#BlogTour Ask Me To Dance by Sylvia Colley #bookreview (@SylviaColley) @MuswellPress @AnneCater #RandomThingsTours #AskMeToDance

Ask Me To Dance Cover

“Rose Gregory has suffered a devastating blow, a double bereavement from which months later she is still reeling. Sanctuary and rest are prescribed by her doctor. But when she arrives at her refuge, a dank and decaying Monastery, she finds it is not the haven promised. Despite the veneer of calm contemplation, the Monastery turns out to be a hotbed of intrigue and disharmony. Rose witnesses bullying and cruelty and ultimately in defence of the vulnerable turns to violence herself.

Sylvia Colley’s extraordinary understanding of a woman s struggle to deal with grief, the denial, the anger, the loneliness, is described without sentimentality. A beautifully written and moving story.”

Today I am delighted to be the first stop on the blog tour for Sylvia Colley’s beautiful new novel Ask Me To Dance. Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

Where to start describing this extraordinary book? It is a book that is impossible to categorise and very different to anything I have read recently, neither of which are negatives. I was drawn into the book from the beginning, held throughout and left thinking about it long after I finished it.

The protagonist is Rose, a woman in the grip of a grief that has driven her to the edge of madness. We meet her as she arrives at a monastery where her doctor has sent her to rest and recuperate but it soon becomes apparent that this may not be the right place for her to do that. The monastery is down at heel, on the verge of closing and populated by only a small group of Brothers who are struggling with their own internal and rather petty tensions which in turn infect Rose and disrupt her state of mind further.

The author does a fantastic job of describing the crumbling monastery and its wild and neglected grounds, complete with a graveyard full of deceased Brothers, and it gives the whole book an air of despair and, for me, a slight creeping menace which was the perfect backdrop to the mental disintegration within Rose and the decay of the relationships between the remaining Brothers. Rose has gone there for peace and seclusion and possibly spiritual guidance, but it is clear than none of these things are on offer for her here where the Brothers draw her into their issues rather than helping her with hers.

We learn about the events leading to Rose’s breakdown gradually through the course of the book, at the same time as more information is fed to us slowly about the different Brothers and the tensions between us. This approach for me, resulted in a slow build of tension and oppression with minimal actual action until the final explosive events – a very clever reflection of how the tensions and despair and feeling of unfairness and futility have built up in Rose. The book is written mostly in the first person through Rose’s eyes, which let us get further into her mindset and feel what she is feeling and seeing. I was infected with it and the feelings have lingered in me long after I closed the book.

If I had a small criticism, it was that I was left unsure of the relevance of one of the characters introduced, whom I had thought would play a more vital role but it is a small niggle in an otherwise startling book.

This book is clever, thought-provoking, evocative, surprising, difficult, menacing and insidious. It defies the trend towards shoehorning books into a genre, instead leaping outside the box. It is not a comfortable read but it is a true and worthwhile one.

Ask Me To Dance is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Thank you to Anne Cater and the publisher for supplying my copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Follow the rest of the tour and find out what other bloggers think of the novel:

Ask Me To Dance Blog Tour Poster

About the Author

syvia-master-image-large

Sylvia Colley was born in Romsey, Hampshire. She became a teacher and spent many years as Head of English at the Purcell School in North London.
She has published a book of poetry, It’s Not What I Wanted Though, and a novel, Lights on Dark Water. Her work has been read on BBC Radio 4. She lives in Pinner, Middlesex.

Follow Sylvia on social media:

Twitter: @SylviaColley

Website: http://www.sylviacolley.co.uk

What We Did by Christobel Kent #bookreview @littlebrown #WhatWeDid #NetGalley

isbn9780751568790

“He stole her childhood. She’ll take his future

What would you do if you accidentally encountered the man who once abused you?

And how would you get away with it?

Bridget’s life is small and safe: she loves her husband, her son and works hard to keep her own business afloat. Then one day her world is changed forever. The music teacher who abused her walks into a shop with the teenager he’s clearly grooming. Bridget is sent spiralling back into her past.

Anthony begins to stalk Bridget, trying to ensure her silence – until suddenly, she snaps.

And now Bridget must find away to deal with the aftermath of her actions…”

Today is publication day for Christobel Kent’s new novel What We Did so I have completed reading it at the perfect time to post my review. Although, this is going to be a tough book to review without giving away any spoilers so I may be briefer than normal. (Was that a small sigh of relief I just heard?)

Let’s just take a moment to admire the cover, which was one of the things that drew my eye to it on NetGalley. I love the grey with the bright spots of orange and green. Would look fabulous on any book shelf, great cover design.

