Take It Back by Kia Abdullah #BookReview (@KiaAbdullah) @HarperCollinsUK @NetGalley #PublicationDay #TakeItBack #NetGalley

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The Victim: A sixteen-year-old girl with facial deformities, neglected by an alcoholic mother. Who accuses the boys of something unthinkable.

The Defendants: Four handsome teenage boys from hardworking immigrant families. All with corroborating stories.

Whose side would you take?

Zara Kaleel, one of London’s brightest young legal minds, shattered the expectations placed on her by her family and forged a glittering career at the Bar. All before hanging up her barrister’s wig to help the victims who needed her most. Victims like Jodie Wolfe.

Jodie’s own best friend doesn’t even believe her claims that their classmates carried out such a crime. But Zara does. And Zara is determined to fight for her.

Jodie and Zara become the centre of the most explosive criminal trial of the year, in which ugly divisions within British society are exposed. As everything around Zara begins to unravel she becomes even more determined to get Jodie the justice she’s looking for. But at what price?

Another publication day review to share with you, this time for Take It Back by Kia Abdullah. Happy publication day, Kia, and my thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This was a fascinating legal thriller that deals with a multitude of complex and contentious issues that are very relevant in current society and, at the same time, providing a page-turning ‘who did what’ story. There are so many layers to this book that it is one I will definitely go back to and read again with a fresh set of eyes to make sure I have rung every nuance from it, but I will do the best I can to write my review based on my first read of it.

The story involves an allegation of rape by a girl with facial deformities against a group of boys from an ethnic minority background and, from the off, it causes discomfort in the reader as our sympathies are pitted against one another as we try and work out which characters are the real victims in the story. This is the main theme of the book, how do you deal with individuals from two separate, disadvantaged groups pointing the finger at one another without allowing personal or societal prejudices affect your judgement? The narrative casts a sharp and unflattering light on the way our society currently operates and how we view and react to people very different to ourselves. The book made me ask some very uncomfortable questions about my own privilege and possible prejudices and preconceptions and, by the end, I was left with more questions than answers and a good many issues to probe further.

The main character in the book is Zara, a modern woman with a high-flying career who has taken the drastic step of leaving behind a lucrative career at the Bar to help victims of sexual violence. Zara comes from a Muslim family and has a good many demons of her own to address, a number of which she is forced to confront as her current case spirals out of control and spills over into her personal life. The use of Zara as the main focus of the book is a clever vehicle for forcing the reader to see the kinds of problems minorities have to face in our society and what conflicts they are presented with. Those of us who do not fall into these categories can find it almost impossible to imagine what challenges are presented daily to minorities and books like this one which don’t shy away from presenting these challenges to us in a digestible format can offer the opportunity to think about these things from a  different angle. The author does a really great job of portraying Zara as someone real and flawed and sympathetic so we can try, for a brief time, to slip into her shoes.

The protagonists on both sides of the criminal investigation are portrayed as complicated  characters with motivations, personalities, desires and faults that are revealed gradually throughout the novel. so that the readers perception of who might be telling the truth and who might be lying can change from page to page as we learn more about them, just as Zara’s does. I had no clear idea of the truth until the very last page and, as a result, the book held my attention easily from beginning to end. It wasn’t an easy read, though. These are some deeply troubling issues that are being addressed in the story and parts of it made me extremely uncomfortable in a way that had me asking questions of myself throughout. For a thriller of this type, this is an unusual and accomplished achievement and puts this book a cut above some of the run of the mill titles that have appeared in this genre. To dismiss it as just another of its type would be to do the book a grave disservice.

The settings and descriptions of the book present a grim background that perfectly suits the plot and the writing really brought everything to life – location, characters, mood and story. This is a skilfully written book that offers a big punch and a lot of food for thought, as well as a gripping read. It is a book that will stay with me for a while and I highly recommend it.

Take It Back is out today and you can get a copy here.

About the Author

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Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. She has contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC and Lonely Planet, and is the founding editor of outdoor travel blog Atlas & Boots, read by 250,000 people a month.

Connect with Kia:

Website: https://kiaabdullah.com

Facebook: Kia Abdullah

Twitter: @KiaAbdullah

Instagram: @kiaabdullah

The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman #BookReview (@rowancoleman) @eburypublishing @penguinrandom @ecrisp1 @BleuViola #PublicationDay #TheGirlAtTheWindow

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Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…

Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.

While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…

Today is publication day for The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book and am delighted to share my review today. My thanks to Penguin Random House and the author for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially and a happy publication day to Rowan!

What can I say, this book has absolutely everything an avid reader could wish for when they pick up a new tome. I knew this book was going to be something special because the author has set it in a place that means a great deal to her and she has obviously poured her heart and soul into it. The passion and emotion bursts off the page and straight into the heart of the reader and carries them along on an immersive emotional journey through the story. I was completely drawn in to the world of the characters and the setting of the book and held in such an iron grip by the narrative that I could barely bear (Kate Baker – take note!) to put it down and interact with my family. I raced through it in record time and felt bereft when it was done.

