Friday Night Drinks with….Alison May @MsAlisonMay @julietbellbooks @RNATweets #GuestPost #FridayNightDrinks #RNA #AllThatWasLost

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It’s Friday again, hooray! My favourite day of the week, not only because it is the start of the weekend, but also because it is time to hang out again with a bookish peep and have Friday Night Drinks. This week I am delighted to be sharing my evening with the lovely novelist, short story writer, blogger, writing tutor, and Vice-Chair, no less, of the Romantic Novelists’ Association –  the ever upbeat, Alison May. Alison won the RNA’s Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2012, and her short stories have been published by Harlequin, Choc Lit and Black Pear Press. Alison has also been shortlisted in the Love Stories and RoNA Awards.

Alison May

Alison, thank you so much for joining me for drinks this evening. I feel honoured, since you are such a busy woman! First things first, what are you drinking?

Wine. Preferably sparkling. I’m not posh though so I won’t have the slightest idea whether it’s prestige champagne or supermarket prosecco.

I’m not posh either, so special offer prosecco will do me too. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I think my clubbing days are behind me – thank goodness. I like a dance but I’ve always prefer conversation-based socializing to sweat-based really. My favourite summer drinking spots are generally outside – I’m fond of a good beer garden. At this time of year a nice pub is the way to go, squirrelled away somewhere in a cosy corner.

My local is fabulous, inside and out, and has the advantage of being within staggering distance if we over-indulge, I’m sure you’d love it. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Terry Pratchett and Victoria Wood. I used to mock people who got upset when celebrities they’d never met died, but I cried at both of those. I’m sad that I don’t get to read or watch new work from either of them anymore and really sad that I never met them.

I totally agree, two amazing people, both geniuses. Victoria died in a year when we lost so many great artists but I also cried when I heard the news that we had lost her. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

So I’m an author. I write under my own name and as Juliet Bell, in collaboration with Janet Gover.. I started writing about 15 years ago and my first novel was published in 2011. Basically I want to keep writing books that people want to publish and hopefully that more and more people want to read.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

I think All That Was Lost, my latest novel, is the thing I’m proudest of. It was a book of the heart that I wrote in snatched moments in between other things. I was delighted that that was the book that found me my agent. I absolutely love what my publisher did with it in terms of the cover. And I was so proud that authors I really respect – Katie Fforde, Rowan Coleman, Liz Fenwick and Julie Cohen – gave me such generous reviews.

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My biggest challenge has been writing two novels collaboratively, as Juliet Bell. In the end I loved doing it, but I’m a total control freak at heart, so giving up control and sharing all the creative process with another person was a challenge. The second Juliet Bell book, The Other Wife, is out now.

The Other Wife

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I want it all. I want film deals and bestsellerdom and to win big important literary prizes. I am in no way short of ambition!

It’s very refreshing to hear you say that, Alison, as I often hear people say it is all about the writing and not the success, but I am sure secretly we all dream of the movie adaptations and Sunday Times Bestseller labels.

What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

At the moment I’m working on a split timeline novel about witchhunts, both the modern social media storm kind and the actual seventeeth century kind. It’s a big complicated book and I genuinely don’t know if I can pull it off which is scary and brilliant in equal measure.

That sounds fascinating – just the kind of thing I love to read. I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I love to travel too, when time and funds allow. I love New Zealand. I’ve been there twice, but I think my favourite place I’ve been is Hawaii. Very laid back, amazing scenery and incredible wildlife. Basically I’m happy anywhere that I can go out on a boat and see dolphins!

In the UK I love Scotland – Edinburgh is my spiritual home, and I love the area around Inverness too (see my earlier comment about dolphins).

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

I once played an alien in a radio drama series. Strange but true.

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

If you haven’t already read it then I highly recommend Together by Julie Cohen. It’s beautifully written and manages to be romantic and challenging all at the same time.

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And, she says shamelessly sneaking in a second book, at the top of my To Read pile at the moment is The Queen’s Wing by Jessica Thorne. That’s totally different – it’s a fantasy adventure, and I’ve heard amazing things about it from friends who had early review copies. 

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I’ve also seen some early reviews for this from fellow bloggers and it sounds great. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Massive glass of water and paracetamol before bed. Same again in the morning. Then, as soon as you’re sure you’re not going to puke, it’s bacon sandwich time.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Well it’s winter so it feels like the time of year for hunkering down drinking hot chocolate, reading many books, and not doing very much else at all.

That sounds like my kind of weekend. thank you so much for chatting with me on the blog today, Alison, it has been an absolute delight.

Alison’s latest book All That Was Lost is out now and you can buy a copy here. Check out the blurb below:

In 1967 Patience Bickersleigh is a teenager who discovers a talent for telling people what they want to hear. Fifty years later she is Patrice Leigh, a nationally celebrated medium. But cracks are forming in the carefully constructed barriers that keep her real history at bay.

Leo is the journalist hired to write Patrice’s biography. Struggling to reconcile the demands of his family, his grief for his lost son, and his need to understand his own background, Leo becomes more and more frustrated at Patrice’s refusal to open up.

Because behind closed doors, Patrice is hiding more than one secret. And it seems that now, her past is finally catching up with her.

May thrills in this English familial mystery, adding enticing plot layers as intricate and divisive as the themes she introduces.

