Desert Island Books with… Julie Stock

Desert Island Books

Today, on my remote islet, I have abandoned author Julie Stock, with only five excellent books and one luxury item to aid her survival. That’s all a person needs, right? Let’s see what she has with her shall we? Welcome to my island, Julie.

Thanks for inviting me to take part in your Desert Island Books feature, Julie. I think I would be useless on a desert island with no-one else to talk to, but having plenty of good books would certainly help to keep me sane! As I write romance myself, I have chosen some classic romances to take with me of course, but I’ve also chosen some other classics from different genres because I just love a great story.

Book One – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

It doesn’t matter how many times I re-read this book, I always find a new detail every time. I just love the romance and the humour in the story, and all the characters so much. It’s the book I regularly read again, and I think that says it all. It’s also incredible that, for a book published at the beginning of the 19th century, it still resonates as much today.

Book Two – The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future.

In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

I can still remember when I first read this book, and the moment when I understood what was coming. It is the only book I remember reading through buckets of tears, but despite that, I still pressed on. The love story in it is one of the most uplifting, yet also one of the saddest I’ve ever read. I do really like a good cry when I’m reading a book – I find it very cathartic – and this book achieved its aim so very well.

Book Three – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

I can still remember the sense of outrage I felt when I first read this book in my teens. I’d never read anything like it before that, and I felt so naïve as I read it, and began to understand that injustice like that does exist. I love Atticus of course, and above all, I love the sense of hope that threads through the story, even in the worst of times.

Book Four – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.

My daughter bought me this book a few years ago, and I struggled to read it for a while, but then gave up without finishing it, which is very unusual for me. So, if I’m going to be on a desert island, it would be good to have a very long book to read to pass the endless days while I wait to be rescued! I know the story of course, so I’m sure I would be able to finish it eventually…

Book Five – The Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

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A story spanning centuries. A long awaited revenge.

In London, journalist Jo Clifford plans to debunk the belief in past-lives in a hard-hitting magazine piece. But her scepticism is shaken when a hypnotist forces her to relive the experiences of Matilda, Lady of Hay, a noblewoman during the reign of King John.

She learns of Matilda’s unhappy marriage, her love for the handsome Richard de Clare, and the brutal death threats handed out by King John, before it becomes clear that Jo’s past and present are inevitably entwined. She realises that eight hundred years on, Matilda’s story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to repeat itself…

I had had this book on my Kindle for quite a while before I finally got round to reading it last year. I’d had a major operation and so I was devouring books even more than usual, and once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. It combines my love of history with a great thriller, and would bear re-reading for sure.

My luxury item

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I don’t think I could manage without an endless supply of hand cream, especially if I was going to have to be in and out of water to catch my food every day! I’m hoping this is going to be allowed…

About Julie Stock

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Julie Stock writes contemporary feel-good romance from around the world: novels, novellas and short stories. She published her debut novel, From Here to Nashville, in 2015, after starting to write as an escape from the demands of her day job as a teacher. Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace is her latest book, and the second in the Domaine des Montagnes series set on a vineyard.

Julie is now a full-time author, and loves every minute of her writing life. When not writing, she can be found reading, her favourite past-time, running, a new hobby, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand.

Julie is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

She is married and lives with her family in Bedfordshire in the UK.

Julie’s latest book is Starting Over in the Vineyard in Alsace and you can buy a copy here.

Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace

She’s proud, independent and about to be a single mum. Since his wife died, he’s become fiercely protective. Can they take another chance on love?

After being abandoned by her partner when she falls pregnant, Lottie Schell goes home to live on The Vineyard in Alsace determined to raise her child and to provide for them both without having to depend on anyone else.

Thierry Bernard is still dealing with his grief and guilt following the death of his wife two years earlier. He needs to move on from the tragedy of his past and to accept the truth of what happened.

When circumstances force Lottie and Thierry closer together and their attraction deepens, they both find it hard to compromise – and they’re both wary about trusting someone new with their heart.

Can Lottie and Thierry move on from their pasts, find a new beginning together and start over?

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julie-stock.co.uk/

Facebook: Julie Stock Author

Twitter: @wood_beez48

Instagram: @julie.stockauthor.

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Book Review: Love in Lockdown by Chloe James

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Do you believe in love before first sight?

Lockdown is putting Sophia’s life on pause – just as she planned to put herself out there and meet someone. When the first clap for the keyworkers rings out around her courtyard, she’s moved to tears for all kinds of reasons.

Jack is used to living life to the fullest. He’s going stir-crazy after just days isolating. Until the night he hears a woman crying from the balcony under his. He strikes up a conversation with the stranger and puts a smile on her face.

Soon their balcony meetings are the highlight of Jack and Sophia’s days. But even as they grow closer together, they’re always kept apart.

Can they fall in love during a lockdown?

This book was reviewed at the request of the author. I received a digital copy via NetGalley, so my thanks go to Avon Books for supplying the book for review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I am sure there are going to be a proliferation of romance novels set during these strange lockdown times we have been suffering over the last nine months and, I have to say, it was with some trepidation that I approached this book. I am not a fan of gimmicky books that are written just to take advantage of a current trend, they often lack in any passion or conviction. Having just finished Love in Lockdown by Chloe James, wiping tears from the corner of my eyes, I am delighted to say that this is definitely not one of those books and I absolutely loved it.

