Tempted by…The Book Review Cafe: The Home by Sarah Stovell

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One more little secret … one more little lie…

When the body of a pregnant fifteen-year-old is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

A gritty, dark and devastating psychological thriller, The Home is also an emotive drama and a piercing look at the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live … if they are allowed to live at all.

Normally on Tempted by…, I highlight books I have bought as a direct result of seeing a post by another blogger on their blog, but today’s book came to me via a more circuitous route. Some of you may be aware of a weekly feature I run on my blog called Friday Night Drinks, where I chat with authors, bloggers and other bookish folks, trying to winkle out their deepest, darkest secrets. I always ask for a book recommendation during these sessions and, when Lorraine from The Book Review Cafe appeared on Friday Night Drinks on 9 February, the book she recommended as a ‘must read’ was The Home by Sarah Stovell.

Of course, having read Lorraine’s gushing praise of the book, I immediately headed over to her blog to read the full review (which you can see here.) Once I had read Lorraine’s impressions of the book in more detail, I knew I just had to get a copy. It sounds like everything you could possible hope for in a book and then some. Any book which manages to stand out so completely to someone who reads as voraciously as Lorraine, and so widely, must be something special and something that I need to read for myself. Lorraine awarded it her first ‘Book Hangover Award’ of 2020, and that is sufficient endorsement from me.

I absolutely love Lorraine and her blog. Her site is beautiful, , easy to navigate and absolutely packed full of delights for the book addict. Her reviews are always thoughtful, detailed and enticing and I usually agree absolutely with what she has said about books we have both read. As well as all this, she is a friendly, kind and extremely generous blogger and I feel very fortunate to have her as a member of my bookish circle. Make sure you pay her fabulous blog a visit soon. In fact, no time like the present, here is the link: https://thebookreviewcafe.com

If you would like to grab a copy of The Home for yourself, it is available in all formats here.

Blog Tour: Wilderness by B.E. Jones #BookReview

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A dream road trip turned dark nightmare.

Two weeks, 1,500 miles and three opportunities for her husband to save his own life.

It isn’t about his survival – it’s about hers.

Shattered by the discovery of her husband’s affair, Liv knows they need to leave the chaos of New York to try and save their marriage. Maybe the road trip they’d always planned, exploring America’s national parks – just the two of them – would help heal the wounds.

But what Liv hasn’t told her husband is that she has set him three challenges on their trip – three opportunities to prove he’s really sorry and worthy of her forgiveness.

If he fails? Well, it’s dangerous out there. There are so many ways to die in the wilderness; accidents happen all the time.

And if it’s easy to die, then it’s also easy to kill.

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the paperback launch of Wilderness by B.E. Jones. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is going to be a hard book to review without giving away too much plot, but this book is a wild ride in so many different ways. From the narrator to the locations to the intertwined timelines, to the exploration of relationships, infidelity, how people react to it and whether we can really ever know the people we are with, there are so many amazing facets to this brilliant thriller.

The book is narrated by Liv, who has just found out that her husband, Will, has been having an affair. Her seemingly perfect life ripped apart, she decides that they will take a road trip to try and mend their marriage, exploring some of America’s beautiful National Parks. But does a trip in to the wilderness heal or expose the rifts in their relationship, and where does the greatest danger really lie. Liv is a fantastic character to lead the book. The quintessential unreliable narrator, Liv is a deeply flawed and troubled soul dealing with a situation that has rocked her world and it is immediately apparent that she may not be psychologically equipped to cope with what has happened to her, Throughout the book, as we dive backwards through the events surrounding the revelation of the affair, and forwards through Liv and Will’s road trip, all the layers of Liv’s psyche are peeled back, and more and more surprising facets of her character are revealed, so we are always on our toes and never know what to expect.

But Liv is not the only troubled character in this book, demons seem to haunt everyone, secrets are everywhere and it is impossible to know whose version of events to trust and who is telling the truth. The author builds up such a complex web of lies and deceit that, even the most heinous of characters end up with seemingly ‘reasonable’ justification for their immoral behaviour and one of the main questions becomes, who are the real bad guys here, and who amongst them deserves the consequences they end up suffering. Being able to make the reader feel some sympathy and solidarity with characters who are less than clean cut takes some skill, and is brilliantly done here.