If you would like to find out more about Alison, here are her social media links:

Website: https://alison-may.co.uk

Facebook: Alison May Author

Twitter: @MsAlisonMay

Instagram: @msalisonmay

Next week on Friday Night Drinks, I am featuring author and fellow member of the Yorkshire Terriers Chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Angela Wren, creator of the Jacques Foret Mysteries, set in France.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman #BookReview (@GailHoneyman) @HarperCollinsUK @PamelaDormanBks #EleanorOliphant

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Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

So, now I am sure I have achieved my goal of being the last English-speaking person in the western world to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I thought it was about time I got round to it and posted a review. The only problem is, since every other book blogger on the face of the planet has already read and reviewed this book, ad infinitum, what could I possibly have to say that hasn’t been said already?

I have to admit I was little concerned going in, as the book has had such hype that I didn’t believe it could possibly live up to my expectations. At the same time, I have read more and more reviews recently by people who have abandoned the book at an early stage, having been unable to get on with the main character at all. This included my own mother, although she and I have very different tastes and opinions on most things anyway.

I needn’t have worried. I absolutely loved every page of this book. I thought the character of Eleanor was unique and intelligent and really insightful and the whole story so well-drawn from beginning to end that I could not help but get drawn in to her world and life. What a sad and touching and lonely life she has had, until her friendship with Raymond changes everything for her. My heart is bruised from how much this story pummelled it with wave after wave of emotional wrenching. It has been a long time since it has had such a workout.

I guess I can understand how some people can find Eleanor jarring, she does not represent the social norm, but that is the entire point. This is the reason she is so isolated and uncomfortable with her peers. The discomfort that the reader might feel is illustration of why people like Eleanor become so socially isolated and lonely, but if we, as the reader and as people in society, push past this, we find the real person underneath who just longs to belong and is well worth knowing and Raymond is the model of what we should be. Warm, tolerant and understanding, I just loved him, although he himself might not be seen by society on first glance as the perfect specimen.

When I am reading, I tend to make little notes of pages where a particular line or paragraph has caught my eye as something that has touched or spoken to me or is worth remembering. I don’t think I have made as many notes on a book of parts I wanted to revisit as I did on this book. It was like the author was speaking directly to me, or even speaking my own thoughts at times. The final paragraph of Chapter 8. Halfway down page 106. The penultimate paragraph of page 174. The third paragraph of page 195. The top of page 238. A small phrase three-quarters of the way down page 286. The phrase on page 305, “Yellow tights did not, I noticed, flatter a sporty calf.’ All of these held small phrases or images that were joyful or moving or resonant or delightful to me. You will all have your own favourites, I’m sure. Some of it made me cry. Some of squeezed my chest so tight I grew short of breath. Some of it was just too painfully….truthful.

This book is marvellous. It, and Eleanor, are truly worthy of every minute you invest in reading it, and re-reading it will I am sure be equally beneficial. Anyone who does not persevere and try to find some bond with the character is missing out. A profoundly honest book that feels like it was written just for me.

If there is any chance at all that you haven’t got a copy of this book, you can buy it here.

About the Author

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Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, won the Costa First Novel Award 2017, and has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize.

As a work in progress, it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Since publication, translation rights have sold to over thirty territories worldwide, Reese Witherspoon has optioned it for film and it was chosen as one of the Observer’s Debuts of the Year for 2017. Gail was also awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award in 2014, and has been longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.

Gail lives in Glasgow.

Connect with Gail:

Twitter: @GailHoneyman

A Little Christmas Charm by Kathryn Freeman #BookReview #BlogTour (@KathrynFreeman1) @ChocLituk @RaRaResources #ALittleChristmasCharm #RaRaResources #Giveaway

A Little Christmas Charm

Delighted to be taking part today in the tour for this festive book by Kathryn Freeman. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially. There is a giveaway for another title by this author further down the post, so make sure you read to the end.

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Would you swap sea and sunshine for tinsel and turkey?
Gabby Sanderson is used to being let down – even at Christmas. Which is why she’s happy to skip the festive season completely in favour of a plane ticket and sunnier climes.

But this Christmas could be different, because this time she might not be spending it alone. Can Owen Cooper charm Gabby into loving Christmas in the same way he’s charmed his way into her life, or is he just another person who’ll end up disappointing her?

I wasn’t sure what I expected from the cover and blurb of this book, but it wasn’t whatt I got. I think I was anticipating a fairly twee, boy-meets-girl-at-Christmas story – pleasant in a superficial, passes-a-couple-of-hours kind of way. I love that kind of book when I am in a relaxed festive mood, with a cup of hot chocolate, cosy room, and my brain and emotions want something undemanding. However, this wasn’t that.

This book has a lot more depth of emotion and thematic range than I was imagining and really took me by surprise, in a good way. It just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover.

This is the story of Gabby and Owen, two very different people who meet and feel attraction. However, they both come with a lot of baggage and hang ups, which look like getting in the way of their relationship developing into something meaningful. Possibly predictable so far, but the author really gives them some genuine, painful issues to deal with and develops these in a very realistic, detailed and compelling way that brings that depth to the novel that I was talking about before. I was completely captivated by the characters and their story to the point where I was totally engrossed, feeling all the ups and downs of their emotions, willing them to work things out and unable to put the book down until I knew how it ended. I read it in a single sitting.

This is a very modern story with people who are in unconventional families, which are actually becoming more and more the norm these days and I love the fact this is being reflected in the novels that are available for us to read. Diversity is becoming the new normal, thankfully, and it is about time this was reflected in the literature we buy. I loved all the characters in this book. Gabby is a strong, independent woman who is totally self-reliant but events from her childhood have left her with trust issues and she is struggling to decide whether to let own in, especially given his reputation. But like the book, Owen is someone it would be wrong to judge by first impressions, he has a lot more depth to him than one might think and I defy anyone to read this book and not fall a tiny bit in love with him themselves.

