Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Little Black Lies - Sharon Bolton

Published Bantam/Transworld

Kindle & Hardcover - published 2 July 2015

Paperback published 22 October 2015

From Amazon:

What's the worst thing your best friend could do to you?

Admittedly, it wasn't murder. A moment's carelessness, a tragic accident - and two children are dead. Yours.

Living in a small island community, you can't escape the woman who destroyed your life. Each chance encounter is an agonizing reminder of what you've lost - your family, your future, your sanity.

How long before revenge becomes irresistible?

With no reason to go on living, why shouldn't you turn your darkest thoughts into deeds?

So now, what's the worst thing you can do to your best friend?

*  * *

It’s been a while since I read a Sharon Bolton standalone (the last being Blood Harvest in 2010), and having been hooked on the excellent Lacey Flint series it was with much anticipation that I started Little Black Lies.

It is set on the Falkland Islands, more than a decade after the conflict ended; a landscape that seems so bleak and remote and is in stark contrast to the claustrophobic feel of the small Stanley community, where everybody seems to know each other’s business. Some people are, however, very good at keeping secrets.

Set in the mid 1990’s over a period of 5 days this is an atmospheric and disturbing story of lost friendship, grief, guilt, revenge and forgiveness. There are 3 parts to the story told by three main characters, Catrin, Callum, and Rachel. Each gets to tell their story over the same timeline and although initially I thought that this style of narration slowed down the story, I soon got into it and realised that it was a very good way of seeing each perspective, without being repetitive. Both main and secondary characters have their own distinct personalities and this may sound bad, especially as she was a grieving mother, but I didn’t find Catrin an easy person to warm to, although I admired her strength of character, especially when she had to take charge of a distressing event.

Catrin Quinn’s two boys are dead, and the person who was responsible for their deaths was her best friend Rachel. The tragedy also cost Catrin her marriage. It is now three years on and the anniversary of her children’s death is approaching. Catrin has never forgiven Rachel and has revenge on her mind.

Callum is a former soldier who stayed on the island when the war finished. He is still suffering flashbacks of the dreadful events he experienced and has instances of memory loss – when he could have done anything and not remembered.

Rachel has never forgiven herself for her part in the death of Catrin’s boys and we see events from her perspective.

When children go missing and a body is found, nobody wants to admit the possibility that one of their own could be a child killer. There is much speculation and people come under scrutiny and suspicion.

Sharon Bolton has always been superb at creating atmosphere and her vivid descriptions bring a story to life. The remoteness of the islands and the bleak landscape give a dark and haunting feel to the story which is enhanced by the insight we have into the thoughts of the three main characters. It is intricately plotted and there are twists and turns as you would expect. Just when you think you have things sussed, the author throws another curveball.

The story is everything that you would expect from Sharon Bolton. Dark, gripping and disturbing but so very readable…and that ending. I had to read it twice.

My thanks to Alison Barrow and the publisher for the review copy. 

About the author:

Sharon Bolton is the author of the bestselling Lacey Flint series. Little Black Lies is her first stand-alone thriller since Blood Harvest, which was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for ‘Crime Novel of the Year’.

Sharon lives near Oxford with her husband and son.

How to find out more:

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/authorsjbolton

Website:  http://www.sjbolton.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/SJBoltonCrime

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Silent Hours - Cesca Major

Published by Corvus

Kindle - 4 June 2015

Paperback -  5 November 2015

From Amazon:

An epic, sweeping tale set in wartime France, The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart:

Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;

Sebastien, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically;

Tristan, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.

Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.

* * *

As soon as I saw this book mentioned on social media, it went straight onto my wishlist and I was so thrilled to find it unexpectedly through my letter box from the publisher a few weeks later.

I hadn't realised when I started reading that this is based on a true story. It is told from multiple viewpoints, starting with Adeline, in the early 1950's at St Cecilia Nunnery in south-west France.  Adeline is mute and by having access to her thoughts and memories it would seem that a traumatic event has rendered her speechless, although at this stage we don't know what has happened or how she fits in to the story.  She has been given sanctuary by the nuns, and has been there for several years. 

All the main characters tell their story in the first person narrative - this works very well as you really do feel as though you are privy to their every thought. Besides Adeline, other main voices include Isabelle and her brother Paul, who was away fighting. They write letters to each other, Isabelle in particular, pours out her hopes and fears together with the minutiae of daily life to her brother. Sebastian, a young Jewish banker, who can have no idea of the way his life will change; and Tristin, a 9 year old boy, too young to really understand why he and his family have to move from Paris to a small village many miles away, or why classmates suddenly disappear from lessons.  