The settings of the book really grabbed me too, and perfectly reflected the events taking place. The author makes the teeming city of New York and its vast skyscrapers feel both like a place where it is possible to hide and get lost in order to carry out nefarious deeds, uncaring and impersonal, and a tiny community where you cannot avoid the consequences of your actions at the same time. Then, when the couple hit the open roads of the American West, the vast empty landscapes are actually made to feel claustrophobic and menacing, because of the danger that lurks along every step. The book has an extremely oppressive atmosphere, which really ramps up the tension throughout. There was actually one point where, reading this in bed late at night, one of the WTF Moments (more later) happened, and I actually physically jumped, as I would when watching a scary scene in a movie. Making a book so vivid and immediate is a gift. This book is a joy for an armchair traveller, really bringing a sense of place to the narrative, albeit an ominous one at times.

There were so many themes in this book that are there for unpicking, I think it will reward multiple readings. How well do you know the ones we love? How well do we know ourselves? What are we capable of when under threat, and are we always looking in the right places for danger in our lives? This book has so many twists and turns, and so many things I did not see coming. Just when I thought I could see where things were going, the author spins us off on a completely different track and there was more than one point in the book where I was actually internally shouting, ‘WTF just happened?!!” at the pages. And the ending? OMG. This book is a fantastic and creepy thriller that I read in a single day and had to force myself to set aside in the wee small hours of the morning because I really did not want to put it down.

I absolutely loved this book, it was an extremely rewarding, edge-of-your-seat thriller that did not disappoint on any level. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

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

Make sure you visit the other fabulous blogs taking part in the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Beverley Jones was born in the Rhondda Valleys, South Wales, and started her ‘life of crime’ as a reporter on The Western Mail before moving into TV news with BBC Wales Today. 

She covered all aspects of crime reporting before switching sides as a press officer for South Wales police, dealing with the media in criminal investigations, security operations and emergency planning.

Now a freelance writer she channels these experiences of ‘true crime,’ and the murkier side of human nature, into her dark, psychological thrillers set in and around South Wales. 

Wilderness, her sixth crime novel follows the release of Halfway by Little Brown in 2018.

Bev’s previous releases, Where She Went, The Lies You Tell, Make Him Pay and Fear The Dark are also available from Little Brown as e-books. 

Connect with Bev:

Facebook: Bev Jones

Twitter: @bevjoneswriting

Instagram: @bevjoneswriting

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Tempted by … Macsbooks: Scorched Grounds by Debbie Herbert

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In the eighteen years since her father went to prison for killing her mother and brother, Della Stallings has battled a crippling phobia. Her fear only grows when her father’s released. She still believes he killed her family, but the police don’t have enough evidence to arrest him again.

When new grisly murders occur—each bearing the telltale signs that seem to implicate her father—Della begins to wonder if the real murderer is still out there. Could her father have been framed?

To find the truth, Della must face her greatest fears and doubts—not only to find justice for her family but to ensure her own survival.

Today’s Tempted By… involves me being enticed to buy not one, but two books by the same author, after reading this review on the blog, Macsbooks.

I have mentioned repeatedly on the blog before my love of books set in the South of the USA, so the opening lines of the review immediately caught my attention. However, the books I normally pick up set in this region tend to be romances, family sagas or historical fiction, so I was drawn to the fact that Scorched Grounds is a dark, Southern noir thriller, quite unlike other Southern literature I’ve read, so I knew I had to grab a copy. In addition, who wouldn’t want to read a thriller set in a town called Normal, which promises to be anything but. When I saw that this was the second book set in this location, I decided to get them both and read them in order, so you can see my copy of Cold Waters peeping out underneath.

Is it me, or does anyone else really want to go and see what the real Normal, Alabama is like after reading this review, or is that an odd reaction to have after seeing this creepy cover?

I really enjoy following Mac’s blog as, being in the States, she often reviews books that I am not coming across on many of the blogs run by UK bloggers and I really enjoy that diversity. She also has a very approachable reviewing style, and I enjoy catching up with her mini reviews. Her blog always seems fresh and vibrant, make sure you check it out if you haven’t done so before. You can find her at https://macsbooks311.wordpress.com

If you now fancy taking a literary trip to Normal, Alabama yourself via Debbie Herbert’s writing, you can grab your own copy of Scorched Grounds, here.

 

Tempted by … Syllables of Swathi: The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

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Knowing the truth will destroy her.