This is a psychological thriller with a tricky subject matter at its heart. Bridget is a survivor of abuse she suffered as a teenager at the hands of her violin teacher. She has built a small, safe life for herself in a provincial university city with a quiet husband and a well-balanced teenage son, running her own clothing shop and working hard to keep her demons at bay. Her husband and her son know nothing about her past and that is the way she would like to keep it so when her abuser casually walks into her store one day in the company of his latest pupil, Bridget believes her whole way of life is at risk.

When I started this book, I had a slightly jaded feeling that I knew how the story would pan out. However, I was completely wrong. Things unfold in a very unexpected way and the story goes off then at a totally different tangent and really drags you with it.

The first quarter of the book was quite slow and I did start to worry that the whole story pacing was going to be too staid to carry me to the end – I have begun to expect more flourishes from a book in this genre – but once the first pivotal act occurs, things pick up and I was totally gripped from that moment on and I ended up staying up late to finish the book. Looking back at the book as a whole, the pacing was perfect for the storyline and the nature of the characters and it was actually a refreshing change from the constant bombardment of action and tension we sometimes get. The gentle start, followed by the sudden shocking change was the perfect reflection of how Bridget’s gentle life is so immediately disrupted when her abuser reappears on the scene.

The characters that need to be sympathetic are sympathetic, the criminal perpetrators are suitably loathsome. Bridget’s sister was my favourite character, and the most complex, I believe, and I also enjoyed the way her innocuous husband’s story arc developed. There was a side storyline involving her shop assistant that I think was meant to throw Bridget’s complicated feelings about her past into relief and give her some enlightenment, but it wasn’t really well-developed enough to end up as anything but a distraction which was a little disappointing.

The main storyline was psychologically twisty enough to keep me guessing about who was involved in what. I suspected people of things they hadn’t ended up doing and didn’t guess the ending so early in the novel that it was an anti-climax when it came. All in all, I enjoyed the book and it is well worth a read. However, it does not have the jaw-dropping twists that have become the norm, this is much more a character-based novel that isn’t relying on any schlock or shock for shock’s sake that some novels in this genre do. You will have to make your own decision about whether this is a positive or negative based on your own preferences for this type of novel.

What We Did is published today and you can purchase a copy here.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown for the copy of this book which I have reviewed fairly and impartially.

About the Author

71aHmSq-7OL._UX250_

Christobel Kent was born in London and educated at Cambridge. She has lived variously in Essex, London and Italy. Her childhood included several years spent on a Thames sailing barge in Maldon, Essex with her father, stepmother, three siblings and four step-siblings. She now lives in both Cambridge and Florence with her husband and five children.

#BlogTour The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley #bookreview (@ZaraStoneley) @HarperCollinsUK @HarperFiction @fictionpubteam @rararesources #TheWeddingDate #bookbloggers

The Wedding Date

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Zara Stoneley’s new book The Wedding Date. a big thank you to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part.

The Wedding Date high res

One ex.
One wedding.
One little white lie.

When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…

1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man.
2) His new girlfriend is pregnant.
3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)

So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.

Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.

But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!

As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore…”

Before we start, is anyone else salivating over the delicious-looking cake on the cover of this book? Honestly, I can taste it. Congratulations to whoever designed the cover, it is definitely enticing!

This is the first book I have read by Zara Stoneley, although I have a copy of Summer with the Country Village Vet sat on my TBR. Now that I have read this book by Zara, I will be moving that one up the pile to read soon.

The main character in this book is travel agent, Sam. Recently dumped by boyfriend, Liam, Sam is presented with an invitation from her best friend, Jess, to join her elaborate wedding party in Scotland. To Sam’s dismay, not only will she have to deal with celebrating romance whilst facing her own heartbreak, her ex, Liam will be the best man and Sam will come face to face with the physical evidence of his infidelity in the form of his very-pregnant girlfriend. Unable to face the ordeal alone and deal with the pity on the faces of her family and friends, Sam decides to hire actor Jake to pose as her handsome and charming new boyfriend for the week. As you do.

It was very easy to relate to Sam. She is a warm and slightly hapless character and we can all put ourselves in her shoes, feeling the humiliation of being cheated on and dumped and then having to face her ex in public. The ordeal has sapped her of all her self-confidence and she is at a very low ebb when she concocts the slightly crazy plan of hiring a fake boyfriend to take to her best friend’s wedding. I doubt most people would go that far but I could appreciate the impulse and Zara’s humorous and entertaining writing made the plan seem a lot more plausible than it probably would be in real life.

Jake, the impoverished actor that Sam manages to bag as her fake date is almost too good to be true. Handsome, charming and kind, he is the kind of man that every woman wishes to have on her arm, but Sam struggles at times to work out how much of his behaviour is an act and how much is genuine, which becomes a problem when she finds herself falling for him, despite her best efforts to keep him at arms length. Jake is no cardboard cut-out romantic lead though, he has a complicated past of his own which stops him being as one-dimensional as is sometimes the case with romantic leads of this ilk.