The switching of voices may sound confusing but I can assure you it isn't. As the story progresses, it becomes clear how the characters connect. The romance between Isabelle and Sebastian starts very gently, by 'coincidental' meetings and develops into a love that neither could have anticipated.  I don't want to give away any spoilers so that is all I am going to tell you - you need to read this wonderful book for yourself. 

This is Cesca Major's debut novel and it is truly stunning.  She writes beautifully, drawing the reader in by superb characterisation and a sense of place.  I became so completely engrossed in the story that I was desperate to read on to the next chapter to find out more.   The fictionalised lives of the characters and the reality of war form a story that is both emotional and shocking.   I absolutely loved it and I can't wait to see what Cesca produces next.

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

If you like this, then I recommend.......

Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat.  I read this last year and reviewed it here.  In many ways it is very similar to The Silent Hours, it's a powerful and poignant WW2 story based on a true event and set in a French Village under German occupation.  

About the author:

Cesca Major read history at Bristol University. She went on to work in television as a researcher and presenter for four years before becoming a history teacher. Her first real writing success came in 2005 when she was runner up in the Daily Mail Writing Competition for the best opening paragraph to a novel. She has won, or been placed, in some short story competitions since then including the annual competitions for: Women and Home, Wells Festival of Literature, Grace Dieu and has also had a short story published in the Sentinel Literary Magazine. She reads widely and has written regular reviews and features for the popular women's fiction website www.novelicious.com. She currently works as a housemistress at a secondary boarding school in Berkshire. She lives in Bradfield with her husband and their brood of ex-battery chickens.

You can find out more from Cesca's website, and by following on Twitter

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Asking For It - Louise O'Neill

Published 3 September 2015 by Quercus

It's the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O'Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. 
One night, there's a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.

The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can't remember what happened, she doesn't know how she got there.

She doesn't know why she's in pain.

But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night.

But sometimes people don't want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town's heroes . . .

 * * *

This was the first book I have read by Louise O’Neill and oh does it pack a punch. It should probably be on the school reading list for every teenage girl (and for that matter boys too) as a warning that combining alcohol, drugs and social media does not end well for anyone.

The main character, 18 year old Emma O’Donovan is not an easy person to like. Everybody tells her that she is so beautiful she should be a model. She is jealous of anyone else having the attention that she feels should be hers and is not always a good friend; even when she is 'being nice' she can be spiteful and hurtful and, as for other girl’s boyfriends, they are all fair game and if she can, she will! Having said that none of her friends were perfect and the story perfectly captures the insecurities and jealousies of teenage girls - especially if one is attracting the boy that someone else likes.

As shallow as she initially seemed, I don’t think that this personality trait was entirely her fault. Her mother came across as a control freak who wanted the perfect daughter and the perfect family. With such high standards to live up to it was probably no surprise that Emma wanted to break free and ended up with a skewed sense of entitlement.

After events at a party get way out of control, Emma finds her world is quite different and the rest of the story focuses on how Emma has to deal with the consequences of that night. It’s not just Emma who has to cope with the fallout – her family and friends do too and of course people will take sides. Everybody has an opinion of her behaviour and she is the subject of endless discussion – on the radio, TV and in the small town where she lives. ‘The Ballinatoom Girl’ is how she becomes known. Because of the way she behaved and dressed, some people say she was ‘asking for it’.

Louise O’Neill has produced an extremely powerful and thought provoking story and the writing is at times brutal. It raises issues of taking responsibility for yourself and the question of consent. We mainly see the story from Emma’s perspective but as she doesn’t remember what happened it’s the description of images and comments on Facebook and Twitter that paint a picture. I was torn by my feelings towards Emma, there were times when I felt no pity for her at all, but then others when I was sorry for her and angered by the apparent double standards and the betrayal of so called friends.

The whole story is frighteningly realistic and will no doubt horrify those parents who believe that their child is incapable of such behaviour. Nobody comes out of this story well and as with real life, there are no neatly tied happy ever afters for everyone. This is marketed as a Teen and Young Adult book, however I would recommend it for adults too. There is so much to discuss and debate about this story and it would make a great choice for a book group.

My thanks to Lovereading and the publisher for the advance reading copy as part of the Lovereading Reviewer Panel. 

