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.
Close My Eyes has been in my ever-increasing TBR pile but I finally reached it. After waiting so long to read it, I devoured it in a couple of days as I didn't want to put it down. It was well worth the wait. I'd been looking forward to reading it, especially as I'd heard good things about it, but I didn't expect to be so gripped by it.
Gen has been undergoing IVF treatment but each round has failed so far. Her husband is pushing for her to give it another go but Gen is still grieving for the daughter they lost eight years ago and isn't as keen to put themselves through it all again. I immediately felt for Gen but there was further heartache in store when a stranger knocks on the door and tells Gen that Beth, the daughter she lost, is still alive. From then on, Gen doesn't know who to trust but she does know she has to follow up on the information and find out if her child is still out there somewhere.
I thought the book was amazing, with plenty of action and twists and turns and you never know who to trust.
You can see my review here or click here to see all 'Books Of
L’Amour Actually is a fictionalised travel memoir. What on earth, you may ask, is one of those? Well, the story is loosely based on my life living in rural France. I moved there with my (now ex) husband and family in 2005. We had a fabulous time but it seemed that I blundered through life in France in a whirlwind of slapstick, like Buster Keaton in a dress and flipflops! I speak fluent French, I did all my research before we left to make sure we got it all right, I had a husband and two kids. But who wants to hear about that? Let’s be honest. British family moves to France, has a great time, a few funny moments, yada, yada, yada. I’m practically boring myself!
So how about we take those same stories, we make our heroine a younger and sassier (and slimmer, judging by the book cover) version of me, who’s single and maybe looking for lurve, who doesn’t speak a word of French and has no idea what to expect? So that’s what I did and the end result is L’Amour Actually. Some of it happened, some of it happened but not exactly as I’ve written it and some of it didn’t happen at all. It’s up to the reader to decide what’s what. Truth, though, often is stranger than fiction and when we were editing, several times comments were made that something seemed ‘a bit far-fetched’. Every time, the story was a true one. The end result has been described by one reviewer on Amazon as a sublimely funny French frolic.
One of the questions I’m asked most often is how did I get a book deal? In my case I was exceptionally lucky. When I first started to write L’Amour Actually, which was then called La Vie en Rosé, I put it up on a writing website, Authonomy, run by HarperCollins. It was where Miranda Dickinson was discovered. I wanted to test the waters and see if I had written something that anyone would want to read. Authonomy has a ranking system, whereby other users can rate your book and it will then rise or fall in the ranks accordingly. Within months it had risen in the ranks from over 6,000 to number 40 and had garnered hundreds of positive comments (and the odd negative one just for balance.) I joined critique groups on the site and got valuable feedback that helped me to hone and improve it. I entered and won a first chapter competition. It was nipped and tucked to within an inch of its life. It was then that I was contacted by Jen Barclay, then the Commissioning Editor for Summersdale with those immortal words, ‘are you looking for a publisher?’ I gave it approximately a nanosecond of thought and wrote back that yes I was. She put it to her colleagues and they accepted it. Could it really be that easy? I hadn’t so much as sent out a query letter, never mind got a rejection. The trouble was I’d only written half of it.
With a contract in my hand, the race was on to finish it by the December deadline. It was then that the insecurities kicked in. What if the rest wasn’t as good? What if I couldn’t finish it? I burned the candle at both ends for weeks, my children rarely had a decent packed lunch to take to school and their uniform was, more often than not, still in the laundry basket on Monday morning, but, stoic to the end, they put up with this slightly mad, rambling fool who was their mother. In the end, L’Amour Actually came in 30,000 words too long but fortunately, according to Summersdale, just as good. Phew!
I soon got a crash course in the hell that is editing. If you think writing is the hard bit, think again! Every time you take out a single sentence you have to think about what impact it will have on the story as a whole. With 30,000 words to lose, I ended up having to completely rewrite the ending.
Eventually, the final copy edit was done; it was signed off and on its way to the printers. It had all seemed far too easy. Right up until the moment that I got my first real copy in my hand, I was expecting someone to jump up and shout ‘Joke!’
I went to a writer’s development day recently, led by Sarah Graham, author of ‘Kissing Mr Wrong’ and ‘A Single to Rome’ who told us that these days nobody gets their first book published. It made me realise just how lucky I’ve been.
