Blog Tour: Heartcross Castle by Christie Barlow

Heartcross Castle

Apologies to everyone for the late posting of this review but I am delighted to finally be sharing my review of Heartcross Castle, the latest book in the Love Heart Lane series by Christie Barlow. Thank you to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on to the tour and her patience in waiting for this review, and to the author and the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially. Apologies again for the delay in posting and thanks for your understanding.

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Love Heart Lane – where friends are there for you no matter what

A second chance…

When her grandfather Marley passes away Grace Power discovers she’s been left the beautiful but crumbling estate of Heartcross Castle. As a single mum of three, Grace has no idea what she’s going to do with it – but who can say no to a roof over their kids’ heads and a chance to get away from past hurts?

And a forever home

Heartcross Castle is full of secrets – especially a lost security deposit box that holds the truth to everything… But when celebrity chef Andrew Glossop sets his eyes on the castle and, to make matters worse, mistakes Grace as the new housekeeper, Grace tells him there is absolutely NO CHANCE he is getting his hands on her home.

Devastated to have got it so wrong, Andrew will do anything to make it up to her – but is she willing to listen?

I am a huge fan of Christie’s Love Heart Lane series and I think this might be my favourite book in the series so far. It has the perfect combination of escapist setting, romantic tension, relatable characters and touching, emotional moments that make the ideal romantic read.

From the minute the book starts, Grace was a character that captured my heart and my sympathy, and I was with her on her journey throughout the book. As the mother of three young boys struggling with relationship issues, she feels so alone and I could relate to the sense of responsibility she felt for her kids, getting them out of the terrible situation they are in and building a better life for all of them. Christie really captures the agonies of being a single parent of young children, the heartbreak of not being able to give them everything you want them to have and having to deal with every crisis and problem by yourself, often not knowing how you are going to get through. You can really feel Grace’s pain through the pages.

Fans of the series will know that this is where the amazing community that Christie has built in Heartcross will come to the rescue. Honestly, it has now got to the stage that I have to remind myself that these are fictional characters and not a real set of people I am catching up with. I am so invested in this series and all the goings on in Heartcross that reading one of the books is like sitting down for a coy catch up with those old pals you having seen in a while but you know so well. The community welcomes Grace back with open arms and starts to help her rebuild, and it is nothing less than we expect.

The relationships in this book are what make it, and they are all beautiful. Grace and her boys, her old friends, and particularly that between Grace and Hector. Their interactions brought me to the verge of tears several times because the way they interacted was just so lovely. I love a book which explores relationships of all kinds, not just romantic ones, and this is where the people who are dismissive of romance novels are mistaken. There is always so much more going on in these books than a love story, and this book is a prime example of the complexity of issues that can be explored.

That’s not to say that the romance isn’t important. Andrew is a great love interest for Grace, but the romance is secondary to the other bonds Grace rediscovers in this book, and that is the way it should be. Romantic relationships are not the be all and end all of life, all our relationships support and nurture us in different and equally important ways.

Of course the setting is always a big draw in the Love Heart Lane books and, getting to explore inside the walls of Heartcross Castle was great fun. Christie has let her imagination run wild in the novel and has added all the fun quirks and secrets you would wish for in a Scottish castle. When I read things like this, it reminds me of the aspect of writing which most appeals to me, being able to create the world as you wish it existed, just because it makes you and your readers happy. This is what true escapism is, and escapist reading is sometimes just what we all need. 

Heartcross Castle is out now in ebook and audiobook formats, and will be available in paperback in March. You can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the blog tour:

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About the Author

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Christie Barlow is the number one international bestselling author of fifteen romantic comedies including the iconic Love Heart Lane Series, A Home at Honeysuckle Farm and Kitty’s Countryside Dream. She lives in a ramshackle cottage in a quaint village in the heart of Staffordshire with her four children and two dogs.

Her writing career has come as a lovely surprise when Christie decided to write a book to teach her children a valuable life lesson and show them that they are capable of achieving their dreams. Christie’s dream was to become a writer and the book she wrote to prove a point went on to become a #1 international bestseller in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.

When Christie isn’t writing she co-presents The Book Show on Radio Northwich, enjoys playing the piano, is a keen gardener and loves to paint and upcycle furniture.

Christie is an ambassador for the @ZuriProject alongside Patron of the charity, Emmerdale’s Bhasker Patel. They raise money and awareness for communities in Uganda.

Connect with Christie:

Facebook: Christie Barlow

Twitter: @ChristieJBarlow

Instagram: @christie_barlow

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Blog Tour: The Woman Who Came Back To Life by Beth Miller

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Pearl Flowers has been hiding away for so long that she has forgotten what real life is like. Her quiet routine in a woodland cottage in France is a sanctuary, far away from her past life running a beauty salon. But even when she is sitting at the foot of a beech tree with her drawing pad, surrounded by birdsong, her mind is never still. If she keeps herself distracted and far away, her past can’t hurt her… can it?

