Friday 29 March 2013

Book Of The Month - March

I've read some fantastic books since starting this blog and I'd like to give some of them a bit more recognition. So I've decided to add a new feature to the blog and give a special mention to one outstanding book each month. Feel free to add your thoughts of the chosen book in the comments below or even recommend an outstanding book of your own.

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

Life After Life is a brilliant book and although it took me a little while to get my head around the flipping backwards and forwards through time, I soon found I was unable to put it down. I absolutely loved the book and didn't want it to end. It had everything - drama, humour, love and the added element of Ursula's life starting again and again to put her life on the right track. It's still quite early on in the year but I can see Life After Life being one of my top reads of the year.
You can read my review here

Thursday 28 March 2013

A-Z Challenge 2013

All through April, crazy bloggers take part in the A-Z Challenge, posting each day of the month (except Sundays - even crazy bloggers need a rest). And I've decided to take part this year for the first time. Eek!

Starting on Monday, I'll be working through the alphabet, posting my own A-Z of Writing.

You can sign up by clicking on the logo above.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Parenting Tips from Janey Fraser

Janey Fraser's latest book, Happy Families is about to be published and I'm lucky enough to be taking part on her blog tour. As well as trying to write and being an avid reader, I'm almost a mum to a 10 and 4 year old so Janey has offered some words of wisdom:

1.       Follow your instinct. Don’t be swayed by how others do it. You know your children best.

2.       When you feel you’re about to shout at the children, pretend they belong to someone else. You’re more likely to be civil to them if you pretend you’re not related by blood. The chances are that you’ll get a better reaction from them if you can keep things on an even keel.

3.       Pick your moments.  Don’t nag when you’re tired. Can it wait? Hold important conversations in places where they can’t escape eg the car. Works well for reciting tables too.

4.       Don’t compare your children’s achievements with others – or your own with other parents. We’re all different. Thank goodness.

5.       Put yourself in your child’s shoes every now and then. Get them to do the same by asking what they would do if their children didn’t eat or wouldn’t turn off the computer or swore at their parents....

6.       Children arguing?  Don’t immediately assume it’s someone’s fault. Divide them by giving them different jobs to do.
7.       Throw them by laughing when they expect you to get cross about something.

8.       Tell them about mistakes that you made as a child. There’s too much pressure on kids to be perfect.

9.       Give your children space every now and then.  

10.   Try and work with your partner before laying down the law about what your children should or shouldn’t do. He or she might have had a completely different childhood from yours which might lead to a clash of opinion. Listen to each other. It can make you stronger as a team. (Or not....)

11.   Kids driving you mad? Get cooking with them. They might make a mess and you probably don't have time but it's amazing how it can make you all laugh - and improve their self esteem. (Just as long as they don't give you food poisoning.)

12.   Do you despair that they will ever get potty trained/sit at the table/do what you want? Remind yourself that most adults are continent/go to restaurants/end up by toeing the line. You'll get there in the end even if you have to wait until they're grown up.

13.   Try and spend a short time once a week, with each one of your children. Call it your 'special time'. It doesn't matter if it's just ten minutes, curled up on the sofa in front of their favourite programme.

14.   Keep a magic shoebox in the kitchen, full of interesting things to do for rainy days. Allow the children to have a 'lucky dip'. This could also be used as a reward.
Thank you for the tips, Janey. They'll come in handy over the next couple of weeks during the Easter holidays!

The publishers of Happy Families are running a parenting survey. You can take part by clicking here

Monday 25 March 2013

#AmReading The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

One of my reading goals for 2013 was to read books from my non-review pile, which has been neglected lately. I've had The Mystery of Mercy Close since it was released in September but have yet to read it - and I call myself a massive fan of Marian Keyes *hangs head in shame*
Helen Walsh doesn't believe in fear - it's just a thing invented by men to get all the money and good jobs - and yet she's sinking. Her work as a Private Investigator has dried up, her flat has been repossessed and now some old demons have resurfaced.
Not least in the form of her charming but dodgy ex-boyfriend Jay Parker, who shows up with a missing persons case. Money is tight and Jay is awash with cash, so Helen is forced to take on the task of finding Wayne Diffney, the 'Wacky One' from boyband Laddz.
Things ended messily with Jay. And she's never going back there. Besides she has a new boyfriend now, the very sexy detective Artie Devlin and it's all going well. But the reappearance of Jay is stirring up all kinds of stuff she thought she'd left behind.
Playing by her own rules, Helen is drawn into a dark and glamorous world, where her worst enemy is her own head and where increasingly the only person she feels connected to is Wayne, a man she's never even met.