About the author:

Louise O'Neill was born in west Cork in 1985. She studied English at Trinity College Dublin and has worked for the senior style director of American Elle magazine. She is currently working as a freelance journalist for a variety of Irish national newspapers and magazines. She lives in Clonakilty, West Cork.

Her website is louiseoneillauthor.com and you can find her on Twitter @oneilllo.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Guest Post by Anne Allen, author of The Guernsey Novels: "My heart belongs to…"

I'm delighted to welcome Anne Allen to My Reading Corner.   Anne is the author of four novels set on the beautiful island of Guernsey.  I've read and enjoyed Finding Mother (reviewed here last year) and have the remaining three to look forward to.

Anne's fourth novel, The Family Divided, was published in June 2015 and is available in paperback, and e-book for Kindle.

Anne has written a lovely post about her love of Guernsey, I hope you enjoy.

Readers, I fell in love at first sight. Marriage was not an option as the object of my love was an island, the second largest of the Channel Islands – Guernsey. I didn't know it then, but it was to loom large in my life from that day on. It was August 1997. Do you believe in serendipity? I do, as my life has been full of such events and this was probably the most life-changing moment of all. A few months previously I had met some wonderful ladies on a self-awareness course in Glastonbury (where else?) and we had formed an instant connection. Two of them were sisters and had children of a similar age to my three and they kindly invited us over to stay with them in Guernsey that fateful August (I had been widowed a few years earlier). 

At the time I had just moved from Rugby to Teignmouth to be by the sea, but falling in love with Guernsey – and the islanders – caused me to re-think my long-term plans. Among my new friends were complementary therapists like myself (I was a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist) and I began to dream of setting up a residential natural healing centre in Guernsey. Well, a year later I had sold my house in Teignmouth and thought I'd bought a small guest-house in St Peter Port. Suffice to say the deal fell through shortly after the four of us arrived in my laden car, all our furniture etc en route to storage. I was devastated, but looking back I can see it was just as well, for at the time interest rates were sky high and I would not have survived financially.

Instead I set up my psychotherapy practice and clients trickled in while we moved from one rental to another. Guernsey has an unusual two-tier housing system, which meant I could only live Open Market, in more expensive housing. In spite of this I was happy to be in the island, building up friends and clients and exploring all the gorgeous beaches and stunning cliff paths. The way of life was so different to anything I had previously experienced: a mix of great watering-holes and restaurants and a laid-back approach to daily life. The gentle pace suited me and, although I knew I could never afford to buy a property, I was determined to hang on and build up my practice.

One friend had a boat and we would go out for fun trips with our children, mooring up in one of the lovely south coast bays. The boys would jump into the sea and splash around while us girls lay decorously on deck to top up our tans. What was not to like? It was idyllic. Guernsey was considered so safe that people didn't bother locking their houses or cars!

The small sister island of Herm is my favourite place ever. It's tiny – about a mile by a mile and a half – and there are no cars or bikes. You can walk around the dirt lanes in peace and safety, making it a great place for families. I took my children camping there one year and we had a wonderful time. There's nothing to beat barbecuing on the beach on a warm summer's evening☺

A few years later I met someone and we lived together in a beautiful farmhouse on the west coast in Perelle; a happy time. In the garden was a German bunker which my partner had renovated and is featured in my first novel, Dangerous Waters. Previously I had lived in various parts of Guernsey and try to incorporate them into my books. I'm often told by readers with a local connection that they recognise my descriptions. I strive to be accurate as there's an island full of people who could rise up and shoot me down in flames if I make a mistake!

Guernsey has an interesting, but poignant, history. The German Occupation of WWII has left an indelible mark on the psyche of the islanders, even those who were not born then. Liberation Day, May 9th, is celebrated every year, and this year was the 70th anniversary, marked with more events than usual. Thousands of children were evacuated in 1940, shortly before the Germans arrived, and their lives were changed forever. Some never returned, having settled in England, causing upset to the families on the island. All my books have a reference to this period in honour of the impact it has had.

I wrote Dangerous Waters in homage to Guernsey and the wonderful times I had there. Although it's not possible for me to return to live, I visit frequently. Not only does my elder son live there, but I love to catch up with friends and undertake research for my books. Now, if I were to come into a fortune – perhaps a lottery win or a best-seller?! – I could buy a small pied-a-terre and fly over once a month. Bliss! 

