Desert Island Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; Narrated by Stephen Fry

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It’s an ordinary Thursday lunchtime for Arthur Dent until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly afterwards to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and his best friend has just announced that he’s an alien. At this moment, they’re hurtling through space with nothing but their towels and an innocuous-looking book inscribed, in large friendly letters, with the words: DON’T PANIC.

The weekend has only just begun . . .

Is there anyone who needs me to tell them why I would want to take Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a trilogy in five parts (Yes, I’m having all five books, I’ve got them in a version that is just one volume so it totally isn’t cheating) to my desert island with me? Presumably only someone who has never read it, because noone who has ever picked up these books could fail to fall in love with them.

Look, I know that science fiction isn’t a genre that appeals to everyone; indeed, I myself am not a huge reader of sci-fi, but these books are so, so much more than a simple sci-fi series. They are hilarious and clever and astute and a damning commentary on the ridiculousness of human beings and the futility of existence and a celebration of those very same things. There has never, in my opinion, been anything quite like it before or since and the phenomenal popularity of the series (they’ve been translated into more than 30 languages) bears witness to this. They were a no brainer as an addition to my Desert Island books.

The basic story follows the adventures of Arthur Dent, a rather boring man who is whisked away from Earth by his best friend, Ford Prefect,  moments before our planet is demolished by the Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyper-space bypass. It turns out Ford is not an out-of-work actor, as Arthur believed, but an alien from the plant Betelguise who is a field researcher for a kind of inter-planetary Lonely Planet handbook called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur then accompanies Ford around the Universe, discovering all kinds of extraordinary things.

This sounds far from extraordinary, but the summary does not do justice to the wit and sharpness with which Adams imbues the text and the deft comedy and piercing observations that pepper the book. True fans absorb the comedic prose into their very beings and you will often find in-jokes from the books creeping in to all kinds of discussions and debates. A bunch of EU law experts were referencing the book (and in particular, the virtues, or lack thereof, of Vogon poetry) during a Twitter debate about Brexit last autumn and it made my soul sing. In fact, one of the category headings of my blog is a direct nod to the title of the third book in the series; this is how deeply the novel is woven in to my psyche.

I have recently inducted my fourteen-year-old daughter in to the joys of the book and was delighted to hear her laughing out loud during the same audio version I have just listened to. I must have been around the same age when I first discovered it, and I have been in love with the books ever since, and I will never get tired of them. They make me laugh, and their comedy fills me with joy. They are the perfect eternal companion on my desert island.

The audio version (of the reading of the book, not the original radio shows) is very well done. Stephen Fry is always a delight to listen to, although he is forever associated in my mind with Harry Potter now when I listen to him. I have only made it through the first audiobook so far, but I have The Restaurant at the End of the Universe ready to go and plan to get through them all again this year. These books make my heart happy, what more can I say?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Douglas Adams created all the various and contradictory manifestations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: radio, novels, TV, computer game, stage adaptations, comic book and bath towel. He lectured and broadcast around the world and was a patron of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Save the Rhino International. Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge, UK and lived with his wife and daughter in Islington, London, before moving to Santa Barbara, California, where he died suddenly in 2001. After Douglas died the movie of Hitchhiker moved out of development hell into the clear uplands of production, using much of Douglas’ original script and ideas. Douglas shares the writing credit for the movie with Karey Kirkpatrick.

Blog Blitz: Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea #BookReview

Through Dust and Dreams

I am delighted to be taking part in the one day blog blitz for Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for asking me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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At a crossroads in her life, Roxana decides to take a ten-day safari trip to Africa. In Namibia, she meets a local guide who talks about “the courage to become who you are” and tells her that “the world belongs to those who dream”. Her holiday over, Roxana still carries the spell of his words within her soul.

Six months later she quits her job and searches for a way to fulfil an old dream: crossing Africa from north to south. Teaming up with Richard and Peter, two total strangers she meets over the Internet, Roxana starts a journey that will take her and her companions from Morocco to Namibia, crossing deserts and war-torn countries and surviving threats from corrupt officials and tensions within their own group.

Through Dust and Dreams is the story of their journey: a story of courage and friendship, of daring to ask questions and search for answers, and of self-discovery on a long, dusty road south.

I absolutely love travelogue novels, especially ones about places I haven’t visited and experiences I am never likely to have myself, as this is the closest I can get to being there myself, particularly is the writing is evocative and immersive. I have always been peculiarly obsessed with reading books about Africa, the more remote corners the better, because it is a world so far away from the one I know and these are places I am unlikely to get to in person. This fascination was ignited by the Gerald Durrell books I read in my teens and has never abated. I wanted to take on overland trip across Africa after uni but my parents wouldn’t allow it and, since then, the opportunity has never arisen, so books are the closest I can get.

This book describes the kind of trip I wished I could have taken myself, and probably the exact reason my parents didn’t want me to go. The author takes a massive risk in making this journey into one of the most dangerous and unknown parts of the world with total strangers, and I was absolutely fascinated and terrified for her at the same time. I very quickly became totally involved in her story, because I could so easily but that younger version of myself that wanted to make such a trip in her shoes, and I was envious and panicked in equal measure throughout. Despite this being a true story, or maybe because it was factual, this was as gripping as any fictional tale, with as many highs, lows and hair-raising moments as you could wish for. The pace is compelling throughout, and I read through it in record time.

The author is Romanian by birth and has lived in many different countries and this has given her a turn of phrase that is unusual and takes a little while to get used to but, in the end, it added to the exotic feel of the whole experience and I really enjoyed it. There is a lot of description of her feelings, and the emotional experience she has along the way. For me, this was one of the things that I liked most about the book, as an empathetic person who always wants to understand the motivations and feelings that underpin everything, this brought the book to life for me. There may be other people for whom the navel-gazing detracts from the travellers tale. Horses for courses.

This book brought Africa, its landscapes, different countries and diversity of people to life for me. It aroused every sense – sounds, tastes, smells, sights and tactile experiences are all described vividly and in detail, it was a tactile reading experience which is a real skill to achieve. I have to say, the book did not disappoint any of my hopes or expectations for it, it was a throughly engaging and rewarding read that I felt fully rewarded me for the time I invested in reading it.

