Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Guest Post: Aven Ellis

Writing Connectivity          

It is amazing how one moment of TV gave me the inspiration for writing the book that scored me THE CALL from a publisher.

Last spring I stumbled on Sherlock, a modern update of Sherlock Holmes on the BBC. I was immediately taken with two things: the gorgeous London setting and the dark, wavy hair of the lead actor, Benedict Cumberbatch.

As I watched the show, inspiration struck me like lightning. Suddenly a hero formed in my mind—William Cumberland, a British media mogul with dark, out-of-control wavy hair. I picked up my smartphone, opened a memo sheet, and began sketching him. Before I knew it, I knew everything about William—his goals, his drive, his inner conflict, his icy exterior, his reserve... All of this came from watching one episode of a TV show on a Saturday night!

Now it was time to create the heroine. I always knew I wanted to write stories about women in their young to mid-twenties because it is such a fascinating place in life. I wanted to write about the start of careers...determining life dreams...and figuring out THE GUY (whether the heroine knows this or not!) Taking inspiration from my day job (I work in television), I wanted a heroine who was strong, career-focused, and determined to climb the ladder in network television. She would be the fire to William’s ice. I knew she would have red hair to match her passion (and temper!)

But what to name her? I started a list of potential names. Sydney? Jecca? I went back and forth until I was flipping channels and came across Full House. (Okay, I promise I don’t watch as much TV as it sounds like I do.) I saw the credits and the name Mary-Kate. And I found my heroine. Mary-Kate, named after an Olsen Twin (and a name she hates explaining to William upon their first meeting.)

The story came together quickly. I took a month and outlined every single chapter and what would happen. William—who created social media site Connectivity-- would purchase the media networks where MK (as she prefers to be called) works and turn her career—and personal life—completely upside down as a result. 

All of MK’s carefully laid plans for her future (which is all about her career—who has time for a distracting romance?) are run through the shredder thanks to William Cumberland. And William has her not only questioning the direction of her career, but her romantic status as well...

And yes, all of this came from watching a snippet of Sherlock. So pay attention—you never know when—and where—inspiration might strike!

Connectivity will be released by Soul Mate Publishing in October 2013. You can follow Aven on Twitter or Facebook

Monday, 29 July 2013

Book Of The Month - July

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.


Sometimes secrets surface after the wedding date. Another scintillating tale from the bestselling author of One Perfect Summer and Lucy in the Sky
'Don't wait for the storm to pass; learn to dance in the rain…'
Laura has been married to the man of her dreams for seven months. But a week before the wedding, Matthew made a terrible mistake.
Escaping the humiliation that is now her marriage, Laura is whisked off to Florida's Key West by her best friend Marty. A carefree holiday full of cocktails and fun, surrounded by gorgeous, tanned men, is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Distraction comes in the form of sexy Cuban scuba diver Leo. Laura's instant attraction to him knocks her flying, and she falls hard.
As the end of the holiday approaches, Laura doesn't want to go home. Is it time to face the music? Or is there more to Key West than a holiday romance?
The Longest Holiday is the first Paige Toon book I've read but I loved it. It's the perfect summer read, taking place in the Florida Keyes with a host of fun characters and the always-welcome brooding hero. It doesn't matter if you're not lucky enough to be on holiday, lounging by the pool or sunbathing on the beach because The Longest Holiday has plenty of sunshine and heat to share.

Click here to see all 'Books Of The Month'.

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Wish List by Jane Costello

Emma's 30th birthday is approaching when she discovers a list she and her friends created when they were teenagers. Despite all the years that have passed, Emma has yet to achieve any of her goals on the list so, with six months to go before the big Three-Oh, she sets out to cross off at least 75% of the list.
Crossing off the goals will make Emma braver but it will also turn her life upside down with career changes, kisses with celebrities and an overhaul of her love life.
Joining Emma are best friends, Cally and Asha, and older sister, Mariann, who all contributed to the list. Cally is a single mum to 2-year-old Zachary, Asha has found herself as a mistress despite her strong beliefs and Mariann is doing her best to convince her sister she is happy with new boyfriend, Brian and doesn't want to get back together with her gorgeous ex, Johnny.
The Wish List  is the first book by Jane Costello that I've read and now I'm wondering why I left it so long. The book is a fun, romantic comedy, with both light and highly amusing parts as well as some emotional scenes towards the end. The chapters are short and snappy and I found myself whizzing through the pages.
There are an array of characters within the book, from Emma and her friends, moaning co-worker, Giles and Emma's eccentric boss, Perry. I liked all of the characters, even if I didn't always agree with their actions, Asha in particular who I felt needed a to be taken by the shoulders and given a good shake at times!
If you're looking for a fun, fast-paced read, I would highly recommend The Wish List.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy to review.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Chat With... Rosie Goodwin

Rosie Goodwin is the author of Home Front Girls, a tale about three very different girls who form a bond during the blitz. You can see my review here and Rosie has kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.