This book is written in the first person from Sam’s point of view and I really enjoyed being in her head and seeing everything from her slightly-neurotic point of view. Her inner monologue was completely authentic – somewhat reminiscent of Bridget Jones – as she worries about her weight, wanting to look amazing when she first sees her ex, whether anyone will find out that she and Jake are faking it. She is so likeable, it really carries the story along and had us rooting for her and a positive outcome.

The story is filled with humour, which made it a really easy read. There are some scenes that will have you howling with laughter and wondering how anyone can get themselves into such scrapes. I loved the character of Sam’s mother, who just added to the cringe-factor of some of the scenes, and there was a nicely rounded cast of friends and family to fill out the story. I did feel like the character of Ruby, who was set up to be a bit of a villainess, was slightly wasted and could have been used to throw a bit more of a spanner in the works and I wondered if that was a plot point that was in the original draft but then tailed off. It felt like a bit of an unfinished thread. However, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. The mystery of Jake’s past also went in a different direction than the one I had imagined, but it has given me an idea for a story twist that I might use in the future since it didn’t turn out to be the solution I had imagined in this book, so that was a bonus from my reading. Thanks, Zara, for sparking my imagination!

This was a lovely, light and funny read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading romantic fiction. You won’t be disappointed. Now I’m off to track down that piece of chocolate cake.

The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley is out now on Kindle and you can buy a copy here.  The paperback version will be published on the 28th of June and you can pre-order it here.

Follow the blog tour and see what other readers are saying about The Wedding Date:

The Wedding Date Full Banner

Amazon/Goodreads

About the Author

ZaraStoneley authorpic

Born in a small village in Staffordshire, Zara Stoneley wanted to be James Herriot, a spy, or an author when she grew up. Writing novels means she can imagine she is all these things, and more!

Zara’s bestselling novels include ‘The Holiday Swap’, ‘Summer with the Country Village Vet’, ‘Blackberry Picking at Jasmine Cottage’ and the popular Tippermere series – ‘Stable Mates’, ‘Country Affairs’ and ‘Country Rivals’.
She lives in a Cheshire village with her family, a naughty cockapoo, and a very bossy cat, and loves spending time in sunny Spain.

Connect with Zara:

Website: http://www.zarastoneley.com
Twitter: @ZaraStoneley
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ZaraStoneley

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zarastoneley/ 

Forever at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn #bookreview (@DarcieBoleyn) @canelo_co #ForeverAtConwennaCove #NetGalley

cover134887-medium

“Following heartbreak, Zoe Russell found a haven in Conwenna Cove. As the owner of the village diner and a volunteer for the local greyhound sanctuary, she’s happy with her peaceful life.

Local surfer Nate Bryson plans to leave Conwenna and see the world. He wants to shake off his reputation as a ladies man and start again somewhere new. Before departing, Nate decides to raise funds for the dog rescue home as a way of giving back to the community.

When Nate approaches Zoe to help with the charity event she sees there’s more to him than meets the eye. Nate can’t believe he’s failed to notice the kind and beautiful woman right before him. But can two such different people ever be together, especially if one of them is determined to leave?”

Today is publication day for this book so, Happy Publication Day, Darcie, look like I am just going to sneak my review in under the wire to celebrate this day with you!

I have only just finished reading this book and I am still basking in its lovely, warm, uplifting glow. Despite the fact that the tentative improvement in the weather seems to be over here for now, I’m feeling a summery optimism.

This book tells the story of vulnerable Zoe, rebuilding her life after being badly let down by people she trusted and determined not to let anyone hurt her that way again, and Nate, equally determined to live life to the full and not end up with any regrets at not chasing his dreams. Despite their reservations, Zoe and Nate are pulled together over the course of a summer in Conwenna Cove, and must decide if they will give in to their mutual attraction, or let their pasts and their fears keep them apart. The story is set in the chocolate box village of Conwenna Cove on the Cornish coast.

So far, so predictable, I hear you say, but you would be quite wrong. This book is very different from anything I have read recently and that is entirely down to the very clever writing and character development by Darcie. I’m not sure exactly how to convey what makes this book feel different, except to say that the author has a very light and sympathetic touch. I fell in love with the characters immediately, they are well-rounded and believable, complete with flaws and insecurities, but totally likeable. The plot is gripping – I was desperate to keep reading and know how it was going to end – but it was also very gentle without any of the twists and huge issues that often get shoehorned into modern novels just because that seems to be how it done. This is a very down-to-earth, every day, personal drama that could be played out in any household across the country on a daily basis, but done in a way that is extremely compelling and rich.

The setting is beautiful – I for one can’t get enough of books set by the coast – with just enough description to make it come to life but not so much that it drags. It is very well-balanced.