This book has succeeded in feeding my obsession with Africa and my desire to visit these far-flung outposts for myself one day. Until then, I’ll have to seek out more reads like this to take me there from my armchair.

Through Dust and Dreams is available now via this link.

About the Author

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Roxana Valea was born in Romania and lived in Italy, Switzerland, England and Argentina before settling in Spain. She has a BA in journalism and an MBA degree. She spent more than twenty years in the business world as an entrepreneur, manager and management consultant working for top companies like Apple, eBay, and Sony. She is also a Reiki Master and shamanic energy medicine practitioner.

As an author, Roxana writes books inspired by real events. Her memoir Through Dust and Dreams is a faithful account of a trip she took at the age of twenty-eight across Africa by car in the company of two strangers she met over the internet. Her following book, Personal Power: Mindfulness Techniques for the Corporate Word is a nonfiction book filled with personal anecdotes from her consulting years. The Polo Diaries series is inspired by her experiences as a female polo player–traveling to Argentina, falling in love, and surviving the highs and lows of this dangerous sport.

Roxana lives with her husband between England and Spain, and splits her time between writing, coaching and therapy work, but her first passion remains writing.

Connect with Roxana:

Website: https://roxanavalea.com

Facebook: Roxana Valea Author

Twitter: @roxana_valea

Instagram: @roxana_valea

Blog Tour: Art and Soul by Claire Huston #BookReview

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I am so delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for the debut novel by my fellow RNA New Writers’ Scheme member, Claire Huston, with her book Art & Soul. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on to the tour and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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There’s no problem Becky Watson can’t fix. Except her own love life…

Struggling single mother Becky Watson longs to revive her career as a life-fixer, working miracles to solve her clients’ problems, no matter how big or small. Since the birth of her two-year-old son she has been stuck preventing wedding fiascos for the richest and rudest residents of the Comptons, a charming, leafy area of southern England known for its artistic heritage.

So when semi-reclusive local artist Charlie Handren reluctantly hires Becky to fix his six-year creative slump, she’s delighted to set him up with a come-back exhibition and Rachel Stone, the woman of his dreams.

Though they get off to a rocky start, Becky and Charlie soon become close. But as the beautiful Rachel becomes Charlie’s muse, Becky is forced to wonder: will giving Charlie everything he wants mean giving up her own happily ever after?

A bit of love and warmth was just what I needed this week, as it has been a really tough one for a variety of reasons, so this lovely book which took me away from my everyday problems and gave me some positivity and hope was the perfect tonic. It was a really easy read, but made me feel a lot of different emotions too, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is the story of two people who are very different and meet in inauspicious circumstances, which is pretty much par for the course in romance novels, but what elevates this above the herd are the fantastic and believable characters that the author draws, and the novel and interesting situation she puts them in.

Our female protagonist is Becky, a life coach with a difference, because rather than just telling people what changes they can make to improve their lives, she is also kind of a fixer who sorts out ‘problems’ discreetly. Remember Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction? She is kind of a female version, without the blood and crime! Some of the scenarios Claire created around this premise were really funny, I loved the wedding one with Virgil and his cousins. Do people like this really exist? Is this a real job? I’ve never heard of it but if it is, I think I missed my vocation!

Becky finds herself hired to help Charlie, an artist whose career is in the doldrums after a hatchet job in an art magazine and some personal traumas that have disrupted his work. To say he is reluctant to accept Becky’s help is an understatement, but boy does he need it. Their relationship gets off to a fiery start, but Becky is nothing if not persistent, and she has her own personal reasons for needing to keep the contract with Charlie.

I was really drawn in to the book by the genuine, complex relationship that develops between Becky and Charlie and the extended characters that surround them, and by the really interesting dynamics of the two worlds they inhabit, neither of which I know much about. The writing is clear and lively and engaging and I romped through the text, enthralled on every page. There are no dull moments in the book, so slack passages where the plot fails to move on. You can forget you are in the pages of a book and feel like you are listening to a friend telling you a story.

For anyone who enjoys a light but moving romance, this would be a perfect book to add to your list. I highly recommend it to you, one and all.

Art & Soul is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour for more great reviews and other fantastic content:

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About the Author

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My name’s Claire Huston (pronounced as in “Houston, we have a problem”).

I’ve written my first novel – an uplifting contemporary romance – and I’m getting ready to publish in April 2020. You can read more about that in Art and Soul.

I live in the Midlands, UK, with my husband and two children. I work as a Spanish-English translator and when I’m not struggling to write, I try to read, bake, and generally keep chaos at bay.

I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.

Connect with Claire:

Website: https://clairehuston.co.uk

Facebook: Claire Huston Author

Twitter: @ClaraVal

Instagram: @clairehuston_author

Blog Tour: You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr #BookReview

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A beautiful and heart-breaking story set in South Africa where two mothers – a century apart – must fight for their sons, unaware their fates are inextricably linked.

Orange Free State, 1901. At the height of the Boer War, Sarah van der Watt and her six-year-old son Fred can only watch as the British burn their farm. The polite invaders cart them off to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp promising you will be safe here.

Johannesburg, 2010. Sixteen-year-old Willem is an outsider who just wants to be left alone with his Harry Potter books and Britney, his beloved pug. Worried he’s turning out soft, his Ma and her new boyfriend send him to New Dawn Safari Camp, where they ‘make men out of boys.’ Guaranteed.

The red earth of the veldt keeps countless secrets whether beaten by the blistering sun or stretching out beneath starlit stillness. But no secret can stay buried forever.

This is a book I have had on my TBR for a long time so I am delighted to finally have read it and be reviewing it for the blog tour today. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is incredibly intense, moving, powerful, eye-opening and heartbreaking. It is a book set across multiple timelines and told by multiple voices, and at first it seems like the threads are unconnected, but at the end, all becomes clear and it is a fascinating, if difficult exploration of the history of a troubled country.