The story is set in the wilds of Yorkshire, in the house that is rumoured to have inspired parts of Wuthering Heights and it is uncanny how the author has managed to evoke the atmosphere of that great novel with her story. Rowan really does the beauty and atmosphere of my home county great justice in the setting and the reader is immediately transported to the isolated Yorkshire Moors that so inspired Emily Bronte and gave Wuthering Heights the dark and wild atmosphere that characterises it.

Anyone who follows Rowan on Twitter and knows anything about her will not be able to read the book and fail to feel that the main character of Trudy has, to a degree, been inspired by Rowan’s own famed obsession with the Brontes. Returning to her childhood home at Ponden Hall after a great personal tragedy, Trudy becomes embroiled in a treasure hunt involving lost Bronte artefacts and a story that she believes intrigued her heroine, Emily, centuries before. I absolutely loved the character of Trudy and was completely engrossed in her life and emotions from the very first page. Her relationships with her young son, husband and estranged mother were beautifully portrayed in the story and felt completely authentic. The emotional journey experienced by the characters was extremely affecting and I felt myself experiencing a vast range of emotions myself as I read – sorrow, terror, intrigue being just a few of them – it was very skilfully done. These are characters and stories of the best kind, the kind that make you feel like you have made new friends, that you care about them and feel sad when you have to let them go. The great thing about novels, of course, is that they will still be there when you want to return to them, and this is definitely a book that the reader will want to treasure and return to and experience again.

The plot of the novel covers so much. Personal tragedy, family relationships, mystery, history, literature and a thrilling ghost story, all at the same time. There is so much packed in to the book, I was hugely impressed that it all flows so naturally and blended seamlessly. As someone who is making attempts to write herself, I could not help being awed by the skill that this complex book has taken to produce and, aside from being a marvellous read, it is something I will be studying to see how Rowan managed to pull it off. In fact, I would love to hear from the horse’s mouth what process Rowan used to put this book together. There was so much fascinating information and detail about the Brontes woven in to the story, but it never felt that it was included in anything other than a natural way that enhanced the narrative. The ghostly aspects were suitably creepy and disturbing. The book actually managed to produce in me the same deeply troubling sensations I felt when I first read the opening chapters of Wuthering Heights where the narrator is being haunted by Cathy’s ghost. It gives me the shivers thinking about it to this day. Ghost stories are very hard to do well, but Rowan achieves this, and goes beyond.

This book is complex, emotional, fascinating, gripping, troubling, affecting, beautiful and moving, all at the same time. It is a masterpiece, and a masterclass in writing. I absolutely loved every word, every page and know I will return to it again and again. One of my favourite books of the eighty I have read so far this year. I have bought a copy to cherish, you should too.

The Girl at the Window is out today and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Rowan Coleman’s first novel Growing Up Twice was a WHS Fresh Talent Winner. Since then, Rowan has written fifteen novels, including The Memory Book which was a Sunday Times bestseller. It was selected for the Richard and Judy Bookclub and awarded Love Reading Novel of the Year, as voted for by readers.

Her latest novel, The Summer of Impossible Things, is a Zoe Ball TV Book Club selection.

Rowan lives with her husband and their five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire, juggling writing novels with raising her family. She really wishes someone would invent time travel.

Connect with Rowan:

Facebook: Rowan Coleman

Twitter: @rowancoleman

Instagram: @rowanmcoleman

Friday Night Drinks with…. Eleanor Harkstead & Catherine Curzon @e_harkstead @MadameGilflurt @Totally_Bound #FridayNightDrinks #TheGhostGarden

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I have a rather delayed Friday Night Drinks tonight, as this should have appeared in April, until I was suddenly struck down by illness. However, better late than never, and it is a double whammy as, for the first time, I am having drinks with two authors tonight who are co-authors of a series of historical novels. You know what they say, two’s company, three is a party, so I am delighted to welcome to the blog…. Eleanor Harkstead and Catherine Curzon.

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

EH: Give me gin or give me death. Or alternatively a nice white wine.

CC: Tea! I will happily order tea in a pub, because there’s no finer drink under the sun. If I must have something a little more dramatic, Mason’s do a stunning tea gin. They do a lot of stunning gins, but that one is particularly special. 

 You are ladies after my own heart, as I have been a gin devotee since long before it became trendy. I have never tried the tea gin, though, so I must track that down. 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?

EH: There’s a place in Birmingham called The Jekyll and Hyde. It has an amazing “gin palace” room where they sell nothing but gin! 

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CC: There’s no better way to start an evening out than a gorgeous meal and no better place to have a gorgeous meal than Salvo’s in Headingley. I’m not sponsored by them, but I wish I was — send me free food, Salvos! It’s the best Italian you’ll ever eat at, and has been family run for something like forty years. They won Best Neighbourhood Italian on Gordon Ramsey’s The F Word too, which isn’t to be sniffed (or sworn) at.

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If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on ​​our night out, who would we be drinking with?

EH: Byron and his pet bear. I’m not sure if the bear was male or female, but I’m sure no one’ll mind. Byron would be a laugh on the gin (or a morality black hole, it’s hard to say which), and the bear would be an excellent conversation piece. Besides, you never know when a bear might come in handy on a night out. It could keep an eye on your drinks while you’re dancing or deal with any argy-bargy. 