The book follows the stories of Sophia and Jack who live above one another in a block of flats. They have never met but, as the UK goes into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, they introduce themselves during the Thursday night ‘Clap For Carers,’ and things move on from there. The question is, is it possible to fall in love with someone whom you’ve never seen.

The author has done an absolutely fantastic job of capturing a lot of the tiny things that became symbolic of the pandemic and the unique times we are currently living in. The sense of isolation, but also the new community spirit and idea of caring for others that has grown up out of necessity in recent months. All of the familiar goings on are here – the difficulty of getting supermarket delivery slots, lack of flour, trying to explain Zoom to the elderly generation, NHS rainbows, the importance of pets, antibaccing your shopping, bad haircuts, socially-distanced weddings, furlough, and everything else that is the new normal. Does anyone even remember what the world used to be like?

Despite the fact that she has shoehorned all of this into the book, it never feels contrived or unnecessary. The writing is done in such a sympathetic and understanding way that it is very difficult to believe this book was written while lockdown was going on, and not with the benefit of some distance from the experience. I am amazed that she has managed to achieve such balance and beauty in the writing in these circumstances; there is no doubt that the author is very talented.

There were so many really touching moments in the book that moved me to tears, and other moments of real humour. It is a very uplifting book, which I wasn’t expected, mired as we in this as an ongoing problem and something that is causing so much anguish still. I know that for many people it is going to be too soon to be reading about the situation in a piece of fiction, it is still too close and raw a pain, but if you do want to read a novel set in this time, you won’t do much better. If you are a fan of books such at Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare, this has a similar feel and I am sure you would enjoy this.

Love in Lockdown was an unexpected, positive pleasure and I would not hesitate to recommend it to romance fans everywhere.

Love in Lockdown is out as an ebook on 23 November, and in paperback in March 2021, and you can pre-order your copy here.

About the Author

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Chloe James is a pseudonym for Fiona Woodifield whose debut novel, ‘The Jane Austen Dating Agency‘ was published in February 2020.

Fiona writes uplifting romantic comedies. When not to be found with her head in a book, she is usually out in the countryside enjoying the changeable British weather with her family and three dogs.

Connect with Chloe:

Website: https://fionawoodifield.co.uk/

Facebook: Fiona Woodifield

Twitter: @FionaWoodifield

Instagram: @f.woodifield

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Book Review: Silent Night by Nell Pattison

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What happened while they were sleeping?

A school for the deaf takes an overnight trip to the snowy woods. Five teenagers go to sleep, but only four wake up. Leon is missing, and a teacher’s body is found in the forest…

Sign language interpreter Paige Northwood is brought in to help with interrogations. Everyone at the school has a motive for murder – but they all have an alibi.

As Paige becomes increasingly involved, she suspects there’s something sinister going on. With the clock ticking to find Leon, only one thing is certain: the killer is among them, and ready to strike again…

My thanks to the publisher for my advance digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley for the purpose of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by this author. I did see a lot of posts about the first Paige Northwood book, Silent Housewhen it came out earlier in the year but I never got round to reading it. However, the fact I hadn’t read the first book did not detract at all from my enjoyment of this one, although it did make me want to go back and read it to plump out the back story that is reprised briefly in this book.

From the title and cover, you might expect this to be a Christmas book, but it isn’t at all. It is a thriller set in the enclosed world of a school for the deaf. A child goes missing on a school residential trip, and a body of a teacher is found. The protagonist, Paige, is an interpreter brought in to assist the police in solving the crime within the close knit deaf community.

I have never read a book set within this world before and I thought it was absolutely fascinating and illuminating, shedding light on issues that many of us probably give very little thought to in our day to day lives if it is not something we are affected by directly. This is where novels come into their own, educating us without seeming to, which hopefully might give us all some additional insight and compassion into daily struggles we might otherwise unaware of.

I thought the author created a raft of really interesting characters in the novel and an intriguing dynamic. Watching the inter-play between the adult and teenage characters was gripping. You would assume that the children would prove to be the less reliable narrators, but this is not necessarily the case. There are also some interesting issues explored in the book, including recovering from abusive relationships and online child safety. Plenty of meat to get your teeth into here.

The plot was extremely twisty, I had absolutely no idea who was behind the crimes until the very end. If I had any criticisms, it might be that the novel was a little unevenly paced, with a flurry of frenetic action right at the end. There were also some decisions made by Paige in the story that frustrated me, because there didn’t seem to be any consistent logic behind them, other than to serve the plot. One minute she was revealing stuff to someone that she shouldn’t, the next failing to tell someone something that she should. However, this is really me nit-picking. On the whole, I enjoyed the book and the positives far out-weighed any minor niggles I may have. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a gripping thriller and is looking for something with a little more depth than the norm.

Silent Night is out now as ebook, paperback and audiobook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Nell Pattison is the author of a crime thriller series featuring British Sign Language interpreter Paige Northwood. Her debut novel, The Silent House, was a USA Today bestseller.

After studying English at university, Nell Pattison became a teacher and specialised in Deaf education. She has been teaching in the Deaf community for 13 years in both England and Scotland, working with students who use BSL. Nell began losing her hearing in her twenties, and now wears hearing aids. She lives in North Lincolnshire with her husband and son.

Connect with Nell:

Facebook: Nell Pattison Author

Twitter: @Writer_Nell

Instagram: @writernell

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Friday Night Drinks with… Tanya Bullock

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I am in celebratory mood, so tonight’s guest has picked a great night to join me for Friday Night Drinks! Welcome to the blog author…. Tanya Bullock.