The novel is narrow, and I mean this in a very positive way. It doesn’t have a cast of thousands. It is focused and tight, homing in on the relationship between two people that really pulls out the intensity of those personal feelings we all recognise and can sympathise with. It is refreshing and made it stand out for me exactly for the gentle nature of the drama that might seem small to the outside world but is of vital importance to the central characters. It is totally authentic and, for that reason, very relatable to everyone.

I hadn’t realised that this was actually the third book that the author has set in Conwenna Cove when I began to read it and I have not read the previous two. However, although there was some mention of characters that were obviously central to the previous novels, this works perfectly as a standalone and not having read them did not detract from my enjoyment of this one bit. What it did do was make me want to read the previous two immediately, and I have now downloaded them to my Kindle. I really look forward to reading more by this author.

This is a wonderful book, as warm and sweet as a dairy ice-cream on a Cornish summer day but not at all sickly. Go on, treat yourself to this book, you deserve it.

Forever at Conwenna Cove is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Thank you to Canelo and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Darcie Boleyn has a huge heart and is a real softy. She never fails to cry at books and movies, whether the ending is happy or not. Darcie is in possession of an overactive imagination that often keeps her awake at night.

Her childhood dream was to become a Jedi but she hasn’t yet found suitable transport to take her to a galaxy far, far away. She also has reservations about how she’d look in a gold bikini, as she rather enjoys red wine, cheese and loves anything with ginger or cherries in it – especially chocolate.

Darcie fell in love in New York, got married in the snow, rescues uncoordinated greyhounds and can usually be found reading or typing away on her laptop.

The Music of the Deep by Elizabeth Hall #bookreview @AmazonPub #TheMusicOfTheDeep #NetGalley

51wNaUA4wLL

The Music of the Deep


“Fleeing an abusive marriage and tormented by her past, Alexandra Turner finds solace in a small coastal town on Puget Sound and a job with a local marine biologist studying orcas.

After befriending a group of locals, Alex learns that she has moved to a place that has a reputation of being the “most haunted town in Washington.” Such superstitions would be easy to dismiss…if Alex wasn’t already on edge.

Haunted by shreds of memories of her days with her husband, Alex can’t keep from looking over her shoulder. As unexplained sounds and scents accumulate and unnerving forces seem to take hold, Alex is beginning to believe that she’s not escaping her ghosts, after all. In fact, she might finally be inviting them in.”

Today is publication day for this book, so I am happy to be sharing my review of it with you all as it launches to the wider world, and it is definitely worth picking up. I’m not sure why this title caught my eye on NetGalley as it is not by an author I know – serendipity or more supernatural forces at work? Whatever it was, am I glad it did, as I raced through it in 24 hours and enjoyed every minute.

It is a very hard book to categorise – part ghost story, part nature tale, part women’s fiction – an unusual blend that had the potential to be a jarring mashup but the writer has woven the different elements together very skilfully to make a compelling narrative that had me gripped to the last page.

It follows the stories of three different women. We meet the central character, Alex, as she arrives in the tiny town of Copper Cove on a small island in the Puget Sound on a dark day in December. She is ostensibly there to assist a local woman, Maggie, catalogue the years of research she has done into the local population of orcas, but we soon find out that her story is more about what she is running from than where she is running to. To add to Alex’s tension, Maggie is hiding her own secrets, and her neighbour, Emmie Porter (rumoured to be the local witch due to her amazing powers with animals) is somehow involved. To further add to the tension, Alex is staying alone in a large old house on a hill on the outskirts of a town rumoured to be the most haunted town in Washington State…

The author sets up the story in its location very well. The tiny town, distant from land and civilisation, in the dark days of winter, is suitably claustrophobic and menacing enough to compound Alex’s already well-honed sense of dread and the secrets she gradually unveils grow increasingly creepy. During the last fifth of the book, I was sat up in bed, my heart thumping, ripping through the pages to find out what was going to happen – it really is a page turner.

The story gradually unveils the back story of the three women in a series of flashbacks which work very effectively, gradually pulling in to a point where they start to interweave and finally explode as one at the culmination of the book; it is very skilfully done and the characters are thoroughly drawn and believable, even as parts of the plot are asking you to suspend your disbelief beyond the every day.

One of the main reasons I picked up this book in the first place, and where it did not disappoint was to do with the setting. The Pacific Northwest is an area that holds a particular fascination for me and this book has only increased my longing to visit. The setting lends itself perfectly to the storyline, and the author does an amazing job of placing us firmly in the centre of the landscape. You don’t need to flex your imagination too hard to be able to picture the island, the town, the water and the natural phenomena she describes. I have a particular fondness for members of the oceanic dolphin family and this books blends a lot of interesting information about them into the plot seamlessly.