What are you reading?

Saturday 23 March 2013

Guest Post: Ellen Sussman

I asked author Ellen Sussman when did you start to feel like a writer?

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This is It. Right now. I feel like a writer. It’s true that I’ve been writing for many years. I made the decision to be a writer when I was six. (Really.) I stubbornly kept writing even when I received a boatload of rejection letters. I’ve now published three novels and two anthologies. But this is my time.
Right now I’m waiting for The Paradise Guest House to be published, both in the UK and in the U.S. Pub date is just a week or two away which makes me thrilled and terrified. I’m distracting myself by writing the next novel. It’s already sold and will be published a year from this summer. French Lessons, my last novel, is still selling well. Wow. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better moment for my writing life. I’m making a living as a writer, I love it, and I’m publishing one book after another. I worked long and hard for this moment. And I’m not going to miss the fun of it.
I know how difficult it is to succeed as a writer. I feel extraordinarily lucky. And yes, I work very very hard at what I do. These good times might not last so I’m not going to wait for better times. I’m going to love every moment of Right Now.
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Ellen Sussman is the author of The Paradise Guest House, which is available now. You can see my review here.

Thursday 21 March 2013

The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman


Tour guide Jamie Hyde is in Bali with her boyfriend Miguel when two bombs explode in town. Both Jamie and Miguel are caught up in the horrific event and Jamie's life will never be the same again.

A year later and Jamie is returning to Bali. Her injuries have healed but she is still scarred, both physically and emotionally. After going against her mother's advice, Jamie returns to the country that changed her life forever. An event to commemorate a year passing since the attack has been organised and Jamie finds herself staying at the Paradise Guest House with a widower whose wife died during the bombings.

But this isn't the only reason Jamie is returning to Bali. Though she can't admit it to herself to begin with, Jamie is looking for a man, Gabe Winters.

At just over 250 pages, The Paradise Guest House is quite a quick read but it is packed with an emotional story of love, loss and survival. Told over three parts, we know Jamie initially arrived in Bali with her boyfriend Miguel but we aren't sure how Gabe is involved until the second part when the story shifts to the previous year, at the time of the bombings.

I loved the relationships that were formed within the book, from Jamie and Gabe to Jamie and her widowed host but my favourite friendship was between Jamie and Bambang, an anonymous boy who lives on the street. They don't get off to the best start but I found their bond touching and amusing. Bambang is a fantastic character; cheeky and caring yet guarded.

Jamie's story is both sad and inspiring and I thought she showed great strength and courage during the bombings and in returning a year later.

Thank you to Canvas for sending me a copy to review. I'll be taking part in Ellen Sussman's blog tour so look out for a guest post on Saturday!

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Guest Post - Jennifer Barclay

I’d always had a dream of being on a Greek island.

We went on family holidays to Greece when I was a child, and I spent a year there after university, when I taught English in Athens and would take ferries to islands on the weekends and have adventures.

But then I moved to Canada for a man and stayed there for work, to build my sensible career, and didn’t go back to Greece for ten years. Still, the dream was always there. Literally – in a recurring dream, especially during the grey days of winter, I’d find myself walking on a hillside to a whitewashed village, with deep blue sea down below. 


Then a few years ago, a relationship fell apart and so did I. It wasn’t just that I was heartbroken over the man I loved. I also thought: what was wrong with me? Weeping over a broken heart again when everyone else seemed to have got their life together, playing happy families and – well, being normal…

No-one else was going to make me happy, I realised.

Drastic measures were needed to pull myself out of a rut.

I called them three Gifts to Self.

The first was staying away from relationships for half a year. I woke up feeling like a Warrior Princess, knowing my heart wasn’t going to be broken anytime soon.

