shaw (in reality a Victorian philanthropist called John Groom) who established the training home and who took in some of these young girls that they managed to survive.  Flora Flynn was lucky to have been found by Albert Shaw, along with so many other young girls who found themselves being cared for in a warm and safe environment, earning a wage, albeit working for long hours but without the danger of living on the streets.   Many of the girls were crippled or disabled, either by loss of limbs or blindness and these young girls found themselves learning a trade and for the first time in their lives made to feel worthwhile.  They were given the task of making many thousands of artificial roses (to be known as Alexandra Roses) for a charity fundraising event organized by Queen Alexandra – a charity which still continues to this day. 

Hazel Gaynor has done a wonderful job of capturing the poverty and the hardship suffered by the poorest and most vulnerable without being overly sentimental. The descriptions of both the sights and sounds of London streets and the people are so vivid and realistic.  There are also characters forming an integral part of the story, who are at the other end of the social scale and who live in luxury and the story has been constructed in such a way that the overlap is seamless. 

Tilly was a wonderful character that you simply have to take to your heart and as the story progresses, we find out about her back story and why she had to leave her family.  As she gets used to her new life and begins to care for the girls in her charge, she grows in strength and confidence and in her quest to try and find out what happened to little Rosie, she realizes just how important family is, no matter how difficult the circumstances. 

There is a little bit of everything in this story which I am sure fans of historical fiction will love.  As well as the story centered around the flower girls and the mystery surrounding Rosie’s disappearance, there is romance and also a slight paranormal aspect  - which, even for someone as picky as me, has been done very subtly and does add to the atmosphere and intrigue.

This is a beautifully written story which at times was absolutely heart wrenching.  However it was also one of hope and overall it was an uplifting story which made me appreciate the comfortable life I have and made me realise just how important Homes such as these were. Hazel clearly has a wonderful talent for historical fiction and I absolutely loved this book.  I do so hope there is more to come from this author, her future books will certainly be on my wishlist. 

If you are interested in finding out more:

Hazel Gaynor - A background to A Memory of Violets

I received a duplicate (new and unread) proof copy and have decided to run a giveaway to share this wonderful book. To enter, just leave a comment below and I will pick a winner at random. The giveaway will close at 6pm on Friday 8 May 2015.

Hazel Gaynor's 2014 debut novel The Girl Who Came Home—A Novel of the Titanic was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. A Memory of Violets is her second novel.

Hazel writes a popular guest blog 'Carry on Writing' for national Irish writing website and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed, Rachel Joyce and Jo Baker, among others.

Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. She appeared as a guest speaker at the Romantic Novelists' Association and Historical Novel Society annual conferences in 2014.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.

You can find out more from Hazel's website, or by following on Twitter or Facebook 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Letters to the Lost - Iona Grey: Guest Post

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for this lovely book.  I have read Letters to the Lost and I adored it - my review will be up this week. 

In the meantime, I'd like to welcome Iona to the blog to tell you a little about writing dual time frame novels.

Writing Dual Time Frame Novels

The first stories I fell in love with as a child were fairy tales. The second ones were dual time frame novels.

Tom’s Midnight Garden. Charlotte Sometimes. A Traveller in Time. When Marnie Was There. As a little girl in the 1970s these were the books I sought out in the library – scanning back blurbs for a mention of the ingredients I found irresistible: ‘old house’, ‘mysterious’, ‘past’. I think it must have been a great era for children’s TV drama too, as several of the books I loved were made into mini-series (the junior equivalent to Poldark, which also enjoyed its first Sunday night airing around the same time!) and I’d rush home from school to claim the best place on the sofa to watch Carrie’s War and Moondial. I still have my copy of Carrie’s War, though all the pages are falling out. I loved the whole book, but the bit that really got to me was the beginning when grown-up Carrie goes back with her children, and we see the house at the centre of the story as a ruin, and the town all deserted. And the end, of course, when the story comes full circle. (Oh knickers – I still well up just thinking about it.)