Bea was heartbroken when her godmother passed away. Annabel had always stood by Bea, taking on a motherly role when she was a child and supporting her when her marriage broke down. Annabel left her house to Bea in her will, along with the mysterious Jersey Kiss, which nobody seems able to identify.
As well as trying to locate the Jersey Kiss, Bea has to contend with her ex-husband, Simon, who claims he is entitled to half of Annabels house as they were still married when Bea inherited it. Although the house needs a lot of work doing to it, Bea adores it, especially the beautiful garden, which Annabel worked so hard on. The last thing she wants to do is sell the house to fund her ex-husband's greed but she doesn't have the money to cover his share.
And if all that wasn't enough, Bea's life is further complicated when she meets sexy builder, Luke. Bea is attracted to Luke and the feeling seems to be mutual, but Bea isn't so sure she can trust him with her fragile heart.
I've never been to Jersey before, but I'd love to after reading A Jersey Kiss. The setting of the book is gorgeous, with beaches and islands to explore - and then there is the matter of handsome builders too! I really like the character of Bea. She's been hurt in the past by her lousy ex but she is determined to win the final battle with Simon over Annabel's house. She's a strong woman, especially with the support of her close friends, Shani and Paul, who I thought were fabulous and a lot of fun.
There are lots of elements within the book, from battling with exes to new romances and nightmare relatives. And just what is a Jersey Kiss? I thought the book was a fantastic debut and I can't wait to see what Georgina Troy comes up with next.
Cass is pleased when author Ellie moves into the
village in search of the peace and quiet of the countryside to work on her
novel. She makes an effort to get to know the newcomer and they quickly hit it
off, bonding over the troubles of their past. Cass has always had close
friendships with her neighbours so she is both hurt and confused when she feels
her friends distancing themselves from her. Cass is adamant that something isn’t quite right but isn't entirely sure what has caused the shift.
As far as psychological thrillers go, Nearest
Thing To Crazy is quite a gentle one. There are no dramatic scenes or
frenzied action. Instead, the book draws us into Cass's mind as she sets off on
a journey of insecurity and paranoia. The book may be gentle but it certainly
gets under your skin and makes you question what is really going on in the
Nearest Thing To Crazy is
told mainly from Cass's perspective but you are never completely sure what is
really going on. Cass is convinced someone is out to get her while those around
her are oblivious to the threat she feels so strongly. I was kept guessing
throughout, never quite sure which way the story would go until the end.
As you can see, the blog looks a little bit different and it even has a new name (unless something has gone horribly wrong).
When I started the blog, it was completely anonymous. I set it up one afternoon to see how difficult it was, fully expecting to struggle and get fed up with it really quickly before abandoning it. But that didn't happen. It wasn't difficult and I LOVED blogging so I'm still here, two years later.
The blog is no longer anonymous as I finally plucked up the courage to add my name to my profile and also added it to twitter so I thought it was about time I added it to the blog name too. It's a bit strange saying goodbye to Mama J (although I am still her to my 10 year old. The J stands for Jellyfish, by the way - It's a longish story) but I've been thinking about changing it for a while and, with my domain needing a renewal, I thought now was the perfect time.
Let me first introduce myself. My name is Miv Evans, but my real name is Myfanwy, which is very, very Welsh. For obvious reasons, it was always shortened to Myf but most people, excluding myself, spelled it Miv. After a couple of decades of being called Mife and Meef, I eventually joined the majority, and life became decidedly simpler.
In 2005, I relocated from my home in the UK to Los Angeles and now live in the sunshine. I'm a film critic for Entertainment Magazine and Yahoo! and have 200+ reviews online. The next step from writing articles was a book, which is where I am at the moment.
Step One - fall out of bed.
Step Two - Wander into bathroom.
Step Three - Clean teeth & put conditioner on (dry) hair.
Step Four - Wander into kitchen, put on kettle.
Step Five - Wander into office. Check at least three email addresses (I have seven) and reply if necessary.
Step Six - Wander back into kitchen, make Essiac tea, take it back to office.
Step Seven - Check four remaining email addresses and don’t bother replying. Time is marching on.
Step Eight - Wander into bathroom, wash conditioner off hair (this daily no-shampoo routine does wonders for hair), jump in bath, throw on any clothes as long as they’re as clean as me.