The second was cutting down my work week to four days, a break from the treadmill. I only had myself to look after, so I could afford it.

The third would be a month alone on a Greek island. Greece for the month of May. Whenever things looked bleak, the idea made my heart dance.

My book, FALLING IN HONEY, is about all this and where it took me. Strange things happened. In Greece that magical month I got to hold octopus and starfish in my hands. I made a plan to move to that tiny, wild Greek island. Back in England, I fell in love again, and got engaged… and we made plans to live on the island together and try for a family. Then, at the eleventh hour, in the most bizarre twist I’ve ever encountered, it turned out he wasn’t coming with me after all.

Would you still go? Did I? Of course I did! And it was the best move I ever made.

The book came out at the start of March and got off to a good start: the Daily Express called me a ‘real life Shirley Valentine’. A photographer called Malena took some flattering photos to go with the story (life on a rural Greek island is not usually so glamorous…).

But best of all has been the reaction of people who have read the book and ‘got it’, who have been inspired by the honesty and openness and the message: that life is too short not to reach out for what makes us happy. I hope it’s a fun read, and a triumphant one, about what we can do if we put our minds to it. Writer and TV presenter Emma Woolf said the book made her laugh and cry and laugh again – I couldn’t wish for a better endorsement.

I hope you may want to come with me on the journey to this funny place called Tilos with more goats than people, where a bee is buzzing around my head as I write this and where there are more eligible young men than you might expect…

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

Jen x 

Falling in Honey: Life and Love on a Greek Island is now available as book, e-book and audio from and other retailers. Jennifer Barclay can also be found on her blog:

Tuesday 19 March 2013

The Latest Dreaded Synopsis

So I've finished the second draft of my book. Now comes the hard part - the dreaded synopsis. Why is it easier to write an 80,000+ word novel than it is to write a teeny, weenie synopsis? Seriously, why? I need to know.

Because I'm relatively normal, I dread the dreaded synopsis so I decided to get some help and bought Nicola's Morgan's 'Write A Great Synopsis'. I've read through it and made notes so I'm ready to go. Aren't I? *musters fake confidence* Yes, I am!

Monday 18 March 2013

Cover Stars: A French Affair by Katie Fforde

This year I decided to start a Book Of The Month feature to give a special mention to the wonderful books I have read. So I thought why not celebrate wonderful book covers too?

They say don't judge a book by its cover but we all do, right?
Feel free to add your thoughts on the covers or even suggest your own 'cover stars'.
First up is A French Affair by Katie Fforde:
I'm a big fan of cartoon covers but this one is a bit different to my usual type. I usually hone in on covers with silhouette figures or young, frivolous characters (quite often with a dog). But this cover really appeals to me. It's so elegant with the shades of purple of the grapes and the wording. I'm left wondering who this sophisticated woman is and, more importantly, who she is waiting for as there are two glasses of wine on the table. Though I suppose she could be thirsty. Or a keen drinker.
I think the cover  is simple and beautiful and I can't wait to read the book.
Click here to see my review of A French Affair or click here to see all Cover Stars

Thursday 14 March 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

It is 11th February 1910 and the third child of Hugh and Sylvie Todd is born. But disaster strikes when the child - a daughter named Ursula - is delivered with the cord wrapped around her neck. With the doctor stuck in a snowstorm, the baby dies.
But what if events had been different? What if the doctor had made it to the house in time to save the baby? What if Ursula had lived?
Life After Life tells the story of Ursula Todd as her life restarts after her fateful birth. Ursula is given a second chance at life and when disaster strikes the Todd household yet again, Ursula's life restarts with subtle changes transforming her destiny.
Ursula and her siblings grow up at the idyllic Fox Corner but their life is often turbulent as they face not one but two wars. Ursula is only a child as Britain goes to war in 1914 but is an adult at the advent of World Ward Two and as such has many hardships to face. But Ursula is special and has the chance to change her path in life.
Life After Life is a wonderful book that asks the question what if you could change the events of your life? I loved being immersed in Ursula's life, even if she did find herself in some dire situations that were so awful it was a relief when she died and could start all over again. It took a little getting used to the structure of the book as it skipped backwards and forwards through the years but it wasn't long before it all became clear and I was hooked. The book looks like quite a hefty read but, finding it extremely difficult to put down, I soon whizzed through it. The only downfall of this was I finished the book quickly and I was sad to reach the end as I had been enjoying it immensely.
Life After Life deals with some tough and distressing situations but is also threaded with humour, particularly at the expense of Ursula's older, troublesome brother, Maurice. Many of the scenes are repeated in the book but it never feels boring as there are always changes as Ursula's life is altered and seeing these slightly different scenes while knowing how they had played out previously was my favourite aspect of the book.
Life After Life is the best book I've read so far in 2013 and though we're only in March, I suspect it'll be difficult to be beaten. I urge everyone to get their hands on a copy.
Thank you to Transworld Books for sending me a copy to review