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CC: In my other writing life, I write nonfiction about the 18th century and that means there can only be one correct answer to this question. Laurence Sterne on one side and Caroline of Brunswick on the other. Sterne was known for wit and fabulous conversation and could hold a room in the palm of his hand with his stories. It’d be a privilege to meet the great man.

Caroline of Brunswick, meanwhile, was the scandalous estranged wife of George IV. She famously danced in diaphanous gowns on the Italian coast, shared a bed with a soldier noted for his dramatic whiskers and didn’t always wear her stays in polite company. I’d love to discover if the stories about Prinny are true, as well as find out if Caroline’s own hygiene was as shocking as her husband claimed it was!

Sounds like this could turn into quite a raucous night out, even without the bear. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going ​on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

EH/CC: We’re celebrating the publication of The Ghost Garden. We’re also writing something in our sandbox just for fun, but as usually happens, I’m sure the grain of an idea will make itself known and we’ll be off to turn it into a novel.

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Within the tangled vines of a forgotten garden, can a blossoming new love overcome an ancient evil that threatens both the living and the dead?

After losing her brother in the trenches of the Great War, Cecily James is a prisoner of Whitmore Hall, the respected but remote boys’ school where her brutish husband reigns as headmaster. With its forsaken walled garden, a hauntingly tragic past, and midnight footsteps heard from an unoccupied clocktower, Whitmore Hall is a place where the dead are rumored to walk.

Whitmore Hall is a place filled with mysteries and as a ghost garden emerges from the sun-bleached soil, long-buried secrets cry out to be told.

When new teacher Raf de Chastelaine blunders into an impromptu seance, Cecily finds an unlikely and eccentric ally. In a world of discipline and respectability, barefoot Raf is unlike any teacher Cecily has ever met. With his tales of the Carpathian mountains and a love of midnight gardening, he shakes Whitmore Hall to its foundations. Could there be more to Raf than meets the eye? And as he and Cecily realise that their feelings run deeper than friendship, dare they dream of a world beyond Whitmore Hall?

As Cecily and Raf team up to unite long-dead lovers and do battle with an ancient evil that has long haunted Whitmore Hall, Cecily finds her chance of happiness threatened by her tyrannical husband. But is the controlling headmaster acting of his own free will, or is he the puppet of a malevolent power from beyond the grave?

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

CC/EH: Definitely when Pride signed up our first Captivating Captains novel, The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper. Our first published work with Pride was a short story, An Actor’s Guide To Romance, and that was a really special moment for us as co-writers, but to see our first joint novel out there was fantastic. Even better was when Pride decided to launch the Captivating Captains series of novels, which cross genres and eras to tell stand alone stories featuring… some captivating captains!

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!

EH/CC: I suppose every writer hopes this, and it’s not very realistic, but we’d love it if one of our stories was dramatised. But (again unrealistically!) we’d like to oversee the casting. 

What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

CC/EH: We’ve just put the final finishing touches to the first draft of the sequel to The Ghost Garden and we’re ready to shout it from the rooftops, but we can’t just yet! 

We’re really excited to introduce readers to the village where Raf’s family have lived for generations and to the people who live there. Although it’s the second book in our series, The de Chastelaine Chronicles, it can be read as a stand alone too, so readers who aren’t familiar with Raf and Cecily will still be able to jump right in and uncover their latest supernatural investigation!

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?

EH: I have two favourite places, which are in fact weirdly similar — Edinburgh and Granada. They’re both modern cities but ancient too with lovely old towns and castles. Granada is a magical place — I went in December once in the snow and it was beautiful. The Alhambra Palace is an amazing place to visit, but also to see peering over the buildings of the city as you wander about. And the view from the Albayzin (the Old Town) of the Alhambra with mountains behind it is breathtaking. I love Edinburgh — the Georgian New Town is gorgeous, and the higgledy-piggledy Old Town around The Royal Mile is fascinating. And Edinburgh’s old cemeteries are fantastic to visit.

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Top of my bucket list is Japan — I studied Japanese for two years but have never had the chance to go. One day, maybe!

CC: I’m going to choose two places for this question, one at home and one abroad. 

My first choice is the breathtaking Niagara Falls. It’s a place everyone should experience if they can for its wildness and the sheer scale and strength of the falls. I’m a bit of a waterfall fan!

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A little closer to home, there’s nowhere better than the rugged North Yorkshire coast. Not only can one have the best fish and chips, there’s miles of wonderful walking, gorgeous views and friendly Yorkshire folk – like me (though I’m only honorary Yorkshire!). 

At the top of my bucket list is only one thing: I am utterly obsessed with seeing the Northern Lights. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing and something I hope will happen one day!

Well, we are honoured to have you in Yorkshire and I agree that the North Yorkshire coast is as beautiful as any you will find anywhere. Lots of places there that are also on my bucket list! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know ​​​about you.

EH: I was once, by accident, in a documentary about students from the Middle East. I’m actually from East Anglia, which isn’t quite the same thing. I still don’t know how that happened.

CC: I spent many years working in the House of Commons. At some point during this occasionally surreal decade, a Home Secretary stole my shoe whilst he was drunk. I won’t name him!