The secondary characters were also delightful and the books rolls along at a smooth and fluent pace which was a pleasure to read. That is not to say it was all plain sailing. The behaviour of both protagonists had me inwardly screaming in frustration at times, but I am absolutely sure this was fully the intention of the author to reflect how the characters felt and to ramp up the tension and it definitely made the book more compelling.

This book has a lovely festive setting, but one which reflects a normal Christmas, rather than the OTT Yuletide fantasy portrayed in some seasonal stories, which perfectly fitted in with the story. I really enjoyed this down-to-earth, romantic read and I am sure you will too.

A Little Christmas Charm is out now and you can get it here.

Giveaway

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To be in with a chance of winning a paperback copy of A Little Christmas Faith by Kathryn Freman, please click on the Rafflecopter link below:

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*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box above.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

This book is taking a big blog tour, check out the poster for details of the other blogs taking part:

A Little Christmas Charm Full Tour Banner

About the Author

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A former pharmacist, I’m now a medical writer who also writes romance. Some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero. 

With two teenage boys and a husband who asks every Valentine’s Day whether he has to buy a card (yes, he does), any romance is all in my head. Then again, his unstinting support of my career change proves love isn’t always about hearts and flowers – and heroes come in many disguises.

Connect with Kathryn:

Website: http://kathrynfreeman.co.uk

Facebook: Kathryn Freeman

Twitter: @KathrynFreeman1

Shilly-Shallying, Stalking and Serendipity @RNATweets #amwriting #motivation #selfbelief

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Yesterday morning I cleared out my kitchen cupboards.

What a riveting topic for a blog post, Julie, I hear you all say. Why are you telling us? Well, bear with me, all will become clear.

Back in the summer I took a big decision and decided to close down my travel consultancy business to focus on training for a new career more related to publishing, and completing my first novel. People who have been following my blog this year will know that I made a commitment to myself to take my writing seriously this year by joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), doing a writing retreat and getting the book finished and ready for submission. (If you are interested, you can read all about my resolution here.) I have made quite a lot of progress towards this goal, getting the first draft of the book done, attending a lot of RNA events, which have been hugely inspirational, having a ball on my writing retreat, and getting my manuscript critique back from my NWS reader, which should help me improve my manuscript during the editing.

Then I hit a roadblock. A mental one. I’ve started to doubt myself, my story, my abilities, in fact everything about my book and, as a result I am avoiding working on the edits. This is where the cupboard tidying comes in. I told myself I needed to do it before Christmas and today was the perfect time as they are quite empty before the big shop, but I’m lying to myself. It is a displacement activity to avoid having to look at my book. I’ve finished my Christmas shopping. Booked next year’s family holiday. Blogged like a maniac. Anything but write. Procrastination. Shilly-shallying of the highest order.

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The truth is, I have become afraid of my book. Or, more accurately, I am afraid of my lack of ability to do justice to my book. I don’t believe I am a good enough writer to get anything published. The story matters too much to me. The whole thing has become too big for me to face, so I’m running away from it. I’m afraid of failing. I am literally frozen with fear. So I’m doing nothing. ‘Tomorrow,’ I keep telling myself, ‘I’ll work on it tomorrow.” But you know what they say about tomorrow.

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Things have got worse this week because of the conference. What conference, I hear you ask? The conference currently being held at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida where all my old colleagues and friends from my travel consortium are currently gathered to celebrate and talk about the travel business. They are all together in one of my favourite places in the world, celebrating their successes….together. This is the first year I am not with them. Instead, I’m sitting alone at my desk, not working on the book I gave it up for.

So I’ve been torturing myself, following the conference hashtag on Twitter; stalking my old travel mates on Facebook; watching as they have a private, after-hours dinner in Diagon Alley with exclusive access to the Gringotts ride. Meeting Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. Singing karaoke on CityWalk. Sending me messages telling me they miss me and it’s not the same without me. And, for the first time, I’m starting question whether I’ve done the right thing after all.

But this is the fear talking.

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I have to keep reminding myself why I made the decision I did (and there were many good reasons and a lot of thought went in to it) and that I have the support of my family behind me. But I’m not very good at talking myself up. I am the Queen of Self -Doubt (that would make a good book title, wouldn’t it); the ultimate possessor of Imposter Syndrome; chronically lacking in confidence.

Then, yesterday, three things happened all together that made me stop and think and pull myself together. If you believe in serendipity, they all happened to guide me back on to my path and re-focus my determination on reaching my goal. Reminding me why I started this in the first place and that what I am experiencing is not unusual and I can’t let it stop me.

Firstly, one of my friends posted this video on Facebook:

There are a couple of messages in this piece of slam poetry that really spoke to me, mainly that I need to speak more kindly to myself, as I would to someone I love. Would I be so hard on another person, or would I be encouraging them to believe in themselves and follow their dreams? I need to be my own cheerleader.

Secondly, I found this website, just when I needed it and realised that I am not alone. Every writer feels how I feel and I just have to push through it. There is no reason why I can’t finish my novel. My feedback so far has been good. People have told me they like what I write. And one thing is for sure, I’ll never know unless I try.