There’s something so unbearably poignant and powerful about looking at the past in the context of what comes afterwards. Would the film Titanic have been such a ten-tissue weepy if it had been a straightforward historical piece, without the framework of the present? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t. It’s amazing to think how things that now seem inevitable and unquestionable might be the consequence of chance or heartbreaking accident a few generations ago. All of us have a family history, whether we’re familiar with it or not, and it’s humbling to think that we’re here because, or maybe in spite of, the trials and triumphs faced by our ancestors in very different times to our own. Women in particular often faced challenges that seem outrageously unjust to us now, and in writing Letters to the Lost I became aware of the extent to which the law and society limited women’s choices only two generations ago. Jess, the heroine of the contemporary part of the story, faces some of the same problems that Stella has to deal with in the 1940s strand, but she is able to turn to the authorities for help whereas Stella – with no rights and no voice – finds nothing but dead ends to every escape route out of her predicament.

Of course, the best bit about writing about the past in the context of the present is being able to wave your authorly magic wand, solving longstanding mysteries, righting wrongs and showing how time has healed old wounds or served justice on those who deserved it. (Who doesn’t love the bit at the end of Titanic when we find out that loathsome Cal ‘put a pistol in his mouth’ after the Wall Street Crash?) There’s something wonderfully satisfying about seeing the effect of the years on your characters; who has survived, who has been poisoned by hurt or jealousy or resentment, who has remained true to themselves and triumphed. It’s karma, but speeded up!

I’ve always felt a sneaking envy of people with psychic ability, and a connection with a world just beyond the reach of the solid here and now. Having said that, I’d probably scream the roof off if I ever did have a close encounter with a ghostly presence, but I can’t help feeling a wistful yearning to establish some kind of connection with the past. In the absence of a time-travel machine, thank goodness for dual time frame novels. Definitely the next best thing.

Letters to The Lost is published by Simon & Schuster and was released on 23 April 2015

1943, in the ruins of Blitzed London…

Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski meet by chance and fall in love by accident. Theirs is a reluctant, unstoppable affair in which all the odds are stacked against them: she is newly married, and he is an American bomber pilot whose chance of survival is just one in five.

… He promised to love her forever

Seventy years later Dan makes one final attempt to find the girl he has never forgotten, and sends a letter to the house where they shared a brief yet perfect happiness. But Stella has gone, and the letter is opened by Jess, a young girl hiding from problems of her own. And as Jess reads Dan's words, she is captivated by the story of a love affair that burned so bright and dimmed too soon. Can she help Dan find Stella before it is too late?

Now forever is finally running out.

Monday, 20 April 2015

No Other Darkness - Sarah Hilary

Published by Headline

Trade Paperback & E-book 23 April 2015

Paperback 30 July 2015

From Amazon

From the Richard and Judy bestselling author Sarah Hilary. The phenomenal Marnie Rome returns in the outstanding follow up to the critically acclaimed SOMEONE ELSE'S SKIN.

Two young boys.

Trapped underground in a bunker.

Unable to understand why they are there.

Desperate for someone to find them.

Slowly realising that no-one will...

Five years later, the boys' bodies are found and the most difficult case of DI Marnie Rome's career begins.

Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them.

For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this...

* * *

Thanks to Sarah Hilary, I have a brilliant new crime series to follow. I thought the first book, Someone Else’s Skin, (reviewed here) was great however, with the second, No Other Darkness, the author has really taken things up a notch.

I’m not giving away any spoilers when I say that the book begins with a heart-breaking scenario. We know from the blurb on the back that things are not going to end well and when Marnie Rome and her team are called to investigate, they are all affected by what they find.

One of the joys of reading a series from the beginning is that feeling of familiarity when meeting the characters again and Marnie Rome, although in only her second outing, is fast becoming one of my favourite female detective leads. She is excellent at the acerbic put-downs and her exchanges with the (rather smug and often annoying) journalist from her past were great to read. Her partner, DS Noah Jake is another interesting character and in this story we find find out a little more of his private life. There is definitely more to come from Noah and he is a character that I would love to see developed in future stories.

Marnie and her team have a particularly distressing case to deal with and when another voice is introduced to the story, this gives an opportunity for another element to be explored. The story deals with a very dark and difficult subject, but it is done sympathetically. I don’t know if it was the effect of this particular storyline or just natural character progression but to me, Marnie seemed to be little more human and was allowed to show a little more of her compassionate side.

The twists and turns in the story are very cleverly structured and even though at one point I thought I had guessed at part of the outcome, I was completely floored by the events that followed.

Sarah Hilary’s writing just gets better. There are so many crime writers in this genre that it must be virtually impossible to write about something new but the writing here feels fresh and the storyline original.  There are no wasted sentences, just a gripping and powerful story with realistic and convincing characters.