Step Nine - Wander into living room, go on laptop and remain chained for remainder of day, stopping only for lunch (salad because it doesn’t involve cooking) and dinner, which could be anything from a muffin to a packet of oats. Yes, really.
Step Ten – Clean teeth plus use waterpic, splash face, pull on T-shirt and fall into bed.
SECOND BEST DAY
As above but interrupted by -
Step Nine (a) - Phone call/text/Fedex asking me to take delivery of parcel for next door neighbor/neighbor’s dog barking.
THIRD BEST DAY
Steps One to Ten of Second Best Day, plus –
Step Nine (b) – Walk to gym for cycle class at 11.45, return 1.15 pm, continue to Step Ten.
FOURTH BEST DAY
Steps One to Ten, plus -
Step Nine (c) – Go to screening for film. Before starting to write novel, attended screenings five times a week, but now twice a month and studio films only.
FIFTH BEST DAY
Steps one to ten, plus –
Step 9 (d) - which can be trip to supermarket/bank/dentist/hair salon/other essential places.
SIXTH BEST DAY
As fourth best day, plus 9 (e) – which is going out in evening to meet friends. I realize this is bizarre, but as an obsessive writer, everything is a distraction.
As Steps One to Ten, but with at least two of Step 9 (a). Step 9 (b), at least two of 9 (d) and a 9 (e). These days can result in withdrawal.
EVEN WORSE DAY
Novel is finished.
HOW I EXILED MY INNER BITCH (blurb)
Dionne is 36, and still hooked on the imaginary twin she invented to get you through her desolate childhood. With such an odd companion, long-term relationships are impossible and she is doomed to live her life as a serial monogamist, until the Go Along Guy shows up. Greg has denial on intravenous, so Dionne's quirks simply pass him by and, pretty soon, shallow love blossoms. Unfortunately, however, what are also blossoming are Greg's teenage daughters. They don't like Dionne and their hormones are raging.
I am British and relocated to Los Angeles in 2005. I'm a freelance journalist and write film reviews for Yahoo! and Entertainment Magazine. This is my debut novel.
Imogen has been living in Thailand for six months, dividing her time between relaxing with friends and her boyfriend in idyllic surroundings and building an exhibition of underwater photographs. She can't imagine returning to dreary Britain but one phone call freezes her travel bug and sends her back to Brighton. Imogen's beloved grandmother, Vivien has passed away, leaving her ice cream shop to Imogen and her older sister, Anna.
Imogen and Anna have a tough task ahead of them to fulfil their grandmother's wishes and take over the business. The ice cream shop has suffered in recent years and needs modernisation and a new wave of customers. Anna has always dreamed of making a living from selling her own food creations but she doesn't have much experience of making ice cream and creating her own recipes so, in the name of research, she jets off to Italy to enrol on a gelato course.
Making the ice cream shop a success won't be easy but Anna and Imogen are determined to make their grandmother proud.
I was thrilled when I received a copy of Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop as the cover is gorgeous and what could be better than a plot revolving around ice cream? We only meet Vivien - who opened the shop in the 1950s with her husband, Stanley - very briefly but, through her friends and family, I got a real sense of the woman she was. Vivien was a warm, caring and full of life character so her granddaughters have a lot to live up to when they take over her shop.
Anna and Imogen have their fair share of problems while setting up the shop, both in business and their personal lives. It was good to see the hiccups of taking over the business or, more importantly, how the sisters worked to resolve them, growing in confidence as they progressed.
Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop is a tasty treat of a book and is perfect to enjoy over the summer.
I'm pleased to be taking part in the Rose Harbor In Bloom Blog Tour, with a Q&A with the author, Debbie Macomber.
What can you tell our readers about your new novel Rose Harbor in Bloom? Rose Harbor in Bloom, the sequel to The Inn at Rose Harbor continues the story that began last year and follows young widow Jo Marie Rose as she settles into life as the owner of a bed and breakfast in the beautiful Pacific Northwest town of Cedar Cove. In this new novel, Jo Marie and her rescue dog Rover, welcome guests who each embark on their own journey of healing and hope. The two main guests include Mary Smith, who is recovering from cancer and Kent and Julie Shivers, who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The book offers plot twists and turns, surprises and celebrations.
The Rose Harbor books center around the strength of a community, is this something that resonates with you? Most definitely. Both my husband and I were raised in small towns. We now live in small towns, both in Washington State and in our winter home in Florida. But over the years I have discovered that large cities are really a series of small neighborhoods. We are all part of a community. Sometimes it’s one we make for ourselves. Right now readers seem to be yearning for that sense of community.