Finally, a close writing friend of mine (I won’t out them, they can comment if they want to share) messaged me and told me they thought their writing was s***e and they weren’t sure they could finish their book and I inwardly smiled, before telling them all the things I truly believe about their abilities, but which I don’t seem to be able to tell myself. They were giving voice to all my fears about my own work and reminded me, I am not alone. There is a whole tribe out there in the same boat as I, who I can turn to for support and all the positive reinforcement I can’t give myself.

Why is it so easy to believe the bad things we tell ourselves and not the good? Why is it so easy to be kind to others but not ourselves?

So, I am now determined. I’m going to get this book finished and send it out into the big wide world to take its chances. Maybe I will never get published, but at least I’ll know. Because one thing is for sure, by failing to try, I am already failing, and that is not good enough. I don’t want to spend my days wondering, what if? Living with failure will be easier than living with regret.

If you need me, you can find me at my desk because I #amwriting.

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Five Ladies Go Skiing by Karen Aldous #BookReview #BlogTour (@KarenAldous_) @HQDigitalUK @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #FiveLadiesGoSkiing #Giveaway #RNA

Five Ladies Go Skiing

It’s freezing outside as the pinch of winter takes hold so it is apt today that I am on the blog tour for Five Ladies Go Skiing by Karen Aldous. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on to the tour and to the author and publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially. Make sure you visit the giveaway further down the post.

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When Ginny Watts’ husband passes away, she is left grief-stricken, not only over her husband’s death but the secrets he has left behind…

Luckily for Ginny, she has four wonderful friends – Lou, Cathy, Angie and Kim – poised to whisk her away on a ladies’ skiing holiday to beautiful La Tzoumaz, Switzerland.

While all of them appear to have their lives together from the outside, little do the ladies know that every single one of them is fighting a secret battle.

As the trip unfolds, they realise that fears of tumbling down the slopes after too much après-ski fun is the least of their worries and all is not what it seems…

I was really looking forward to reading this book, attracted by the cover and the title and the blurb. I am really enjoying the current trend of books featuring older protagonists and I have thoroughly enjoyed the ones I’ve read this year. I think it is refreshing to read about women who are a bit older, although there was quite a lot of talk in this book about having a body of a younger woman which actually slightly detracts from the appeal of a book of this nature for me. I like heroines who are happy to be and look their age!

The setting of the Swiss Alps, a cosy chalet in a bustling ski resort and all the trappings that go with a ski holiday were the main draw of the book for me and this aspect fully lived up to my expectations. I love to ski, and I think the author did a fabulous job of bringing the scene and the whole experience to life, especially the food! I loved the fact that four of the ladies had never skied before and the trials and tribulations of that learning experience in later life were marvellously portrayed. The theme of being young at heart and it never being too late to experience new things were delightful and the book gave me everything I had hoped for in this regard.

The heart of this story is the friendship between these five women, which has lasted through the years and seen each of them through some tough times. However, it also explores the ideas that people still keep secrets from each other, however close they are, and that these secrets have the potential to destroy even the closest of relationships. Again, I think the author brings the characters to life very well and they are all warm and likeable and the relationships they have are genuine and plausible and really reflect how women interact and relate to one another. So far, so great.

However, there were parts of the prose that needed cutting because they dragged the pace of the book to a crawl, especially at the beginning. I understand that the author was trying to establish the characters, and this took some doing as there were five of them and the book is telling the story from multiple points of view. However, there was simply too much description early on, too much telling, rather than showing, of the ladies’ back stories and a lot of repetition of points that had already been covered.

It was a bit of a shame, because it made the reading a little laborious to begin with of what was otherwise a warm, seasonal, uplifting  and enjoyable book about female friendship and enjoying life.

Five Ladies Go Skiing is out now in e-book format and will be available in paperback on 13 December. You can buy a copy here.

Giveaway

To enter a giveaway to win one of 5 paperbacks of Five Ladies Go Skiing, please click on the Rafflecopter link below.

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*Terms and Conditions –Please note prize will be distributed once the paperback is available (published 13th December).  UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box above.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

If you would like to check out the other blogs on the tour, you can find them on the poster below:

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About the Author

Author Karen Aldous High Res

Karen Aldous enjoys village life on the edge of the north-downs in Kent with easy access to the buzz of London. Not only does she love the passive pleasures of reading and writing, she also craves the more active pursuits with her family and friends such as walking, cycling and skiing especially when they involve food and wine!

Much of Karen’s inspiration comes from her travels and meeting people. The UK, France, Greece, Switzerland, Italy and parts of the USA and Asia are just some you will experience in her books to date. However, wherever she goes, new characters emerge in ‘Karen’s World’ screaming at her to tell their stories; past or present. She loves to write about strong independent women who can direct their own lives – but struggle to control them! And, of course there’s always a gorgeous hunk or two!

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenaldous.co.uk

Facebook: Karen Aldous Author

Twitter: @KarenAldous_

Instagram: @karenaldous_

Small Town Nightmare by Anna Willett #BlogTour #BookReview @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours #SmallTownNightmare

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A young drifter is in deep trouble, his sister is his only hope…

Lucy’s younger brother has gone missing. When she sets out to find him, the trail takes her to Night Town. It’s a rural backwater deep in the forests of south western Australia.

Lucy tries to enlist the help of the local police, but she is met with hostility. She befriends a man who might help her cause. Yet he is not quite who he says he is.

As the locals begin to resent her presence in the town, danger quickly mounts. The town has secrets and they seem to centre on the enigmatic Samuel Nightmesser, its wealthy benefactor.