This could be read as a standalone but to get the best from the series, I would recommend that you start with the first book ‘Someone Else’s Skin’ which will give you the background to the characters, and in particular Marnie’s past history which continues to haunt her.

There is so much more to be discovered with these two very complex detectives and one of the downsides of reading a new series when it starts is having to wait for a new book. I am quite mean with my 5* ratings and don’t give them out lightly, but in this case I couldn’t give anything less.

My thanks to Elizabeth at Headline and the publisher for the review copy.  

About the author:

Sarah Hilary lives in Bath with her daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She's also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. NO OTHER DARKNESS is her brilliant follow-up to the outstanding SOMEONE ELSE'S SKIN.

You can find out more from Sarah's website, or follow on Twitter or Facebook

Friday, 17 April 2015

Bryant & May: The Burning Man - Christopher Fowler

Published 26 March 2015 by Doubleday

From Amazon:

London is under siege. A banking scandal has filled the city with violent protests, and as the anger in the streets detonates, a young homeless man burns to death after being caught in the crossfire between rioters and the police.

But all is not as it seems; an opportunistic killer is using the chaos to exact revenge, but his intended victims are so mysteriously chosen that the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to find a way of stopping him.

Using their network of eccentric contacts, elderly detectives Arthur Bryant and John May hunt down a murderer who adopts incendiary methods of execution. But they soon find their investigation taking an apocalyptic turn as the case comes to involve the history of mob rule, corruption, rebellion, punishment and the legend of Guy Fawkes.

At the same time, several members of the PCU team reach dramatic turning points in their lives - but the most personal tragedy is yet to come, for as the race to bring down a cunning killer reaches its climax, Arthur Bryant faces his own devastating day of reckoning.

I always said we’d go out with a hell of a bang,’ warns Bryant.

* * *

Despite The Burning Man being the twelfth book, this series had somehow completely passed me by until Sophie from Transworld contacted me about taking part in the recent blog tour (you can read a Q&A with Christopher Fowler here).  

I was trying to think of a way to describe these two senior (both by rank and age) detectives.  The best comparison I can think of is a combination of the TV programmes 'New Tricks' mixed with the irascibility of 'Inspector Morse'.  It isn't quite clear how old they are, but they are well past a normal detective's retirement age.  Arthur St John Aloysius Bryant is very well read with a whole heap of information filed away in his brain and an office full of well used old reference books. He doesn't suffer fools gladly, a character trait which often makes him unpopular with his superiors.   His long suffering colleague John May, who is only slightly younger, appears to be the more patient of the two and is constantly having to keep an eye on his eccentric and unpredictable partner.

Although I hadn't read any of the previous books, I didn't feel that this mattered and actually this book gave me an appetite to start at the beginning of the series to find out their back story. 

Both detectives are part of the 'PCU' - the Peculiar Crimes Unit, headed up by the seemingly lazy and incompetent Unit Chief, Raymond Land.   A covert division, set up about 50 years previously, their task is to prevent public disorder and panic on the street and in the words of Raymond Land "we are in charge of London".

In this case, the City of London is the target of a series of riots and protests, sparked off by the scandal and corruption which has taken place at Findersbury Private Bank.  The story is very much a political commentary of our times, with references to capitalism and banker greed. 

There is a killer running loose, who may be using the riots as cover for his murderous activities.  All the murders have a reference to fire or burning - a homeless man is burned alive in a bank doorway amongst other grisly occurrences.  I don't want to give away anything to spoil the story but there is one particular scene almost towards the end where the tension was almost unbearable.
This has a very different and quirky style to the crime books that I normally read and I did enjoy it, including the historical references to people or places.  Bryant has a particular disregard of authority, nothing new there in crime stories, but it's their colleagues in the PCU who enhance the story with their realism.  Christopher Fowler has created a well rounded cast of characters.  With the exception of 'those in charge', they all pull together and look out for each other.   Arthur Bryant is having to face his own personal issues and some of the scenes involving him are quite moving. 

I started working in the City of London nearly 20 years ago and many of the places mentioned in the book are so familiar, I didn't need to use much imagination to be able to visualise the landscape.  I still remember the City May Day riots that were really very scary if you happened to be caught up in them. 
There are some parts of the story that will make you smile with its dry and dark humour, and others that will make you wince and read through your fingers at the graphic descriptions but if you want something a little bit different to the normal run of the mill police procedurals then I would recommend this one.