When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t love to write but I did it purely for pleasure. I led a very busy life as a mum, foster mum and Placement Support Worker for Social Services and I was also an NVQ Level Three Assessor so I suppose it was when the children were older that I started to think about how great it would be to become published. Of course, up until then I had only written short stories and poems but it was my husband who suggested I should write my first novel. In actual fact I wrote my first two and a half novels sitting in our touring caravan which was parked in the garden and I wrote them longhand as I couldn’t type then. I soon realised that it’s very different writing a full length novel to writing short stories but by the time I had finished the first one I was well and truly hooked and things went from there.

Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
I was absolutely green about the process of publication and had no idea whatsoever about how difficult it is today to become published so when the first book was finished I went out and bought my first Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook. That became my bible and eventually I submitted the first one to a mainstream publishing house. That resulted in my first rejection but it was followed by a phone call from the editor who had read it who said she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She gave me lots of good advice and I also joined the Romantic Novelist’s Association New Writer’s Scheme. I then bought my first computer and very hurriedly had to learn to type. I was fortunate enough then to have two of my books put forward by the RNA for a second reading and this led to me being taken on by my first agent.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I would advise anyone who is hoping to become published to listen to what professionals advise. Publishers know what they want and even how they want a manuscript submitted. A great tip I was given was ‘put it on stage’. Let your characters tell the story rather than you, this helps to bring them to life. Also, ‘less is more!’ if you can move the story on in a sentence rather than a paragraph do it. Every word should be there to move the story forward to a satisfactory conclusion. And never give up! Read the type of book you want to write by other authors who write in that genre and make notes of how they do it. And of course, researching for the era you are writing in is very important. You need to put enough factual points in to make the book believable but not so much that you detract from the story.

What was your inspiration for Home Front Girls?
I suppose the inspiration for Home Front Girls came from the Mr Selfridge series that was on the tv at the time. Also my editor had asked for another World War 2 novel and so I came up with the idea of the three different girls getting together in a large department store. I think I wanted to emphasise how the war affected everyone from all walks of life. I really enjoy writing books in this era although they do require a lot of research. It must have been such an horrendous time and yet the sense of community back then enthrals me. People stuck together more during the hard times and helped each other out, taking in neighbours when their homes were bombed without a thought and sharing what they had with them.

In the book, Annabelle, Lucy and Dotty are all very different girls. Did you have a favourite?
I don’t think I did have a favourite really. When I’m writing a book the characters in it become almost like a second family to me and I grew to love each of the girls. There was poor Dotty, who had grown up in an orphanage and longed to know who her true parents were. I wanted to adopt her! Then there was Lucy with such a horrible secret in her past that she trusted no one and yet she was still fiercely protective of her family. I’d have liked to give her a hug! Then of course we had Annabelle! What a spoiled girl she was but she made me smile. Her biggest concern was where her next pair of nylons were coming from! But of course as the book progresses we discover that none of the girls are quite who they thought they were and once their secrets are revealed none of their lives will ever be the same again. Home Front Girls was almost liking writing three different little books and bringing the girls together to forge an unlikely friendship that would last for a lifetime.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
At present I’m working on a historical novel centring around the cotton mills in Nuneaton in the nineteenth century. I find this period fascinating and love writing about the different classes, the poor servants who worked from dawn to dusk and the gentry who led very pampered lives. The book is still in the very early stages so who knows where it will go! I tend to let my characters take over once they have come to life and sometimes the path the book takes surprises even me. But that’s the beauty of writing fiction. I can’t imagine a day without writing now and always get really excited when I start a new book. I think it’s important to put your heart and soul into each one. People often say to me, ‘I cried reading your book, how did you make me do that?’ the answer to that is simple - I cried whilst I was writing it! I feel my character’s happy times and sad times, they are real people to me for the duration of the book. If I don’t feel what they feel how can I expect my readers to? And I always cry when a book comes to an end and I have to let my character’s go – until I start the next one and then it all begins again! That’s the beauty of being an author.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Guest Post: Sam Bates

P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone needs a guardian angel…
Some people wait their whole lives to find their soul mates. But not Holly and Gerry.
Childhood sweethearts, they could finish each other's sentences and even when they fought, they laughed. No one could imagine Holly and Gerry without each other.

Until the unthinkable happens. Gerry's death devastates Holly. But as her 30th birthday looms, Gerry comes back to her. He's left her a bundle of notes, one for each of the months after his death, gently guiding Holly into her new life without him, each note signed 'PS, I Love You'.

As the notes are gradually opened, the man who knows Holly better than anyone sets out to teach her that life goes on. With some help from her friends, and her noisy and loving family, Holly finds herself laughing, crying, singing, dancing – and being braver than ever before.
Life is for living, she realises – but it always helps if there's an angel watching over you.

I read this book from a reccommendation, I had not heard of Cecelia Ahern before or any of her books but I decided to give it a go, and I am so glad I did.