What connects her missing brother to this grim boondock? And why do the townsfolk want rid of Lucy?

As the story unfolds we are immersed in a creepy, claustrophobic drama in which everything is at stake. If you like books with a strong female lead that keep you on the edge of your seat, you’ve found your next favourite read.

I’m delighted to be rounding off the blog tour today for Small Town Nightmare by Anna Willetts. My thanks to Emma Welton at damp pebbles blog tours for asking me to take part and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Well, this book does exactly what it says on the tin! The story of Lucy who is looking for her missing drifter brother in a tiny, remote rural town in Western Australia and finds a horror more awful than she could have anticipated. The book was gripping from the opening pages to the end and kept up the suspense all the way through and anyone picking up the book because of the title will not be disappointed. The author really brought the environment and setting to life and I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the book, as it is not a place I have read much about, but is a harsh and barren land very fitting to the story.

The author has set the book in a town where community are close-knit and suspicious of outsiders and, as the story is kept largely within its confines, we feel intimately the constrictions of the setting which gives an intense sense of claustrophobia to the story and heightens the tension to almost unbearable levels, particularly towards the end of the book. There were plenty of moments which had my nerves jangling and would be ‘peeping from behind a cushion’ scenes if this were a TV drama.

The book was well-plotted and had a surprising narrative, one which some people might find disturbing as parts of it involve fairly graphic examples of torture and violence. There is a theme of sadism and disturbed mentality in the book that will not suit everyone but makes for a compelling story for the reader. Lucy is a strong protagonist, which is always a pleasure in a book, although I did find her very reckless and naive to a degree that didn’t quite ring true for an investigative journalist if you really stop to examine it closely, so it requires a suspension of disbelief. Quite why she trusted one particular person so quickly and readily, given the circumstances, was the main sticking point for me.

The one other issue I had with the book was that I felt there were couple of loose ends which were adequately explained for me which left the book slightly hanging. I one way, the ending was great and exactly right and the motives of the main antagonist were clear but there were some developments at the end which happened rapidly and weren’t fully fleshed out and left me guessing. This may have been deliberate but it left me feeling faintly dissatisfied with that particular thread. It is hard to say more without giving away the plot so I apologise if this doesn’t make too much sense. You’d better read the book yourselves and then come back and tell me if you know what I mean and whether or not you agree!

This book is quite a quick read, but packs a lot of punch into the pages and definitely is one I would recommend. It was tense, disturbing and gripping thriller set in an environment not much written about and the author really captured a sense of menace and insularity in the pages. A worthwhile read.

Small Town Nightmare is available now and you can get a copy here.

To get a range of opinions on the book from my fellow bloggers, make sure you check out the rest of the blogs on the tour:

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About the Author

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Anna Willett is the author of Backwoods Ripper, Retribution Ridge, Forgotten Crimes, Cruelty’s Daughter and the best-selling thriller, Unwelcome Guests. Her new release, Small Town Nightmare is available on Amazon. Raised in Western Australia Anna developed a love for fiction at an early age and began writing short stories in high school. Drawn to dark tales, Anna relishes writing thrillers with strong female characters. When she’s not writing, Anna enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her husband, two children and their dogs. 

Connect with Anna:

Website: https://www.annawillett.info

Facebook: Anna Willett

Pinterest: Anna W Author

Goodreads: Anna Willett

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Tempted by….Tales Before Bedtime: A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson @AJ_Wils @panmacmillan @ShelleyFallows #bookbloggers #bloggerlove #readingrecommendations #booklove #AFarAwayMagic

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When Angel moves to a new school after the death of her parents, she isn’t interested in making friends. Until she meets Bavar – a strange boy, tall, awkward and desperate to remain unseen, but who seems to have a kind of magic about him. Everyone and everything within Bavar’s enchanted house is urging him to step up and protect the world from a magical rift through which monsters are travelling, the same monsters that killed Angel’s parents.

But Bavar doesn’t want to follow the path that’s been chosen for him – he wants to be normal; to disappear. Fighting one another as well as their fears, Angel and Bavar must find a way to repair the rift between the worlds, and themselves, before it’s too late . . .

Wow, these Mondays seem to be coming around quickly, which means it is time for the next in the ‘Tempted by….’ series, highlighting books I have been tempted to buy after reading reviews of them by my fellow bloggers.

Today I am showcasing A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson, which I bought after reading this review by Shelley at Tales Before Bedtime. It was featured on the Tales Before Bedtime Juniors section of Shelley’s blog, as part of her  Summer Reading suggestions to keep kids occupied during the long holidays. My daughter loved Amy’s previous book, A Girl Called Owl, which I bought her for her birthday back in March, so I thought she might enjoy this too, but not until I’ve read it first!

My mother, when I ask her why she has never read Harry Potter, always responds with a question: “Why would I, as an adult, want to read a children’s book?” and I always reply, ‘Why wouldn’t you?” Children’s books contain some of the most beautiful, imaginative, innovative and exciting writing being produced today and anyone who thinks that the quality of writing for children is lesser than that in adult fiction is sorely mistaken. Plus, I think we all need a little magic and fantasy in our lives in these stressful times, to remind us what it was like to be uncynical; to be filled with wonder and imagination and optimism; to believe anything is possible for us. Why wouldn’t you want to read children’s books?