But then an unexpected phone call throws her calm world into chaos. Back in the UK, her estranged father Francis is dying. She hasn’t seen him for decades since he pushed her away and destroyed their family. And on his death-bed, Francis leaves her a gift – a diary, written in a code that only Pearl can understand.

As she begins to read her father’s diary, Pearl discovers that for forty years he had been thinking of her almost every day. And as she reads on, secrets begin to emerge from the pages causing her to question everything she thought she knew.

Reeling from the diary’s revelations, Pearl realises that the only way to heal and find true happiness is to face the past. But is she ready to confront her deepest secret, the one she’s been running from all this time?

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour for The Woman Who Came Back To Life by Beth Miller today. My thanks to Jess Readett at Bookouture for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I never start reading a Beth Miller novel without making sure that I have a supply of tissues close at hand, and I’m really glad I took that precaution on this occasion as I needed them. This author has a real knack of getting to the heart of human emotions and displaying them vividly on the page in a way that will pierce even the stoniest of hearts. Since I am basically an emotionally susceptible ball of mush at the best of times, her writing always reduces me to a sobbing puddle.

In this book we meet Pearl, a woman in the middle of her life who is forced against her will to confront the problems that have been stalking her dysfunctional family for the past forty years when they are drawn back together by the death of her estranged father. Gradually, over the course of the novel, all of the families long buried secrets are exposed, faces and events from the past come back to haunt Pearl, and everyone is forced to deal with issues they were hoping could stay buried but which, now they are in the open, could provide opportunities for everyone to move on.

The exploration of human relationships, be those romantic, familial or between friends, are the foundations of all Beth Miller’s writing and she has a really acute eye for what makes people tick and how these bonds are forged, broken and what effect this has on people. Her characters are strong, rounded and always authentic and anyone who picks up one of her books will recognise themselves, other people they know, relationship dynamics they have experienced or life events they have gone through in her writing. This book in particular resonated very deeply with me because one of the events affecting Pearl is something that has also impacted greatly on my life and the reactions of herself and those around her were so familiar to me that it brought all the emotion relating to that event rushing back. In this way, reading can be a cathartic experience and is one of the things I most appreciate about authors writing authentically about difficult issues.

I love the fact that the protagonist in this book is a woman of a similar age to myself. As I get older, I love to see books featuring more mature characters and exploring all the wealth of life experience we have amassed by this age. When you are young, you think adults have everything sussed out and nothing exciting ever happens because life is sorted out. Once you get here, you know that this isn’t the case and all that has happened is that we have accrued a lot more baggage to sort through, which makes for fascinating reading.

This is the most fantastic, emotional, moving and mature novel and it really touched me. It is a beautiful illustration of how life and families work, it feels very real and honest without being maudlin and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of novel.

The Woman Who Came Back To Life is available now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to check out some of the reviews by my fellow bloggers taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

Beth Miller for website

I have been told that I write like a tall blonde, so that’s how I’d like you to picture me.

I’ve published five novels. The most recent, ‘Starstruck’, came out in August 2021. The previous one, ‘The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright’, was a top twenty Kindle bestseller. I’ve also published two non-fiction books. I work as a book coach and creative writing tutor.

Before writing books, I did a lot of different jobs. I worked in schools, shops, offices, hospitals, students’ unions, basements, from home, in my car, and up a tree. OK, not up a tree. I’ve been a sexual health trainer, a journalist, a psychology lecturer, a PhD student, a lousy alcohol counsellor, and an inept audio-typist. I sold pens, bread, and condoms. Not in the same shop. I taught parents how to tell if their teenagers are taking drugs (clue: they act like teenagers), and taught teenagers how to put on condoms (clue: there won’t really be a cucumber). I taught rabbis how to tell if their teenagers are druggedly putting condoms on cucumbers.

Throughout this, I always wrote, and always drank a lot of tea. I’m now pretty much unbeatable at drinking tea.

Connect with Beth:

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

Facebook: Beth Miller Author

Twitter: @drbethmiller

Instagram: @beth_miller_author

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Blog Tour: Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen; Translated by Don Bartlett

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I’m delighted to be taking part in my first blog tour of the year for the new book in the Varg Veum series by Gunnar Staalesen, Bitter Flowers. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for offering me a place on the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially as always.

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PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when three complex crimes land on his desk.

A man is found dead in an elite swimming pool. A young woman has gone missing. Most chillingly, Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.

As the threads of these three apparently unrelated cases come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.

What a fabulous way to start off the blogging year. This is my first Varg Veum novel, but it definitely won’t be the last one I read, as I was completely sucked in to his world.

Coming in to the series completely cold, it took me a little while to sort out what Varg’s situation was and who he was as a character, but that just made me more intrigued by the book. We are dropped straight into the action as there is the discovery of a corpse and a disappearance in the first couple of pages, and we are introduced to Varg’s fractious relationship with the local police in Bergen. In the best traditions of hard-boiled PIs, Varg can’t resist getting involved in situations that should really be left to the police and inveigles his way into the heart of the investigation, managing to get information that the police struggle to access, because he doesn’t have to do things by the book.