About Anne:

Anne's a late-comer to writing, having only started in her, ahem, middle years, (assuming everyone will live to 100 from now on, yes?). She often had the 'itch' to write but was focussed on her career as a psychotherapist and bringing up three children on her own. Then some years ago she was a reluctant entrant (pushed by her mother!) into a writing competition run by Prima magazine. They wanted a True- Life story and she won the first prize of £500 ☺ Deciding that writing wasn't such a bad idea, she wrote her first novel, Dangerous Waters, a romantic mystery and eventually published it in 2012. Now retired as a therapist, she has devoted more time to writing, and has since published three more books, all forming The Guernsey Novels – a series of stand-alone stories with links to earlier ones. They are Finding Mother, Guernsey Retreat and The Family Divided.
A restless soul, she's moved around quite a bit, as far south to Guernsey and then Spain, learning that the sea is part of her soul. She now lives in Devon to be near her daughter and grandchildren. Happiest in warmer climes, her ideal would be to spend part of the English winter somewhere warm, possibly Spain, to recharge body and soul. And to make more frequent visits to her beloved Guernsey. So, if and when she writes that bestseller…!

You can find out more from Anne's website  http://www.anneallen.co.uk

and by following on Facebook and Twitter 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Very Big House in the Country - Claire Sandy

Published 30 July 2015 by Pan Macmillan

From Goodreads:

'Holidays are about surviving the gaps between one meal and another.'

For one long hot summer in Devon, three families are sharing one very big house in the country. The Herreras: made up of two tired parents, three grumbling children and one promiscuous dog; the Littles: he's loaded (despite two divorces and five kids), she's gorgeous, but maybe the equation for a truly happy marriage is a bit more complicated than that; and the Browns, who seem oddly jumpy around people, but especially each other.

By the pool, new friendships blossom; at the aga door, resentments begin to simmer. Secret crushes are formed and secret cigarettes cadged by the teens, as the adults loosen their inhibitions with litres of white wine and start to get perhaps a little too honest ...

Mother hen to all, Evie Herreras has a life-changing announcement to make, one that could rock the foundations of her family. But will someone else beat her to it?

For most families, holidays are a time for rest and relaxation - but sadly I think someone forgot to tell the three families in Claire Sandy's latest story.

When friends Shen Little and Evie Herreras (plus another couple Paula and Joe, who they only know very slightly) share a large luxurious house, Wellcome Manor, for a two week holiday, none of them can have any idea of the drama that will ensue along with secrets that will be disclosed.

Shen and Clive Ling-Little are the rich guys – Clive has buckets of money and Shen is his much younger third wife who doesn’t hold back on spending it. Their marriage appears to be more of a business arrangement than a true love match. Shen is very high maintenance and demands high standards of those around her – in fact she sounds quite exhausting to be around.

Evie and Mike are happily married, money is a bit tight and they’ve had their problems to deal with but they muddle along. Except that Evie knows something that Mike doesn’t.

The other couple Paula and Joe, are fairly new to the area and really were invited along to make up the numbers. Their children go the same school and Evie has always thought Paula a bit weird and certainly her behaviour confirms that impression. Paula was so jumpy and nervous that she put everybody on edge.

With three couples, several children and two dogs, this was never going to be a relaxing holiday. Family tensions, sulking children, adolescent hormones and secrets all add to the drama. Although much of the story is written as a funny read, there are subjects covered which are not so humorous and this gives the story that extra depth.

This was an entertaining and engaging read. All the characters come to life with their distinct personalities coming across and the descriptions of the Manor sound wonderful, I would love a holiday there myself. Mabel, the young daughter of Evie & Mike was adorable – with a mix of cuteness and precociousness, I wanted to adopt her! I loved the character of Evie, she was the rock of the family that held everyone together and was someone that would be a good friend.  There was much snorting and several laugh out loud moments from me – and some strange looks from others as I read this on the train.

My thanks to Francesca and the publisher for the e-copy to review and for the opportunity to take part in the tour. 

About the author:

Claire Sandy lives in Surrey with a husband and a daughter and loves lots of things, such as baking, reading, writing, eating, chatting about matters of global importance with her nine year old, dressing up her dog and inventing new things to do with gin.

You can find out more from the author's website and by following on Twitter

No Other Darkness - Sarah Hilary - Blog Tour & Giveaway

Published by Headline
Paperback 30 July 2015

I'm delighted to be starting off the blog tour for the PAPERBACK publication TODAY of this fabulous book.  This is the second in the Marnie Rome series (the first being Someone Else's Skin).  I've read and reviewed both books on this blog, (you can find my review here for No Other Darkness) and I am now eagerly awaiting Book 3.  If you haven't read either, I recommend that you do - it is a fantastic series, and to tempt you, I have a great giveaway from the publisher, Headline, who are offering 3 paperback copies. Details of how to enter are below.