When I read Shelley’s review of this book, I thought it sounded like a book that might offer all of this magic and wonder and imagination. Shelley sums up the book in this quote: “Beautifully written, filled with magic, love and grief, this is a powerful novel with wonderful characters – I was left feeling a little of the magic had stayed behind with me.” Just what I am looking for when I pick up a book to provide me with a respite from the adult world for a time. I can’t wait to read this, and fully intend to steal back A Girl Called Owl from my daughter to read too. Actually, I’ll swap it for this one as fair exchange is no robbery.

Make sure you check out the full review of the book on Shelley’s blog, and have a further scout around while you are there. She has lots of interesting content, including some of her own writing which I am sure visitors will enjoy as much as I do. You can find Shelley’s blog here.

If you would like to get your own copy of A Far Away Magic, you can buy the book here. Amy Wilson’s new book, Snowglobe, is also out now.

Friday Night Drinks with….Kate Baker @BleuViola @RNATweets #GuestPost #FridayNightDrinks #FictionCafeWriters

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Tonight on the blog I am delighted to welcome to Friday Night Drinks, prolific blogger, aspiring author, fellow member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) and my very good friend (and partner in crime) Kate Baker.

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Welcome to the blog, Kate, and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. I love your hair, although didn’t you ask for blue?

Yes, I did, but that’s a whole other story!

First things first, what are you drinking?

Vodka and diet coke please … double? Oh go on then, you twisted my arm.

I’d better have a double gin then, to keep up. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I’ve love to start our evening in Tuttons, Covent Garden. Not the restaurant part, but the small bar on the left hand side with its own entrance on to Russell Street. It is cosy and atmospheric with a bar menu of nibbles to aid the consumption of the many cocktails when a vodka simply isn’t exciting enough! Then, can we perhaps hop in a time machine and whizz our way to Skiathos, where there is a bar/restaurant that overlooks the harbour? It must be one of the most idyllic places I have ever sat. Is that too much to ask? We can be back by 11pm in the time machine!

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That looks like a beautiful place to spend an evening. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

My first, if you don’t mind, would be 007, preferably of the Daniel Craig variety. If he’s unavailable, Pierce Brosnan, or Sean Connery. I’m sure we could both bombard him with questions about gadgets while he sips his martini. I’ll pull the bow tie loose while you keep his attention engaged with the cocktail stick in the olive challenge.

Secondly, please may I bring Audrey Hepburn, my female icon. I want to ask about her life, her mother, her relationships with actors and directors. And I’d love to know if the filming of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ was as wonderful as the finished version suggests.

Glamorous choices, I’d best get my best frock on! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Right now, I’m attempting to shift my typing time away from my beloved blogging and on to my manuscript. Like yourself, I’ve received the professional critique report from the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. I’m itching to process quite a few of the suggested improvements into my manuscript which would, could, should (shall?) become my debut novel. I’ve already added a new Chapter One in the hope it now captivates the reader with a big Jaws-style hook rather than a limp piece of bread bobbing on the pond surface which politely and apologetically asks them to read on.

I am aiming at contemporary romantic suspense, told from two points of view, set mostly in an Italian vineyard and Milan, with a few chapters based in the main character’s home in Cornwall. I’m planning to use the NaNoWriMo energy to up the word count from the approx. 32,000 words I’ve been fiddling with all summer.

I take part in the Twitter flash fiction pieces when I can, such as the recent #vss365 started by @RozLevens .. all good fun and great brain exercises for omitting unnecessary words, because – have you noticed – I tend to waffle on a bit.

The support and friendships I’ve discovered through joining the Romantic Novelists Association is and are amazing. I truly feel a new world has opened up to me which came at a good time as my two children are 18 and 20 and no longer require my attention in the same all-consuming way they have done to date! Actually, I’ve you to thank for the RNA connection; it was when you posted about them that I discovered them for the first time. So, second round is on me – same again? Back shortly…

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

As yet, having nothing published, it is hard to pinpoint a proudest moment with my writing, although I do feel incredibly excited each time a blogger takes time to comment on any of my fiction posts. Knowing that someone has enjoyed a poem or part of a serial is really exciting.

The biggest challenge appears to be allocating my time wisely. I’m fortunate in that I run my own business and my workshop is here on the farm – about eighteen steps from my back door to be precise. The hours I choose to work are within my control but this is not always the blessing one might imagine it to be. I never feel ‘off duty’ (unless I leave the county, or better still the country). I cannot relax in the house when the three industrial washing machines are idle if there are dirty horse rugs waiting in a queue to be washed. Approximately 70% of my annual workload comes through the door during the May-September months and so any recent attempts to add to my wordcount have been stupendous failures, but autumn through winter is when I plan to really give the writing my time. The goal is to complete the first draft by January, send it for some edits and then resubmit to the NWS in the late spring for a second critique.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

Well, if you’re sure it’s just between us, then I’ll say the one ‘big thing’ would be to see my name in print on the cover of a paperback! Eeeeeek – can you imagine? OMG, I’m sweating just thinking of it. Look, let’s grab that waiter’s attention for a jug of iced water shall we? Is it me, or is it quite hot in here, I’m all of a fluster now.

I spend a lot of time imagining it for myself! I’m sure it will happen for you. What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

Currently working on what I have temporarily entitled THE KEY TO VERONA, but as my critique report pointed out, I haven’t mentioned Verona once in the first 24,000 words, so this working title barely makes sense. I’m leaning more towards UNDER THE OLIVE TREE but that’s only because I recently wrote a scene in which the two protagonists start to open up to each other. It takes place under the olive tree behind the house at the vineyard, in the early hours of one morning when unbeknown to either of them, the other couldn’t sleep in their separate bedrooms. I would happily let an expert come up with a title and I love obscure one or two word titles … I could just call it ‘THE KEY’.