Keeping it secret will destroy him.

It’s Livia’s 40th birthday and she’s having the party of a lifetime to make up for the wedding she never had. Everyone she loves will be there except her daughter Marnie, who’s studying abroad. But although Livia loves Marnie, she’s secretly glad she won’t be at the party. She needs to tell Adam something about their daughter but she’s waiting until the party is over so they can have this last happy time together.

Adam wants everything to be perfect for Livia so he’s secretly arranged for Marnie to come home and surprise her on her birthday. During the day, he hears some terrible news. He needs to tell Livia, because how can the party go on? But she’s so happy, so excited – and the guests are about to arrive.

The Dilemma – how far would you go to give someone you love a last few hours of happiness?

I know the blog has been a little quiet recently, apologies. There is a lot going on to process, isn’t there? Anyway, today I’m back and reviving one of my favourite features on the blog, Tempted by…, where I feature a book I have been encouraged to buy by a review or feature from a fellow blogger. A chance to support authors and bloggers in the same post, what’s not to love about that?

So, here is a copy of The Dilemma by B. A. Paris that I went out and bought after reading this review by the lovely Priya on her blog, Syllables of Swathi.

Aside from the very striking cover (love the juxtaposition of the bright yellow against that gorgeous blue), what tempted me to pick up the book was the tantalising idea of two people keeping big secrets from one another within the confines of an intimate relationship. As soon as I read the review, I was dying to know what these devastating secrets could be and how the couple had managed to conceal them. Plus, Priya’s suggestion that the reader could either love or hate the main characters also really drew me in and made me wonder what side of the divide I might fall. I love a domestic thriller; sometimes the simplest plots are the best, and most filled with tension. I often find that the minimising of distractions from a wider circle of characters and more sprawling experiences ramps the tension right up, and it sounds like this one might be a prime example of this scenario in action.

Priya’s blog is one of my more recent discoveries, I think I have been following her for around a year now, but I am always impressed by the thoughtfulness of her reviews, and her friendly but professional approach. Her reviews are always easy and entertaining to read, and her blog is very attractively set out and easy to navigate, which is always a joy. She has a really nice mix of books and genres on there, and I am always eager to see what she has coming up. If you haven’t come across her blog before, do please go over and take a look. You can find her at http://syllablesofswathi.com, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you would like to get you hands on a copy of The Dilemma after reading Priya’s review, it is out now in hardback, e-book and audiobook formats, and will be published in paperback in September. All formats can be ordered here or via your preferred independent bookseller.

Blog Tour: Surviving Me by Jo Johnson #GuestPost

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I’m happy to be taking my turn today on the blog tour today for Surviving Me by Jo Johnson. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for her guest post. Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the post for a great giveaway.

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Deceit has a certain allure when your life doesn’t match up to the ideal of what it means to be a modern man.

Tom’s lost his job and now he’s been labelled ‘spermless’. He doesn’t exactly feel like a modern man, although his double life helps. Yet when his secret identity threatens to unravel, he starts to lose the plot and comes perilously close to the edge.

All the while Adam has his own duplicity, albeit for very different reasons, reasons which will blow the family’s future out of the water.

If they can’t be honest with themselves, and everyone else, then things are going to get a whole lot more complicated.

This book tackles hard issues such as male depression, dysfunctional families and degenerative diseases in an honest, life-affirming and often humorous way. It focuses particularly on the challenges of being male in today’s world and explores how our silence on these big issues can help push men to the brink.

An unusual path to publishing a novel by Jo Johnson

Were you educated in this country?’ This was one of the first questions a tutor asked me at university. My punctuation and grammar were terrible. I hated English at school. 

Later, in my work as a clinical psychologist, I was good at relating to people but my reports continued to be a source of amusement. My written work was my weakness. 

As I progressed in my career, I discovered a gift for public speaking. I found telling stories was a great way to entice people to listen. In 2009 I was invited to speak at a national event for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and designed a unique workshop called ‘Shrinking the Smirch’. It encouraged my listeners to see their MS as something outside themselves, an external creature. It went down so well that the organisers asked me to turn the session into a workbook.

‘But I can’t write,’ I insisted.

‘If you can speak to people, you can write for them,’ the conference organiser batted back. To my utter amazement, ‘Shrinking the Smirch: the workbook’ won a Plain English Award. This spurred me on to write further workbooks about managing emotional distress and neurology-themed books for young people.