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’?

EH: Chingiz Aytmatov’s Jamila (also known as Jamilia). It’s a beautiful, quietly rebellious love story set in Soviet Kyrgyzstan — so exquisitely moving and will stay with you long after you’ve read it. James Riordan’s translation is nothing short of lyrical.

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The Second World War is raging, and Jamilia’s husband is off fighting at the front. Accompanied by Daniyar, a sullen newcomer who was wounded on the battlefield, Jamilia spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to the train station in their village in the Central Asia.

Spurning men’s advances and wincing at the dispassionate letters she receives from her husband, Jamilia falls helplessly in love with the mysterious Daniyar in this heartbreakingly beautiful tale.

CC: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it before, and you never will again. My interest in history and writing was awakened by my grandad, who was a born storyteller. Tristram Shandy is just like sitting beside grandad’s hearth and listening to him tell tales. It wanders, stops and starts, and leaves you hanging. Perfect storytelling!

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Sterne’s great comic novel is the fictional autobiography of Tristram Shandy, a hero who fails even to get born in the first two volumes. It contains some of the best-known and best-loved characters in English literature, including Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, Parson Yorick, Dr Slop and the Widow Wadman. Beginning with Tristram’s conception, the novel recounts his progress in ‘this scurvy and disasterous world of ours’, including his misnaming during baptism and his accidental circumcision by a falling sash-window at the age of five; unsurprisingly, Tristram declares that he has been ‘the continual sport of what the world calls Fortune’. Tristram Shandy also offers the narrator’s ‘opinions’, at once facetious and highly serious, on books and learning in an age of rapidly expanding print culture, and on the changing understanding of the roles of writers and readers alike.

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?​

EH: Drink lots of water, keep paracetamol by the bed and get lots of sleep! To be honest, I’d also say that in order to avoid hangovers never pass the age of thirty. And don’t have more than one or two drinks, definitely never on an empty stomach. (Thus speaks the voice of bitter experience. And the least said about that the better, I think!)

CC: I’ve never been drunk, so I’ve never had a hangover. My failsafe plan is, therefore, don’t get drunk! Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but it works for me!

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

EH: Almost inevitably, there will be writing and maybe podcasting. Other than that, I might be in the garden. I’ve just planted a clematis, a honeysuckle and a passion flower to climb my boring fences, and I now have a red bottlebrush — it’s a magnificent Australian plant which reminds me of my auntie’s garden in Perth.

CC: There’d definitely be some writing in there somewhere! I’d also catch a football match (and hopefully, unlike this season, we might even win!) then pack my airband radio and binoculars and head off to the airport. I’m not a plane spotter so much as a plane watcher. We sit at the end of the runway, eat fish and chips, drink tea and watch the planes come and go whilst listening to pilots and tower. It’s more fun than it sounds, believe me, you see some really unexpected sights!

Some diverse weekend plans there! Thank you very much for joining me on the blog tonight, it has been a great evening.

As well as their book, The Ghost Garden, which is described above and which you can buy here,, Eleanor and Catherine have a new book coming out on 3 September. The Captain and the Theatrical is the third book in the Captivating Captains series and you can buy a copy here.

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When Captain Pendleton needs an emergency fiancée, who better to turn to than his male best friend? After all, for Amadeo Orsini, life’s one long, happy drag!

Captain Ambrose “Pen” Pendleton might have distinguished himself on the battlefield at Waterloo but since he’s come home to civvy street, he’s struggled to make his mark.

Pen dreams of becoming a playwright but his ambitious father has other ideas, including a trophy wife and a new job in America. If he’s to stand a hope of staying in England and pursuing his dream, Pen needs to find a fiancée fast.

Amadeo Orsini never made it as a leading man, but as a leading lady he’s the toast of the continental stage. Now Cosima is about to face her most challenging role yet, that of Captain Pendleton’s secret amour.

With the help of a talking theatrical parrot who never forgets his lines, Orsini throws on his best frock, slaps on the rouge and sets out to save Pen from the clutches of Miss Harriet Tarbottom and her scheming parents.

As friendship turns into love, will the captain be able to write a happy ending for himself and Orsini before the curtain falls?

Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead began writing together in the spring of 2017 and swiftly discovered a shared love of sauce, well-dressed gents and a uniquely British sort of romance. They drink gallons of tea, spend hours discussing the importance of good tailoring and are never at a loss for a double entendre.

Their short stories and the Captivating Captains series are published by Pride. Don’t miss the de Chastelaine Chronicles, coming in 2019 from Totally Bound.

You can find more information on their writing partnership on their website.

Catherine Curzon is an author and royal historian of the 18th century.

In addition to her four non-fiction books on Georgian royalty, available from Pen & Sword, she written extensively for a number of internationally-published publications,  and has spoken at venues and events across the United Kingdom.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine can often be found cheering for the mighty Huddersfield Town. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish colonial gentleman, a long-suffering cat and a lively dog.

Connect with Catherine via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She knows rather a lot about poisons, and can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens, and has a huge collection of vintage hats. She is the winner of the Best Dressed Sixth Former award and came third in the under-11s race at the Colchester Fire Swim.

Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.

Connect with Eleanor via FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Next week, I will be joined by the fabulous Cressida Mclaughlin to celebrate the publication of her latest paperback, so make sure you join us.

The Summer House in Santorini by Samantha Parks #BookReview #BlogTour (@samanthajgale) @0neMoreChapter @HarperCollinsUK @RaRaResources #GuestPost #RachelsRandomResources #TheSummerHouseInSantorini

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I am delighted to be taking my turn today on the blog tour for this lovely-looking, summery book set in one of the destinations at the top of my bucket list, Santorini, and I have a fun guest post from the author to share with you. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on to the tour and too the author for guesting on the blog.

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One summer in Greece will change everything…

Anna’s running away. From a failed relationship, a dead-end career and a complicated family life.

On the island of Santorini, with its picturesque villas, blue-tiled roofs, and the turquoise waters of the Aegean lapping at the white sand beaches, Anna inherits a less-than-picturesque summer house from her estranged father. As she rebuilds the house, she rebuilds her life, uncovering family secrets along the way that change everything. She starts to fall for her little slice of paradise, as well as for gorgeous, charming Nikos.

Will Anna lose her heart in more ways than one?

Let’s hear from Samantha now about who her dream cast would be if The Summer House in Santorini were made in to a film.

My Dream Cast for the film adaptation of The Summer House in Santorini

Some writers decide what their characters look like before they ever write a word. Others get clear pictures in their minds as they go. For those of us who daydream about our books being turned into films (which, if we’re being honest, is all of us), our minds often drift to actors and actresses we’ve seen on-screen.

While I didn’t cast the film version in my mind while I was writing, I really enjoyed picking out the lineup after I was finished. However, having fully fledged characters already created in my mind and on the page presented challenges for a few of them. But in the end I’m perfectly happy with the lineup I chose, and if someone would like to purchase the film rights for my book and then hire me to manage the casting, that would be fine by me.

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So despite the fact that I wrote the book without actors in mind, I always thought Anna would be an easy one to cast. She’s blonde and 25, after all. There are tons of blonde actresses in Hollywood, right?? Well… that’s true, there are. But they’re all either too young-looking, too old, too famous (yes, that’s definitely a thing), or too aggressively pretty. I scoured Pinterest looking for someone more gentle and delicate looking without looking like a porcelain doll. I liked the idea of Lily James, but having found my picks for the rest of the characters she didn’t fit the right age range.

Eventually I found Gabriella Wilde, probably best known for Endless Love and Poldark. She looks the right age, she has a beachy look about her, and she seems more withdrawn and considered, which fits with Anna’s character really well.

Honorable mentions for Anna include Indiana Evans and Elizabeth Lail.

Nikos – Deniz Akdenizimage2Okay, to be fair, I don’t know for sure that he’s Greek. He’s actually Australian. But his character in Tomorrow, When the War Began mentioned being Greek, and I’ve latched onto him as a frontrunner for Nikos ever since. He’s got a bit of a baby face without the stubble, and he’s not as tall as I imagined Nikos to be, but you have to admit he’s pretty damn handsome, and he has a charm about him that would work well for the character. Plus, if you search for more images of him on Google, you’ll see that he definitely has the body to pull it off…

Elena – Marie Avgeropoulosimage3If you’re a fan of The 100, you will definitely have seen this face before. You know Marie has it in her to be flirty, assertive and a bit dramatic. She’s meant to be a couple of years younger than Nikos, and while Marie is 33 in real life, she’s definitely found the fountain of youth and could easily play someone in her mid-twenties. After all, her career-making role is as a teenager after all. Elena is a bombshell and a big personality, and Marie seems perfect for the part.

Eirini – Olympia Dukakis

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Would an Oscar-winning actress want to play a grandmother in a film adaptation of my book? Probably not. But the answer is always no until you ask, right? Plus, she’s got that maternal vibe going on really well.

Christos – John Aniston

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*Cues the Days of Our Lives theme song* Honestly, who has played more endearing Greek dads and granddads than dear old John Aniston? Maybe we could even get his daughter Jennifer to make a cameo… I’m thinking as the American woman at the wedding?

Marcus – Justin Hartleyimage6

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Justin Hartley. But can you imagine him as Anna’s boss Marcus, the photographer/gallery owner with just enough celebrity that he thinks he can treat people around him like they’re disposable? Because I can. Hey, the bad guy is always super hot, right? And if being hot and having the ability to play confident-bordering-on-cocky are the criteria, then Justin Hartley has this one in the bag.

Xenia – Zoe Ventoura

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Australian actress Zoe Ventoura just SCREAMS kickass business woman to me, so she’s perfect for the part of Xenia. Fun fact: Xenia wasn’t actually in the original version of this book. But as the story evolved, someone was needed that was strong enough to wear the hats of cafe owner, resort owner and Anna’s first paying client on the island. Thus, Xenia came to be. If Zoe here would just chop her hair into a power bob, she’d be perfect for the role!