Titles are so hard! I have a tendency to nick them from whatever song feels relevant to my work in progress, but I guess that’s kind of cheating!

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I also love to travel and now I’m slightly free from offspring taxi duties, I hope to do more. I did dust the passport off last year and managed Spain, Paris, Bahamas (for three days – long story) and Skiathos.

As for bucket list destinations, I’d love to go back to New York with my daughter. I took my son last time – I was seventeen weeks pregnant with him at the time! Tuscany would seem appropriate, for some research for the book! Japan has crept up the list. I bought a bonsai this year as I’m developing a love for all things Zen.

I need to hear The Bahamas story now, as that is a long way to go for three days! Aside from that, tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

What can I tell you… um … well, I used to work for BBC Radio in Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London as a production assistant on the Johnnie Walker show called AM Alternative on Radio 5. This was long before it became 5Live – now I’m showing my age). It was such an exciting few months, meeting lots of famous people who came in daily to be interviewed by Johnnie during the show – Robbie Coltrane, Bob Monkhouse, Liz Dawn, Cheryl Crow, David Hasslehoff.

Actually, can I add at this point that my fantasy of Michael Knight driving Kit was blown clean out the water when I rushed down through the building in order to bump into David accidentally-on-purpose. I knew he’d just finished a guest slot on Radio One – which then was situated in a separate building across the street – and would be making his way back to reception. I knew how to intercept him and gain that all-important autograph, but as his post-Baywatch 6’4” self sauntered across the street and when I said “Hi, would you mind?” I realised I was rather out of date. Thrusting my ID card at him, he barely registered my presence as he took the offered pen and scrawled one line across the card while maintaining his long gait, me now walking backwards to keep up. I still have it somewhere in the attic – or maybe I threw it out in a moment of clearing the clutter. He was somewhat worse for wear and looked nothing like the man I’d pictured leaning against the front of that car!

I can’t believe you left such a glitzy job to go and live on a farm in East Anglia! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

So many amazing books. This is a horrible question to answer! I’m going to say Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden. Introduced to me by an American blogger, my rusty reading eyes were treated to such an awakening once I opened the pages. Gail’s writing, it turns out, is often used on the American High School literature lists for reading and I can see why. There is a love story here, but the content is more about the choices we make during our time on this beautiful planet and living with the consequences thereof.

Her main character Matsu delivers wisdom to a twenty year old Japanese city dweller who is sent to stay by the sea with Matsu to recover from a bout of TB just as WWII breaks out. If you’ve yet to read it, I will lay my life on the line and tell you that you won’t be disappointed. Hang on, I’ve had too much to drink .. can I rephrase that? After all, reading is subjective, so I’ll bet you a tenner you’ll enjoy it. Yeah, that’s far easier to follow through.

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Another one to add to the ever-growing TBR. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Quite. I think a pint of water for starters, preferably warm from a previously boiled kettle. Don’t stress those stomach muscles with a shock of cold water when they are already dealing with the liquor but diluting it somewhat before going to bed can work wonders. I hear milk to line the stomach before you start can help but I always forget to try it.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Can we lie in on the Sunday perhaps with a good paper and all the supplements which promise of travel and youthful skin while I sip freshly squeezed orange juice and nibble on white bread, toasted to a pale golden, dabbed with soft, salted butter. Have you booked the adjoining suite? Shall we do a gentle walk along the river by Hammersmith Bridge late morning, along the stretch where you can watch the Boat Race? The Home of British Rowing occupies a stunning Georgian building next to two pubs.

That sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday, I’m in. Thank you so much, Kate, for chatting to me on the blog today. I am sure your writing will continue to grow and I can’t wait to see the book in print soon.

If you haven’t checked out Kate’s marvellous, eclectic blog yet, you can find her at https://violableu.com. Or catch up with her on social media:

Twitter: @BleuViola

Instagram: @viola_bleu

Next week I will be joined for Friday Night Drinks by the ever ebullient Alison May, author, writing tutor and Vice Chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, so you won’t want to miss that.

 

Bucket List Entry #3: Aurora Hunting from a Glass Igloo, Saariselka, Finnish Lapland @kakslauttanen @DiscoverFinland @TillyTenWriter @DarcieBoleyn #NorthernLights #Lapland #Finland #glassigloo #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust

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It’s that time of year when the temperature drops, the decorations start to come out and all of the Christmas books hit the shelves and maybe this has inspired today’s entry on the Bucket List. I recently reviewed Tilly Tennant’s The Christmas Wish here on the blog and have Darcie Boleyn’s Love at the Northern Lights coming up, both of which feature a visit to view this natural phenomena, so today’s addition to the wish list is hunting for the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

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I know I am not alone in having the desire to see the Northern Lights on my list of must-dos. Until recently, I was engaged in selling travel and the demand for trips to see this phenomenon has grown exponentially year on year. You can view them from cruises which guarantee a free return trip if they aren’t spotted during your voyage. You can see them from 40,000 feet on special flights taking off in the UK with an astronomer on board to give you all the scientific background. You can see them on a city break in Iceland. However, my dream Aurora hunting trip is very specific and involves lying back, snuggled in a warm bed and staring up at them dancing across the sky through the roof of a glass igloo at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort near Saariselka in Finnish Lapland.