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Tanya, I am in party mood, so thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

It’s got to be a large glass of red. Rioja’s my favourite, but I’d settle for a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec. Mind you, once we get to the club (see below) I’d probably need a couple of cheeky shots before braving the dancefloor!

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?

Hmm, well we’ve only just met, so it would be nice to get to know you first. A quiet country pub with a roaring open fire where we could have a good old natter in the warm. After that, I’d whisk you off to a nightclub for a boogie. I was quite the ‘clubber’ in my youth, but I haven’t been on a dance floor since my 40th birthday in 2016, so a night of dancing is long overdue.

Sounds great, although I’m even older than you so we might have to take it slowly to begin with! 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?

Unhesitatingly Alan Rickman. I would love to spend an evening listening to that gorgeous, velvety voice. My favourite film of all time is Truly Madly Deeply – the emotion he was able to convey with just one soulful look! I was so sad when he died. The female would have to be Edith Piaf. Again, a voice that stirs my very soul. The only issue I’d foresee is my choice of venue – it would be an utter waste to take Alan and Edith to a nightclub and have them shouting over the music all night. We wouldn’t be able to hear their voices, which would kind of defeat the object of inviting them. So…would you mind if we spent the whole evening in the pub instead?

I adored Alan Rickman, I would spend an evening in a broom closet with him! Truly, Madly Deeply is an amazing film, but a real tear-jerker! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

At the moment, I’m balancing my writing career with being a specialist SEN teacher/college manager and mum to my two lovely kids. In terms of writing, I started my fourth novel earlier this year. I’m about eighty pages in but have paused to mull over a few important decisions about characters and plot. As with my other novels, this book will explore the themes of social isolation and mental health. I’m passionate about social issues and the lives and rights of people who are marginalised and excluded from our society, which has been the one mainstay of both my teaching and writing careers. My first book, Desperately Seeking Normal, is about a young woman with learning difficulties and her quest for happiness, my second novel, Homecoming, is the story of a couple finding love within the care system and my third novel The Lonely Hearts Crime Club, brings together a disparate group of crimefighters, living in social housing. So, in terms of where this next book is going, I aim to stay true to myself as a writer: this time, I want to explore the themes of domestic abuse and old age but, as with my other books, there will be an uplifting thread and an air of mystery woven throughout the narrative.

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

My proudest moment was most definitely the day that my wonderful publisher, Stephanie Zia at Blackbird Digital Books, said ‘yes’! My first book, That Special Someone (which was revised and retitled Desperately Seeking Normal earlier this year) was so important to me because I’d poured into it all my feelings about motherhood and about teaching young people with special educational needs. It broke my heart every time it was rejected, so getting that magical email from Stephanie was like winning the lottery! My biggest challenge has been writing, working full time and raising my children. When my kids were babies, I would run to my computer every time I put them down for a nap. They’re older now, but I still have to prioritise my family and job over my writing.

I can definitely relate to that juggling act. 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!

If I’m being ambitious, I’d have to aim for The Booker Prize for Fiction. As a filmmaker, I won a Royal Television Society Award for a disability awareness documentary, which was a very proud moment. As a writer, I’ve been nominated for The Guardian Not the Booker Prize, the People’s Book Prize and the Beryl Bainbridge First Novel Award, but I’ve not won anything…yet.

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What have you planned that you are really excited about?

I get excited about writing, so carrying on with my fourth novel is just about as thrilling as it gets for me at the moment. If it wasn’t for lockdown, I’d be planning a lovely family summer holiday and a Christmas show for my students, but neither of those are possible right now.

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’ve been very lucky in that I’ve travelled extensively and lived abroad too. I had a bucket list of places to visit all through my childhood and so, as soon as I finished university, I spent a few years travelling. I would go home to earn money and then I’d be off again: Australia, Asia, America, Europe, travelling, working, holidaying. It was a wonderful time and I’m so glad I was lucky enough to scratch that itch before settling down and becoming a ‘grown-up.’ I don’t have a bucket list now because I can honestly say I’ve done everything I’ve ever wanted to do: travel, make and maintain great friendships, write and publish books, direct films, get married, have kids. I’m so very lucky. I do have a list for my children because I want them to have all the experiences that I was fortunate enough to have. My husband and I had planned to take them to Venice last summer, but we were forced to cancel due to the pandemic. So, Venice is on my list for them, although they would rather to go to Disneyland. I’ll let you know who wins!

Going back to your question, I don’t have a favourite place from my travelling days, but I do have favourite iconic locations, where the reality of a place or monument surpassed my most vivid dreams and expectations. In no particular order: the Taj Mahal, scuba-diving the Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock/Uluru, the Statue of Liberty, the Hollywood sign, watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia. My favourite country is France, as I feel both at home and on holiday when I’m there. Wow, long answer, sorry! You and I would definitely bond over travel with Alan and Edith in that little country pub.

You’ve been to so many of the places on my list, I wish we were having that drink and chat IRL! i have an almost identical photo of myself at the Statue of Liberty! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I was once mistaken for a member of The Spice Girls on a train going to Cannes. I was in my twenties and living in France at the time. Four other English girls and I went on a day trip to the Cannes Film Festival and were mobbed by a group of teenage French boys on the train. We indulged them by posing for photos and signing autographs, each picking the Spice Girl we thought we most resembled. I picked Sporty!

That’s hilarious! 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’?