There were three particular aspects of this novel that particularly made this book stand out from a run-of-the-mill PI novel. The first was the intricacy and complexity of the plot. Taking the very topical issue of climate change and ecological protest as one of its central plot points, Gunnar weaves together two different crimes to make a story of such devious twistedness that I truly had no idea what was behind the crimes or who was the perpetrator at any point and I would never have got to the conclusion by myself in a million years. The author clearly has a mind like a fiendish labyrinth and how he managed to keep it all straight as he was writing is a skill I would like to learn. I think I need to go back and try and find all the clues I missed the first time now I know how it unravels.

The second aspect I loved was the writing. For a dark crime novel, the writing is utterly poetic. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book in this genre where the author manages to wax so lyrical about landscape, people and feelings and have it sit so naturally beside the darker aspects of the plot. It was a real pleasure to read, and made the book stand out for me as a literary cut above the herd.

Finally, and probably most appealing to me, was the beautiful evocation and exploration of the landscape of Norway. The book really brings it to life and it is fascinating to me as a country that is so vastly different to our own. A place of vast wilderness, where travel by ferry is as natural as taking a bus or train. Where being surrounded by nature is the norm and the populace really appreciate and revel in the natural landscape that surrounds them. It is a place that fascinates me and which features at the top of my bucket list, and I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in the sense of place which this book evoked. A book that was transportative in so many different ways.

This book has set a high standard for the coming year and I highly recommend it to fans of Nordic Noir, who are looking for a novel that represents the pinnacle of the genre.

Bitter Flowers will be published on 21 January and you can pre-order your copy from all good bookshops or online here.

Please do check out the rest of the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Granite Noir fest 2017. Gunnar Staalesen.

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty titles, which have been published in twenty-four countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour); Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for Nordic Crime Fiction, and Big Sister was shortlisted in 2019. He lives with his wife in Bergen.

About the Translator

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Don Bartlett lives with his family in a village in Norfolk. He completed an MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia in 2000 and has since worked with a wide variety of Danish and Norwegian authors, including Jo Nesbø and Karl Ove Knausgaard. He has previously translated The Consort of DeathCold HeartWe Shall Inherit the WindWhere Roses Never Die and Wolves in the Dark in the Varg Veum series.

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Blog Tour: Fall by West Camel

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My final blog tour of 2022, where did that year go? And what a wonderful book to be rounding off the year, it’s Fall by West Camel. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for offering me a spot and to Orenda Books for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Fall proof cover

Twins Aaron and Clive have been estranged for forty years. Aaron still lives in the empty, crumbling tower block on the riverside in Deptford where they grew up. Clive is a successful property developer, determined to turn the tower into luxury flats.

But Aaron is blocking the plan and their petty squabble becomes something much greater when two ghosts from the past – twins Annette and Christine – appear in the tower. At once, the desolate estate becomes a stage on which the events of one scorching summer are relived – a summer that changed their lives forever.

Evocative, thought-provoking and exquisitely written, Fall is an unforgettable story of friendship and family – of perception, fear and prejudice, the events that punctuate our journeys into adulthood, and the indelible scars they leave…

I’ve had an absolutely horrible couple of weeks for various reasons and, as a result, have been subsisting on a literary diet of only Christmas books in an effort to cheer myself up and force a festive mood. Stepping outside of this groove and into the world of Fall was a jolt to the system, one which has left me profoundly moved, unsettled and with a lingering questioning about the story I have just read. I’ve left part of my soul in the world of Fall, and replaced it with a piece of the book.

There are so many ideas and issues explored in this book, that it’s hard to take in all in in the first reading, I know it is a book that needs to be returned to to squeeze all of the nuance out of it. However, the overriding theme that drew my focus and attention on the first reading was family. Familial relationships, how those bonds are forged, what makes them strong and what can break them. How much can you ever really know and understand another person, even one with whom you shared a womb, and how much do you trust them, when the bonds of trust are stretched to their limits?

The main characters in this book, twins Aaron and Clive, and their forceful mother, Zoe, are some of the most perfectly drawn characters I have read in a very long time, and it is the beauty and strength and believability of these characters that carried this book and makes it so compelling. The relationships just feel so truthful and honest. As the step-mother of a pair of twins who are currently of the age that Aaron and Clive are in 1976, when the catalytic event of the book takes place, I can see how honest the portrayal of the relationship between them is. Two people, whose lives have been completely entwined since birth, beginning to pull away and forge different paths, and then a dramatic turn of events forces a fracture. I totally bought in to the story and it slightly cracked my heart, because I can see how harmful the situation is. The actions of their mother were astounding to me, it was so obvious how damaging they could prove, and she immediately became a different, and more complex and interesting character in my eyes. The whole story left me with an aching heart and, what more can you ask from a novel, than it really makes you feel something?