(An extract from my review)

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. 

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...


Just leave a comment below, and I will pick 3 winners at random when the giveaway ends at 6pm on Thursday 6 August 2015.  

The 3 winners will receive their paperback copy direct from the publisher and sorry, this is for UK entrants only. 

Do take a look at the other blogs taking part in the tour.

If you haven't met Marnie Rome yet and would like to start with book 1, Someone Else's Skin is currently available for Kindle for just 99p - a bargain for such a brilliant book. 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Black Eyed Susans - Julia Heaberlin

Published 13 August 2015 

by Penguin/Michael Joseph

17 year old Tessa, dubbed a 'Black Eyed Susan' by the media, became famous for being the only victim to survive the vicious attack of a serial killer.

Her testimony helped to put a dangerous criminal behind bars - or so she thought.

Now decades later, the black eyed susans (yellow flowers on the cover) planted outside Tessa's bedroom window seem to be a message from a killer who should be safely in prison. Haunted by fragmented memories of the night she was attacked and terrified for her own teenage daughter's safety, can Tessa uncover the truth about the killer before its too late?

* * *

This is YET another book that has been marketed for fans of 'Gone Girl' and 'Girl on a Train' (yawn, yawn - why do they continue to do this?).  I still haven't read Gone Girl but I have read Girl on the Train and the only similarity is that they are both in the psychological thriller genre! 

The story is told in alternating chapters by two Tessa's - one (Tessie) a 17 year old survivor of an attack by a serial killer and the other, an older Tessa with a 14 year daughter.  She is scarred, both physically and mentally by the attack, and all these years later she still takes extreme safety measures - especially where her daughter Charlie is concerned. As the story progresses we find out why she still doesn't feel safe, even though the attacker (her 'monster') is behind bars and awaiting execution on Death Row. 

This is very much a slow burner of a story and in fact it took me a long while to get into it.  Although the chapters were quite short, initially I found the constant changing of PoV between the young and older Tessa confusing, particularly as so many other characters (psychotherapists and lawyers) from each period were involved but I'm glad I carried on as it did eventually come together and I was rewarded by an intriguing and twisty read.

If you are a reader who likes graphic violence in their serial killer thrillers you won't find it here.  This story is very much character driven - we only meet Tessa after the attack when she has been found, barely alive, in a grave of human bones, partially covered by the flowering Black Eyed Susans. The story focuses more on Tessa's unreliable and fragmented memories of the attack and the resulting pyschological trauma (for example, she believes she still hears the voices of the dead 'Susans') together with the question of whether the right man is in prison. 

I didn't find Tessa wholly convincing at first and I was sure that she was holding back information - after all she lied about certain things as a 17 year old. Although she testifies for the prosecution at the trial of Terrell Darcy Goodwin, her attacker, she later has her doubts about his guilt and is persuaded by his appeal team to help by recalling her memories, as the date set for his execution becomes closer.  We are then taken into the world of mitochondrial DNA and forensics when the team attempt to identify the killer and the other Susans - and, although I am one of the least scientifically minded people in the world, I found this aspect fascinating and so interesting. This has clearly been very well researched and fits into the narrative seamlessly, without giving that textbook feel.  

There is another strand to the story, a mystery involving Lydia. Lydia was Tessa's best friend from childhood and one of her most ardent supporters during the trial.   

Although I had my doubts about one or two characters, I really didn't guess the outcome and the twisty ending came as a complete surprise. The book isn't all about darkness however and some relief came from the wonderful characters of Charlie, Tessa's confident and bubbly teenage daughter and Effie, the eccentric and confused next door neighbour.   

This is a very well written thriller with a cleverly structured plot and the amount of research undertaken and the consultations with experts in the fields of DNA and the death penalty is clearly reflected in the story.  

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

About the author:

Julia Heaberlin is the author of Lie Still and Playing Dead. She is an award-winning journalist who has worked at the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, The Detroit News, and The Dallas Morning News. She grew up in Texas and lives with her family near Dallas/Fort Worth.

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

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Beyond the Sea - Melissa Bailey - Q&A and Review

To be published TODAY (16th July 2015) in paperback original by Arrow

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Beyond the Sea...and especially honoured to be hosting on PUBLICATION DAY.  

My review is at the end of this post. 