The book opens with the arrival of a teenage boy at a ‘safari camp’ in the veldt near Blomfontein, then immediately circles back to the experiences of a Boer farmer’s wife at the height of the second Boer War in 1901, as told through her diary entries. This historical part of the book is eye-opening and disturbing. This is a part of history that I did not know much about and, having read this, I am not remotely surprised that this is a part of British history that is not taught in our schools. It is a shameful thing to have to read about, and the writing here describes the suffering of the Boer women and children so vividly that it is extremely upsetting, but important and necessary, and you will come away from the experience with your perception altered.

The rest of the book follows the lives of one family from the 70s through to modern day as their history is told to the birth of Willem, the main protagonist of the modern part of the book, and the reasons he ends up in the ‘safari camp,’ where the writer draws disturbing parallels between the concentration camps used by the British in the Boer War and the way these misfit boys are treated in the modern day. You would believe this is an exaggerated story save for the fact that the book was inspired by the death of a real boy. The fact that these camps exist in modern South Africa is troubling.

Reading this book is extremely poignant in the modern era. The book explores the ongoing racial tensions in South Africa and the attitude of a section of the white population that believe a reckoning is coming for the historical wrongs done to them. This harking back to the past and a time that was perceived to be better than the modern day, is a scourge on our society and a flimsy camouflage for ingrained racism, intolerance and bigotry that fuels so much that is wrong in the modern world. This book is so powerful in the way it makes the reader think about these issues and will shake and complacencies you may have about how pure our history is as a country.

This is not an easy or comfortable read, but it is an important and thought-provoking book that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in history and social politics.

You Will Be Safe Here is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the fabulous blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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 Damian Barr is an award-winning writer and columnist. Maggie & Me, his memoir about coming of age and coming out in Thatcher’s Britain, was a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’, Sunday Times ‘Memoir of the Year’ and won the Paddy Power Political Books ‘Satire’ Award and Stonewall Writer of the Year Award.

Damian writes columns for the Big Issue and High Life and often appears on BBC Radio 4. He is creator and host of his own Literary Salon that premieres work from established and emerging writers. You Will Be Safe Here is his debut novel.

Damian Barr lives in Brighton.

Connect with Damian:

Website: https://www.damianbarr.com

Facebook: Mr Damian Barr

Twitter: @Damian_Barr

Instagram: @damianbarrliterarysalon

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Blog Tour: I Am Dust by Louise Beech #BookReview

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When iconic musical Dust is revived twenty years after the leading actress was murdered in her dressing room, a series of eerie events haunts the new cast…

The Dean Wilson Theatre is believed to be haunted by a long-dead actress, singing her last song, waiting for her final cue, looking for her killer…

Now Dust, the iconic musical, is returning after twenty years. But who will be brave enough to take on the role of ghostly goddess Esme Black, last played by Morgan Miller, who was murdered in her dressing room?

Theatre usher Chloe Dee is caught up in the spectacle. As the new actors arrive, including an unexpected face from her past, everything changes. Are the eerie sounds and sightings backstage real or just her imagination? Is someone playing games?

Not all the drama takes place onstage. Sometimes murder, magic, obsession and the biggest of betrayals are real life. When you’re in the theatre shadows, you see everything.

And Chloe has been watching…

A new book by Louise Beech is always something to get excited about so I feel very privileged to be taking part in the blog tour for her latest novel, I Am Dust today. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for including me on the tour and to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

“a moment when darkness falls, and the stage is lit; a moment when they might wonder if they even exist any more; when they forget everything for two hours.”

This is a quote from early on in I Am Dust, the new book by Louise Beech, when we first meet the protagonist, Chloe, in the modern day setting of the Dean Wilson Theatre where she is an usher. Chloe is talking about the moment just before the curtain rises on a show, where the audience hang in anticipation of being swept away to a new world, taken out of their mundane lives and transported and immersed in someone else’s for a while. Everyone who loves the theatre, and I certainly count myself amongst that number, recognises this feeling.

I have picked this quote out and included it here because this is also exactly how opening the first page of a new book by this author makes me feel. Breathless with anticipation and ready to be transported to somewhere completely different and, I have to say, that I Am Dust delivered on this sense of promise on every level. I read this book pretty much in a single sitting over the course of one day, ignoring everything around me because I was so captivated and consumed by the story that Louise placed between these pages that I could not bear to break the spell before it was over. A bit like when you emerge from a virtuoso performance, slightly disoriented and blinking in the alien light of the real world, I came out of this reading experience, preoccupied and slightly bereft, but with the horde of emotions the tale had stirred up in me still buzzing through my veins.

One of the things that makes Louise’s writing so unique is that it defies genre pigeon-holeing. Everyone is different and unique, and you never know quite what to expect, except that you know it is never going to be straight-forward and that it will touch you in a million different ways. Here we have a mystery, a ghost story, a tale of love and rivalry and an exploration of teenage angst, ambition, and sacrifice. It has so many levels of complexity that it takes a while to sort out how you feel about the book once you have finished it, and it made me immediately want to go back to the beginning and start again so I could savour the tiny details I missed on my first impatient read-through where I both couldn’t wait to get to the end and could not bear to be finished either. These dichotomies will be familiar to anyone who has read Louise’s work before, and feed through to many aspects of her stories, a case in point here being the theme that it is possible to both love and hate someone at the same time.

This is a dual timeline story, set in the present day Dean Wilson Theatre where a revival of the controversial musical, Dust, is imminent; a musical which has profound meaning for our main character, Chloe, and its return stirs up painful feelings and memories from the past for her. We also then have flashbacks to one intense summer during Chloe’s teenage years, the events of which are now bleeding through in to the present. The narrative construct works really well to reveal pertinent facts to the reader at the same time as they are recalled by Chloe and impact the present day events, and it delivers a level of tension and urgency that it one of the main reasons I was unable to set this book aside during the first reading.