You are the mother of four children, so how did you balance your writing with your family life? In the early years it was more difficult than it is now. (Now I have an office and a staff). During the school year I would write when the kids were in school. In the summers I did things with the kids in the mornings, and they would give me two hours in the afternoon to write. We compromised! I was not to be interrupted unless there was blood involved!
You are dyslexic, so how was this for you growing up as you knew you wanted to be a writer? I’ve always been a story teller. Dyslexic people are often gifted with a creative imagination. It wasn’t until I was in the fifth grade that I figured out how to sound out words and truly began to read. Knowing the difficulties I had in school, I didn’t want to share my dream of becoming an author with anyone. But that dream burned in my heart and helped me overcome my learning challenges.
Who do you most like to read in your spare time? I’m a big fan of Regency novels, and there are a number of authors in the genre that I enjoy, with Mary Balogh being one of my favorites. I read a wide variety of books, including biographies. My husband I enjoy listening to audio thrillers on long car trips. I also try to read books by my author friends, Marie Bostwick, Linda Lael Miller, Susan Mallery, Robyn Carr, and Christina Skye.
It has been said that fans of Maeve Binchy will enjoy reading your work, how does it feel to have this comparison? It feels really good! I have been a big fan of her books for many years. Hers is exactly the audience I am seeking with my own stories, and following in the footsteps of such a master storyteller is exciting and humbling.
You own a yarn and knitting shop called A Good Yarn, is knitting something you like to do in your spare time? I’m a crazed knitter. I always have something on my needles, and it is pure joy sharing my love of knitting with my readers
I advise you all to check-in to the Rose Harbor Inn, I know you’ll have a wonderful visit.
To celebrate the paperback publication of Tom Winter's Lost & Found, I have 3 copies to giveaway.
Lost & Found tells the story of two strangers brought together through letters. To enter the giveaway, fill in the form below and leave a comment telling me who you would most like to receive a letter from.
You can see my review of Lost & Found here and my interview with the author here
Really struggled to get out of bed. Had a late night trying to finish an awkward scene in the novel I’m working on, but ended up playing chess with the computer that resulted in a tense stand-off which lasted almost an hour.
Downstairs, I turn it back on and while it’s starting up I make coffee. Even from the kitchen, I can hear my trusty laptop groaning at another day flicking from Twitter to Facebook to Word doc for a nanosecond before flicking back to Twitter. Ignoring its griping, I pour flakes into a bowl and top it with milk, then pour the coffee. Spooning said flakes into my mouth, I sit before the laptop and open my email. Spam. Spam. Spam. And more spam. Oh! Win a holiday with one click.
I click. And read. And imagine I’ve won the holiday. I think about the new clothes I would have buy; would need a new suitcase, too. And lose weight. My dream ends, and soft ‘coo-coo’ noise of the clock tells me it’s ten o’clock. Already?
I make another coffee, the previous cold, and delete the spam and the holiday. A new email comes in. It’s from a lady whose work I was editing. She’s not happy with the edits. Thinks I was too harsh. Harsh? Learn how to punctuate, muppet!
Ah. Another email comes through from an agent I was hoping to bag. No, she isn’t going to pursue with my submission after all. I hit the exit button. Too early in the morning to deal with, and I don’t feel strong enough. Insufficient caffeine circulating the blood stream for a start! I glug the coffee and wonder about pretending that I hadn’t received it? If I call her and act like I hadn’t, maybe she’ll change her mind?
I open last night’s “awkward scene”. Minimize it, and click on Twitter. Ah, I’ve several messages and RTs that I need to reply to/thank. Oh no! Kate Moss is trending. Has she died? I click and see that it’s her birthday. I wish her happy birthday.
I go into #wip to see how everyone is getting on with their writing. @Flashgit has managed 5k this morning. I unfollow @Flashgit.
@Bitchfeatures is editing her NaNoWriMo novel. She said she wrote in the WHOLE DAMN THING IN A MONTH. I report her for abuse.
I type: On second coffee and still can’t get started #wip
I open up my scene again and re-read aloud to see if it sounds any better. It doesn’t.