This has to be one of the best books I have ever read, I read it years ago and even now I still have a clear image of it in my head. I am lucky I read this book before the film, I am so glad I did. I had high hopes for the film after the book was so spectacular, however I was left bitterly disappointed.

From the moment I picked up the book I could not put it down, I think it must have been one of the quickest books I've ever read and at the end I was left feeling sad that it was all over. From that moment on I became a huge 
Cecelia Ahern fan.

The story is about Holly, her husband has recently passed away, she is finding it hard to come to terms with, her mother then says she has found a note for her. It was from Gerry - her husband and she ends up finding more and more notes left by him. The notes go one for about 10 months, to help her progress on with her life. Even though we never meet Gerry, we feel we know him through his letters. The story covers Holly's rollercoaster of emotions, we meet her friends and family who offer support along the way, they also provide wit from snapshots of their lives.

P.S. I Love You takes you on a journey of emotions, you can be laughing your socks off one minutes and can not stop crying another. It also contains a spark of magic which makes it ever more memorable. I am so glad I read the book before I watched the film as I feel the film is not a patch on the book. This has a firm place on my bookshelf and I could read it over and over again.

Sam Bates is a book blogger at The Book Corner and you can also follow her on twitter: @sam_smith73

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Home Front Girls by Rosie Goodwin


Annabelle Smythe, the only child of wealthy Richard and Miranda Smythe, has been indulged all her life. She's never had to work and with a cook and cleaning lady taking care of the house and family, all Annabelle has to worry about is what to wear to the next dance or party. But Britain is now at war and everyone is forced to tighten their belts, including Richard Smythe, whose business is suffering. He can no longer afford to keep up Annabelle's allowance and, to Annabelle's disgust, he expects his daughter to get a job.

Lucy Ford has a young sister to take care of but she too must go out to work when her brother, Joel is sent away to fight in the war. She applies for a position at department store, Owen Owen, and meets Annabelle while attending an interview.

Dorothy Kent - usually known as Dotty - has been working at Owen Owen for a few weeks but, as a timid, plain girl, has yet to make any friends. But when she meets Annabelle and Lucy, the three girls quickly strike up a friendship.

The three girls are all very different but each has a secret from their past, which begin to surface as the war rages on. Nights are interrupted by air raids and their town crumbles around them but Annabelle, Lucy and Dotty must get on with life as best as they can but by the end of the war, everyone will have been affected by death and destruction in one way or another.

Over the course of the book, the girls change, most notably Annabelle who starts off as a spoilt, petulant young woman who thinks working is beneath her. But the others change too. Dotty starts to come out of her shell and grows in confidence while Lucy's closeness to Dotty and Annabelle allows her to finally part with her darkest secrets.

While I enjoyed the book, it did come across a bit like a text book at times for me, dropping an awful lot of information at once and while I would usually find these facts fascinating, they didn't always feel natural within the story. I also thought the emotions could have run a little deeper because although many terrible things happen due to the blitz, they come across rather factual so I didn't feel as though I were connecting to the characters as much as I could have as I wasn't really feeling their sorrow and loss.

Overall, I found Home Front Girls to be an enjoyable and informative book and I enjoyed the personal growth of the characters most of all as well as the bond between the the three girls.

Thank you to Canvas for sending me a copy to review.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

2 Year Blogiversary... Plus a Giveaway!

I can't quite believe it's been two years since I set up my blog to 'see how hard it would be'. It turns out it wasn't hard (although I am still learning as I go) and I'm still going.

I started off my blog anonymously but a few months ago I decided to be brave and added my name to my bio for the first time. Go me!

So what else have I been up to since my last blogiversary?

Thank you to everyone who has visited my little blog. I didn't think anyone would and it still amazes me to see so many visits per day.

And now onto the good bit - the giveaway!

You can win

  • A copy of Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • A copy of Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • A hardback notebook
  • Green & Black's Butterscotch chocolate
To enter, fill in the rafflecopter form below and leave a 'pick me' comment below. As this is a giveaway celebrating the blog, you can earn lots more entries by following the blog (or if you're already following, of course).

A winner will be picked at random after the rafflecopter closes and announced on the blog on Friday 2nd August.

UK entries only please.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 19 July 2013

Schoooooooooool's Out For Summer!


At least it will be at 3.15pm.

I always look forward to the school holidays but I know that I'll be tearing my hair out within five minutes and willing September to hurry up!

We have no firm plans this year so the school holidays will be pretty relaxed (squabbling kids aside). The kids will be signing up for the summer reading challenge at the library as usual and we want to go to the new aquarium at the Trafford Centre but other than that we'll just do what we fancy.