This page-turning quality is only one small part of what makes this book so compelling, though. The character development and exploration is also exquisite. Chloe is so well drawn, so sympathetic and recognisable a person to carry this book that the reader cannot help but be taken along on her journey and feel all that she feels along the way. The pain of her teenage years, of intense, unrequited love and those instant, fierce, emotional swings are so vivid and familiar, the story feels absolutely real, even when exploring the supernatural elements. There have been many books and movies that have  used the link between unchecked teenage emotion and psychic happenings, but here Louise draws Chloe’s angst so honestly and believably that the occurrences seem almost inevitable, as does her reaction to them, and to the pain of just being as a teenager. The book explores some difficult topics, but always sensitively, and my heart was just beating along with Chloe’s, feeling deeply what she is feeling throughout the story.

The other quality that makes this book extra special is the one I pointed out at the beginning, how the author has managed to encapsulate absolutely perfectly the dream-like feeling of a theatre production and bring it to life in the pages of this novel. That sense of being held in a bubble, separate from the real world, disconnected from time for a while and completely captive to the story. This ethereal, surreal quality to the reading experience is something I am not sure I have experienced before and I am not sure how she has managed to do it, I could not pinpoint what it is about the text that makes this so, but it is so magical that it left me almost breathless. It is a quality that makes this ghost story believable, because the whole story seems illusory, both past and present, as if there is a gauzy curtain between what is happening here and reality. It is very hard to describe, I think you need to read the book yourself to experience it, but it is quite startling in its originality and something very special.

My love for this book is unbounded. It is deeply moving in parts, it almost brought me to tears at the end, because the emotions bleed off the page. I could wax lyrical about what makes this book special all day and still fail to really convey what makes it outstanding, but you are probably already bored. So I’ll just finish by saying, you will never have had a reading experience quite like this and Louise’s chameleon-like abilities as a writer continue to amaze me with every new book. I was blown away by I Am Dust and it has flown into my top ten books of the year, please, please read it for yourself.

I Am Dust is out now as am ebook and will be published in paperback on 16 April, and you can get a copy here.

To follow the rest of the I Am Dust blog tour, check out the details on the poster below:

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About the Author

Louise Beech Author pic

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her second book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

Connect with Louise:

Website: https://louisebeech.co.uk

Facebook: Louise Beech

Twitter: @LouiseWriter

Instagram: @louisebeech13

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Blog Tour: Rabette Run by Nick Rippington #GuestPost

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EMERSON RABETTE has a phobia about travelling on underground trains, so when he is involved in a car accident his worst nightmare is about to come true.

A middle-aged graphic designer and father of one, Emerson’s entire future depends on him reaching an important business meeting. Without an alternative method of transport, he has to confront his biggest fear.

Things immediately go wrong when Emerson’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder kicks in and his fellow passengers become angry at the way he is acting. Thankfully a young woman called Winter comes to his rescue and agrees to help him reach his destination.

Once on the train, she thinks her job is done. But Emerson can’t help feeling he is being watched by his fellow passengers, including a soldier, a woman in a hat covered with artificial fruit and a man with a purple goatee beard.

Is it just his paranoia kicking in, or are they all out to get him?

And Winter is taken totally by surprise when Emerson takes flight after reading a message scrawled on the train’s interior.

It simply reads: ‘Run Rabette Run’

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for a unique book, Rabette Run by Nick Rippington and to be bringing you a fascinating Q & A feature with the author. My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books On The Bright Side Publicity for inviting me to take part and to the author for answering the questions for this feature.

Question & Answer with Nick Rippington, author of Rabette Run

Where did the idea for Rabette Run come from?
Working shifts as a sports designer on a national newspaper in London I quite often have to catch the underground train home late at night. At times you might be the only one on the carriage and I remember spotting the odd item of graffiti and thinking, ‘What if there was my name scrawled on there, together with a warning?’ The ball got rolling from there and within a few weeks I had an idea of how it was going to go. As often in these cases, the more I wrote, the more the idea developed. I was also a big fan of the TV series Lost and was choked at how poor the ending was having watched 5 or 6 series. I had come up with an alternative ending and I won’t say any more other than I ran with the idea…
Any thoughts on who you could see playing Winter & Emerson if it went to the big screen?
I would love to see someone like Ed Norton playing Emerson, though he might be a bit too old now. He’s one of my favourite actors and I thought he did a wonderful job in Fight Club, which in some ways has a similar feel to it in that you aren’t sure what’s real and what’s fiction. If I was going for someone younger it would have to be Kit Harrington who played John Snow in Game of Thrones. Another Game of Thrones actress, Sophie Turner who played Sansa, would make the perfect Winter, though I also think Jodie Comer, who is terrific in Killing Eve, would do a great job.
Did you spend much time going underground on the tubes for research?
I’ve worked in London since I joined the News of the World in 2009 and even before then I spent a few years living there, so it’s pretty hard to avoid the Tube to be honest. I wonder how Emerson managed to do it for so long because, believe me, driving is not a pleasant experience in the smoke.
Rabette Run is quite different from your Boxer Boys series. What made you turn to psychological thrillers?
I thought that the Boxer Boys had run their course, for the moment anyway, and I had several other ideas popping up in my head. I first attempted to write this a long time ago as a project for the National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo – so I’d already got 50,000 words down and it seemed logical to try to finish it off once Dying Seconds had been published. Rather than trying to weave my Boxer Boys characters into the series or, worse, make Emerson into a UK gangster type I just wanted to see how things would go if I attempted something different. I’m very happy with the way it worked out. I’m sure I’ll get the perfect storyline for another gangland tale in the future but for the moment I am taking a break. I interviewed the US thriller writer Karin Slaughter at the London Book Fair last year and she has managed to break away from her regular characters on occasion. It hasn’t hurt her as a writer. I know I’m not in that bracket but I think attempting something different can only help improve your writing. A past editor of mine said after reading Spark Out, a particularly gritty thriller, that some of the sections in it made her think I would make a great romance writer! Not yet…
What books and authors have you enjoyed reading over the last 12 months?
I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on another book so have been reading mainly factual books, but I am a massive fan of John Le Carre and a Delicate Truth didn’t disappoint. I love Angela Marsons’ Kim Stone series and also enjoyed The Child by Fiona Barton and Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh. I tend to find with all the Tube travel that audio books mean you can get through a lot more these days, very handy to relax and listen to someone reading when you’ve spent the whole day proofreading copy in front of a computer screen.
Can you tell us a bit about what you are currently working on?
I’m reluctant to say too much without giving away the ending – spoiler alert! – but let’s just say there is a serial killer involved!
Thanks for that fascinating insight into the inspiration for Rabette Run, Nick, and what is coming next.
If you would like to read Rabette Run for yourself, you can buy a copy here and to celebrate Nick’s blog tour my readers can get Rabette Run in digital format for the bargain knockdown price of 99p during the week April 7-14. What’s stopping you?
If you would like to read some extracts and reviews of the book, please do check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour as detailed below:
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About the Author
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Nick Rippington is the award-winning author of the Boxer Boys series of gangland crime thrillers.