Back on Twitter, I see if anyone has answered me. They have. @francinelasala tells me to go for a walk to think things over in my head. Good idea actually. The “me time” is very, very important. Note to self – make more “me time”.
I shower and dress, and immediately feel better. I grab my bag and car keys and out I go. Walk? Is she frigging joking! I head to the shops. Nothing like retail therapy for “me time”.
Several hours later, and a lots of pound lighter (money, not weight – I wish!) I come home. I’ve bought a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I dump the bags in my wardrobe, but as I open the door a pair of jeans, with the label still on, fall out. I pick them up and remember I bought them last week. They are EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE ONES I JUST BOUGHT!
Back at my computer, I check my emails. The agent’s one glares at me (emails can glare, believe me!) and I open it angrily: “the round table isn’t keen on your concept and doesn’t think it’ll sell”. Round table? What is she, bloody King Arthur?
I open Twitter to pour out my woes: Rejected again! Hitting bottle! #wip #submission #reject #author #pissed
I glance at the clock to see if this idea is doable. It’s early afternoon, a little early even for me. I wander back to Twitter and notice I’ve lost three followers. Really depressed now. I call my friend and tell her all about the horrendous day I’m having. She can’t talk because her house was burgled last night and the police are there taking statements. Still, she could have been a little more sympathetic, selfish cow.
At the computer, I open the “awkward scene”.
You know, it reads really good now. Think I’ll keep it after all.
Married, with four children, Louise Wise lives in England. She is a pharmacist technician by day and a writer by night. She was educated in an ordinary state school and left without achieving much in the way of qualifications; you could say she was the result of a crap state-funded school. Hungry for knowledge she enrolled in an Adult Education centre and studied English, maths and creative writing. Whereas other young girls asked for makeup and clothes for their birthdays, she asked for encyclopaedias!
Louise Wise used her general love of romantic fiction and interest in astronomy to write her first published book, Eden. It was an experimental novel and was never meant to see the light of day! She had received many rejections, which stated that the novel was just too original for the current market. An agent took it on but failed to find a publisher for it, this urged Louise into believing in herself as a writer. Since then she believes she has found her niche with romantic comedy.
Her books include: Eden, A Proper Charlie and non-fiction So You Want an Author Platform? And newly released, The Fall of the Misanthrope: I bitch, therefore I am.
I'm pleased to welcome Sarah Stovell onto the blog today. Sarah is the author of The Night Flower and has agreed to share her favourite childhood book.
My Favourite Childhood Book
I was an odd child - lonely and hugely imaginative, and also
bookish without being particularly clever. When I first read Anne of Green Gables, I was ten years old and staying with my grandparents in Devon. My grandma bought it for me from a little bookshop on Sidmouth High Street and I spent most of that week reading it. Anne, like me, had always craved a kindred spirit - a term I had never heard until then - and without doubt, she was mine. She speaks in the book about having a ‘window friend’ - a girl just like her who she’d met in the window of a bookcase. Anne was my window friend.
One of my suggestion for Guest Posters is writing about favourite childhood books so I thought I would share mine. I first discovered the joy of The Animals of Farthing Wood when I was around 9. I was in Year 5 at school and our teacher clearly had a passion for books. For the first time, we were told stories from novels rather than picture books and I couldn't tell you the amount of books he read us that year. We were enthralled as our teacher was a fantastic storyteller, using different voices for each character.
At the time, the BBC were showing the cartoon version of The Animals of Farthing Wood so our teacher brought in his copy of the book and read it to us. We watched the TV episodes after reading that particular section of the book and the teacher bought the copies of Farthing Wood Friends, the magazine that was brought out to accompany the series.
I loved the book, which tells the story of a group of animals who are forced to leave Farthing Wood as humans begin to tear it down. They go off in search of White Deer Park, a nature reserve where they will be safe from the bulldozers. Their journey is epic, with danger lurking around every corner but the unlikely friends stick together to reach their destination.
I loved the book so much, I bought myself a copy - the first book I had ever bought myself - and it cost me a month's worth of pocket money but I've had my money's worth since. I couldn't tell you how many times I've read the book over the years. As a child, Mole was my favourite character as he was so small and sweet and I found his greediness adorable but, as an adult I have grown to respect Adder and his sarcasm and he has become my favourite in the book (sorry, Mole).