The book isn’t perfect. I would have liked a little more description about the town itself. To a degree the ending felt a little rushed and there was a flurry of ‘coincidences’ and happenings in the denouement which stretched credibility to the very furthest point of acceptability within the confines of what I believe the book was trying to be. However, all in all this was a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would recommend it without reservation. I doubt anyone who picks it up will regret the time they invest in it.

The Music of the Deep is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Born in San Jose, California, Elizabeth Hall has spent most of her life in the mountains of Colorado. She has worked as a teacher and communications consultant, including hosting, writing, and producing the radio show Heart of the West. She has two grown children. She is the bestselling author of Miramont’s Ghost and In the Blue Hour and now resides on an island in the Pacific Northwest, where she indulges in the fiber arts and keeps an eye out for whales.

The Songs of Us by Emma Cooper #bookreview (@ItsEmmacooper) @headlinepg #NetGalley #TheSongsofUs

9686551E-21DD-47AB-B47B-833582F895F0

“If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.

If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.

But if they hadn’t seen the missing person report that day, they might never have taken the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.”

So, I have just got off a seven-and-a-half hour trans-Atlantic flight where I had planned on watching ‘Darkest Hour’ and grabbing a few hours sleep. Instead, I sat up all night and devoured Emma Cooper’s new novel from cover to cover in one sitting and I don’t regret a single second of lost sleep.

This book is, quite frankly, astonishing. It manages to be funny and heart-wrenching at the same time, and explores some huge themes of love, loss, personal struggle and family, deeply but without being the least bit heavy-going or preachy.

It starts off with a hilarious scene in a supermarket which launches us straight into the complicated and mad world of the main character of Melody King who, following an unfortunate accident, has the embarrassing habit of launching into song at times of stress and anxiety, which leads to some extremely toe-curling but funny moments. Her two children, Flynn and Rose, both in those awkward teenage years and struggling with complicated issues of their own, tend to find this less amusing. I absolutely love the way Emma has chosen the perfect appropriately inappropriate song for Melody to sing at any given moment.

The book is written in the first person from the points of view of four main characters, Melody, Flynn, Rose and Dev, Melody’s missing husband. Each has a distinct voice, totally fitting their character and the personal stresses they are under and Emma has done this so well that we are right inside each of their individual heads, seeing the situation from four totally different points of view with the tint that their specific outlooks gives to the situation. It is so cleverly and perfectly done that we have a complete emotional insight into the whole perspective of the situation they are in, you can’t help getting sucked right into the drama.

And, oh, how much did I love these characters. Emabattled, troubled, sullen but warm-hearted Flynn. My heart broke for him and I was willing him to conquer his demons and become the amazing person you can see under the surface. Brilliant but confused Rose, fragile but not, having to grow up faster than she perhaps can cope with and trying to take control in dangerous ways. I just wanted to fold her in my arms and take care of her. And Melody. I don’t really know what to say about Melody except she is so perfectly imperfect, so valiant. She has stolen into my heart and taken firm root.

This book is a rollercoaster that takes you to unexpected places emotionally and has left me bruised, battered but ultimately uplifted. It is such a brilliant portrayal of how flawed and struggling people can be, but how love and family will hold us up and help us overcome if we have each other. I know I will go back and re-read this book soon, and I will feel exactly the same way about it again. It made me laugh and cry and I didn’t want it to end, to let go of these characters that took such firm hold of me in such a short space of time. This book is something really special, I might even venture to say, perfect.

Just don’t finish it on a jumbo jet full of hundreds of curious people as it comes in to land whilst wearing non-waterproof mascara.

The Songs of Us is out on Kindle on 31 May and in paperback on 20 September and is available for pre-order here.

Thank you to Headline and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire with her partner and four children. She spends her spare time writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day.

Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations.

The Songs of Us was inspired by Emma’s love of music and her ability to almost always embarrass herself, and her children, in the most mundane situations. She was so fascinated by the idea of combining the two that she began to write Melody’s story. The majority of her novel was written during her lunchtime in a tiny school office.

 

2018 – The Year of Writing (#amwriting)

once-upon-a-time-719174__340

‘And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.’
– William Shakespeare (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

So, 2017 is over and it was a year of mixed results as far as my reading challenges went. I managed to read 101 books to beat my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 100 books last year, which was pleasing. However, as far as my self-imposed ban on book-buying went, I had slightly less success.

I was rock solid until the end of May, which was a huge achievement. However, in June I allowed myself a little loophole when I bid on some signed books in the Authors for Grenfell auction. Turns out this was a slippery slope. I managed to resist through July and August but then, in September, I went to the launch of Cathy Bramley’s new book and decided it would be rude not to buy a copy for signing, and that was that. The floodgates opened and I caved in and bought loads of books in the last third of the year, so my TBR is bigger than ever!