Based in London, UK, Nick was the last-ever Welsh Sports Editor of the now defunct News of The World, writing his debut release Crossing The Whitewash after being made redundant with just two days notice after Rupert Murdoch closed down Europe’s biggest-selling tabloid in 2011.

On holiday at the time, Nick was never allowed back in the building, investigators sealing off the area with crime scene tape and seizing his computer as they investigated the phone-hacking scandal, something which took place a decade before Nick joined the paper. His greatest fear, however, was that cops would uncover the secrets to his Fantasy Football selections.

Handed the contents of his desk in a black bin bag in a murky car park, deep throat style, Nick was at a crossroads – married just two years earlier and with a wife and 9-month-old baby to support.

With self-publishing booming, he hit on an idea for a UK gangland thriller taking place against the backdrop of the Rugby World Cup and in 2015 produced Crossing The Whitewash, which received an honourable mention in the genre category of the Writers’ Digest self-published eBook awards. Judges described it as “evocative, unique, unfailingly precise and often humorous”.

Follow-up novel Spark Out, a prequel set at the time of Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War, received a Chill With A Book reader award and an IndieBRAG medallion from the prestigious website dedicated to Independent publishers and writers throughout the world. The novel was also awarded best cover of 2017 with Chill With A Book.

The third book in the Boxer Boys series Dying Seconds, a sequel to Crossing The Whitewash, was released in December 2018 and went to the top of the Amazon Contemporary Urban Fiction free charts during a giveaway period of five days. A digital box set, the Boxer Boys Collection, came out in September last year.

Now Nick, 60, is switching direction feeling that, for the moment, the Boxer Boys series has run its course. His latest novel, Rabette Run, will be released in the Spring and Nick says, ‘It is a gritty psychological thriller with twists and turns galore. Think Alice in Wonderland with tanks and guns.’

Married to Liz, When Nick isn’t writing he works as a back bench designer of sports pages on the Daily Star. He has two children – Jemma, 37, and Olivia, 9.

Connect with Nick:

Website: https://www.theripperfile.com

Facebook: Nick Rippington

Twitter: @nickripp

Instagram: @rippington

Pinterest: Nick Rippington

Friday Night Drinks with… Carol Thomas

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Happy Easter, everyone! Staying at home is not the way any of us planned to spend Good Friday, I am sure. I, for one, was supposed to be in Dublin today, visiting my in-laws and then off to Wales for a week’s holiday with the kids. Still, why not make the most of the beautiful weather and join me and tonight’s guest for virtual drinks in the garden instead? I am happy to welcome to the blog tonight, author and fellow RNA member….Carol Thomas.

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Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening, Carol. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you for having me along. I’ll have a Bay Breeze, which I recently tried as research for a 1950s night in my current WIP. The things we do for research!

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Terrible sacrifices we have to make! 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?

Osteria, in the historic town of Arundel. It is my favourite café and writing haunt by day, and has a bar and great atmosphere in the evening, too. It also provided the inspiration for, Cin Cin, the bar in my Lisa Blake series of novels.

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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?

Keanu Reeves, as I’ve been a fan since I was a teenager. I enjoy listening to him talk, and you know, he’s not bad to look at either 😉 And Ruth Jones, I like the way she captures the funny and emotive moments of life. I think that’s a quirky enough mix to make the evening entertaining.

I would not object to spending an evening with those two! 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?

I am currently working on a contemporary romance novel I started a few years ago. I put it aside while concentrating on Maybe Baby, the second book in the Lisa Blake series, but have enjoyed returning to it, albeit that it took a while to get back in step with the characters. It is a standalone novel, unrelated to the Lisa Blake series, that I hope will be published by Choc Lit / Ruby Fiction (fingers crossed). My WIP was inspired by a visit to Petworth House; a stately home, with a reluctant Duke.

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

My proudest moment was gaining my contract with Ruby Fiction.

My biggest challenge is time. I am a mum of four; three of my children are still school age, and I also work in a local school. My other challenge is getting the balance between promotion and writing right.

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!

Well, while I’ve got Keanu over for drinks, I could speak to him about one of my books going to film with him as the lead. (Though I might have to write something more fitting for him; Nathan Baker, in the Lisa Blake series, would have to be played by Chris Hemsworth.)

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Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to shoehorn a gratuitous Chris Hemsworth pic on to the blog! What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

My WIP has entered that final phase where everything is coming together, so that is exciting. I love it when the words and ideas are flowing well, and you feel you can’t keep up with what you want to get down.

I am also delighted to say my novel, Maybe Baby, currently out in ebook and audio editions will be out in paperback this summer (all being well with the current situation). There’s nothing like holding your paperback in your hands!

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?

My favourite holiday destination is Samoëns in France. It is beautiful in summer or winter, with stunning views across the mountains. We’ve postponed our trip this year, but have many happy memories, and hope to go again in the future. I don’t have a bucket list, but making memories and having family holidays is always important to me, whether here in the UK or abroad.

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

I’ve been married to my husband for twenty years, and we’ve been together for twenty-nine years, but he was my sister’s boyfriend before he went out with me.

Oooh, did that cause any problems, I wonder? 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’?