I've bought a new box for the kids' craft stuff (because we already had three, all of which were broken in some way) and bought some new bits and pieces to keep them occupied on the rainy days (because this is the UK we're talking about. There WILL be rainy days). For the non-rainy days, I'm sure there will be visits to the park with a picnic or two (I love a picnic) and I'm also hoping to make a dent in my mountainous TBR pile, having already made a good start on my Summer Reading List

Do you have any plans for the summer?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Guest Post: Jayne Denker

Romance Is Easy; Comedy Is Hard

Why, oh why, I’ve often wondered, did I ever choose to write romantic comedies? I could have written angsty dramas. They would have been dead easy in comparison. Or I could have written sexy stuff that requires getting the reader hot under the collar every ten pages or so. That would have been lots of fun. I could have written pleasant, slice-of-life tales that everyone could relate to, with sweet, happy endings. Peace in the valley—tra la. Off we go into the sunset. But nooOOOoooooo. I had to try my hand at being funny. All the time. Book after book.

That, my friends, is a monumental challenge. Ever try writing a bit of slapstick silliness when you’re dying from the latest plague your urchin brought home from that petri dish they call a school? Or coming up with a snappy, wisecrack-filled, yet ultimately emotional love scene when, for the hundredth time, your husband has toed the bag of trash out of the way so he could get out the back door, instead of carrying it with him to the bin? Or orchestrating a gloriously happy ending when you’ve just paid a stack of bills and all you can think about is whether you’ll have to subsist on crackers and “cheez-in-a-can” till the next payday?

Let me tell you, it ain’t a walk in the park. In fact, I used to be afraid of creating a tangle of a plot that had to be peppered with funny dialogue, ridiculous situations, and quirky characters. After all, it’s a complicated type of story to write, and it’s fraught with pitfalls. One false step and the whole thing blows up. Not to mention that horrifying realization that what I thought was funny when it hit me in the middle of the night just sounded stupid in the harsh light of day. And sometimes I just don’t feel funny, and my writing fails miserably. When that happens, I go play Candy Crush on Facebook until another, more humorous scenario creeps into my newly vacant head. (And another, more humorous scenario will always show up sooner or later.)

Now, after completing three of these harrowing novels, I look forward to writing comedies. I love tossing my heroine into a bizarre scenario and watching how she gets herself out of it. I love revisiting a scene I felt “meh” about and finding just the right angle that makes it funnier. I love it when my characters make me laugh (and then I’m relieved nobody noticed and carted me off to the loony bin).

The trick to it? Knowing that eventually I’ll share this funny story with my readers. Maybe they’ll laugh, and maybe that will pull them out whatever funk they might happen to be in. That’d be the best story of all.

Jayne Denker writes contemporary romantic comedies--chick lit by any other name, although she really doesn't give a toss about designer shoes or handbags. Her first book, By Design, was published by Kensington Publishers in May; her second, Unscripted, will be published in August, and her third, Down on Love, in November. Her books are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and Kobo. When she's not hard at work on another novel (or, rather, when she should be hard at work on another novel), she can usually be found frittering away stupid amounts of time on Facebook (Jayne Denker Author) and Twitter (@JDenkerAuthor). Check in with her there or at her blog,

Jayne's books and links:

By Design
Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Down on Love
Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Please note: the commenting system I was using is no longer working so I have had to delete it. This would mean losing the comments so I've copied and pasted them into the post.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A Chat With... Julie McDowall

Julie McDowall is the author of Casting The Net, a memoir about her time internet dating. Julie has kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.

Why did you decide to write a memoir?
Entertainment and revenge.
The book deals extensively with mental breakdown. (It’s certainly no girly account of meeting Mr Right.) I was sunk in a depression and couldn’t gather the will to pull myself out. My friend set me up on a blind date with one of her friends and I found that the anxiety of meeting a stranger and simply being forced back out into the world again helped to shift some of the depression.
As I began dating more and more men, and finding them to be strange, exciting, infuriating and funny, I began to take real pleasure in bursting into the office on a Monday morning – that drab, air-conditioned place – and telling stories of the freaks I had met at the weekend. I loved having the power to shift my own depression - and the general Monday morning office gloom - through my stories.
I started a blog to write my stories and that began to spread through Twitter and Facebook and I began getting feedback and followers and fans and there was such joy to be had in telling these stories, but also a great sense of relief. I was purging myself of the anxieties and humiliations of internet dating by splattering it all shamelessly in print. I wanted to capture my monstrous experiences and pin them on paper before they could flutter away; before I could grow sober and mature and calm and look back thinking, ‘no that couldn’t have been’.