West’s writing is beautiful and lyrical and illuminating. He brought not only the people but also the setting to vivid life. I have such a clear picture of the housing estate, the people that live there and the dynamic between all of the characters. This is a book that is living and breathing and vital, and reading it is an immersive and active activity, not a passive experience. I practically inhaled the novel in one sitting, not wanting to break the spell that the author wove around me, not wanting to extricate myself from the world into which he had drawn me so completely.

This is a dark, gritty and painful story of mistrust and abandonment, of broken relationships and painful experiences but, at the same time, I completely loved it. Because it was such an emotive reading experience, because it has left me with a lingering disquiet but a perverse desire to go back and draw more from the story. Because it profoundly affected me in so many different ways. A masterclass in how to write a novel. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Fall is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Do make sure you check out some of the other fabulous blogs that have taken part in the epic tour for this book, as detailed below:

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About the Author

West Camel

Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist, and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his work as editorial director at Orenda with editing The Riveter magazine and #RivetingReviews for the European Literature Network.

He has also written several short scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres, and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. His debut novel, Attend was published in 2018, and was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize and longlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award. His second novel, Fall will be published in December 2021.

Connect with West:

Website: https://www.westcamel.net

Twitter: @west_camel

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Lynne Shelby

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The final ever Romancing The Romance Authors! It’s been great fun doing this feature over the past 18 months but it’s retiring now, ready for a new feature in January. Let’s send it off with a bang by talking romance with author… Lynne Shelby.

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

I write contemporary romance set in the world of theatre and film or in a foreign location that I have enjoyed visiting. I was first published in 2015, when my debut novel, French Kissing, won a national writing competition and since then I have had four more novels published. I am currently editing my sixth novel, Rome for the Summer, which will be published in 2022.

Why romance?

Before I wrote romance, I tried my hand at writing science fiction, fantasy, historical and mainstream stories, but about ten years ago, I ‘discovered’ romantic fiction and realised that with my stories all having a romantic relationship at their centre, romance is what I’d been writing all along without realising it. I enjoy writing (and reading) romance because, with it’s assurance of a happy-ever-after or happy-for-now ending (or even a hopefully-ever-after ending) it is a genre whose books leave the reader feeling positive about life and love, whatever tribulations the heroine and hero have to overcome along the way. 

What inspires your stories?

I find that almost anything can inspire a story. For example, a photograph or a painting or visiting a new place can spark an idea. My most recent novel, Love on Location, was inspired by a visit to Greece when I knew I simply had to write a book set in that beautiful country. I also get a lot of ideas for stories from overheard conversations on trains or buses, or even in the queue at the supermarket!

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

Jane Austen, Miranda Dickinson, Paige Toon, Kate Eberlen, Jojo Moyes

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

This is a very hard question to answer as there are so many fabulous romance novels to choose from, but I would have to say Pride and Prejudice as it sets the standard for every romance novel that came after it.

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

It has to be Mr Darcy! I’d hope to be invited to a ball at Pemberley where I would dance ‘til dawn.

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

My favourite thing about being a member of the RNA is that events such as the Annual Conference have given me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful authors who write in the romance genre. RNA members are very generous with their advice, and if anyone has a question about writing there is usually someone in the organization who can answer it. Besides which, it’s great to meet other people who don’t look at you askance when you talk about the people in your head! I have learned so much about writing since being in the RNA and made some amazing writer friends.

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

Keep going, even when you find writing hard – it’s perseverance that turns a writer into a published author.

Tell us about your most recent novel. 

My most recent novel, Love On Location, is a contemporary romance set in the world of film-making, in London, Athens and on a fictional Greek island that bears more than a passing resemblance to Santorini.

When screenwriter Laurel Martin is asked to rewrite the script for a new timeslip movie set in ancient Greece, she expects the film’s historical advisor to be an elderly academic. But when she meets Professor Jason Harding, a young and unexpectedly handsome archaeologist with his own ideas about the script, she finds that the job isn’t going to be as simple as she first thought…

A screenwriter. An archaeologist. A film crew on location on an idyllic Greek island. Will movie magic lead to real life romance?

The book is available in ebook and paperback formats here.

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When screenwriter Laurel Martin is hired to rewrite the script for a new timeslip movie, she expects the historical advisor hired by the studio to be an elderly academic who won’t interfere too much with her writing. But when she meets Professor Jason Harding, a young and unexpectedly handsome archaeologist who has his own ideas about the script, she realises the job isn’t going to be as simple as she first thought.

As their work takes them from arguing over historical details in a cramped London office to discovering the hidden beauties of a Greek island, Laurel and Jason’s relationship starts to echo the romance of their script.

But with Laurel’s actor ex-boyfriend making trouble at home, and constant issues with the volatile director, will Laurel and Jason ever be able to write the happy ending for their own story?

About the Author

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Lynne Shelby writes contemporary women’s fiction and romance. When not writing or reading, Lynne can usually be found at the theatre or exploring a foreign city with her writer’s notebook, camera and sketchbook in hand. She lives in London with her husband, and has three adult children who live nearby.