As I feel we are all in need of some escapism and a comfort read at the moment, I’d go with anything by Sarah Morgan, but my particular must-read would be Sleigh Bells in the Snow. It’s a real cuddle of a book.

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Once upon a time Kayla loved Christmas

Now she s more dedicated to her job than decking the halls, and can t wait for the most wonderful time of the year to be over.

Until she arrives at the enchanting Snow Crystal ski resort, determined to win gorgeous owner Jackson as a marketing client.

But wooing Jackson professionally quickly turns personal as they spend flirty festive nights in this glittering winter wonderland.

With snowflakes swirling and sleigh bells ringing…could Jackson be the one to make Kayla fall back under the Christmas spell?

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?

I must confess I can’t ever remember having a hangover. I don’t often drink, so when I do, I tend to stop after a couple as that can make me feel pretty jolly!

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

With my family and dog, Hubble, somewhere peaceful and beautiful, and then when the children are all in bed, an evening in snuggled up with my husband.

Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening, Carol, and letting me quiz you, it has been a real pleasure.

Carol’s latest book, Maybe Baby (Lisa Blake book #2) is a romantic comedy and the sequel to The Purrfect Pet Sitter (Lisa Blake book #1). While each book can be read as a standalone story, Maybe Baby revisits the characters from The Purrfect Pet Sitter as they move into the next phase of their lives. You can get a copy here.

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Just when you thought you had it all worked out …

Best friends Lisa and Felicity think – maybe, just maybe – they finally have everything sorted out in their lives.

Lisa is in a happy relationship with her old flame, and busy mum Felicity has managed to reignite the passion with her husband, Pete, after a romantic getaway.

But when Lisa walks in on a half-naked woman in her boyfriend’s flat and Felicity is left reeling from a shocking discovery, it becomes clear that life is nothing but full of surprises!

In the summer of 2017, Carol Thomas was delighted to gain a publishing contract with Ruby Fiction, an imprint of the award-winning publishers Choc Lit. She has subsequently gained best-seller badges for The Purrfect Pet Sitter and Maybe Baby, both books in the Lisa Blake series.

Carol writes for adults and children: Her contemporary romance novels, have relatable heroines whose stories are layered with emotion, sprinkled with laughter and topped with irresistible male leads; while her children’s books have irresistibly cute, generally furry characters young children can relate to.

Carol lives on the south coast of England with her husband, four children and lively Labrador. She has been a playgroup supervisor and taught in primary schools for over fifteen years, before dedicating more of her time to writing. Carol is a regular volunteer at her local Cancer Research UK shop and has a passion for reading, writing and people watching. She can often be found loitering in local cafes working on her next book.

You can find out more about Carol and her writing on her websiteblogFacebook, TwitterPinterest and Instagram.

Next week I will be having Friday Night Drinks with Nina Kwiatkowski.

 

Blog Tour: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell #BookReview

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TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

I am privileged today to be taking part in the blog tour for Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. The book has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and is one of the most eagerly anticipated books of the year. Huge thanks to Anne Cater for my place on the tour and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I’m always a little wary about reviewing books as hyped as this one has been, and by authors as revered as Maggie O’Farrell. One wonders if the books, and indeed the authors, can ever live up to the advance accolades they receive, and whether, when the literary establishment is so in love with a novel or novelist, any positive review will be accepted at face value or perceived as just another acolyte toeing the party line. On the converse, would anyone dare post a negative review whilst anticipating the backlash that might ensue? After all, this book has been long listed for the Women’s Prize, a lot of people have rated it very highly. It might make one seriously consider whether just to keep one’s opinion to oneself.

I have to admit that I am not a devotee on this author’s work, simply because I have never previously got around to reading it. I have two of her titles on my TBR, but in the past three years madding rush of blog tours, they have remained there, untouched. So maybe I am ideally positioned to come at this with an open mind and no preconceptions, which is exactly what I did. I also had no expectations with regard to how this would compare to her previous work, I could judge this book purely on its own merits.

The author could not have foreseen when writing this book, which is a book she has said she has wanted to write for over thirty years, that it would arrive on the shelves at a time the world was being touched by a deadly pandemic, arousing in us the kind of fear and panic that is the mirrored in the family at the centre of the book, as they are touched in the same way by the plague in the sixteenth century. In fact, the vividness with which the author recreates this in the novel may strike too close to home for some to bear at this terrifying moment in this history. For others of us, what it manages to do is draw us close across the centuries to those who went before us and show us that, although much in the world has altered beyond recognition in those long, intervening years, human emotions of love, loss, grief, kinship, fear and fortitude are constant and unchanging. It allows us to relate to these long-dead people in a way we might otherwise be unable to do.

Of course, this is largely down to the skill of the author in the writing. The everyday world of Stratford at this time is brought to life in such detail, and with such incisive and graphic description that complete immersion in the story in unavoidable. I was totally transported, living and breathing this experience along with the characters, completely caught up in the emotions and events to the point where I resented being pulled back out to face the everyday. I wanted to stay there, living and breathing and feeling this story until I finished it, harrowing and difficult as that was in parts, because it became so important to me to know how it ended.

This is a very detailed book, full of languorous language, indulgent pacing and descriptions of the minutiae of life at this time. This is going to frustrate some readers, I know. We are used to life at a frenetic pace, we have no patience in the modern day. People’s attention span has been accustomed to sixty second sound bites, memes, instant fixes, instant gratification. We always want to move on, move on to the next thing, never satisfied. But life as we know it has stopped for a while. We have been forced to slow down, take a break, sit back and pause. Use this time to take in a book like this, when enjoying the language and indulgence of expression in this book to take you back to a time when life was slower, more considered and possibly more appreciative of the smaller, lesser pleasures, will pay off in spades with a deeper understanding of how people lived and worked and loved at that time. Allow yourself the space and time to feel the emotion that flows from the pages of this book and seeps in to your bones if you let it.