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

About the author:

Christopher Fowler is a Londoner born (in Greenwich) and bred. For many years he jointly owned and ran one of the UK's top film marketing companies.

He is the author of many novels and short story collections, from the urban unease of cult fictions such as Roofworld and Spanky, the horror-pastiche of Hell Train to the much-praised and award-winning Bryant and May series of detective novels - and his two critically acclaimed autobiographies, Paperboy and Film Freak.

He lives in King's Cross.

You can find out more from Christopher's website, or follow on Twitter or Facebook

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Death in the Rainy Season - Guest Post by Anna Jaquiery

Death in the Rainy Season is the second book in the Commandant Serge Morel series, published by Mantle on 9 April 2015.  As part of the tour,  I am delighted to welcome Anna to My Reading Corner. 

A sense of belonging

Last year, we travelled as a family to Europe, for five weeks. We spent half that time in the UK, and half in France. It was my first trip back to France in 11 years. That seemed incredible to me. During all this time, we’ve been living in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia, raising two young boys. Any travelling we’ve done has been in the southern hemisphere. 

I hadn’t really thought about how long I’d been away from Europe, until I returned. I was amazed that so much time had passed, and thrilled to be back. Most of all, I was happy to be in Paris again, and surprised at just how strongly I felt about being back there. It was an emotional reunion.

I have a complicated relationship with France. I am part French. We moved around a great deal while I was growing up, and I went to French schools nearly everywhere we went. Each year, we returned to France to visit my grandmother and to spend part of the holidays. When I was 17, I moved to Paris alone and went to university there. The next few years were difficult. Until then, my experience of being French had always been an expatriate one. For a long time after I moved there, I felt like a foreigner. Paris seemed alien and unwelcoming. 

And yet, when I returned last year, I realized just how strong the connection is. Paris isn’t home, not really, but a part of me does feel at home there. And another part of me sees Paris through a foreigner’s eyes. I am a tourist, not a resident. That dual sense of familiarity and distance is what fuels my writing. It has made it possible for me to create a senior French detective who knows Paris like the back of his hand, even though I couldn’t be living further from France. And bringing Serge Morel to life allows me to wander through familiar streets, at least in my mind.

Far from home secrets can be deadly . . .

Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy - dynamic, well-connected - was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area's neglected youth.

Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?

Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy's circle of family and friends - his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues - Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .

A deeply atmospheric crime novel that bristles with truth and deception, secrets and lies: Death in the Rainy Season is a compelling mystery that unravels an exquisitely wrought human tragedy.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Other Half of My Heart - Guest Post by Stephanie Butland

Its my turn on the final day of the blog tour for 'Letters to My Husband' by Stephanie Butland, published in paperback on 9th April 2015 by Black Swan/Transworld (originally published in hardback in 2014 as 'Surrounded by Water') and I am so excited to have the honour of an EXCLUSIVE reveal for Stephanie's next book.

Welcome to Stephanie, who will tell you a little more 

Photo credit: Topher McGrillis

I'm really excited about THE OTHER HALF OF MY HEART, which is published this autumn. 

It's about Bettina, a woman in her thirties who is hiding from her past. She lives above the bakery in Throckton, which she runs with passion and ambition, while negotiating a new relationship and making sure that her ailing mother is cared for. Everything is going on fairly steadily, until someone from her past shows up, and Bettina has to decide how to really face up to things she would rather forget. Bettina is new to Throckton, but readers of LETTERS TO MY HUSBAND will recognise many of the characters she spends time with, and has relationships with. 

Writing the book was brilliant fun (apart from the emotionally wracking bits...) and as part of the research I started making my own bread, and spent a lot of time thinking about how we nourish ourselves, physically and emotionally. I'm longing for readers to get their hands on this and tell me what they think!

Thank you Stephanie, and now for the exclusive cover reveal, isn't it gorgeous?

The Other Half of My Heart will be published by Black Swan on 22 October 2015

Monday, 13 April 2015

'Meet Oliver' - Unravelling Oliver Blog Tour - Liz Nugent


Unravelling Oliver was one of my top 10 reads of 2014 (reviewed here) and I was thrilled to be asked to take part in this tour to introduce readers to the character at the centre of Liz Nugent's novel.   You can read the first chapter across 5 blogs over 5 days

Yesterday it was the turn of thewelshlibrarianblogspot to host Extract No. 4 and you can read the final extract below. 