I didn’t plan to write a novel. I left the NHS in 2008 which gave me more time but being self-employed was lonely. So, each day, I interspersed client appointments with visits to the café across the road from my office.

One day, I noticed an unremarkable middle- aged man staring out of the window. I wondered what his story might be. 

On my iPad I wrote:

‘At this point in time, I can accurately be described as unemployed, impotent, and a liar.’

This became the first sentence of my debut novel, “Surviving Me”.

Over the next seven years I added to my story, at times it was an addiction that distracted me from work and family commitments. Tom, my main character was my secret friend for many years. Eventually, I allowed a friend to read it. She loved it and bullied me into finishing it. 

Since then, I have fielded my manuscript to countless friends and colleagues, out of paranoia and lack of confidence. I was always genuinely surprised – and encouraged – by people’s feedback. 

When unbound publishers accepted my manuscript I was delighted. The first editor asked me where I’d done my creative writing course as I didn’t have a clue what he meant by backstory, pace or point of view within the context of fiction writing. 

Fortunately, that amazing structural editor reassured me I had a lot of raw talent and helped me learn the rest. It was a steep learning curve especially as I was working full time as a clinical psychologist whilst preparing my book for publish. My poor teenagers completed their most important exams with very little parental support.

Writing helps me clear my mind of other people’s troubles. And humour is a great way to defuse some of the day’s tensions. My line of work can make you laugh and cry almost simultaneously – and I hope my characters do the same for my readers.

I still can’t believe I’m the author of a novel that is being described in reviews as refreshingly different and beautifully written.

Thank you for sharing your fascinating journey with us, Jo.

If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Surviving Me, you can buy a copy here.

Giveaway

Jo is running a giveaway with two first prizes of a signed copy of Surviving Me and a Surviving Me fridge magnet and five runner-up prizes of a Surviving Me fridge magnet. To enter, please click on the Rafflecopter link below:

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

To find out more about the book and read some reviews, please check out the rest of the stops on the tour:

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About the Author

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I’m very excited that my debut novel ‘Surviving Me’ is due to be published on the 14 November. The novel is about male minds and what pushes a regular man to the edge. The novel combines all the themes I can write about with authenticity.

I qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1992 and initially worked with people with learning disabilities before moving into the field of neurology in 1996. I worked in the NHS until 2008 when i left to write and explore new projects.

I now work as an independent clinical psychologist in West Sussex.

Jo speaks and writes for several national neurology charities including Headway and the MS Trust. Client and family related publications include, “Talking to your kids about MS”, “My mum makes the best cakes” and “Shrinking the Smirch”.

In the last few years Jo has been offering psychological intervention using the acceptance and commitment therapeutic model (ACT) which is the most up to date version of CBT. She is now using THE ACT model in a range of organisations such as the police to help employees protect their minds in order to avoid symptoms of stress and work related burnout. 

Social media links:

Facebook: Shrinking the Smirsch

Give Up The White Room by Luke Melia #GuestPost (@lukemeliaoculus) #indiewriter #psychologicalfiction #GiveUpTheWhiteRoom

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Life is a puzzle just waiting to be solved – that’s how Reya, a young woman with a penchant for solving complex puzzles, sees it. Reya’s life is governed by routine; a roadmap of rules from what foods she eats to what clothes she wears. Most of her time is spent working on her online challenge forum, ‘The Puzzler’. An agoraphobe with obsessive compulsive disorder who hasn’t had sight of the outside world in over six years, Reya views her own symptoms as just another puzzle to be solved.

Now, with the help of her self-made therapeutic entity, Ivan, she has a carefully laid out plan to get her back into society. When their plan goes awry, Reya retreats to the safety of her home. That night, when she sleeps, she finds herself in an unusual place called ‘the shared Dreamspace’. The Dreamspace is a boundless and wonderful place, accessible only to a small selection of individuals from around the world; a place in which one can make anything they desire tangible. Here Reya can finally interact with others, face to face, without needing to leave her home.

As Reya begins to use her talents to help these people and forge new relationships, she starts to feel more and more connected to the Dreamspace. But what is this place? Do these people really exist? Or is the White Room merely an addictive fabrication to retreat from the gravity of her illnesses?

Today I am delighted to be able to host a guest post by Luke Melia, author of Give Up The White Room, on his writing process and how he found the experience of penning his first novel. So now I’m going to hand over to Luke.