Love Story by Erich Segal. As a child, I spent my summers at my grandparents’ place in France. They were big readers and their house was full of bookshelves overflowing with Flaubert, Balzac and Stendhal. As a child, I loved reading, but, despite my mum’s best efforts, not in French. One summer, I’d finished all the books I’d brought with me and in desperation, started scouring their bookshelves for an English book. I found Mr Segal’s slim tome and devoured it in one sitting. I then spent the afternoon locked in my bedroom in tears, unable to cope with the beauty and sadness of what I’d just read. So, as the first and last book which has ever made me cry, I recommend Love Story as my one ‘must-read’.

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He is Oliver Barrett IV, a rich jock from a stuffy WASP family on his way to a Harvard degree and a career in law.

She is Jenny Cavilleri, a wisecracking working-class beauty studying music at Radcliffe.

Opposites in nearly every way. But they fell in love.

This is their story.

I have never come across this book, I’ll add it to the list. 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?

Ha ha! Well, my hangovers are actually legendary. My friend once plied me with shots on the dancefloor, assuring me that the cooked breakfast she was planning the next morning would see off any hangover. She was soooo very wrong and I was still being sick the following evening. My failsafe plan is…don’t get drunk (I’ve managed to stick to this since becoming a mum eleven years ago) and, as for a cure, I know of no remedy on earth capable of alleviating my monstrous hangovers!

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

Reading of course! How about a bit of writing thrown in for good measure? And a roast dinner. Oh, and a massage. There. Perfect.

That sounds absolutely perfect. Tanya, this has been a huge pleasure for me, thank you so much for coming on the blog and chatting to me.

In the summer of this year, Tanya’s first novel, That Special Someone, was revised and retitled as Desperately Seeking Normal, with a new cover by her artist husband, Darren Lewis. You can buy a copy here.

Desperately Seeking Normal Cover

Life as the single mum of a child with learning difficulties is tough… but it gets so much harder when puberty hits. To single mum Izzie’s alarm all her daughter Jaya, 18, wants from life is to get married and have babies. This creates a moral dilemma for Izzie: how can she continue to protect her daughter whilst at the same time letting her go?

In the small Midlands town where they live, there is little prospect of meaningful employment or continuing education for Jaya. So, Izzie wonders, would finding a ‘suitable husband’ via an arranged marriage for half-Indian Jaya be so crazy?

But when Jaya falls head over heels for a teaching assistant in her college’s Special Educational Needs department, a disastrous sequence of events is set in motion. Life for Jaya and Izzie is turned around in ways that nobody could ever have foreseen.

Tanya Bullock is a college lecturer, writer and award-winning filmmaker. She lives in the UK with her husband and two children. She has a passion for foreign culture and languages (inherited from her French mother) and, in her youth, travelled extensively throughout Australia, America, Asia and Europe. As a filmmaker, she gained local recognition, including funding and regional television broadcast, through ITV’s First Cut scheme, two nominations for a Royal Television Society Midlands Award, and, in 2010, a Royal Television Society Award in the category of best promotional film. On maternity leave in 2011 and in need of a creative outlet, Tanya began to write That Special Someone, the story of a young woman with learning difficulties and her quest to find love. It was a finalist for The People’s Book Prize and The Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award 2016. In 2020, it was republished and retitled Desperately Seeking Normal. Her second novel, Homecoming, a love story with an unexpected twist, was published in 2016. The Lonely Hearts Crime Club is Tanya’s third novel. A cozy mystery with a shocking finale, it was published in the spring of 2019 and longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize in the same year. All Tanya’s novels are published by Blackbird Digital Books.

You can find out more about Tanya and her work via Facebook and Twitter.

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RNA Media Star of The Year!

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I’m sure most of you will already have heard my fantastic news from yesterday, which is that I was announced as the Media Star of the Year at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Industry Awards. I’m still digesting the news, because it was totally unexpected given the other amazing nominees in the category, but I’ve been floating on cloud nine ever since. Thank you so much to everyone who has congratulated me across all my social media channels since then, I hope I have managed to respond to you all but I may have missed one or two in the chaos. My notifications have never blown up so much, so apologies if anyone slipped through the net.

Normally the awards are announced at the RNA Winter Party but, times being as they are, the presentation was done over Zoom. In many ways this was very sad, because I really missed seeing all my RNA friends and socialising with other industry professionals and bloggers on the night. In fact, due to coronavirus, it has been almost exactly a year since I have seen most of my writer friends in person at last year’s party, and I miss them all very much. This was the view from my hotel room last year, right by the Tower of London, which reminded me of what I was missing.

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Still, the one advantage of not being there in person that no one could see the fact that I actually shed a tiny tear when I realised I had won. Public crying is never a good look! All the nominees had to record an acceptance speech in advance, in case we won, which was an odd thing to have to do. Watching mine, all I could think was that I should have worn more makeup and smiled a bit more! My bookshelves which were behind me got a lot of love afterwards though.

It’s really hard to say how much this award means to me, and how stunned I was to get it. I set up my blog towards the end of 2016. I had discovered book blogs earlier that year (I know, late to the party or what?) and started following a couple of people. Emma Welton at damp pebbles and Kaisha Holloway at The Writing Garnet were two that really stood out to me and, after a while I thought maybe this was something I would like to do to keep track of my reading. I started blogging properly in January 2017, although I had no clue what I was doing to start with and it was all a bit hit and miss. Gradually, I discovered more and more bloggers, got involved with some blog tours and began to find my feet. And it was other bloggers that I learnt from, who guided me, welcomed me into the community, inspired and supported me to enable me to get to this point. I am not very good at keeping track day to day of who shares my posts but I hope me returning the favour lets you know how much I appreciate all your support and I am going to take this opportunity to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making me feel welcome in your world, supporting me and becoming my friends. Being part of this community has given me so much pleasure over the last four years.