I would like to welcome Melissa to My Reading Corner.  Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. 

Beyond the Sea is your second novel (The Medici Mirror being your first). How do you approach the writing process, do you research and plan in detail first or do you start writing and just run with the story?  Did you do anything different when writing your second novel?

Research is one of my favourite parts of the writing process and I do lots and lots of it before I put pen to paper on a novel. When I’ve reached saturation point I stop and try to a great extent to forget everything I’ve learnt. Then I start to plot. I don’t plan a novel in a huge amount of detail but I work from a general outline that’s specific enough to keep me on track, in theory at least, but loose enough to allow the story to develop in its own way. I worked in exactly the same way with both books, but managed to finish my second much more quickly than my first. It’s amazing what motivating power a deadline can have!

Can you please tell us a little about Beyond the Sea.  Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

It centres on Freya, a year after the death of her husband and son, and her journey through grief as she returns to a remote Hebridean island where she and her family lived. The ocean dominates the landscape and Scottish myths of the sea pervade. There’s also a historical thread – the discovery of letters written by a Cromwellian sailor despatched to battle in the Hebrides in 1653, his own sense of isolation and alienation mirroring Freya’s. 
The book grew out of a single image that had taken root in my mind – a woman with white hair, standing on a tiny island, alone, a lighthouse in the near distance behind her. After lots of research, and having indulged my obsession with myths and fairy tales, a novel emerged.

What is the best writing advice you have received?

It was short and sweet but very pertinent. Keep writing. Don’t give up. The more you write the better it gets. 

How do you feel about social media, do you find it helpful or a distraction?

Funnily enough it’s both things. It can be very distracting when you’re trying to focus completely on your writing. During those periods I try to cut off all access to twitter and facebook and limit myself to checking only after I’ve finished for the day. It’s a good theory, but it doesn’t always work! And that’s because, sitting alone every day, social media is really important to a writer as a means of connecting to others - friends, writers, bloggers etc. Otherwise you can feel quite isolated.

What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?

I love contemporary fiction and one of my favourite novelists is a Japanese writer called Haruki Murakami. His books are modern, surreal, weird and wonderful - fish rain down from the sky and cats talk. For the same reasons I also think Michel Faber is great. But I love older more traditional writers as well, Dickens and the Brontes, as well as modern British writers, Rose Tremain, Maggie O’Farrell, David Nicholls. At the moment I’m reading The Children Act by Ian McEwan.

What is next for you as a writer? Is there another book being planned?

Yes there is. You might have gathered that I like to explore dark topics – betrayal and black magic in The Medici Mirror, grief in Beyond the Sea. I can’t say much about the third book but I will tell you that it’s about madness.

The second novel from Melissa Bailey, author of The Medici Mirror. Perfect for fans of Barbara Erskine

One summer’s day, Freya’s husband and son disappeared on a boating trip.

A year on, and struggling to cope, Freya returns to the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage on a tiny island in the Hebrides where they spent so many happy times.

Haunted by visions of the life she used to have, Freya finds comfort in the discovery of her son’s diary, written in the weeks before he disappeared. 

Until a man, Daniel, is washed up on the shore during a storm, and suddenly her dreams turn menacing. As dream and reality merge, Daniel seems to be turning up wherever she goes and she has no idea what he wants from her. 

Is her mind playing tricks? Or is the danger she senses real?

Set amongst the beautiful scenery of the Scottish isles, Beyond the Sea will make you long to go there. Beautifully and sensitively written, Beyond the Sea is a tale of loss, recovery and acceptance. 


When Freya returns to the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage that she shared with her husband and son, her grief at their loss is still overwhelming, however she feels that she has to return to the cottage to try and find some peace. She still has so many questions as to what happened and hopes that by coming back, she would somehow find some answers.

The story is set around the islands of the Hebrides and the writing is beautifully descriptive. The beauty and bleakness of the islands, the power of the water and the ferocious storms are all vividly described. Freya’s grief and sense of loss was gently and sensitively handled and the moment when she found her son’s diary bought a lump to the throat.

This is a very gentle and slow paced story and although there were times when I would have liked the story to move just a little faster, I cannot fault the writing. I particularly enjoyed reading the love letters written by one of Cromwell’s soldiers from the 1600's, which added an extra dimension and these letters, together with the myths and folklore weaved throughout the story, made for an intriguing and interesting read with a slightly magical aspect.