Still, I lasted longer than I, or anyone else who knows me, could have predicted. I also launched my blog and as a result got to meet and interact with lots of great new people, so it was a worthwhile experiment but one I won’t be repeating. I have a book-buying addiction and I have resigned myself to it gladly- after all, there are more harmful vices.

Despite my failure in last year’s challenge, I am keeping my blog alive and have set myself some new challenges for 2018. I have set my Goodreads Reading Challenge 2018 goal at 105 books, please link up with me using the button on the right to follow my progress. I have also joined a fabulous Facebook Book Club called The Fiction Cafe Book Club and will be taking part in their Reading Challenge for 2018, which is bi-weekly. First up we have to read a book with food on the cover so my first read for that will be Big Skye Littleton by Elisa Lorello. I will also be reading at least one of their monthly book choices, starting with The Surrogate by Louise Jensen, a fellow group member.

I have also set myself the individual challenge of reading one classic novel per month that I have never read before. I am going to try and tie this in with my other challenges if possible. The title for January is Howard’s End by E.M. Forster. I am not sure how I have managed to overlook this all these years, especially as I adore A Room with a View, so I am looking forward to reading it.

I am going to endeavour to be much better about reviewing all my reads this year, and be more active on my blog, so watch out for the reviews of these coming up. This is all part of my main resolution for the year, which is to prioritise my writing. The blog is a small part of this, but the bigger part is finishing the novel I have been promising myself that I will write for years.

On turning 45 last year, I realised it was now or never for my writing so I have taken certain steps towards making it happen. I started my novel for NaNoWriMo in November and, as part of that I was lucky enough to spend five days on a writing retreat with the author Veronica Henry. Not only did I get a lot of writing done, I got to pick the brains of one of my favourite authors, and made a great new friend in the process, so that was an amazing experience.

I did not reach 50,000 words in November but I do have the first third of my novel done and, in an effort to push my writing on, I applied for and managed to gain a place on the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for this year. For those of you who haven’t heard of this great programme, you can find some information here. As a member of the New Writers’ Scheme, no only will I be able to attend the many fabulous events they hold throughout the year and get to meet other (proper) authors, agents and publishers, but I will also get an expert critique of my manuscript by a published author, in an attempt to get it into shape for publication. So, I now have a deadline. I need to have a full manuscript in the best shape possible ready to submit by 31 August at the latest. If that doesn’t motivate me, nothing will.

As well as the above, I will be attending an Arvon writing retreat in Shropshire courtesy of my generous and supportive partner, The Irishman. I have also joined a wonderful writers’ group online, who are full of amazing support, encouragement and advice. I feel like, in them, I have finally found my ‘tribe’ that I am always hearing so much about so, if I don’t get a novel written this year, it will be no one’s fault but my own. Whether or not it gets published will be a story for another time, but I am determined to finish the book at the very least.

So, a busy exciting year ahead and I look forward to sharing my progress with you all. What are your goals for 2018? I’d love to know.

HAPPY NEW YEAR & MAY 2018 BE A SUCCESS FOR ALL OF US!

 

The Way Back Home by Freya North #bookreview (@freya_north) @HarperCollinsUK

images

“One summer, something happened that changed everything forever…

Born and brought up in an artists’ commune in Derbyshire, Oriana Taylor had freedom at her fingertips in a home full of extraordinary people. The Bedwell brothers, Malachy and Jed, shared their childhood and adolescence with Oriana. In the rambling old house and tangled grounds, their dreams and desires could run free.

But too much freedom comes at a price. Something happened the summer they were fifteen. And now, having been gone eighteen years, Oriana is back.

This is their story.”

 

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reading this book by Freya North. It was published in 2015 and, being a huge fan of Freya since I first read Sally and always buying her books on publication, it has been sitting on my TBR since then. I have read The Turning Point, which was published last year. I am wondering if I have been subconsciously pushing this down my TBR because of some unfavourable reviews it has been given on Goodreads. If so, it was a mistake – this is Freya North at her best. My apologies, Freya: after all the years we’ve spent together, I should have had more faith in you.

This is the story of Oriana, her childhood growing up in an artists’ colony in Derbyshire, her childhood friendship with two brothers, and the tragic event which drove them apart. Anyone expecting a light, sugar-sweet romance, or a psychological thriller with a twist in the tail would undoubtedly be disappointed in this book. It is neither of those things because that is not, and never has been, what Freya’s writing is about.

What this book is, is typical of Freya’s novels. It is a beautiful and honest portrayal of human emotion, human relationships and human failings. It is bittersweet, moving, genuine–and totally engrossing if you let yourself connect with these characters, who are damaged and far from perfect, but totally real and believable. One of the comments I have read was that people could not relate to the characters because they weren’t totally likeable, particularly Oriana. I think that is part of the genius of Freya’s work – making us care about characters who maybe aren’t immediately warm and cuddly and someone that you would want as a best friend, but are totally plausible and, if you give them time and try and see what Freya is showing you about why they are as they are, you will find that connection with their humanity.