Vasilis – Konstantinos Vasalos

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So this guy is a personal trainer I found on Instagram. Not an actor. No idea if he speaks English. But let’s be honest, Vasilis wouldn’t be a very acting-heavy role. I mean, come on, he’s even got the wife-beater top I put in the book! He’s here for the eye candy and the broken English, nothing else, so a personal trainer sounds pretty perfect.

Grace – Michelle Pfeiffer

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I have to admit, Grace was the last character I cast. I tend to adopt the attitude of my characters when I’m writing, which for Grace Linton involves just trying not to think about her. But she deserves great casting just like everyone else. The important thing to get right about Grace is her age; she should look right around 50. Any older and she’s too close in age to Eirini and Christos, and any younger and she’s not believably Anna and Lizzy’s mother. With those critera, the obvious choice for me was Michelle Pfeiffer. She looks just bougie enough, just devious enough and just blonde enough. Can’t you just picture her swilling a glass of white wine telling Anna nothing good ever came from a Linton woman going to Greece?

Lizzy – Tonia Sotiropoulou

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This bombshell from Skyfall was the perfect choice for Lizzy. Fun fact: this wasn’t discussed at length in the book, but Lizzy, Anna’s sister, was always meant to look more Greek than Anna does. Their appearances were meant to draw parallels to the parent they sided with, as well as their readiness to embrace their heritage. If you look at a side-by-side of Tonia and Gabriella, they have just enough similarities to pass as sisters (if they do some contouring and always face this exact angle, of course).

So, what do you think of my choices? Do any of the characters look a lot different than you pictured? Would you go see this film? I know I’d be front row with a BIG old box of popcorn watching all the drama unfold on the little island of Santorini.

Thanks, Samantha, you must have had great fun picking out your dream cast, let’s hope we see the film adaptation one day!

The Summer House in Santorini is out as an ebook on 7 August and in paperback on 3 August and you can pre-order both formats here.

For some more great content and reviews of the book, make sure you check out the rest of the blogs on the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

Summer House - Author Photo

Samantha Parks is the pen name of Sam Gale. Her pen name comes from her late grandmother Velma Hobbs nee Parks, who was one of Sam’s greatest role models. Sam was born in North Carolina but now resides in Bournemouth, UK with her husband Alex. She owns a successful marketing company and is enjoying her slow descent into “crazy plant lady” status.

Connect with Samantha:

Website: https://www.samanthaparks.com

Facebook: Samantha Parks Author

Twitter: @samanthajgale

Instagram: @searchingforsamantha

 

Ten Things I Learned From The Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme by Helena Fairfax (@HelenaFairfax) #GuestPost #RNA #NewWritersScheme @RNATweets #amwriting #amwritingromance

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Tonight I have a slight departure from my usual Friday Night Drinks post. Instead, I am delighted to welcome fellow RNA author and New Writers’ Scheme alumni, Helena Fairfax, to the blog with a guest post on ten things she learned from participation in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.

So, let me hand over now to Helena:

Every year the Romantic Novelists’ Association offers an opportunity to 300 unpublished writers to have their work critiqued by an experienced romance author. I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme ten years ago. I look back now on how much I’ve learned since posting off my first manuscript (yes, it was all done by post then!) and I continue to feel an enormous debt to my RNA reader for giving me a grounding in what makes a great romance novel.

I passed through the New Writers’ Scheme twice.  The first year I sent off just the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel.  I knew the story was going astray, and I was right to have reservations.  I received a four-page, detailed report highlighting where the reader felt the manuscript wasn’t quite right, along with some constructive suggestions on how to improve it.

So, back to the keyboard I went, to do what all successful writers do – rewrite. And this was the first lesson I learned:

  1. Writing is rewriting. Writers need to be able to look at their work dispassionately and not take a critique personally.
  2. My fictional characters are real. I take this for granted now, but I found it exciting and strangely alarming to have someone else talk about them as though they were actually living beings and not just creatures in my head.
  3. Because the characters are living and breathing people, they MUST have a clear motivation for their behaviour. What is it in a character’s past that has made her this way? As my reader advised, ‘Keep asking yourself why/why not?’ If you give your characters a solid past, they become well-rounded people your readers can believe in.
  4. A romance story revolves around conflict. My reader said, ‘It’s about why the hero and heroine, so obviously attracted to each other, not only won’t admit they have fallen in love, but feel that they can’t…Your hero and heroine should have goals that are in direct opposition to each other.’ The greater the emotional tension, the more the reader will want to keep turning the pages, desperate to know how these two will ever get together.
  5. There must be a situation which FORCES the hero and heroine together. If not, then why not just part on page four, if they are in opposition to one another?
  6. Romance novels are all about character. ‘When you’re structuring a romance, you should be thinking about the plot not so much as moving your characters from A to B, but as a series of situations that test their fears and bring their goals into conflict.’ Take it from me, this focus on character rather than plot makes it very difficult to sustain the tension necessary for a page-turning read. Anyone who thinks writing a romance is easy should try it for themselves!
  7. Romance novels aren’t about the perfect heroine. Readers don’t take to the heroine who is beautiful, successful, has lots of friends, and always does the right thing. We can relate to someone who has flaws. Lizzie Bennett, one of the most famous romantic heroines of all time, spends almost the entire book being prejudiced, but we all love her. (On the other hand, don’t make the heroine too silly, or readers will put the book down. Again, romance writing is a tricky business.)
  8. The synopsis needs to encompass all the above points: the characterisation, motivation, goals, source of conflict, how the hero and heroine are forced together, and how they overcome the demons that are keeping them apart.
  9. Handling rejection. Of course I was disappointed the story needed more work, but the letter that accompanied my critique stated: ‘Always bear in mind that most published authors have experience of rejection. All writers, published and unpublished, need to be tenacious and determined…Have faith in yourself!
  10. And so back to the dreaded rewrite. I resubmitted the entire novel the next year. This taught me another valuable lesson – that if you want to write a book, the only way to get it done is to put your bum in the chair and type. I had a deadline, and I stuck to it.