The first blogger I met in person was actually Anne Williams of Being Anne, at the RNA York Tea in September 2018. She was immediately friendly and welcoming. Anne was the RNA Media Star last year, and was nominated again this year, which is a fantastic achievement and shows how much she does to promote romantic fiction and how valued she is by the community. To stand alongside her, a titan of book blogging, was a huge honour.

One of the other nominees, Rachel Gilbey, is possibly the most well-known blogger name in romance. Not only does she blog herself at Rachel’s Random Reads, but she also runs a fabulous blog tour organising business in Rachel’s Random Resources, the go to promoter for romance. Rachel was one of the first people to trust me, as a newbie blogger, with reviewing books and she has become a great friend over the past few years. She is also an absolute minx at getting me to agree to blog tours when I have decided I’m not putting any more in the diary, so she is definitely someone you want promoting your book. I love her to bits and she has been nominated for this award three times now. What a massive achievement that is.

The final nominees were the team from #UKRomChat, who are an amazing group and do so much to promote romantic fiction. Jeanna was the very first one to congratulate me personally yesterday, and this was their second nomination in a row too. Given who I was up against, is it any wonder that I was having to pinch myself at winning? Congratulations to all of you, it is such a privilege for me to be in that company.

Aside from all the amazing bloggers who have inspired and supported me, my blog would be nothing without three other groups of people. Firstly, the publishers who put their trust in me and allow me to read their books in advance and help launch them into the world. It is a massive privilege always to get hold of an advance copy of a book and one I never take for granted. There are so many fabulous publishers out there, big and small, battling against the odds to keep bringing us fantastic escapism in book form, and I think we’ve all realised just how important this is over the course of the year, so thanks for letting me be involved.

Secondly, the authors. I’d have nothing to write about if you weren’t writing, and nothing to do with my free time or, indeed, keep me sane. Between the covers of a book has been my happy place since I first learnt to turn the pages, and you are the ones that bring me that joy. As well as that, I appreciate all the time you take to put together guest posts, or answer my ridiculous questions for my various blog features. I am never in doubt that the quality of content on my blog depends largely on the quality of what you produce for me to talk about and share. So thank you all.

Finally, my readers. Without you, I’d be shouting into the void like a crazy person. Every time you read, like, share and comment it makes me happy and feel like the work is worth it. I never take you for granted.

Finally, a huge thank you again to the RNA for this award. I discovered the RNA at roughly the same time as this blog started, although it took me a while to pluck up courage to apply to the NWS. Since then, I have been taken to the bosom of the loveliest, friendliest, most sociable and supportive bunch of people you could ever wish to meet and I have enjoyed every second I have spent with all of you. This award is just the icing on an already delicious cake and I am just delighted with it.

I have heard the RNA Chair, Alison May, talk about how, when she joined the RNA, she had ‘found her people.’ I feel like this about the publishing world in general, and the book blogging and RNA communities in particular. Whenever all the crappy news of what is going on currently in this chaotic world gets too much, I know that books, and the book community are going to be a place of refuge and positivity, which is something priceless.

So, now I have written a blog post gushing enough to rival even Sally Field’s cringe-worthy 1985 Oscar-acceptance speech, I am done with the sentiment. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

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Publication Day: One By One by Ruth Ware #BookReview

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It’s finally here! It’s Publication Day for One By One by Ruth Ware, her fantastic new thriller. I am a massive fan of Ruth’s books, so I was absolutely thrilled to be invited to be part of the team promoting her latest novel. I want to thank Graeme Williams of Graeme Williams Marketing for the opportunity and Harvill Secker and Vintage Books for my advance copy of the novel, which I am reviewing for you today, honestly and impartially.

Have a very happy Publication Day, Ruth!

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Snow is falling in the exclusive alpine ski resort of Saint Antoine, as the shareholders and directors of Snoop, the hottest new music app, gather for a make or break corporate retreat to decide the future of the company. At stake is a billion-dollar dot com buyout that could make them all millionaires, or leave some of them out in the cold.

The clock is ticking on the offer, and with the group irrevocably split, tensions are running high. When an avalanche cuts the chalet off from help, and one board member goes missing in the snow, the group is forced to ask – would someone resort to murder, to get what they want?

I love to ski, but I’ve only ever stayed in ski hotels, in the heart of bustling resorts with lots of other cheery people and lively apres-ski activity. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to stay in an exclusive chalet, waited on hand and foot and with every luxury at your fingertips after a hard day on the slopes. Well, now I’ve read this book, oppressive, isolated and lonely are the words that spring to mind. I think I’ll stick to my cheap and cheerful accommodation!

Set in the tiny ski resort of Antoine 2000, the book opens with the two chalet hosts, Erin and Danny, setting up the luxury chalet for its latest guests, the management team of hip, music-sharing app, Snoop. The atmosphere begins off in a laid-back way, with Danny and Erin laughing and joking and relaxing in their surroundings, getting to enjoy the luxury themselves for a few hours. This all provides the reader with a false sense of warmth and security, which makes the flip to the nightmarish reality later in the book all the more horrifying.