Had I written it as a novel, rather than a memoir, I’d have given myself permission to be shy and retriring. I’d have told an appalling story and then laughed it off and said ‘don’t be silly, it’s not true’. By writing a memoir, I was shoving myself out into a spotlight and declaring to the world that these hideous, funny, destructive and sad things happened to me. I also found that memoir writing encourages a certain honesty and bluntness due to the principle of ‘in for a penny, in for a pound….’ I may have hesitated over including something excruciating, but then I’d flick back a few pages and see the other shameless things I’d written things and say ‘there’s no point getting coy now.’  
I also mentioned writing the moir for revenge. In the book, you’ll read about a monstrous man I dated, known as The Clown. I fell for him in a devastating way. I became utterly obsessed: consumed, relentlessly, by thoughts of this man; being exhausted and worn down by my desperation for him. He could change the whole flavour of my day just by sending me a text. Well, I embarrassed myself horribly with him, and went to terrible lengths to find out how he felt about me (I cringe now when I think of it). Part of my motivation for writing the book was to prove to him that I’m not the clinging, pining creature he knew. I’ve taken his appalling treatment of me and turned it into gold (if I may say so!) I’m free of him and the sad, cloudy thinking and pining and weeping he forced me into, and I’ve written a book about it.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
I started a blog on Wordpress, which is free and simple and anyone can do. I began telling my stories there, and would post once a week, and then share it out on Facebook and Twitter. It grew through social media and word of mouth, and my confidence grew likewise, so I decided to e-mail my local newspaper to ask if they’d be interested in publishing it.
They didn’t bother to respond to my e-mail.
I must have been in a very spiky mood that day because, rather than feel chastened and meek, I immediately aimed higher and contacted The Herald newspaper, which is Scotland’s most popular broadsheet, as they publish bloggers on their website (
After e-mailing The Herald, I felt a bit silly: if the tiny local rag didn’t want me, what hope did I have with The Herald?
A few days later, the Digital Editor of The Herald e-mailed me and asked to meet. I didn’t dare hope he wanted to meet with a view to publishing so I tried to flatten my expectations, and my friends and I joked that he probably just wanted to tell me to shut up and quit badgering him. We had our meeting and within a few weeks my blog was proudly on the front page of their site, and where it now appears every Monday.
My blog on was a success and so the editor suggested I approach a publishing company called Blasted Heath. He said they mainly published crime – being leaders in tartan noir fiction – but they might be interested….

Indeed, they were and they offered me a contract to publish my blog in two volumes, both as paperback and e-book.

So, my road to publication depended on two things: on me being bold enough to approach The Herald and then in the editor giving me a platform for my writing and in putting me in touch with Blasted Heath.
Your book is about internet dating. What was your best experience?
My best experience had to be my obsession with The Clown. It was a very unhealthy obsession as he had no real interest in me and was a very unworthy man, prone to lying and cold treatment, but I simply adored him. Although he hurt me horribly, I still say it was the best experience as it helped raise me out of my depression. I found that it was impossible to be slumped on the sofa, being slowly suffocated and pulled under by depression, when faced with the mad panics and nerves and excitement and hope and lust and joy he brought me. He introduced true anxiety into my life as I was never sure how he felt or if he’d turn up for a date or if he’d cancel or if he was a liar. I became utterly obsessed and would analyse and exhaust every aspect of him and drive my madness higher and hotter. In such an anxious mental state it is impossible to be depressed: the two simply cannot co-exist. I see now that I simply traded depression for anxiety, but anxiety is easier to conquer than depression as the latter represents a complete loss of spirits, light, life and the simple ability get out of bed and open the damn curtains, because who wants to see another day, just the same as the last one?
And your worst?
I hated the revelation that internet dating brought me: that I am willing to hand over responsibility for my happiness to men. As I was depressed, and the cure for depression seemed to be dating, if a man went cold on me, I would feel myself sliding back down to misery, and so would frantically cast around for other dates. I felt I had to be furiously busy all the time to keep depression at bay. I must always be dating and texting and dressing up and going out and ordering drinks and getting hair done and telling stories and laughing and hoping. It was only once I had encountered a true nervous breakdown - where I was having panic attacks and couldn’t leave the house – that I began a slow road to recovery and the eventual writing of this book.
Looking back I see how absurd it is to hand power to someone else like that. But I was so flimsy at the time that I couldn’t take responsibility for myself. So, that awful realisation that I was once so vulnerable was quite disturbing.

What would be your top tip for internet dating?
Don’t be too picky. When you first sign up to a dating site and start receiving e-mails from people, be brave enough to look beyond your own limits. For example, the site will ask you what you are looking for in a partner so they can try to match you with someone. This forces you to specify an age range and hair colour and what height you want them to be etc. Some sites even ask you to specify what occupations you want them to have! I say only specify the bare minimum and allow yourself to consider people who are perhaps a few centimetres smaller, or a year or two older, than you would have hoped for. Don’t be hemmed in by a meaningless age range or a demand for a GSOH and own home and car. Cast the net wide and you may catch something unexpected and wonderful.

Finally, what is coming up next for you as a writer?
Casting The Net will be written in two volumes, so I need to write the second and I’m also writing a novel about sexual obsession and mental disintegration. Yes, I’m clearly basing it on my experiences with The Clown, but they say write about what you know.