This atmospheric story focuses on Freya's grief and her attempts to come to terms with her loss. The main characters are very well drawn, although I felt that the scenes with Daniel were not quite as suspenseful or as menacing as I was anticipating from the book description but maybe I was expecting too much.  Freya, of course, is the main character and we get to see the rawness of her emotions, with her more outgoing and confident sister Marta playing a supportive role, despite the tensions that sometimes came between them. There were characters that I would have loved to have seen more of in the story – Callum, who takes tourists around the islands and who was close to the family - I felt there was more to him than the story disclosed and also the elderly Torin. Torin appeared to have the gift of second sight and his telling of the local legends and warnings of danger added to the intrigue.

Beyond the Sea is the second novel by Melissa Bailey. Her first, The Medici Mirror, was published in 2013. I very much enjoyed my time in the Scottish islands and I also liked Melissa's writing style.  I will be looking to add The Medici Mirror to my reading pile.

My thanks to the author, Philippa and the publisher for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and for providing a paperback copy for review. 

About the author:

Melissa Bailey read English at Oxford, before studying law in London and then pursuing a career in Media Law. Beyond the Sea is her second novel. She lives in London with her partner, a human rights lawyer.

You can find out more by following Melissa on Twitter, Facebook or website 

Monday, 29 June 2015

Summer at Tiffany's - Karen Swan - Author Post and Giveaway

Summer at Tiffany's is published by Macmillan.  Both paperback and Kindle versions will be published on 2 July 2015.

I'm delighted to be starting off the blog tour for Summer at Tiffany's and now welcome Karen to the blog to tell you why she chose Cornwall as a setting for the book. 

At the end of this post, there is a giveaway for 3 winners, each to win a paperback copy (sorry, but entries are restricted to UK only). The winners will receive their book direct from the publisher. 

The tour finishes on 9 July - please do check out the other blog stops. 

Why I love Cornwall and couldn’t resist partly setting the novel there.

Enid Blyton has a lot to answer for. Had I not been brought up on the Adventure Series and Mallory Towers, had I not read the entire box set of Famous Five to my own children, then perhaps all Cornwall would be to me is a scraggly-shaped landmass of black cliffs and treacherous seas, pasties and mermaid tales. But I did read those books, I absorbed them like sugar in the blood and it became for me a land of adventures, where smugglers’ tunnels squirrel far back into the cliffs, where pirates’ treasure is hidden in the gorse and salt-water lagoons are exposed by the tide. It’s wild and savage, unapologetically ungroomed and untidy. Is there any better antidote to modern life? I love the fact that you can’t drive down the lanes with your car windows open because the wildflowers would hit you in the face; I love that we have to hold our breath to get past the stinky farm to our favourite beach, or that in place of the rather prim, painted beach huts of other seasides, ancient little churches sit stoically in the sand dunes. (In fact, the church mentioned in the book, St Enodoc’s, was once buried by the sand.) 

For me, retreat and renewal isn’t a marble palace in Dubai where I can get my nails done; it’s a chunky, rough lime-washed cottage with six foot-deep walls, granite lintels and a black slate floor. I want to climb over serpentine rock and run barefoot along grass-fringed sandy paths, I want the wind to whip my hair into knots and burn my cheeks so that I go home blown-through and giddy; I want to feel like a child again, care-free and guileless. I want texture and colour and to somehow physically grab hold of this piece of England which doesn’t prize the manicured and manufactured over the raw and fresh. 

The very culture of the place is steeped in heritage and endurance, resilience and independence and given that in all my stories, my characters are - in various ways - being stripped back and rebuilt again, it’s an obvious and perfect setting. In this book, Cassie is forced to ask herself what she really wants, even though she’s supposedly already got her happy ending. Does she truly know herself or is she clinging to an idea of how she thinks life should be? Cornwall’s wildness and tempestuousness was a great metaphor for the passions and conflicts still lurking in her heart.

A wedding to plan. A wedding to stop. What could go wrong?

Cassie loves Henry. Henry loves Cassie. With a Tiffany ring on her finger, all that Cassie has left to do is plan the wedding. It should be so simple but when Henry pushes for a date, Cassie pulls back.

Henry's wild, young cousin, Gem, has no such hesitations and is racing to the aisle at a sprint, determined to marry in the Cornish church where her parents were wed. But the family is set against it, and Cassie resolves to stop the wedding from going ahead.

When Henry lands an expedition sailing the Pacific for the summer, Cassie decamps to Cornwall, hoping to find the peace of mind she needs to move forwards. But in the dunes and coves of the northern Cornish coast, she soon discovers the past isn't finished with her yet? 