Once the Snoop team arrive, it becomes clear that they aren’t an altogether pleasant bunch, and that there are tensions running rife through the group with regard to the running of the business and where it is headed. I loved the idea of Snoop, and being able to nosy in on what music other people are listening to in real time. Is this a little insight into who people really are, or would it make individuals feel they had to maintain a facade, even in their private time? This is an interesting theme explored in the book, the difference between the public face we choose to show the world, and who we really are underneath, what truths about ourselves are we hiding.

Anyone who has read any of Ruth’s books before will know that she is the queen of the page-turner. Her chapters are short and snappy, full of action, always driving the plot forward and it is so easy and tempting to read ‘just one more chapter, just one more,’ until your realise you haven’t looked up for a couple of hours and you are halfway through the book. There is always something at the end of one chapter that means you have to read the next, making the book very pacy and addictive. I could have read it in a single sitting, if sleep hadn’t got in the way.

I really loved One By One, it gave me everything I want from a gripping thriller. Fast-paced plot, oppressive atmosphere, clever set up that looks like it gives the protagonist no way out of their predicament, shocking turns of event, cleverly built and atmospheric location, secrets, lies, dilemmas, a mix of likeable and unlikeable characters and a shocking conclusion. I did have my suspicions about who was to blame for what was going on from quite early on, but this did not in anyway detract from my enjoyment of the book or the sense of tension built in the narrative. It is one of those books that you race through to get to the end because you have to know what happens, and then wish you could go back to the beginning and read it for the first time all over again. Excellent stuff.

One By One is out today in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here.

Tonight I will be attending the online launch party for the book, so watch out for reports from that across my social media channels.

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About the Author

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Ruth Ware is an international number one bestseller. Her thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, The Death of Mrs Westaway, The Turn of the Key and One by One have appeared on bestseller lists around the world, including the Sunday Times and New York Times, and she is published in more than 40 languages. Ruth lives near Brighton with her family.

Connect with Ruth:

Website: https://ruthware.com/

Facebook: Ruth Ware Writer

Twitter: @RuthWareWriter

Instagram: @ruthwarewriter

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Guest Post: Pandemonium by Gail Aldwin; Illustrated by Fiona Zechmeister

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Peta doesn’t look like other pandas in the toy department because of her purple coat. This provides camouflage and enables her to get up to mischief. When an assistant spots Peta this puts an end to her tricks. Peta must learn more about herself … but does this stop Peta’s fun? Of course not!

I don’t usually feature children’s books on the blog, but Gail showed me this cute book about a panda and I was sold! Today Gail has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you on writing this lovely children’s book.

It’s Pandemonium: the high points of writing a children’s picture book

When I set out in 2009 to become a novelist, I never imagined I would also have a children’s picture book published. Writing for children was the last thing on my mind! But as my journey to become a published author progressed, I found that writing in different genres such as poetry and short fiction was good creative writing exercise and helped build stamina for longer projects including the completion of my coming-of-age debut novel The String Games. I first thought about writing Pandemonium in 2015 when I was working as a lecturer delivering input on children’s books to students at the University of South Wales. Over the years the idea for a cheeky panda causing havoc in a department store developed. The proposal for a full colour children’s picture book aimed at 2–7 year olds was accepted by Victorina Press and Fiona Zechmeister appointed as the illustrator. It was then the intensive work began and a publication date of 1 December 2020 agreed.

Working in collaboration

I’ve always enjoyed collaborative writing and have co-written comedy sketches for performance with 3-She over several years. Working with an illustrator is a different sort of partnership so I was pleased to have experience of Fiona’s work. She created the cover image for The String Games using some of my ideas. Through this process we built rapport and trust that enabled us to take on a new venture. Fiona had previously illustrated two children’s picture books for Victorina Press so she came to the project with ideas and knowledge.

Creating an open dialogue

Fiona and I worked hard to develop an open dialogue throughout the drafting and redrafting process. In a children’s picture book, the words tell one story while the illustrations tell a parallel but more nuanced version. In order to get the balance right, sometimes the words needed to be changed and at other times the illustrations required tweaking. We developed a good partnership where honest feedback could be shared and acted upon.

Celebrating the end product

It’s been really gratifying to the read early reviews for Pandemonium from parents, carers and their children. The illustrations are rightly admired and the comedy in the book noted. The story also works hard to convey an important message, that it’s okay to be yourself.

Thank you, Julie, for giving me the opportunity to share the practice Fiona and I have developed in collaborating Pandemonium.

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Thank you for sharing that experience with is, Gail. If you have been sold on Pandemonium, you can buy a copy via the Victorina Press shop.

Victorina Press Seasonal Promotion 

Order Pandemonium or any other Victorina Press titles including The String Games directly from the publisher, and you’ll receive 30% discount by entering the coupon code XMAS2020 (one use per customer). Please support this small independent press in their mission to discover unheard voices and promote diversity. 

Praise for Pandemonium

Pandemonium is absolutely delightful! Peta the panda is stuffed full of fun and young ones will adore her.

Wendy White, Tir na n-Og Award Winner

The beautiful illustrations are full of movement and excitement, and the joyous story will appeal to young children and their parents.

Liz Poulain, children’s author and illustrator

About the Author

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Novelist, poet and scriptwriter, Gail Aldwin’s coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and shortlisted in the Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize 2020. Gail lives with her family in a house that overlooks water meadows in Dorset.