Anyone coming to this book expecting the story of Shakespeare is going to be disappointed. In fact, the author never mentions his name once throughout. He is referred to as tutor, son, brother, father, husband, playwright, and this is very deliberate, because this is not his story. He is not centre stage, he is not the main protagonist, he is off in the wings, a bit player, the occasional character who wanders in and out of the scene, even to the end where is is the supporting role in his own play, not the titular character. This is the story of his wife.

Anne Hathaway, known in this book as Agnes, as her father referred to her in his will, is the driving force in this novel. It is through her eyes that we see life in Stratford at this time, that we learn about the roles of the womenfolk who held the homes and families together as the men were away working and making the decisions. The heart of the story is in Stratford, where all the action takes place while Shakespeare is in London, and it is she who drives the plot, from the very first time they meet. She is portrayed as a remarkable woman with many skills that were underestimated by her peers, even treated with suspicion in some cases, skills of healing and understanding and uncanny intuition. She is also shown as possessing unbelievable strength of character, allowing her husband to leave her with two small children to go to London because she understands he needs to get away from the constraints of his family, the same family she is left to live within his absence, even though they are not her own. Maggie’s admiration for this unusual woman as she envisages her is apparent on every page. She uses her to show us intimate aspects of small town life in the sixteenth century and, more particularly, what life was like for women at that time. As a historical exploration, it is absolutely fascinating.

The main thing that makes this book so special though, is the portrayal of parental grief on the loss of a child. This is something of which I have personal experience and the depth of understanding the author displays for the thoughts and emotions a parent experiences in these circumstances was profound. Her descriptions aroused in me memories that remain painfully vivid but oddly treasured, it is very difficult to explain how reading something this accurate both hurts and is deeply comforting at the same time. To be so understood, to have such pain acknowledged and explored, explained and transmitted to that fortunate part of society that has never felt it, is oddly consoling. There were scenes in this book that rang so completely true with me that it both broke my heart and gave me succour at the same time. The passage detailing the procession to the churchyard in particular was like reliving a scene from my own life, it made me cry but also provided solace in the form of understanding by another person of this pain. This is what great writing can do, it can make us feel understood, it can make us feel less alone in a confusing and frightening world. Many of us are going to need much more of this in days to come.

I have waxed on at length in this review, I know, but I hope you have come to understand at the end why it is that I am telling you I have immeasurable love and appreciation for this book. Regardless of the hype, it has given me so much on so many different levels that I cannot praise it highly enough. As a historical text, as a celebration of the strength and fortitude of women, as an exploration and acknowledgement of grief and pain, of relationships between man and woman and parent and child, I adored every single thing about it. Every word, every feeling rewarded me beyond measure. It has moved me more profoundly than anything I have read in recent memory and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Read it, not because of who the author is, or because it is being feted high and low, or because it has been listed for prizes, but because it is a work of wonder and you deserve to give yourself the opportunity to experience it for yourself.

Hamnet is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can get a copy here.

The books is taking a huge tour, and there are loads of amazing blogs taking part so do make sure you check out some of the other reviews:

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About the Author

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Maggie O’Farrell is the author of seven novels, AFTER YOU’D GONE, MY LOVER’S LOVER, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, and THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award. Maggie has also written a memoir, I AM, I AM, I AM. She lives in Edinburgh.

Connect with Maggie:

Website: https://www.maggieofarrell.com

Facebook: Maggie O’Farrell Books

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Book Review: The Cactus by Sarah Haywood Narrated by Katherine Manners #AudiobookReview

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It’s never too late to bloom.

People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green – family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that’s all she needs. At 45, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward – a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other more intimate benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control. When she discovers that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reviewing this book, I listening to it ages ago. I think maybe I have been afraid that I wouldn’t do the book justice, I loved it so much.

This book is the story of a very unusual woman, and her character is so perfectly formed and then tested by the author that I defy anyone not to be entranced by the story. Susan is a woman whose life is perfectly ordered. She knows exactly who she is, what she is doing, how she wants things to be, and she has it all arranged perfectly, from her flat, to her job, to her relationship of convenience with Richard, who seems to think exactly as she does. Which is a miracle, because nobody sees the world exactly as Susan does. The best thing about her, for me, is her absolute belief that she is always right, her way of approaching things is obviously correct and pretty much everyone else in the world is an idiot that needs to be tolerated at best. Her disdain for most of humanity as irredeemably stupid drips off the page and it is delightful.

You might think a woman like this would be hard to relate to as a character, but it isn’t so. I think because the author sets her up so early on with problems that we, the reader, can see are going to force her to adjust her view, because when we meet her family we can possibly understand that a great deal of her spiky ways have developed as armour against the tribulations of her early life and her dysfunctional family, and because other characters who are more likeable in the book see her as a redeemable character, so we do too. The writing is so clever in this regard, I have to tip my hat to the author.

This book is incredibly warm and funny. The situation that Sarah puts Susan in, finding herself pregnant in her forties, would be ripe for comedy in any situation but, given how ordered and uptight Susan is, the chaos of pregnancy and childbirth is magnified tenfold. There were parts of the book that had me absolutely howling with laughter. The part where she and Richard meet to discuss how they are going to handle the parenting of this unexpected child was delightful in its naivety for anyone who has children. Then the incident with the Bananagrams towards the end of the book made me laugh so hard I had tears in my eyes. I read someone else’s review of this book that claimed it was not as funny as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I would beg to differ, I found this much funnier.

As I have now brought up Eleanor Oliphant, I want to say that anyone who loved that book will really enjoy this one. It is a similar social misfit tale, but a completely different story. Sarah obviously has so much love for the character of Susan, it shines from the page and makes the reader fall in love with her too. I listened to this book as an audiobook in the end, even though I originally got the book via NetGalley, but when I had finished it, I immediately went and bought a hardback copy for my shelves because I know I will want to return to it again and again.