Returning to the house on the night Alice pushed me too far, I fumbled with the key in the door. I stepped into the dining room. She wasn't on the floor, thank God. She was sitting in the kitchen, nursing a mug of tea. Her hand rubbed at her face. She looked at me without affection. I noticed that her jaw was quite red on the right-hand side.No bruise. Yet. I looked at her. Smiled.

The wooden box in which I had locked away my darkest secrets lay open on the table in the hall, its lid agape, lock smashed, contents violated.

‘Liar!’ she said, her voice breaking.

It was clear that she intended to ruin me.

The second time I hit Alice, I just couldn't stop. I am very sorry about that indeed. I have been in control of my life since I was eighteen years old, and to lose control is a failing. Needless to say, I am not allowed to visit her in hospital. It is silly really. It is February 2012, so it’s been three months now. In her condition, she wouldn't know if I was there or not.

It turns out that I am a violent man after all. It comes as a shock to me. I have been psychologically assessed. I decided to tell them almost everything. Apparently, I have been harbouring bitterness, resentment and frustration since my childhood. Now, there’s a surprise.

What will the neighbours think? What will anybody think?

I really couldn't care less.

Liz Nugent's gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children's books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease - enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

Liz Nugent has worked in Irish film, theatre and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Unravelling Oliver is her first novel.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Lie - C L Taylor

Published 23 April 2015 by Avon

From Amazon: 

This was no accident…

Haunting, compelling, this psychological thriller will have you hooked. Perfect for fans of Gone Girl and Daughter.

I know your name’s not really Jane Hughes . . .

Jane Hughes has a loving partner, a job in an animal sanctuary and a tiny cottage in rural Wales. She’s happier than she’s ever been but her life is a lie. Jane Hughes does not really exist.

Five years earlier Jane and her then best friends went on holiday but what should have been the trip of a lifetime rapidly descended into a nightmare that claimed the lives of two of the women.

Jane has tried to put the past behind her but someone knows the truth about what happened. Someone who won’t stop until they’ve destroyed Jane and everything she loves . . .

* * *

Having read C L Taylor's debut thriller last year, The Accident, (reviewed here), which I loved, The Lie was on my wishlist as soon as it was announced. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC from the publisher which has been glaring at me from the bookshelf, until I couldn't wait any longer and bumped it up to the top of the TBR.

Five years ago, Jane Hughes was called Emma Woolfe and she and three friends set out for the holiday of a lifetime to Nepal. The fun that they were expecting however soon turned into a nightmare.

The suspense starts at the very beginning when Jane receives a letter at the animal sanctuary where she now works, indicating that someone knows her secret. I was hooked already and intrigued to find out why Jane changed her name and what did she have to hide? The story then flips between the present and the past. We’re with the girls as they excitedly prepare for their holiday retreat in the mountains. We also see the cracks that gradually appear in the friendship and watch it becoming something nasty and frightening.

The characterization is so good - people who you thought were trustworthy turn out to be anything but and the sinister undertones increase as gradually the story unfolds. All four friends had flawed but interesting characters. They may not have been very likeable but each had their own issues which all played a part in the trauma that was to follow. The Ektanta yatra retreat, where they were staying, was anything but a haven of peace and tranquility, some of the people there may have seemed charming and welcoming but a few had an agenda of their own. Most of the time my sympathy was with Emma – there were times when I thought she was a bit naive but I could identify with her character and I felt for her at the way she was treated.

This excellent story has so much going for it – there is a wonderful sense of place, particularly the setting in Nepal and there is darkness to the plot which made me worry for the four friends and added to the sense of fear as I turned the page. There are so many psychological thrillers out there now but C L Taylor has certainly found her place in this genre and I’m very much looking forward to the next book.

My thanks to the publisher Avon, for the advance reading copy. 

About the author:

CL Taylor studied for a degree in Psychology at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle and currently works 4 days a week as a Distance Learning Design and Development manager for a London university, looks after her toddler son 3 days a week and squeezes in writing her novels when she should be sleeping

You can find out more by following on Twitter, Facebook or from the author's website