‘Talk me through the plan’-  Portraying mental health in my novel Give Up the White Room  

Give Up the White Room is my first novel. Prior to publishing it in 2019, I had only written comic books, so a piece of long-form prose presented quite the challenge. On top of that, I chose to write about some difficult themes, as my protagonist Reya struggles with both agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  

I portray these mental health issues in writing through Reya’s first -person narrative. As the reader, you see events from her perspective and, through her inner monologue, get a sense of how she processes the world around her. Reya uses her natural gift for solving puzzles as a way to approach her mental health.  

This is where Ivan comes in. Ivan is an essential character in the novel, maybe as important as Reya herself – in a sense because he is Reya herself. Ivan doesn’t exist – he’s a therapist Reya consciously creates as a way to self-medicate. She sees her mental health issues as a puzzle, and Ivan is part of the solution. 

When we first meet Reya, she and Ivan are working on a plan to build her confidence to a point where she can leave the house, walk to a local shop, buy milk and come home. This might sound like the simplest of tasks, but for someone suffering from extreme agoraphobia, it presents a monumental challenge. 

‘Talk me through the plan’ is the second chapter of the novel and consists of a dense conversation between Reya and Ivan, during which I explore the meticulous extent to which she has to plan even the most basic activities. My aim was to give an insight into the depths of her mental illness and explore just how crippling agoraphobia and OCD can be. I was very conscious, though, that if I didn’t write it well it could easily come off as a boring slog in which a woman talks to herself for several pages about going to buy milk! 

This chapter is so important to me as it shows how Reya thinks, how she plans, and how she perceives the world in a different way to most people. It’s key that the reader understands this early on so that later in the narrative the decisions she makes and the ways in which she approaches people all make sense. 

Reya knows that Ivan isn’t real. She explains why she created him, and how it was a conscious decision to do so. From that moment on, I wanted the reader to see Ivan the same way that Reya does – as a separate entity. His purpose is to challenge Reya’s thought processes, so the two of them are able to look at the same situation from different perspectives. Reya’s is one of fear and emotion, whilst Ivan can take a colder, more methodical view. 

As Reya’s therapist, Ivan insists on a level of professionalism in their relationship. However, he is the only ‘person’ with which Reya has conversed for the past six years due to her reclusive lifestyle – at times, their relationship slips into friendship, sometimes with Ivan even acting as something of a parental figure. 

In establishing these elements of the story, hopefully I’ve written a chapter in which the two of them discussing the plan to go and buy milk is interesting, thought-provoking and an authentic but sensitive look at how Reya struggles with her illness. 

Of course, this is only the beginning… when her plan goes awry, Reya retreats to the safety of her home, and that night when she sleeps discovers a boundless and magical place called the ‘shared Dreamspace’. There she can bring to life anything she imagines and has the opportunity for the first time in six years to talk to, connect and form relationships with a group of fascinating and eccentric individuals from around the world. 

Reya and Ivan’s relationship grows increasingly strained as Reya becomes obsessed with this ‘White Room’, which Ivan does not believe exists… but if you want to know more about that, you’ll have to read the rest of the book! 

Thanks, Luke, for sharing that insight into writing the book with us. If you would like to read Give Up The White Room for yourself, you can get a copy here.

About the Author

Luke was just a young lad when, upon browsing the Punisher section of his local comic-book store, he was bitten by a radioactive author. Thinking nothing of it, Luke went home to spend his days playing video games and watching countless movies.
That was until he reached his late twenties, and certain powers began to manifest…
These new “Abilities” included:
“Ultra Caffeine Absorption” – The ability to ingest an inhuman amount of Coffee (also known as creative lubricant).
“Amplified Vision” – The ability to look at two sentences and consider it a ‘productive day of writing’.
“Vocabulary Oblivisci” – The ability to forget all knowledge of the English language the minute pen touches paper.
“Inspiration Insomnia” – The ability to be flooded by ideas at the exact moment you should be sleeping- only to forget them by morning.
“Colossal Hesitation” – The ability to procrastinate at an almost super-human level.
“Accuracy Conufsion” – The ability to come up with completely new ways to spell words.
“Completion Aversion”- The ability to come up with an idea, start working on it but not being able to see it through to the…

Connect with Luke:

Twitter: @lukemeliaoculus