I just wanted to say a word about the audio version of this book. I think listening to it via audio gave Susan a really strong voice for me. She is from the West Midlands, and the narrator has the accent down perfectly throughout. I am not sure about you but, when I read text, even if the author places the cast in a particular location, I never read with an accent in my head. Listening to someone read with the accent really cemented Susan as alive and kicking for me, and her tone and pacing was also perfect for the character. I think this is one of those stories where the audio really enhances the story and I would highly recommend it (although it did take me several days to get the Birmingham accent out of my head after finishing the book!). The narrator was perfect and I don’t have high enough praise for her performance, as the narration makes or breaks an audiobook.

The Cactus is already on the shortlist for being one of my Top Ten books of the year. I cannot express how much I adored it. It is no surprise to me that it was chosen by Reese Witherspoon for her book club and everyone who hasn’t read it should get a copy now. It is the perfect antidote to the dark days we are currently living through and you could do a lot worse that share your isolation with Susan Green.

The Cactus is out now in all formats and you can get yourself a copy here.

About the Author

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Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. After studying Law, she worked in London and Birkenhead as a solicitor, in Toxteth as an advice worker, and in Manchester as an investigator of complaints about lawyers. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and lives in Liverpool with her husband, two sons and two ginger cats.

Connect with Sarah:

Website: https://www.sarahhaywoodauthor.com

Facebook: Sarah Haywood Author

Twitter: @SarahxHaywood

Instagram: @sarahjhaywood

Blog Tour: The Message by Mai Jia #Extract

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China, 1941.

It is the height of the Second World War, and Japan rules over China. In the famously beautiful city of Hangzhou, a puppet government propped up by the Japanese is waging an underground war against the Communist resistance.

Late one night, under cover of darkness, three men and two women are escorted to an isolated mansion on the shores of West Lake. All five are intelligence officers, employed as codebreakers by the regime. But the secret police are certain that one of them is a communist spy. None of them are leaving until the traitor is unmasked.

It should be a straightforward case of sifting truth from lies. But as each codebreaker spins a story that proves their innocence, events are framed and re-framed, and what really happened is called into question again and again.

I am delighted to be opening the blog tour today for The Message by Mai Jin, with an exciting extract for you. My thanks to Martina Ticic from Midas PR for inviting me to take part in the tour.

Extract

The following day, just as the sun was rising and before the mists that veiled West Lake had dispersed, Commander Zhang’s black car was already bumping its way along the shoreside road.

Commander Zhang Yiting had been born into an ordinary family in Anhui province, but from a very early age it was clear that he was unusually intelligent. At eighteen he took first place in the provincial examinations for the imperial bureaucracy and seemed destined for a prestigious job in the civil service of the Qing dynasty. But, like a bolt from the blue, the Revolution of 1911 destroyed his dreams, and for many years afterwards nothing went right for him. He was ambitious to serve his country but condemned to remain on the sidelines. Too often he was treated with contempt by others; too often he found himself at the mercy of misfortunes he’d done nothing to deserve. This situation lasted until the Japanese installed their treasured collaborator Wang Jingwei in Nanjing. Only then, when Zhang Yiting was in his fifties, the hair at his temples already turning white, did his future began to look bright. He became Qian Huyi’s deputy: Vice-Commander of the ECCC.

But what kind of future lay in store for him? A year earlier, when he’d returned home to attend his mother’s funeral, one of the villagers had poured a bucket of shit over him. He was so furious that he grabbed a gun off a subordinate and fired at the villager. He didn’t kill him – the man just lost a bit of skin off his leg – but for Zhang Yiting this marked the end of an era. He understood that he would never be able to go home again, and he decided to carry on down the path he’d chosen with redoubled determination. So when his boss Qian Huyi was murdered and the rumours flying around were such that none of his colleagues dared step into the role, he accepted the promotion, exhibiting surprising courage and boldness.

That was almost a year ago now, and he’d never regretted his decision, not least because he had no other choice. Now, as he thought about all that had happened the previous night, and all that was about to happen at the Tan Estate, he had exactly the same feeling: he had no other choice.

The black car skirted the lake, followed the road up to the Tan Estate and after a few blasts on the horn came to a halt at a high wall. Sentries shouldering guns stood to attention outside the main gate and the guards ushered the Commander through. It was 7.30 a.m. – he had indeed come at the earliest possible opportunity.

Before him was a T-shaped grey-brick building with a black-tiled roof, very much in the traditional style, and a pretty but not at all practical grille door that was nowhere near high enough to stop a determined person from climbing over. It was here that the Tan family had quite brazenly installed a brothel. The sign that now hung over the door said it was an officers’ club, which was pretty much the same thing.

The car traced a circle round the large open space in front of the officers’ club and then turned right, in the direction of the rear courtyard. It drove through an area densely planted with phoenix-tail bamboo and on down a narrow road between stands of imperial zhennan trees. Commander Zhang caught a glimpse of the two buildings to the east and west, and then, as the car passed an ornate rockery overgrown with weeds and a wisteria-covered pergola, he saw that Secret-Police Chief Wang Tianxiang was waiting respectfully on the terrace of the western building.

Standing to attention behind the Police Chief was a sentry with a Mauser pistol at his hip, and behind the sentry was a wooden signboard, newly erected, which read: ‘Military Area. No Admittance for Unauthorized Personnel.’ There was also a freshly painted white line demarcating the area. This had all been put in place by Police Chief Wang during the night.

Since everyone had gone to bed very late the night before and hadn’t expected Commander Zhang to arrive so early, the five ECCC officers had all got up late. Indeed, Gu Xiaomeng was still in bed when he turned up. To have the Commander arrive at such an early hour was kind of flattering, but it brought home the seriousness of their mission. Even more so when they came out of the house to go to breakfast and saw the sentries standing to attention and the white line encircling the building.

If this has whetted your appetite and you would like to read the rest of the book, it is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you check out the rest of the tour for reviews and more:

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About the Author

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Mai Jia’s first novel in English, Decoded, was published by Penguin Classics in 2002, and has been translated into over twenty languages. His novels have sold over 10 million copies and Mai Jia has won the Mao Dun Literature Prize, the highest literary honour in China. The Message was first published in 2007 and has sold over a million copies in China. Mai Jia was born in 1964 and spent many years in the Chinese intelligence services.