Connect with Lynne:

Website: https://www.lynneshelby.com

Blog:  https://www.lynneshelby.com/blog-1

Facebook: LynneShelbyWriter

Twitter: @LynneShelby5

Instagram: lynneshelbywriter

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jennifer Fliss

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My last Friday Night Drinks of 2021 and it’s what is known as ‘Mad Friday’ here in the UK. Only one week to go until Christmas Eve and tonight I am sharing a festive drink with author… Jennifer Fliss.

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Jennifer, welcome to the blog and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking? 

Something fun, but non-alcoholic. But maybe a fancy coffee drink because we are going dancing after this, right? Gotta stay awake because I’m basically middle-aged now and staying awake is one of those skills that goes away with age, like being able to put your leg up straight in front of you in the shower to shave. We’ll hit up a club that plays 90s/00s hip hop. But for now, assuming we are not going out after this, a Shirley Temple or the house mocktail…which many places are doing now, and I’m grateful for that.

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?

It’s raining, okay? And we go to a dark wood-filled bookstore, maybe Mother Foucault’s in Portland here in the U.S. or somewhere in Edinburgh, and we drink coffee and eat Indian curry. And I know they wouldn’t allow eating & drinking in the store, but this is my fantasy, so…I make the rules. Maybe it’s Halloween. And there’s a reading of spooky stories. Remember, it’s raining.

That sounds perfect, I can picture it clearly. 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?

Michelle Obama and Edward Gorey. 

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?

I’m always working on several projects. First novel revisions. Second novel generating. I will always write. I love it so much. Also working on the preparations for getting my first book out into the world. I have a flash fiction collection, The Predatory Animal Ball, coming out in December.

What I really would love is to be able to have my writing career be sustainable financially, which, these days: Ha! Ideally, I’d publish enough to be able to do all those supporting role jobs for writers: teach workshops, edit, etc. as well as make money off the books themselves. I’d never want to be famous; that sounds atrocious. But to be a known enough name so that people would pay me decent dollars to do what I love.

I also dream of my book being translated into different languages. Imagine a wall of framed covers with different designs and languages!

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

Someone teaching my work. When someone reaches out to me and says they’re teaching one of my essays or stories in their class, be it high school, college, or a workshop. What a gift that my writing is being taught! It’s such a gift when people tell me that my writing has made them feel less alone, in particular when it’s traumatic stuff. That’s why I started writing, so when my work is being shared in classrooms, especially to young people, I feel it’s my way of reaching them and saying: it will get better. Let me help.

My biggest challenge is revision in my novel. Writing longer form is not my natural literary state. And while it’s fun to generate the story, when I have to revise something that’s several hundred pages long, I feel mired down and terrified by the breadth of that work.

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

In addition to having my work translated into many languages, I’d love to see a film adaptation. Or stage play. It just fascinates me how other eyes and minds see my writing. How they are interpreting it. I love when the literary and the visual meet, so this would be the ultimate take on that.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Writing novels is way harder for me, generally a flash fiction writer. But I am quite excited about both of my in-progress novels. I love their settings – honestly the thing I’m most a sucker for when I read. When they say: write what you want to read, THIS is that for me. I would love love to fall into these story lines. I just hope I can do a good enough job that others actually get to read them one day.

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?

Scotland. The old buildings, brick roads, twisty darkness, reading. Cozy tartan blanket. Those great accents. The castles intrigue me, but if I had to choose it would be to spend time in Edinburgh. Get an Airbnb and spend a month there. To write and read and wander the streets. Spend time in cafes. Watch everyone.

Yellowstone National Park was a bucket-list item I didn’t know I had. Initially I was intimidated by it being the U.S’s most visited National Park. But we went during the shoulder season and it wasn’t too crowded. The geothermal features are astounding. Not just geysers – I could not care less about Old Faithful – but the rainbow colored pools! Bubbling mud pots! Landscapes that look like Mars, if Mars was made of porcelain. I have never seen anything like it and chances are, most people haven’t, since there are more geothermal features there than anywhere on Earth. 

And the bison. I am newly obsessed by those dopey cute incredible large creatures. They were everywhere, including running down a hill towards our car, only to slow down and traipse across the road calmly, just feet (meters) from us. 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I hold grudges. But I also hold onto every single kindness, big and small. If someone apologizes and works to change, I’m open to that, but if not, I have a hard time forgetting about it and moving on like nothing happened.

And it’s not necessarily a secret because I share it often as my “random fact,” but I did the flying trapeze for years. I’d still like to get back into. 

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’?

This is a really hard question. I love love love reading and have forever. I used to have a book blog before I really started to do my own creative writing. I was going to say something by Yoko Ogawa, but then I just finished reading Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown and I’m blown away by it. It is a view a side of life being Asian American that we who aren’t gloss over, too readily, too easily. It should be required reading for everyone, frankly.

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Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: He’s merely Generic Asian man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always relegated to a prop. Yet every day he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy – the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother. Who says to him: Be more.

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?

Am I taking care of you? Because I haven’t been drinking. Ha! Maybe something to replenish your electrolytes, some Gatorade – the red kind because it’s not the most awful. Do you have that over there? I’m sure there’s some version of it.