This book is a slow burn, and it is an insight into the minds, thoughts and feelings of the three main protagonists. I guess some people may not appreciate this style of story-telling but it is what gives you that insight into, and connection with, their emotional story. I have seen complaints that the ‘twist’ is too obvious and there is no ‘big reveal’. I think that misses the point. I don’t believe Freya ever meant for the novel to be some big build up to a shocking conclusion, that isn’t her stock in trade. In fact, it is refreshing to read something currently that isn’t hingeing on that particular device to sell itself. This book requires a bit more effort, a bit more emotional involvement on the part of the reader to get the most from it.

I recently read a comment by the author Jane Green, in answer to a question she was asked about the best bit of writing advice she had ever been given. Her reply was that the best advice had been given to her by Freya North and it was to get to know her characters and let them tell the story. Freya obviously practices what she preaches as she writes people as well as, if not better, than almost any writer out there. Her characters are always totally three-dimensional and fully developed and, likeable or not, they are completely authentic in everything they do. And I have never known anyone write such honest sex scenes (although my friends took me to task for a long while after I made this comment and they then read the one involving clowns in Pip, but I stand by my assertion. And no, I won’t go into any more detail, you will have to go and buy it and read it yourselves!). You know these people. If you let yourself invest in their story, you will be rewarded with an intense emotional journey that will leave you wanting to know what happens to them but also not wanting the story to end.

I loved this book. It made me cry twice. It made me stay up until 1 am on a weeknight when I had to be up at 6.30 am the next day because I had to know the end. And it made me wish I had not left it so long before I read it. I can’t give a book higher praise than that. Go and read it immediately. Then read The Turning Point, because it’s even better.

Having read Freya’s work from the very beginning, I can see how it has matured as the years have passed, much as she and I have done (we are a similar age) and I cannot wait to see what is coming next.

The Way Back Home is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Freya North gave up a PhD to write her first novel, Sally, in 1991. For four years she turned deaf ears to parents and friends who pleaded with her to ‘get a proper job’. She went on the dole and did a succession of freelance and temping jobs to support her writing days. In 1995, throwing caution to the wind, she sent three chapters and a page of completely fabricated reviews to Jonathan Lloyd, and met with success: five publishers entered a bidding war for her book.

In 1996 Sally was published to great acclaim and Freya was heralded as a fresh voice in fiction. Her following books have all been bestsellers. Her novel Pillow Talk won the 2008 Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Freya’s most recent novel, The Turning Point, was published in June 2015 (HarperCollins).

Freya was born in London but lives in rural Hertfordshire with her family and other animals where she writes from a stable in her back garden.

A passionate reader since childhood, she was originally inspired by Mary Wesley, Rose Tremain and Barbara Trapido to write fiction with strong female leads and original, sometimes eccentric characters. In 2012 she set up and now runs the Hertford Children’s Book Festival. She is also judge for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England’s ‘Rural Living Awards’ and Ambassador for Beating Bowel Cancer.

On The Horns Of A Dilemma

51W2JefQdPL._SY346_

I was going to start this post by apologising, yet again, for the lack of regular updates. However, I read a post earlier this week by another book blogger on the topic of pointless blogging guilt, so I won’t. This is my blog, which I am writing purely for fun, and I am doing the best I can given all the other current demands on my time and energy, so we will all have to be content with that for now!

Doubtless you will want an update on my progress and I am pleased to report that I have not yet succumbed to temptation and I have not purchased any books so far this year, which is good going. Cora, who blogs over at Tea Party Princess asked me how I am doing it. Sheer force of will and a good dollop of stubbornness (which my family and friends will know I have in abundance), plus giving any place that harbours books a very wide berth. I even sent my step-children into Waterstones the other week to collect my copy of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project , which has been sat there since December waiting to be picked up, because I daren’t go in myself for fear of falling off the wagon.

However, I now find myself on the horns of a dilemma, and would seek guidance from you as to how to reconcile the problem with my current challenge.

Wednesday was my elder daughter’s 12th birthday (Happy Birthday, Mini-Me – please stop growing or I will have to stop calling you that) and she was given a copy of Caraval by Stephanie Garber. My sister, who has read the book, mentioned that it had some adult themes and suggestive passages in it that I may be uncomfortable allowing Mini-Me to read and suggested that I might want to read it first.

So here is my quandry. I have pledged not to buy, beg, borrow or steal any new books in 2017, but only read books that were in my TBR pile on 1 January 2017 and this book does not fall in to that category. I really do not want to fail in this challenge. At the same time, I do not want to allow Mini-Me to read anything unsuitable and I cannot really expect her to wait until next January to read her new book just so I can read it first.