I also continue to publish blog posts each Monday on and I now run my own online literary magazine, The Puffin Review. You can find out more about my projects and plans on my website at

Monday, 15 July 2013

A Family Scandal by Zoe Miller

Vivienne has three beautiful daughters; Ellie, Miranda and Lucy. Ellie is a successful fashion designer and part of a celebrity couple. Ellie and Johnny have been together for two years and have been having a great time but Johnny has suddenly turned serious, talking about marriage and starting a family. Ellie has been stalling, not feeling the same need to commit, but she doesn't know how long she can keep putting him off.
Miranda has always lived in the shadows of her sisters so she's decided to start a new life for herself. Moving away to Hong Kong, Miranda feels she can finally be herself but it isn't long before her family's drama makes its way to her.
And then there is model Lucy who is trying to make a name for herself. Unfortunately, the name she is making for herself isn't a positive one as she's snapped making a fool of herself while drunk. Then when the anniversary of her father's death approaches, Lucy's media exposure increases and a wreath is eerily placed on her doorstep.
Twenty two years ago, Vivienne had a fling with up and coming rock star Zach Anderson, resulting in the birth of Lucy. Zach had moved away to Canada by the time Lucy was born and, a year later, plunged to his death in an icy lake. It was never confirmed whether Zach's death was an accident or intentional. Or whether somebody else was involved. But there is somebody out there who is determined to dredge up the past to find the answer.
The blurb of A Family Scandal really caught my attention and I couldn't wait to get stuck into it and get to the bottom of the Zach Anderson mystery. So I couldn't help feeling disappointed when I found the plot to be slow and focused more on a rupture between Ellie and Lucy's relationship. There was the odd paragraph or two from the anonymous investigator's point of view but other than that, the whole Zach Anderson affair was pretty much forgotten until the end.
To me, there seemed to to be three separate stories; Ellie and Lucy's fallout, Miranda's new life in Hong Kong and the mystery of what really happened to Zach Anderson. The stories are connected by the family members but the link between them felt weak and the anticipated mystery felt flat in the end.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Marshmallows For Breakfast by Dorothy Koomson

Kendra Tamale has built a life for herself in Australia but she flees back to England when her past begins to catch up with her. Moving into the Gadsborough family's converted garage as a lodger, Kendra plans to keep her head down and blend into the shadows but she finds herself being drawn into the lives of Kyle, Summer and Jaxon.
Kyle is a single father to the six year old twins and is clearly struggling. Kendra steps in to help but gets more than she bargained for when the children latch themselves onto her. A bond grows between them, something Kendra never planned and never imagined happening and they become a little unit that, although it is a little unusual, works for them.
But life cannot be that simple for Kendra as her past once again begins to collide with the present and Kendra fears her new life with Kyle and the children is about to come tearing apart at the seams.
I'm a big fan of Dorothy Koomson's more recent novels and am slowly working my way through the older ones so I was really looking forward to reading Marshmallows For Breakfast. I love the title and liked how the theme was continued with breakfast-related headings to separate sections of the book. My favourite scene from the book was quite the near the beginning of the book and took place while Kendra and the children shared breakfast together for the first time. I thought it was a lovely idea, making a breakfast made up of happy thoughts and topped with a wish and it began the wonderful relationship that develops between Kendra, Summer and Jaxon.
I found the book was a little slower than the other novels I've read so far but it was packed with powerful emotions and is as beautifully written as the others. Kendra's story is tantalisingly fed to us bit by bit so we know something bad has happened to her and we can probably guess what but the details become clearer as the story moves along.
There are some fantastic characters as usual, with Summer and Jaxon who are so close but dealing with the disruptions in their lives in very different ways, Kyle who is learning to adapt as a full-time parent and Kendra's friend and boss, Gabrielle. The characters are painted so vividly and we get to see scrutinise them so thoroughly that I feel that I really got to know them and will miss them now that I've finished the book.
Please note: the commenting system I was using is no longer working so I have had to delete it. This would mean losing the comments so I've copied and pasted them into the post.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Guest Post: Claire Baxter

My Favourite childhood book
When I was around eight or nine years old I discovered Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. The story charted the adventures of two sets of siblings during their holidays in the Lake District as they sailed, camped, and discovered how resourceful and independent they could be. Oh, my goodness, I was enthralled.

Ransome managed to convey so much of the children's own excitement at their activities that I couldn’t help being drawn into their world of make-believe, and reading this book was pure joy. I was transported to a sunnier world of sailing, exploring and having fun with very minimal adult intervention. There was nothing fantastical or extraordinary about the children’s adventures; they had no magical powers and no wizards as allies, but they lived in a fantasy created by their own imaginations and with a solid grounding in reality.

Swallows and Amazons was the first book in a series of twelve, and of course, I read every one, in the right order. The children who were the Swallows and the Amazons didn’t feature beyond the first few books. In Coot Club, the fifth of the series, the boating adventures moved to the Norfolk Broads where a group of boat-mad children was dedicated to the protection of the Broads' birdlife amid concerns over their destruction through increasing tourism. The Coot Club watches over the waterbirds nesting in the Broads. Whenever I see a waterbird, especially a coot, I experience a moment of warm, fuzzy nostalgia.