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

Sleeping in is non-negotiable. So I wake up kind of late and then someone serves me eggs benedict with crunchy bacon and a really good mocha. Also a croissant. My daughter pops into bed for a little bit. We read together but separately. Maybe then I go for a run. In the rain. 

The next day, we go for a not-too-strenuous hike with a rewarding view of a turquoise alpine lake at the top. Yeah, maybe it’s raining for that too. And someone’s brought cookies. Someone has definitely baked fresh cookies. Is that you? Thanks for that!

In the most ideal world, I’m back in New York – where I’m from – and I wake up early for a bagel and mocha and then walk the streets for miles…in the rain. The rain breaks and I go down to the flying trapeze rig on the west side of the city and fly above the Hudson River (something I used to do regularly when I lived there.) 

Then I’m back home, it’s raining again (of course) and I order in dinner. I take a bath and eat dinner in the tub and read. Then into bed I go and watch bingeable mystery TV series for a few hours. Did you want all this detail?! Because there you go. From sun-up to sun-down and then some.

Jennifer, thank you so much for joining me, I have had a blast.

Jennifer Fliss’s flash fiction collection, The Predatory Animal Ball, comes out from Okay Donkey Press on December 14th, 2021. It’s her debut book, but she’s also had over 200 essays and stories published out there in the world. You can buy a copy of her book in paperback and ebook formats here.

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Jennifer Fliss (she/her) is a Seattle-based writer with over 200 stories and essays that have appeared in F(r)iction, PANK, Hobart, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She was a Pen Parentis Fellow and recipient of a Grant for Artist Project award from Artist’s Trust. She has been nominated four times for The Pushcart Prize and her story, Hineni, was selected for inclusion in the Best Small Fictions 2019 anthology. Her flash fiction collection, The Predatory Animal Ball will be published in late 2021. She is an alumna of the Tin House Summer and Winter Writers’ Workshops.

Connect with Jennifer:

Website: https://www.jenniferflisscreative.com/

Twitter: @writesforlife

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Book Review: Ed & Lily by Sofia Due

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Ed & Lily have a problem. It’s the day before Christmas Eve and the relationship everyone believed was rock solid is in trouble. It’s not just the past getting in the way, it’s the present too.

They’ve got thirty-six hours before they fly to Iceland for a snowy Christmas break. Can they resolve their differences or will their plane leave London without them?

A story about love, loss and chasing your dreams.

I was provided with a digital copy of this book for the purposes of review by the author, for which she has my sincere thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Not your typical Christmas romance, this is a book to pick up if you are looking for a festive read that it is a little bit different. Set at Christmas, but focusing on the reality of the strain that this time of year can put on relationships, it was a book that rang authentically true, rather than a cosy celebration of the season.

We meet Ed & Lily on the day before Christmas Eve when they are in different parts of the country, supposedly coming together to fly to Iceland to spend the holiday together. But all is clearly not well in their relationship and, over the course of the novel, through a series of flashbacks, we see how their relationship has developed and how they got to the uncomfortable place they currently find themselves.

I don’t think the blurb does the depth of this book justice. This is a really detailed exploration of how two people can love each other and seemingly be made to be together, but still drift apart through a combination of life events and miscommunication. All the way through, I was desperate for them to work things out because it was so clear that they should be together but they were driving themselves apart through many misunderstandings and a failure to talk to each other. It is so easy to see how it is happening and so frustrating, but so true, to view from outside.

This book really moved me. I thought all of the characters were beautifully written and the relationships truly authentic. I was carried along by the story, feeling their joy and their pain as they experienced it in the book. The story felt very fresh and unique. I particularly loved the ending, and was delighted to read a festive romance that followed a different trajectory from what you normally expect. A really pleasurable read from an exciting new voice in contemporary romantic fiction.

I highly recommend this to someone looking for something to entertain them out of the mainstream this Christmas.

You can buy a copy of Ed & Lily in ebook and paperback formats here.

About the Author

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Sofia Due lives in London with her family and cats. She works as a civil liberties and human rights lawyer and works with asylum seekers and refugees every day. Writing fiction is the best way of problem solving and putting right all the things you can’t change in real life. She was shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize in 2017 and since joining the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers’ Scheme five years ago has been gradually learning the craft of telling a good story.

Connect with Sofia:

Website: https://www.sofiaduebooks.com

Twitter: @SofiaDue_words

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Book Review: The Jealousy Man by Jo Nesbo; Translated by Robert Ferguson

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Murder. Assassination. Revenge.

Discover the first short story collection from the King of Scandi Crime.

Meet a detective on the trail of a man suspected of murdering his twin; a hired assassin facing his greatest adversary; and two passengers meeting by chance on a plane, spelling romance or something far more sinister.

In his first ever collection of short stories, this master of crime delivers a gripping, edge-of-your seat read that you won’t be able to put down.