About the author:

Karen Swan began her career in fashion journalism before giving it all up to raise her three children and an ADHD puppy, and to pursue her ambition of becoming a writer. She lives in the forest in Sussex, writing her books in a treehouse overlooking the Downs. Her first novel, Players, was published in 2010, followed by Prima Donna and Christmas at Tiffany's in 2011.

You can find out more by visiting Karen's website, Twitter or Facebook pages

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Friday, 26 June 2015

Return to Bluebell Hill - Rebecca Pugh

Return to Bluebell Hill is Rebecca's debut novel and I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour, do take a look at the other stops on the tour.

Return to Bluebell Hill is published by Carina and has been available as a Kindle book since 18 June 2015. 

Home is where the heart is…

Jessica McAdams has never belonged anywhere; never truly felt at home. Of course, what did she expect from parents who never made her feel welcome in her own house? Leaving her life in London to return home to the charming country village of Bluebell Hill is harder than she thought. Especially as she never considered she’d be returning under such heart wrenching circumstances…

Clearing out the stunning and imposing Bluebell House after her parents’ death is difficult for Jessica—they never had the best relationship and now it’s too late. Yet spending time in the house that was never a home, having afternoon tea with dear old friend Esme - and sharing hot, sizzling kisses with delectable gardener Rueben! - opens Jessica’s eyes to the potential of Bluebell House… Could this big old, beautiful manor really be her forever home? Is Bluebell Hill where her heart is, has always been?

Jessica soon dares to dream of her very own home with delicious Rueben by her side. But when a deep, dark secret of Bluebell House is unearthed, Jessica’s world is turned upside down…

Will Jessica ever find where her heart truly lies?

* * *

This is a charming debut novel from Rebecca, with an idyllic sounding location, delightful characters and a handsome hero!

Jessica, now 28, hadn’t been home to Bluebell House since she left in a hurry aged 18. She has made a life for herself in London, working for a publisher and loves her job and the life she now has. However, having received a call to say her parents had both died, she has no choice but to make the journey home to Bluebell Hill, the small village where she grew up. An extremely difficult journey brings back memories she would rather forget, she can't remember ever being close to her parents, and the only person she has ever felt loved by and close to was her old nanny, Esme. Whilst clearing out Bluebell House with Esme, she discovers something that shatters her world even more.

Jessica was a very likeable and engaging character although I did feel that she sometimes acted in a manner much younger than her 28 years, but that may be because I am so much older! There was a wonderful supporting cast of characters and many who I would like to meet again. Her elderly nanny, Esme, was so kind and wise - she was certainly someone who I would love to have in my life. Sarah, Jessica’s best friend, was loyal and fun-loving and just the right type of person to bring some fun and perspective to Jessica’s life. And then there is Reuben. What can I say about Reuben – he is sexy, he can cook, likes gardening and is generally an all-round good guy – he sounds perfect!

Rebecca has made Bluebell House and the village sound wonderful, the wrap around porch in the back garden where they have coffee, the stained glass bluebell picture on the front door, pretty country cottages, the bluebell woods – I want to live there!

I have to admit I had guessed the secret before it was revealed but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment.   I felt that there were one or two inconsistencies in the story and this is only a minor point but I would have liked to have known what happened to Jessica’s parents, unless I missed it, their manner of death wasn’t mentioned.

This is a lovely summery story, written in an easy to read and engaging way. There are fabulous characters, a beautiful location, and lots of romance. I was rooting for Jessica all the way through and hoping that she would find the answers she wanted.

Rebecca deserves every success with this, her debut novel. 

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance reading copy.

About the author:

Rebecca Pugh grew up in the green county of Shropshire, with a mind full of fairy-tales and happy endings. Enchanted by true love and Disney Princesses, she decided that no matter what life threw her way, she'd continue to see the world through a child's eyes. Through the pages of countless books, her adoration of reading blossomed, and it didn't take long for her to fall under the spell of hundreds of authors' words. 

Now, Rebecca's own story has taken a fairy-tale like turn, and at 22, her dream has come true. With her faithful companions: Bonnie the dog, her partner, and her gigantic family by her side, Rebecca is ready to share her stories with readers who enjoy falling in love and losing themselves within beautiful, fictional worlds.

Rebecca Pugh is the author of women's fiction and romance, her all-time favourite genres. After all, who doesn't enjoy a good swoon?

You can follow Rebecca on Twitter - @BeccasBoooks