Half-way through the series came the book, We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea. Doesn’t that title just say it all about the adventure the children went on – sailing out of the Broads and into the open sea? Towards the end of the series some of the plots were far less realistic, but by then I was so deeply hooked that it wouldn’t have mattered.

I haven’t re-read any of the Swallows and Amazons series and I will resist the temptation to do so. Those books had such a profound effect on me, and the memory of reading them is so special that I don’t want to risk spoiling it.

Claire Baxter is the author of Anybody But Him. You can find out more about the book and Claire on her website, Facebook or on Twitter

Monday, 8 July 2013

To Prologue or Not To Prologue

I've seen a few comments about prologues lately, saying that if you're writing a prologue, you're starting your book in the wrong place but I don't agree with this in all cases. I love a prologue if they're used correctly and think they can create the tone for the book while teasing the reader. I recently read The Back Road by Rachel Abbott (my review is on Novelicious here), which started with a prologue and left me itching to get started to find out who the people were in the prologue, why they were in that particular situation and what happened to them next. The prologue was full of mystery and intrigue, which matched the rest of the book perfectly.

Another example of great use of a prologue is in Marshmallows For Breakfast by Dorothy Koomson. I don't want to spoil the book but I thought it was used in a clever way.

I don't think all books need a prologue, however. The book I recently finished writing has one because the scene is very important to the story but takes place ten years previously so it made sense to put it into a prologue. But the book I'm writing at the moment doesn't have one because a prologue isn't needed at all and if I did use one, I really would be starting my book in the wrong place.

What about you? Are you a fan of prologues, either reading or writing them?

Please note: the commenting system I was using is no longer working so I have had to delete it. This would mean losing the comments so I've copied and pasted them into the post.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Apartment In Rome Blog Tour

I'm pleased to welcome Penny Feeny onto the blog today as part of her blog tour. Penny is the author of The Apartment in Rome and will be sharing an extract from the book with us today:

Gina’s apartment building stood at the end of a narrow street in Trastevere. At ground level there’d once been a little hive of craftsmen’s workshops; there now remained only the joiner with his random pile of chair limbs, and the upholsterer. Further along, the lavanderia and alimentari were long established but the optician with his expensive prescription sunglasses had replaced the cobbler and the bijou toyshop was changing hands for the third time. Her building was shabby: patches of plaster flaked over the lintels and paint peeled from the wooden shutters. A stone staircase twisted up to the top floor, but it was worth the climb to reach her rooftop terrace.

This was the reason she would never move. Four storeys into the sky, with the sun baking the tiles and a view that had scarcely changed in centuries, she could imagine her world was perfect – if not quite as perfect as other people’s. Her neighbours across the way, media folk who considered themselves the new bohemians, had modern Perspex furniture the brilliant colours of boiled sweets, almost good enough to eat. They lounged in their jelly cubes waving matching cocktails and playing loud disco music. ‘Ciao, Gina!’ they’d call and she’d wave back, not letting them see for a second any glint of envy. Her outdoor chairs were old-fashioned, flaking wrought iron. They’d belonged to Felix, whose taste differed from hers, and she hadn’t got around to replacing them.

As she reached the top landing she became aware of a disturbance, of things not as they should be. Her key spun in the lock as if it had been recently oiled, and a rich cloying scent seeped under the door. When she nudged it open, she found herself facing a showy display of lilies on the hall console. In the living room bouquets of irises, roses and carnations covered every surface: the cumbersome walnut chiffonier that was too heavy to move, the low coffee table, the two chests crammed with clothes that were waiting to become vintage (although vintage was not much sought after in Italy).

It was a long time since she’d been besieged by so many flowers. The gesture seemed suspiciously flamboyant. The apartment was gloomy after the dazzling sunshine but she knew the hazards: the trailing flex of the TV, the soft, worn rugs that had slipped their moorings. She tiptoed over them all until she reached the bedroom and gave the door a dramatic shove.

Gina’s bedroom was not a sight for the faint-hearted. If you live alone there is no one to complain about the soiled laundry lying in exactly the same position for three days, the smeared make-up remover pads or the sticky Marsala glass attracting flies. Her dressing table was overcrowded and items of clothing swayed from the pediment of her wardrobe as if she lived in one large changing cubicle. She’d left the shutters closed so that light entered the room in a series of horizontal bands, slicing up its contents. She noticed immediately, however, the pale grey suit, a fine wool and mohair mix, hanging from a knob on her chest of drawers, and the pair of black shiny shoes lined up beneath it. In the middle of her double bed, his head and naked torso dark against her white pillows, the rest of his body beneath the duvet, lay Roberto. His teeth gleamed as he patted the embroidered cotton covers. ‘Surprised?’ he said.