The first short story collection by Jo Nesbo and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this collection really blew me away with the range and depths of the ideas the author explores in these stories. He really mines the darkest and most base instincts of human kind here, and delves into some very dystopian ideas that are all the more disturbing for not being entirely incredible.

Normally I race through a book of short stories quite quickly, because they are consumed in easily digestible chunks – like grazing on snacks rather than consuming a three course meal. This book didn’t unfold that way for me. Firstly, many of the stories are not short, a couple are more like short novellas. Secondly, every one of them is dense and complex, in characterisation, theme and development so, for me, it was just impossible to race through them quickly. Each of them needed slow and careful reading to unpack and appreciate all the nuance contained within. This is a book which has to be read in a considered and thoughtful fashion. A pause after the end of each was necessary to fully absorb what the author have revealed in the story, and I even broke off halfway through and read something a little lighter to break up the experience because of the effect the book was having on me.

Because I found this book quite bleak in general in the issues it explores and the conclusions that are drawn in the stories. These are not tales of uplifting experiences and positive affirmations of human nature. They are all dark, even fatalistic, in tone and paint quite a negative view of humanity. They feel quite appropriate for the way things are developing at the moment, maybe even prophetic, so if you are looking for a book to cheer you up when the current news gets too heavy, this isn’t it. It is, however, brilliantly written, thought-provoking and a masterclass in how to write a complete and satisfying short story. I am more impressed than ever by Nesbo’s writing, and his fans will love it.

The Jealousy Man is available in all formats here.

About the Author

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Jo Nesbo is one of the world’s bestselling crime writers, with The Leopard, Phantom, Police, The Son and his latest Harry Hole novel, The Thirst, all topping the Sunday Times bestseller charts. He’s an international number one bestseller and his books are published in 50 languages, selling over 33 million copies around the world.

Before becoming a crime writer, Nesbo played football for Norway’s premier league team Molde, but his dream of playing professionally for Spurs was dashed when he tore ligaments in his knee at the age of eighteen. After three years military service he attended business school and formed the band Di derre (‘Them There’). They topped the charts in Norway, but Nesbo continued working as a financial analyst, crunching numbers during the day and gigging at night. When commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with his band, he instead came up with the plot for his first Harry Hole crime novel, The Bat.

Connect with Jo:

Website: https://jonesbo.com

Facebook: Jo Nesbo

Instagram: @jonesbo_author

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Book Review: The Party Crasher by Sophie Kinsella #BookReview

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The Talbots are having one last party at their family home.
But Effie hasn’t been invited . . .

Effie’s still not over her parents splitting up a year ago. Her dad and his new girlfriend are posting their PDAs all over Instagram (complete with super-gross hashtags #viagraworks and #sexinyoursixties) and as if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re now selling the beloved family home. So when Effie receives a last-minute anti-invitation to their ‘house-cooling’ party, she decides to give it a miss.

Then she remembers her precious Russian dolls, safely tucked away up a chimney. She’ll have to go back for them – but not as a guest. She’ll just creep in, grab the dolls and make a swift exit. No one will know she was ever there.

But Effie can’t find the dolls. And as she secretly clambers around dusty attics, hides under tables and tries to avoid bumping into her ex-boyfriend (who she’s very much not over), she discovers unexpected truths about her family – and even about herself.

With time (and hiding places) running out, Effie starts to wonder if the only way to find out what’s really going on with her family is to simply crash the party . . .

You know you can rely on a Sophie Kinsella book for uplifting, humorous writing, and The Party Crashers is up there with the best of her work. Starting off with the enticing premise of the book – a young girl has to secretly crash a party at her own father’s house without being seen – I loved everything about this book from beginning to end.

This author has a genius for writing hapless characters that are charmingly madcap who you can’t help falling in love with and rooting for, and Effie is no exception. Who can blame her for not being enamoured of her father’s antics with his much-younger, gold-digging new girlfriend who has invaded the family home and begun to wipe out all traces of his previous family life? Anyone could sympathise, even if she does take things to the extreme. This is the real skill in Sophie’s writing, taking a believable premise but then pushing the envelope to wring every comedic nuance from the plot without losing the reader in the ludicrousness of the situation.

This book has many genuinely laugh out loud moments. I particularly loved the section when they are all sitting down to dinner in the dining room. This is a perfect example of a scene where actually you can’t understand how anyone could get themselves in the predicament Effie finds herself in, but Sophie’s writing is so charming that she carries you along in the mayhem.

As well as the comedic moments, the book does explore the issue of family dynamics and how, no matter how old we get, it is difficult to come to terms with divorce and learning that your parents and their relationship may not be the fairytale you always assumed it was. How we hide difficult truths from the people we love and, in some aspects, we never really grow up. I found the book very heartwarming as well as funny. I think it may be my favourite Sophie Kinsella novel to date. Fans should definitely not miss this one.

You can buy The Party Crasher in all formats here.