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Draft Two: Done!

I've done it. I finished the second draft of Book 3 this morning and it feels great. To celebrate, I will pick up my daughter from nursery and do mummy and houseworky things. Oh, the glamour!

Of course now I have to write a dreaded synopsis but I've bought 'Write A Great Synopsis' by Nicola Morgan so I'm hoping that will help. Nicola Morgan's 'Dear Agent' was a massive help so I'm hoping this one will be too.

So all that's left to say is yay me *pats herself on back*

Monday 11 March 2013

Cover Stars


This year I decided to start a Book Of The Month feature to give a special mention to the wonderful books I have read. So I thought why not celebrate wonderful book covers too? So starting next week I will waffle about any covers that catch my eye.

They say don't judge a book by its cover but we all do, right?

Feel free to add your thoughts on the covers or even suggest your own 'cover stars'.

Cover Stars:

Friday 8 March 2013

World Book Day 2013

I hope you all had a fantastic World Book Day yesterday. My daughters' school are behind everybody else and are celebrating today, with each class dressing up as a character from their chosen book.

My 4 year old is in nursery and they've chosen Room On The Broom so she is going as the witch.

My 10 year old's class have chosen Narnia so she is going as Susan (and we've made a bow and arrows out of a massive twig, string, kebab skewers [with the points cut off, I should add] and feathers).

Did you celebrate World Book Day?

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Giveaway: Winners

My giveaway of Bad Mothers United by Kate Long is now over and the winners have been picked. Thank you to everyone who entered and/or tweeted about the giveaway.

The five winners are:




Lindsay and


All winners have been sent an email and the books will be posted out as soon as possible.

Friday 1 March 2013

A Chat With Michele Gorman

Michele Gorman's latest novel, Bella Summer Takes a Chance tells the story of B, an almost 40 year old who decides it is time to take drastic action in both her love life and music career.

Bella Summer Takes a Chance is out now and you can see my review here

Author Michele Gorman has kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions

When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
For me it started out as a practical decision, if not a very realistic one. I was working full-time in London and wondered what I could do to earn a living without having to change out of my pyjamas. Since flannel-clad ladies of the night weren’t likely to be popular, I decided I’d become a writer. Armed with a love of reading but no practical knowledge of writing, it took a while for my ability to catch up with my ambition. Ten years later, my debut, Single in the City, was published by Penguin.

Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
It was a long and winding one! I wrote my first book on weekends, and only after finishing did I realise I’d written an entire novel with no storyline, making it unpublishable. It was an expensive lesson learned, as it had taken a year to write, so I outlined my next book (Little Sacrifices, which I eventually self-published under the pen name Jamie Scott). That one got me a NYC agent, but not a publishing contract. My agent didn’t like my third book, and by that time I didn’t much like my NYC agent, so I fired her. The book that would become my debut was born on a holiday to Italy as I was ranting to my then-boyfriend about the first chick lit book I’d ever read. It was a New York Times best-seller. It was terrible. I thought I could do better and outlined Single in the City over a bottle of chianti. It took over a year to write and edit, but my wonderful London-based agent, Caroline Hardman, negotiated the UK/Commonwealth rights sale to Penguin and it was published in June 2010.