The Apartment In Rome is available now.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Cover Stars: Billy & Me by Giovanna Fletcher

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'.
Billy & Me by Giovanna Fletcher

Book covers like Billy & Me are the perfect example of why I started up the Cover Stars feature. I mean, just look at it. It's everything I love about book covers; silhouettes with splashes of colour that screams chick lit (or whichever term you prefer to use). This cover reminds me of my favourite cover of all time, Thirty Nothing by Lisa Jewell. It really is my idea of a perfect cover and I home in on covers like these in the shops.

You can see my review of Billy & Me here or click here to see all Cover Stars 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

My 50th Book of 2013


I've been reading like a maniac during 2013 and am now reading my 50th book, which is the fabulous The Wish List by Jane Costello.

There are six months left of Emma Reiss's twenties...and she has some unfinished business. Emma and her friends are about to turn thirty, and for Emma it's a defining moment. Defined, that is, by her having achieved none of the things she'd imagined she would. Her career is all wrong, her love life is a desert and that penthouse apartment she pictured herself in simply never materialised. Moreover, she's never jumped out of a plane, hasn't met the man she's going to marry, has never slept under the stars, or snogged anyone famous - just some of the aspirations on a list she and her friends compiled fifteen years ago. As an endless round of birthday parties sees Emma hurtle towards her own thirtieth, she sets about addressing these issues. But, as she discovers with hilarious consequences, some of them are trickier to tick off than she'd thought…

The Wish List is a fast-paced, funny romantic comedy and my review will be up on the blog soon.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Guest Post: Stacey Clough

Books for All Seasons…

Being British, I have an unhealthy obsession with the weather. I sometimes like to make my reading choices weather appropriate. I hope my recommendations for warm weather and rainy day reading provides inspiration – and feel free to switch if you feel the need for sunshine on a rainy day or vice versa!

Warm Weather Reading

‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver

This epic novel spans a number of locations and decades and is narrated by Harrison Shepherd, an American boy who lives in the house of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera during the 1930’s, eventually becoming private secretary to Leo Tolstoy. He is immersed in their politics, creative processes and frequent, fluctuating romantic liaisons, which leads to serious repercussions in later life during the Truman Administration and ensuing investigations into Communist activities. Using a combination of open prose, personal letters and diary entries, newspaper reports and fictitious transcripts, this novel skilfully explores themes of isolation, identity, loyalty and the true nature of desire. The story is backed by lush descriptions of the Mexican coastline, Mexico City and Chichen Itza, this is a book for the thinking woman who desires something a little different than a beach romance.

‘Backpack’ by Emily Barr 

Tansy is a young woman who lives life on the edge. Following the death of her mother, she wakes up in a hospital bed on New Years Day following an accidental overdose. With an inheritance sitting in a bank account, Tansy decides she needs to get away from it all and embarks on a years travelling in SE Asia. Tansy is not your typical backpacker – dressed in designer clothing and referring to herself as a ‘suitcaser’ – she sneers at her fellow travellers, finding them ridiculous. She has a change of heart when she meets a group of people with whom she begins to travel and realises there may be more to life than her previous shallow exploits. However, young blonde women like Tansy are being murdered across the continent in the locations that Tansy visits – is Tansy paranoid or can there be a direct link between her and the murders across the miles? Taking the reader through beautiful remote locations including Vietnam, Laos and India this book is a escapism in its truest form, perfectly paced and exciting, with a dark thread of fear and paranoia running through the prose and with a twist in the tail, this book is a must for any beach bag.

Rainy Day Reads

‘Only My Dreams’ by Anna Blundy 
When it’s cold outside, for me there is nothing I like to do more than curling up with a cup of tea and a new book. This is exactly what I did with this book – and found myself sat in the same place, tea untouched eight hours later. Alice longs to rise above her poor background and paltry life with her hippy mother to become part of the privileged society elite. Passing an entrance exam to a posh school, the story surrounds Alice’s struggles to fit in with her peers and the consequences she faces once she has broken through. Set partially in Russia, this book has some beautiful descriptions of snowy remote landscapes, rainy London streets and the occasional sunshine moments in Sardinia Incorporating Chechen gangsters, a nasty romantic interest and the despair of unrequited love, this novel is something to truly involve yourself in. I would advise not picking up unless you mean to finish in one sitting.

‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt  

This is the story of a group of cloistered, elite pupils at a small American university who have committed a random act of brutality together and their ensuing desire to keep it a secret. Richard penetrates the group at a time when they are reluctant to involve him in their mysterious practices but he is drawn in by a number of unreliable stories and lies. The influence of Julian, their eccentric teacher who will engage with only a few select pupils each semester, seems to enhance the group’s secrecy. Told entirely from Richards POV, the story unfolds as he reveals it, piece by piece to a dizzying, horrifying conclusion. You could do worse than selecting this engrossing novel on those days when the clouds are dark and menacing.

Stacey is in the process of setting up a book blog but in the meantime you can follow her on twitter: @CloughPants1980