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The minute I saw the images of these ethereal buildings gently glowing in the darkened, snowy forest nestled in Urho Kekkonen National Park, my romantic heart was stirred and I was determined that one day I would be burrowed under furry coverlets (I don’t know if they have these, but this is my fantasy so I’m going with it) with the man of my dreams as we stare up at a sky alive with vibrant rippling colour, just for us. That would definitely be the makings of a night that you’d look fondly back on from your dotage when you limbs are frail and the only travelling you can do is through the memories in your mind.

It sounds kind of lazy to view the lights lying down, but I am sure I would be partaking of the multitude of active outdoor excursions on offer in the area, Downhill skiing & snowboarding, snowmobiling, reindeer safaris, ice fishing and husky sledding are all available, some of which I was lucky enough to have tried before and would do again. Husky sledding in particular is one of my top five favourite things I have ever done (maybe the full list will appear in another post) and I would absolutely love to repeat it, but there are some other experiences on offer that I’ve never tried before. Riding safaris in the snow? Yes, please. Icebreaker Sampo? Absolutely! Cross-country skiing? I’d love to try it, especially with the promise of a sauna, warm bed and the prospect of all-night viewing of one of the world’s most fascinating and beautiful natural phenomenon on offer.

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Kakslauttanen is open outside of the winter months and there are a lot of activities available through the year that also sound appealing. Hiking and mountain biking. ATV and horse safaris. Canoeing and whitewater kayaking. Panning for gold and foraging for berries and mushrooms, And, of course, the summer has the virtue of long daylight hours in which to enjoy the outdoors. But the best time to see the Aurora Borealis is late-September to late-March, so this is when you’ll find me there – one day.

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Divided We Stand (Division Bell Book 3) by Rachel McLean #BlogBlitz #BookReview (@rachelmcwrites) @RaRaResources #DivisionBell

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I am so excited today to be taking part in the blog blitz for the final part of the Division Bell Trilogy by Rachel McLean, Divided We Stand. I have absolutely loved the first two parts of the series, A House Divided and Divide and Rule and you might like to read my reviews of these to see why I have been so effusive about the series so far. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for allowing me to finish off the journey by taking part in this blog tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Britain is a country under surveillance. Neighbours spy on neighbours. Schools enforce loyalty to the state. And children are encouraged to inform on their parents.

Disgraced MP Jennifer Sinclair has earned her freedom but returns home to find everything changed.

Rita Gurumurthy has been sent to a high security prison. When a sympathetic guard helps her escape she becomes a fugitive, forced to go into hiding.

To reunite her family and win freedom for her son and her friend, Jennifer must challenge her old colleague and rival, the new Prime Minister Catherine Moore.

Will Catherine listen to reason and remove the country from its yoke of fear and suspicion? Or will Jennifer have to reveal the secret only she knows about Catherine, and risk plunging the country into turmoil?

Jennifer has finally managed to get herself released from the British Values Centre and back to what is left of her family in the final part of this dystopian, political thriller but Britain is still in the grip of fear and suspicion and her son, Samir, threatened with deportation. It will take all her political manoeuvring to free him before it is too late. This is a trilogy that really needs to be read in order to understand it and get the most of it, but that is no hardship as it is so gripping, and this final instalment is no exception.

The story follows the three main women from Book Two, Jennifer, Meena and Rita, who have all managed to escape from the British Values Centre, but are still not safe in a country where everyone is under watch, the State has oppressive powers of arrest and neighbour informs on neighbour. They need to put behind them their past differences and work together against a political system which seems to have a stranglehold on the country, to secure a better future for them all.

After the incarceration drama of the last book, in this third instalment we are back to a tale of political machinations (sorry, I can’t let that phrase pass without a nod to Blackadder III: Dish and Dishonesty “One who has recently done sterling service, matching the political machinations of the evil Pitt. Good old Lord Baldrick!” Anyway, back to the review.) as Jennifer, now disgraced and without any parliamentary authority, has to take on her old friend, Catherine, who is now the Prime Minister and the person responsible to the current political climate of oppression. It is a battle of wits and power and had me gripped from start to finish. I don’t know whether this book was shorter than the others or it just felt that way as I raced through it but it was an exciting denouement.

Throughout, this trilogy has had an ominous ring of possibility about it, which has made it so thrilling and chilling at the same time. A dystopian vision that is not beyond the bounds of possibility and, on some bleak days, seems to be creeping slowly closer to becoming a reality. In these times of political upheaval and division in this country, these books are a sobering glimpse into what could be if we aren’t careful. I have not read any political fiction that I have found as gripping or well written since I read Michael Dobb’s House of Cards trilogy twenty years ago. I’ve enjoyed every minute of these books and can’t recommend them highly enough.

Divided We Stand is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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I’m Rachel McLean and I write thrillers and speculative fiction.

I’m told that the world wants upbeat, cheerful stories – well, I’m sorry but I can’t help. My stories have an uncanny habit of predicting future events (and not the good ones). They’re inspired by my work at the Environment Agency and the Labour Party and explore issues like climate change, Islamophobia, the refugee crisis and sexism in high places. All with a focus on how these impact individual people and families.

You can find out more about my writing, get access to deals and exclusive stories or become part of my advance reader team by joining my book club at rachelmclean.com/bookclub.

Connect with Rachel:

Website: https://rachelmclean.com

Facebook: Rachel McLean

Twitter: @rachelmcwrites

Instagram: @rachelmcwrites

Goodreads: Rachel McLean