Connect with Gail:

Website: https://gailaldwin.com/

Facebook: Gail Aldwin

Twitter: @gailaldwin

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About the Illustrator

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Fiona holds a degree in Visual Communication and a Masters in Publishing from the University of Derby. She works as an illustrator creating book covers and children’s books. Pandemonium is the third children’s picture book Fiona has illustrated. The others are I am Adila from Gaza and Songo.

Connect with Fiona:

Website: https://www.fionazeich.net/

Twitter: @fionazeichnet

Instagram: @fionazeichnet

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Blog Tour: Carrion by Graeme Cumming #BookReview

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CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY. WORDS HAVE POWER.

A sheet of black filled his vision as hundreds of birds dived at the cottage, pointed beaks thrust forward. From this angle, he couldn’t see many of them striking it, but the few he did see held nothing back as they hammered into the shutter. The scale of the attack was beyond anything he’d seen or heard of. And bloodied casualties littered the ground: skulls shattered, wings broken, innards spilling from them. The fact that so many of them continued with the onslaught in spite of this filled him with even more dread.

Salin has always wanted an adventure and, when the opportunity presents itself, he grabs it with both hands, taking his friends along for the ride – whether they want to or not.

With strange lands come strange creatures that stand between them and their goal. And that goal is the same for someone else, a man who believes the prize is worth every sacrifice – especially when the sacrifices are made by others.

The future is about to change. But who for?

I am so delighted today to be taking part in the blog tour for Carrion by Graeme Cumming. My thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Tours for giving me a place on the tour, and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Let me tell you a little story. Two years ago, I agreed to take part in the blog tour for a book by an author I had never read before. I promptly failed to put the tour in my diary and blithely forgot all about it until the tour organiser emailed me the day after my post was due to ask me what had happened. This was the first time I had ever failed to post a review on time and I was absolutely mortified. I went and grovelled to the author, who was grace and charm personified, read and reviewed the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I made a new friend.

That book was Graeme’s last novel, Ravens Gathering (you can read my review here), and since then, I have had the pleasure of meeting Graeme in person. He comes across as the most mild, kind, unassuming person you could wish to meet. Which leads to the question, where the hell is the part of him that wrote this book hiding day to day?

This book is impossible to categorise. Is it horror? (Bits of it definitely are.) Is it fantasy? Is it a thriller? Is it some type of dystopian morality tale? Is it just all of these things mixed together? It is certainly unlike anything you will have read before. The closest I can get to describing it is Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones meets The Birds. It was completely outside my reading comfort zone, but I was thoroughly gripped from start to finish.

The book starts of very Hobbit-like with four people (?) setting off on some kind of quest. I wasn’t sure who they were to begin with, and for the first few chapters you have to concentrate quite hard to sort out who is who and what is going on, as the narrative jumps between quite a few different viewpoints, and there is no clear definition of who is doing what or why. Eventually, all is revealed, but you do need to stick with it to begin with until it shakes itself out. There is plenty of action to keep you occupied while the strands arrange themselves, and I found the book really gripping from the off, and it only got more and more so as it went along. By the end, the strain on my nerves was almost too much to bear, because I absolutely NEEDED things to work out a certain way, such was my absolute loathing for one of the characters, but I wasn’t sure it was going to end to my satisfaction.

The book is a visceral read. I know I referred to LOTR, but the violence level is definitely more George R. R. Martin than J. R. R. Tolkein. Graeme is not shy about bumping off what appear to be central characters, or people you have grown attached to, and he does it in some imaginatively gory ways. There is a strong element of horror in the book, particularly in the first half, and I felt this very strongly. It was oppressive and nerve-shredding, not a book for relaxing in the bath with for sure. If you want something to get the adrenaline pumping, this is it.

Graeme has done some fantastic world-building in this book, I could really picture the setting for the novel and completely bought into it. There are a lot of interesting ideas explored here, and some really well-constructed characters. He may have created the most hateful antagonist of any book I have come across in a long while, which has the effect of making the reader totally invested in the outcome of the quest. The whole thing came together very effectively, and I am really pleased for him, because I know this book has been a labour of love.

This book isn’t going to be for everyone, but it is very original, action-packed, immersive and evocative. I hope lots of people pick it up and experience it for themselves, because it is unlike anything else you will have read this year.

Carrion is out now and you can buy your copy here, if you dare!

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About the Author

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Graeme Cumming lives in Robin Hood country, and has spent most of his life immersed in fiction – books, TV, movies – turning to writing his own during his early teens.

With his interests in story-telling sparked by an excessive amount of time sitting in front of a black and white television, his tastes are varied.  Influences ranged from the Irwin Allen shows (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, etc.) to ITC series (The Saint, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) and so many more), so the common theme was action and adventure, but crossed into territories including horror, fantasy and science fiction as well as crime and espionage.

 This diverse interest in fiction continued with his reading and his discovery of the magical world of cinema.  As a result, his stories don’t always fall into a specific genre, but will always maintain the style of a thriller.

When not writing, Graeme is an enthusiastic sailor (and, by default, swimmer), and enjoys off-road cycling and walking.  He is currently Education Director at Sheffield Speakers Club.  Oh yes, and he reads (a lot) and loves the cinema.

Connect with Graeme:

Website: https://www.graemecumming.co.uk/

Facebook: Graeme Cumming

Twitter: @GraemeCumming63

Instagram: @graeme_cumming_author

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Kendra Smith

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Today I am delighted to be quizzing author Kendra Smith on what being a romance author means for her.

Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I write commercial women’s fiction. I try to write the kind of books that I like to read. A bit funny, a bit sad, books with a dollop of hope and ones that I’d like to think reflect life – and always with one or two characters looking for love – maybe that’s to love themselves, or someone else, or exploring the love in and of their family. That’s an important theme for me. I’m published by Aria Fiction, and I have written four books (fourth due out next year, just gone to editor, so fingers crossed!)

Why romance?

I think some of the best stories are romantic. It doesn’t always have to be happy ever after, but aren’t we all looking for a bit of romance? It’s the glue that binds us all together as humans; who’s not looking for love in their life?

What inspires your stories?

Real life! And also there may be snippets I overhear, a soundbite from the radio, or something that piques my interest from a feature I’ve read in the Sunday papers (that’s when I get the chance to read them…) and I think, ‘I wonder,’ or ‘what if..?’ and then I start toying with ideas, car journeys or walks become thinking time, figuring out what my characters would do in various situations. And, of course, when I read other writers, that inspires me too.

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

I used to read Jilly Cooper’s novels as a girl, ones like Imogen or Harriet at home, then while at school it was Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice. On the other side of the spectrum, along came Helen Fielding who made 20-somethings laugh out loud as she charted Bridget Jones’s romantic escapades… and of course I love Marian Keyes who writes about life and love; and Jojo Moyes and Jill Mansell, Sarah Morgan, Sue Moorcroft, Lucy Diamond and I loved Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare, oh and so many more!

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

One romance novel: That’s too hard, sorry! (see above!)

Which romantic hero would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

Now, the problem is that I have created romantic heroes in my books that I’d like to spend time with – and I feel I know them so well! Daniel, in A Year of Second Chances would be someone I’d like to get to know. He’s the Indiana Jones who comes home… I’d go white water rafting with him!

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Three Women. Three very different lives. One life-changing adventure.

Charlie is a single mum unlucky in life. Her multiple jobs make barely enough to feed the family cat, never mind being able to give her son the life he deserves. So when an opportunity to make a lot of cash comes along, she simply has to take it.

Suzie has always wanted to be a mother. But fate has been cruel and now time is running out. Soon her final frozen egg will be destroyed and her last chance of having a baby will go with it. With her husband resolved to their childless life Suzie takes matters into her own hands.

Dawn is about to turn fifty and seems to have misplaced her mojo along with the car keys. But with an interfering mother-in-law and a gaggle of judgemental mums at her children’s school, it’s proving harder to find than a decent fitting bra. Especially after a series of highly embarrassing incidents…

Over the course of a year three lives are about to collide and as they do be prepared to laugh, cry and fall in love with these women as they discover how life can give you a second chance.

What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

I love being part of the community there – whether it’s the New Writers’ Scheme I was part of for a time, the parties , the Conferences, and of course the online support. It’s like a big, extended family! I have met lots of friends through the RNA, and received so much support from the whole organisation and of course it has led to useful talks and meetings with industry professionals to help my career. They also provide that boost when you least expect it. This year I was shortlisted for the Elizabeth Goudge Award for my fourth book. That was a real treat.

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

One piece of advice? Enjoy your writing!

Tell us about your latest book.

Take A Look At Me Now is an uplifting, romantic adventure and you can buy a copy here.

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Out with the old…

Maddie Brown has spent most of her life putting everyone else’s needs above her own. But with her marriage crumbling and her nest scarily empty, she realises it may be time to spread her own wings and fly.

In with the… ex?

At a university reunion, Maddie meets Greg. He was the love of her life – and the one that got away. Some things never change, and neither of them can deny the feelings that linger between them. But there are so many reasons they can’t be together… not least the massive secret she has been keeping from him all these years. 

Maddie is SO ready for a brand new start. But what do you do when the past just won’t stay in the past?

About the Author

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When she is not writing, Kendra spends her time looking for odd socks and other random duties associated with being the mother of three boys. She has lived and worked in Sydney and London and has been a writer and journalist for over 20 years. She currently lives in Surrey and moves from keyboard to cooker with ease. She can rustle up a 90,000 word novel, but finds it hard not to burn boiled eggs. 

Connect with Kendra:

Facebook: Kendra Smith Author

Twitter: @KendraAuthor

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Guest Post: One By One by Ruth Ware

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It’s Publication Week for the new novel by Ruth Ware! One By One is out this Thursday and, as a huge fan of Ruth’s books, I am thrilled to be part of the team celebrating publication of her new book. There is lots going on across social media this week, including my review coming on publication day, and coverage of Ruth’s launch party. But, for today, I am delighted to have some exclusive content to share with you.

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Snow is falling in the exclusive alpine ski resort of Saint Antoine, as the shareholders and directors of Snoop, the hottest new music app, gather for a make or break corporate retreat to decide the future of the company. At stake is a billion-dollar dot com buyout that could make them all millionaires, or leave some of them out in the cold.

The clock is ticking on the offer, and with the group irrevocably split, tensions are running high. When an avalanche cuts the chalet off from help, and one board member goes missing in the snow, the group is forced to ask – would someone resort to murder, to get what they want?

Doesn’t that sound amazing? Don’t you want to read it immediately? I can’t wait to share my review with you on Thursday. However, for today, I am just going to whet your appetite with an exclusive profile of one of the characters from the book, prepared by Ruth.

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So, now I know you want to read this book even more, don’t you? Well, there are only three days left to go before you can get your hands on your own copy of One By One by Ruth Ware. Pre-order your copy here now.

Please do keep watching the blog and social media for more news about Ruth’s latest book this week.

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