Since receiving my first ever developmental edit, I’ve written a further four novels, contributed to and edited a best-selling anthology , and written a non-fiction history of women’s lives in Yorkshire. My first critique helped me to focus on the craft of writing. Two years ago I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I’m now an intermediate member of the SfEP and an associate editor at the Betterwrite Literary Agency.

Nowadays I work with both new and established authors, and I find it a great pleasure passing on the lessons I learned from my own first critique from the RNA.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the New Writers’ Scheme with us, Helena. Despite not yet being published, I have already found it invaluable to my writing and would urge any aspiring author whose novel has a touch of romance to consider applying to the Scheme. Details of how to do it can be found here.

Applications for the Scheme in 2020 will open on 2 January.

About the Author

Helena Fairfax photo

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor and author. She was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors and the home of the Brontë sisters. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Helena’s latest release is a non-fiction historical work called Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality. Women’s voices are all too often missing from the history books. This book looks at some of the key events in the fascinating history of the mill town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, from the point of view of the women who shaped the town. It’s available on now from bookshops and retailers and from Pen & Sword Publishing and you can buy a copy here.

Connect with Helena:

Website: https://helenafairfax.com

Twitter: @HelenaFairfax

Facebook: Helena Fairfax

 

 

The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White, Narrated by Ana Clements & Paul Heitsch #AudiobookReview #BlogTour (@bclaypolewhite) @RaRaResources @audibleuk @SpokenRealms #TheUnfinishedGarden #RachelsRandomResources

The Unfinished Garden

I’m very excited to be doing my very first audiobook blog tour for The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White, so big thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on to the tour and to the author for my audio copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

The Unfinished Garden Front

A love story about grief, OCD, and dirt 

Tilly Silverberg is rebuilding her life with her young son, Isaac, one potted-up plant at a time. Since her husband’s death, gardening has become her livelihood and her salvation. Hiding out in the North Carolina forest, she wants only to be left alone with Isaac and her greenhouse.

New to the area, successful software developer James Nealy needs a garden. On a solitary mission to reclaim his life from irrational obsessions and relentless compulsions, he has a plan: to conquer his greatest fear. Dirt. One glimpse—or two—of Tilly’s garden, and he knows she holds the key. But when he asks her to take him on as a client, she refuses.

After a family emergency pulls Tilly and Isaac back to her native England, she’s quietly happy, because nothing has changed in her childhood village. Or has it? Her first love is unexpectedly single, her mother is scheming, and her best friend is keeping secrets. Then James appears on her doorstep.

Tenuous at first, but gradually taking root, James and Tilly forge an unlikely bond. As they work together to rescue a garden choked by neglect, they unearth each other’s secrets, each other’s fears, each other’s hopes—and maybe, a shared second chance.

I do listen to quite a lot of audiobooks in the car but my taste in aural literature tends towards thrillers, which I find make journeys pass quite quickly with their tension and short chapters, so this was a bit of a departure for me as far as audiobooks are concerned and I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it.

It is a very long book to listen to, and definitely very different to my thrillers as there is a long of internal dialogue from the characters and the pace of the story is quite slow and languorous, like the Carolina summer where the story starts. However, the pace of the writing was perfect for the story which tells the tale of a timid, blossoming relationship between bereaved Tilly and James, plagued and tormented by his OCD. Once I got used to the slower pace, I was completely enthralled by the story.

There are two narrators for the book, one telling the story fromTilly’s perspective and one from James’s, so it was very easy to tell whose point of view we were hearing at any given time. It was well done, and I think it was necessary because, given how much internal musings there are in the story, it would have been quite difficult to follow them whilst listening if there had been a single narrator.

This is a really beautiful story exploring the relationship dynamics between two damaged people and how they recognise things they need in one another. There are further complications involving extended family with internal tensions and old, unresolved relationships that add layer upon layer of texture to the tales of our internal, human stressors and difficulties. The book is a beautiful exploration of the human condition with complex but sympathetic characters and a beautiful setting that provides the ideal metaphorical backdrop for the issues dealt with in the book.

The reason I mostly listen to thrillers in audio format is that I find it difficult to fully appreciate the nuances of language and construction of the more literary novel when I am listening to, rather than reading them. When I am reading, I will often go back to read and re-read and highlight beautiful sentences or passages, to fully wring the meaning and emotion from the words. I find this more difficult to do with an audiobook and worry that I am missing some subtlety or impact in the language. I think this is a book I would like to go back and read in a physical format to make sure I have fully appreciated it, but this may well be a personal quirk of mine and should not put anyone else off listening to the audiobook.