What was your inspiration for Bella Summer Takes a Chance?
It began with the idea of what’s “enough” for a woman (complete with giant quotation finger movements). Where is that line? As I started to play with Bella’s situation, I found myself feeling very disgruntled on her behalf, in all spheres of her life. Why should a life in which nothing is wrong be a life that’s right? Just because society, or your friends or family or boyfriend say so? No way. I wanted Bella to grab the golden ring with both hands. She may fail, fall off the horse and end up in a heap on the ground with her underpants showing, but she’s going to try.

The fragility of identity also interested me. Having taken so much time and effort to get my first publishing deal, I knew how hard it was to continue on a creative path when anyone else in her right mind would have given up. As Bella says: When do you stop becoming a musician-with-a-day-job and start being an accountant-who-is-musical? I think that having that experience helped me write her journey realistically.

Who was your favourite character to write from the book?
Ah, this is a question I get asked a lot. If pressed, I’d have to say it’s probably Frederick. He popped into my head fully formed, and really wrote himself. That’s not why I love him, but it was nice to have such an easy character! Usually I have to wrestle them to get them to do what I want, since they tend to go off in unexpected directions.

If Bella Summer Takes a Chance was made into a movie, who would be your dream cast?
I’m terrible at remembering actors’ names, so I’ll ask for some help from your blog fans … Who would you cast? Bella is 38, Canadian/American, with red hair. She’s feisty and independent, intelligent and funny. Frederick is also in his late 30s, very well groomed, sharp and witty. Mattias is Swedish (but more Saab than Volvo Turbo), tall with dark hair and green eyes. Kat is in her mid 30s, Austrian, petite, with a dark bob, who always wears bright red lipstick. Clare is 26, English, cuddly and very approachable. Faith is 36, English, willowy, blonde and beautiful. And Marjorie is 91, patrician and full of life.

What has been your greatest experience of being a published writer?
My launch party. I was surrounded by all of my friends, my agent and all the lovely people at Penguin who’d got my debut to publication, and my Mom flew over from the US. It was a bit like being a bride at a wedding – I never got to finish a glass of wine and spent the whole night grinning and being kissed by people I adore.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write, and write, and then rewrite until the story on the page is as good as the story in your head. Being a writer is like any other profession. It takes a lot of time and effort to practice your craft until it’s good.

If it’s important to you to find a traditional publisher, and agent, then keep at it. That means a lot of query letters and submissions. Try not to get disheartened (that’s not easy!), because there’s a lot of luck and timing in finding someone to represent your work (and your writing has to be good, of course). And if you choose to self-publish, remember that doing so requires exactly the same level of quality control that traditional publishing has. Hire a cover designer and most importantly, professional editors (copy editor and content editor). You wouldn’t expect to buy a car or a pair of shoes that hadn’t been professionally designed and finished, that hadn’t gone through rigorous quality control. Readers shouldn’t have to pay for books that lack those things either.

What was the first book you ever bought yourself?
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

What was the last book you read?
The Rose Hotel by Rahimeh Andalibian, which is a true story that follows a family from 1979 Iran to the present. The first half was really good, but I lost interest a bit in the second half. I think this was because I was more interested in the early years in Iran than the later ones in the US, rather than any lack of storytelling on the author’s part.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just started my next book, The Reinvention of Lucy Winters. Everybody loves 26-year-old Lucy. She’s the perfect friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend and colleague, always willing to bend over backwards for others. Perfectly pliable Lucy. Though she doesn't like to think of herself as a doormat, she has felt a lot of footprints over the years. So when she tries hypnosis to finally kick her smoking habit, she decides to make a few other changes while she’s there. To her surprise, the hypnosis works - perhaps a little too well. Lucy awakens a new woman, no longer a pushover. Unfortunately she's stuck in her old life, and it's one that no longer fits. Her newfound spirit will put her on a collision course with everyone she knows, and challenge the very identity that she’s so carefully built.

Set in the cutthroat world of investment banking, where nice girls finish last, it’s a warm and witty Cinderella tale of self-discovery, only there's no fairy godmother or handsome prince to come to the rescue. It will be up to Lucy to make her own happily ever after.

Thanks so much Jenni, for having me on Mama J Hearts! xoxo

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Thank you, Michele, for taking the time to answer my questions.