What do I do? Is Caraval suitable for a 12-year-old who is fully conversant with the birds and the bees but not especially worldly for her age? If I read the book now, have I failed in my challenge? If I don’t, and allow Mini-Me to read it, will she be turned off literature, except books about horses, forever? (Although, they can be less than innocent – hello, Jilly Cooper!*) My sister is rather more prudish than I am (sorry, C, but you know it is true, it is one of your most endearing characteristics) so it may be that something she thinks is suggestive, I will think is perfectly acceptable. Maybe I should give it to a third party to read and assess in my stead – any volunteers? Has anyone read this book and can let me know what they think?

Any guidance gratefully accepted. Will I give in and read the book (which I really want to, it sounds great)? Will the challenge be all over? Will Mini-Me read the book and be scarred for life? Will C enter a convent? Tune in next week to find out what happens following this exciting cliffhanger!

*Before anyone calls social services, I have not allowed my daughter to read Riders yet, or any other Jilly Cooper for that matter, although I love her and do have the complete set!

2017 – The Year of Abstinence

books-21849_1920

My name is Julie, I’m 44 and I am a book addict.

There, I’ve admitted it. Reading is my passion and I spend a lot of time doing it, and I own far, far too many books. So many in fact, that I am so far behind on my TBR (the number stands at 783 on Goodreads and counting) I fear I will never catch up. Book buying is a compulsion for me, you see. Nothing makes me happier than an hour spent browsing a good bookstore and buying a book. Problem is, I can never stop at just the one….

At the current time, I have 50 books stacked in two piles next to my bed. This pile never gets any smaller and has become such a permanent feature in our house that my 9-year-old daughter has christened it Mount Bookarus. Very apt, since the erosion of this edifice is every bit as slow as the erosion of the Himalayas themselves. In fact, towards the end of last year, it appeared that the pile had in fact been pushed up, due to some kind of literary tectonic event, and the top books of the stack are now in danger of taking my eye out if I turn over in my sleep too close to the edge of the bed.

(A small off-shoot of ‘seasonal reads’ appeared in November as the start of pile three, but these were pushed back during a concerted assault over the festive period.)

Mount Bookarus is the mere tip of the iceberg, however, if you will excuse the mixed geological metaphors. There are many, many, many more unread gems stuffed into every spare bit of space in my library. (I know, I am lucky enough to have a dedicated, proper library in my house. It was the one room I insisted on including when we built our house 11 years ago and it is my favourite. If you stick with me and behave, I will share some photos of it with you here soon and make you all green with envy!)

It is for this reason that I have started this blog. I have vowed that 2017 is the year I will make a proper dent in my TBR and, in order to achieve this goal, I have vowed to buy NO NEW BOOKS in 2017.

That’s right. No new books for a whole year. Nada. Zero. Not one single one.

As a self-professed compulsive book purchaser, this is going to a be a huge challenge. So, to keep me on the straight and narrow, I am making my intention public and am going to report honestly on here as to how I am getting on and I am hoping that my readers, should I be fortunate enough to get any, will hold me accountable.

The rules of the challenge are quite strict. No buying books, no borrowing books, no being given books for free. No downloading e-books, either free or paid for. I am going to allow my friends and family to buy me books as presents for my birthday in May (otherwise, what an earth are they going to get me?) and Christmas. After all, there has to be some relief on the horizon, doesn’t there? But there will be limit of one book per person. And that’s it.

So, 2017 will be a year of reading from the books I already own. I have set my Goodreads reading challenge for 2017 at 100 books, which is achievable, as I tend to read a couple of books a week anyway, depending on length of book and what else is going on in my life. I will be reviewing all the books I read on this blog. There may be other posts that creep in too, about the other minutiae of my life, family, travels and whatever else pops into my head, but it will mainly be book reviews.

I guess it will be a little different from other book blogs, because I will not be reviewing any of the new, hot titles – for this year at least – but maybe this is no bad thing. Different is good, and you may still find some gems in things that are not new. Vintage is in, right? Hopefully my blog will be on trend in that way. Let’s call it literary up-cycling. Dusting the cobwebs off those old but precious novels that are laying unloved and forgotten in the dingy recesses of my TBR, ready to be given new life.

We are 3 weeks in to the year and, so far, I have held firm but it will only get tougher from here. So I am hoping you will help me. Get behind me, support me, and don’t taunt me with all the fabulous new books I am missing out on. (I have already started a list – January 2018 could be an expensive month). Most of all, I hope you will enjoy my reviews, and maybe find something you might want to read, even though it is not shiny and new in the publishing world. First review to come on Monday.

Apologies in advance to my local branch of Waterstones – I fear your profits will take a severe dip this year.