I thought The Unfinished Garden was a rich and beautiful story, full of emotion and complexity and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The audio version is very well done and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy this genre in audio format. I will definitely go back and re-read this book in a physical format.

The Unfinished Garden is out now and you can get the audiobook here.

To read some alternative reviews of this audiobook, check out the tour stops on the poster below:

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About the Author

The Unfinished high resolution

Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White writes hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Born in England, she works and gardens in the forests of North Carolina, where she lives with her family. Her novels include: The Unfinished Garden, which won the Golden Quill for Best First Book; The In-Between Hour, a SIBA Okra Pick; The Perfect Son, a Goodreads Choice Awards Semi-finalist; Echoes of Family, a WFWA Star Award Finalist; and The Promise Between Us, a 2018 Nautilus Award Winner.

Barbara is an OCD advocate for the nonprofit A2A Alliance, which promotes advocacy over adversity. 

Connect with Barbara:

Website: http://www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com

Facebook: Barbara Claypole White

Twitter: @bclaypolewhite

Instagram: @bclaypolewhite

 

The Secret Cove in Croatia by Julie Caplin #BookReview (@JulieCaplin) @OneMoreChapter @HarperCollinsUK @fictionpubteam @NetGalley #TheSecretCoveInCroatia #NetGalley

The Secret Cove in Croatia Cover

Sail away to beautiful Croatia for summer sun, sparkling turquoise seas and a holiday romance that’s forever…

When no-nonsense, down-to-earth Maddie Wilcox is offered the chance to work on a luxury yacht for the summer, she can’t say no. Yes she’ll be waiting on the posh guests… But island-hopping around the Adriatic sea will more than make up for it – especially when Nick, her best friend Nina’s brother, is one of them.

Sparks fly when they meet on board and Maddie can’t believe self-entitled jerk Nick is really related to Nina.

But in a secret, picture-perfect cove, away from the real world, Maddie and Nick discover they might have more in common than they realise…

My thanks to HarperImpulse for my copy of this book received via NetGalley, which I reviewed honestly and impartially.

How could you not want to pick up this book when you see the beautiful cover? It looks like the perfect summer read, doesn’t it? Well, if you are not managing to escape the UK for your holidays this year but want to travel vicariously through your summer reading, you won’t do better than picking up a copy of The Secret Cove in Croatia by Julie Caplin.

Up until recently, I worked in travel and Croatia has become one of the hottest destinations in Europe over the past few years, although I haven’t managed to get there in person yet. Having read this book, I feel like I have actually been because, like all of her titles in the Romantic Escapes series, Julie has managed to capture the feeling and all the tiny details that transport the reader to the location of the story. Having spent a lot of time selling this destination to my travel clients, I could tell that the author had actually visited the location she was writing about and had fallen in love with the place, this really shone through in the writing and made me fall in love with it too.

The books follows the story of Maddie. Struggling to find a way to follow her passion in life, she takes a job as crew on a yacht for the summer, only to find that the brother of her best friend is one of the passengers, which causes endless difficulties. I adored both Maddie and Nick from the beginning. Maddie is just the kind of heroine a modern woman can relate to, not perfect but kind, determined and sassy, she knows her own mind and isn’t going to take any nonsense from a man. She does have her vulnerabilities though, which make her very sympathetic and I can guarantee you will be on her side and praying for her to get a happy ending from the start. Nick is a suitable foil for her, and I really enjoyed the glimpses we got inside his head too. I think it can be tricky to switch between male and female perspectives sometimes and make it equally convincing, but it really works in this book.

There are lots of other characters to round out the plot, lovely and loathsome to give a fun balance, and there is a refreshing mix of funny moments with some serious topics, a huge dash of romance and a sexy frisson as well. It really makes a tasty summer cocktail of a read which will tickle your reading tastebuds and give you a happy rush by the end. I absolutely loved it all, but the real pleasure was feeling that I had truly taken a trip to Croatia without having to leave the house. As a writer, I can see the skill that has gone in to this book and I am in awe.

I defy anyone to pick up this book and not finish it without a big smile on their face and a happy heart. The perfect romantic, summer read, I was very sad when it was over. Big high five from me, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Secret Cove in Croatia is out today as an ebook and in paperback on 22 August and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

The Secret Cove Author

Jules Wake announced at the age of ten that she planned to be a writer. Along the way she was diverted by the glamorous world of PR and worked on many luxury brands, taking journalists on press trips to awful places like Turin, Milan, Geneva, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam and occasionally losing the odd member of the press in an airport. This proved fabulous training for writing novels as it provided her with the opportunity to eat amazing food, drink free alcohol, hone her writing skills on press releases and to research European cities for her books. 

She writes best-selling warm-hearted contemporary fiction for HarperImpulse.

Under her pen name, Julie Caplin, her twelfth novel, The Secret Cove in Croatia published in ebook format this July.

Connect with Jules:

Website: http://www.juleswake.co.uk

Facebook: Julie Caplin Author

Twitter: @JulieCaplin