About the Author

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Sophie Kinsella is a writer and former financial journalist. She is the number one bestselling author of Can You Keep a Secret?, The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me?, Twenties Girl, I’ve Got Your Number, Wedding Night, My Not So Perfect Life, Surprise Me, the hugely popular Shopaholic novels and the Young Adult novel Finding Audrey. She lives in the UK with her husband and family. She is also the author of the children’s series Mummy Fairy and Me / Fairy Mom and Me, and several bestselling novels under the name of Madeleine Wickham.

Connect with Sophie:

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

Facebook: Sophie Kinsella

Twitter: @KinsellaSophie

Instagram: @sophiekinsellawriter

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Blog Tour: Blue Running by Lori Ann Stephens

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Fourteen-year-old Bluebonnet Andrews is on the run across the Republic of Texas. An accident with a gun killed her best friend but everyone in the town of Blessing thinks it was murder. Even her father – the town’s drunken deputy – believes she did it. Now, she has no choice but to run. In Texas, murder is punishable by death.

There’s no one to help her. Her father is incapable and her mother left the state on the last flight to America before the secession. Blue doesn’t know where she is but she’s determined to track her down. First she has to get across the lawless Republic and over the wall that keeps everyone in.

On the road she meets Jet, a pregnant young woman of Latin American heritage. Jet is secretive about her past but she’s just as determined as Blue to get out of Texas before she’s caught and arrested. Together, the two form an unlikely kinship as they make their way past marauding motorcycle gangs, the ever watchful Texas Rangers, and armed strangers intent on abducting them – or worse. When Blue and Jet finally reach the wall, will they be able to cross the border, or will they be shot down in cold blood like the thousands who have gone before them?

Some things are worth dying for.

I am delighted to be one of the blogs opening the tour for the first UK-published title by author, Lori Ann Stephens. Blue Running is a book for both adults and young adults, addressing issues of feminism, nationalism, women’s rights, racial injustice, immigration and gun ownership. My thanks to Midas PR for inviting me to take part and to the author and publisher for providing me with a copy of the book for the purposes of review. As always, I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This is a really compelling and engaging book with a fascinating premise. Set in a slightly dystopian future, the state of Texas has ceded from the United States and now operates as an autonomous Republic, separated from the rest of America by a wall, no one is allowed in or out. The wall is guarded, not only by official Border Guards but also by trigger-happy vigilantes eager to bag illegal immigrants or emigrants. And in this Texas, everyone is required to carry a gun by law. The Republic is very right wing and very religious, and rights are suitably restricted, especially for women. The scariest thing about this book is how entirely plausible the story is.

The protagonist, Blue, comes from a family riven by the cession so, when she suddenly and unfairly finds herself on the wrong side of the law, she feels like she has no option but to go on the run. Over the course of her flight, she is forced to question everything she has been brought up to believe, and learns to stand on her own two feet and discover her own version of right and wrong.

Blue is such a fantastic character to carry this book. At the beginning she is a little naive in the ways of the wider world, but also old beyond her years because of what she has had to deal with due to her absent mother and alcoholic father. She is an endearing mix of toughness and vulnerability and this makes her a person who quickly gets under your skin and makes you want the best for her. The unfairness of the situation she finds herself in, combined with the danger of the outside world that she is thrust into will have you on the edge of your seat throughout and willing her on to get to safety. You will be shouting at her who to trust and who to avoid, wanting to avenge the wrongs done to her and protect the people she cares for. This book is really affecting, and I raced though it to find out what happened.

Blue desperately wants things to be fair, to be able to trust and believe in the people and the ideals that she has been raised to respect, but the world is corrupt and those in charge are the worst of all. Things are not as black and white as she has always thought, and she is struggling to navigate this new world whilst rapidly maturing herself. This is a book of self-discovery, which also explores such important and topical issues of feminism, human rights, gun control, immigration and social injustice. There is so much going on, it will really make you think whilst keeping you entertained from beginning to end. This is a book that will appeal to adults and young adults, and would actually provide a great kicking off point for discussions on some of these topics with teenagers who are just starting to explore these ideas.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the writing, characterisation and the plotting are all excellent and it is a really great read. I highly recommend it, and look forward to seeing what comes next from this author.

Blue Running will be published on 2 December in ebook, audiobook and hardback formats and you can pre-order a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews:

About the Author

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Lori Ann Stephens is the award-winning author of novels for adults and children, including 2018’s Middle Grade novels NOVALEE AND THE SPIDER SECRET (Dragonfeather Books) and PIERRE FRANÇOIS: 5TH GRADE MISHAPS. SOME ACT OF VISION (ASD Press) was the 2013 YA novel winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award, hosted by the Romance Writers of America, OK. She’s also the author of SONG OF THE ORANGE MOONS (Blooming Tree Press, Nov 2010) and several short stories, poems, and opera libretti. When she’s not writing or teaching writing, she reads, takes on DIY home remodeling adventures, and eats the best gourmet, home-cooked meals. She is usually not the cook. She lives in Texas with her family.

Connect with Lori:

Website: https://www.loriannstephens.com/

Facebook: Lori Ann Stephens Writes

Twitter: @lorifromtexas

Instagram: @jolietexas

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