I couldn't wait to share the book with my oldest daughter, which I did a few years ago, starting with the illustrated abridged version before moving onto the proper novel a year later. Now I'm waiting (impatiently) to introduce the book to my four year old!
Today I'm pleased to welcome author Leah Fleming onto the blog with an extract from her book, The Girl Under The Olive Tree.
is an extract from The
Girl Under the Olive Tree based on a factual account of how families
stranded in Athens managed to get themselves across to Crete with some tragic results
in May 1941. I have used this part of the real heroine's true story
as a turning point in how my character, Penny, (who is based on
Johanna Stavridi's life) uses her skills and saves lives
The convoy of diplomats and their families with an escort of soldiers drove through the evening to the port of Monemvasia. The diplomatic families were sailing on a steam yacht, Iolanthe, while Penny’s more subtle exit was to be made with some Greek political evacuees and diplomatic staff with their wives and children in a Greek caïque, hired from some seafarer who knew the remote islands in the Aegean. ‘We must travel only under cover of darkness,’ Bruce explained. Penny shivered, glad of her Red Cross cloak and battledress khaki borrowed from one of the army nurses, who’d given her a tearful farewell and a medallion of St Christopher for safe trav- elling. How could she be deserting them? Yet she knew her own presence might put them at risk for harbouring a British alien in their midst. As they bumped along the now familiar rutted tracks she stared out at the sheet of gunmetal that was the sea. It looked calm enough, but danger lurked from submarines and the ever- present dive bombers. She prayed she was not taking up someone else’s precious space, but Bruce assured her that there would be plenty of room on the caïque for stragglers and strays. The Amalia looked seaworthy, which was more than could be said for its captain. He looked like a pirate with his black beard, and he was rolling on deck, drunk to the point of stupor. Bruce and his friends threw him down into the hold in disgust. ‘Anyone know how to steer this thing?’ he yelled. Two bronzed Anzacs in tattered shorts, waiting for a lift off the beach, volunteered to get them started with the Greek crew, who looked nervous. It was going to be a motley bunch sailing the ship until they could sober up the captain. Slowly and silently they edged through the water. The Iolanthe, sailing ahead, was now just a speck on the horizon. With the throb of the engines, Penny curled up under her cloak, trying to snatch some sleep. Danger lurked under the water and they all sat in total silence seeing the smoking wrecks of ships lurching down into the deep. Penny stared out at the black water, smelling the telltale fumes of oil and burning rubber with only her thoughts for company. Everything had happened so fast: bumping into Bruce, collecting her case, her uniform and papers, saying farewell, all in one afternoon. As she left the mainland shore behind, she thought of Yolanda, wondering where she was and if she was still alive. Soon the numbness and stupor of exhaustion and a good helping of rough red wine settled her queasy stomach. She woke at ﬁrst light, stiff-limbed and hungry, knowing that they could easily be spotted by air. Bruce had ordered that no men, guns, helmets or uniforms be visible. There was a tarpau- lin for the men to hide under should the worst happen. Penny felt she was holding her breath, looking out constantly for any sighting of the enemy in the sky and under the sea. No one spoke when only minutes later, they heard the throb of engines. The Fates were against them but no one panicked. Now they must put Bruce’s strategy to work. ‘Are you OK, Pen? You know what to do?’ he asked as he ducked out of sight. Penny nodded, trying not to shake as she whipped off her cloak and trousers and ﬂung on a pair of khaki shorts, which she rolled up to reveal her long legs. The Greek wives were sitting in dresses and they spread out a tablecloth and lay down as if they were sunbathing. Penny could see the Messerschmitt swooping down low, and then it banked and turned, ready to strafe the deck. Heart in her mouth, Penny shook out her hair, showed off her tanned legs. ‘Show your legs, ladies,’ she ordered, hoping they would act out this desperate attempt to fool the pilot. ‘Wave! Look as if you are on holiday!’ Penny felt as if her heart were leaping out of her chest as she looked up and waved a book in the air, trying to smile through gritted teeth, hoping their ruse would work. Then, to their immense relief, the pilot swooped down, waved back to them from his cockpit, and sped off to look for other prey, leaving the girls staring up into the sky, shaking at such a close encounter. ‘Well done, Pen. I knew I could rely on you in a tight corner.’ Bruce smiled down at the prostrate women. ‘Hold to your posts, ladies, we’re not out of danger yet. We’re heading for the nearest uninhabited island.’ Penny watched a lump of rock slowly emerge from the haze on the horizon and they sailed towards a shallow bay where the Iolanthe was already moored. It looked like a paradise island of white sand and turquoise-blue waters. There was plenty of shade from the trees on shore and it was good to feel terra ﬁrma once again. I can climb any mountain but the sea unnerves me, Penny thought as she jumped ashore to join the party already spreading tablecloths and opening picnic baskets. The children were letting off steam playing tag and hide-and-seek, with strict orders to hide properly should any planes appear. The Iolanthe had a Lewis gun on board, and ammunition, but it had suffered some damage getting out of the harbour, and the crew and some of the ofﬁcers were busy trying to make repairs. Penny joined Judy Harrington, whom she’d once met at one of the embassy parties with Evadne, sitting with the other embassy wives for gin and limes under the shade of the huge trees, lying back and wondering if she was in some bizarre dream. Then they heard a warning klaxon from the yacht ring- ing in their ears and the wives jumped up to gather the children and run for cover. This time there would be no play-acting on the beach as three heavy bombers thundered overhead. To her horror Penny watched the Iolanthe blown out the water in a ball of ﬁre and the Amalia was rocked with the blast. Immediately Bruce and the Anzac soldiers were rowing out to the blazing wreck even though there was ammo still exploding. In the chaos of smoke and screaming, the wives yelled in terror for their children to take cover. Suddenly the calm sea was rocking with debris and burning oil, and the smell was of burning ﬂesh. The survivors were dragged from the water. It was a terrible sight on such a beautiful spot, but there was no time for delay. The children were rushed away from the shore, while women were screaming in horror, not knowing who had been killed. Penny’s mind went straight from gin as a drink to gin as disinfectant. What could she use to make a clearing station? Alcohol to cleanse, salt water, bandages, stretchers, wood for fuel. ‘I’ll need clean shirts, underskirts, anything clean, cotton, silk. You’d better rip them into strips,’ she ordered. Giving the stunned women jobs might keep panic and shock at bay for a while. The ﬁrst to come out were beyond her help. The others, she examined, having read somewhere that salt water burns healed better than dry ones. She hoped this was correct as she tried carefully to peel fabric from skin. There were nine dead men – crew, ofﬁcials and two soldiers – six had third-degree burns and two were in shock. Shock played havoc with the body if not recognized so she put these men in the care of Marisa and Elpi, the Greek maids from the Iolanthe. Bruce had superﬁcial burns on his arms but no blast injuries. He was anxious to make repairs to their caïque now, take every- one off the island and hide somewhere else in case the Stuka dive bombers returned to ﬁnish them off. The captain, sobered now by the morning’s tragedy, knew how to navigate to a safer port where they could get help for the injured. At nightfall, everyone gathered to bury the dead. It was a sad party that limped across to Kimolos. Bruce stood on deck grim- faced, his arms bandaged with Penny’s shirt. ‘Sorry, Pen, didn’t mean to bring you into all this, but it was a good job we had someone on board who knew what they were doing.’ He was looking at her with admiration and Penny felt herself blushing. How strange they had once met in their ﬁnery in a Highland ballroom and now they stood ragged, burned and exhausted in this world of war. ‘Perhaps I was meant to be here . . . What’ll happen now?’ ‘We’ll get picked up, not sure when, but there are too many important chaps on board for us to be overlooked. Don’t know what we’d’ve done without you.’ ‘Where were we heading, before all this happened?’ she asked. ‘Over the wine-dark sea to the birthplace of Zeus, to the island where Theseus overcame the Minotaur,’ he whispered. She was too tired to take in his allusions and looked blank. ‘To Crete, last outpost of the King of Greece now,’ he continued. ‘The show must go on and they’re preparing for the next onslaught. You’ll be shipped out on the ﬁrst convoy with the diplomatic wives and children, of course.’ That’s what you think, Penny thought, staring out across the blue waters. She’d made herself useful, saved lives because of her training here. Once again fate was conspiring to point the way forward. Surely there was a role for her here more than ever now? With a deep certainty in the pit of her stomach Penny knew she’d not be seeing England for a very long time.
Instead of going off to university or taking a year off to travel the world like her peers, Sophie May decided to stay behind in her small village after leaving school. Not knowing what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, Sophie took temporary employment at a tea shop while she came up with a plan but years later she is still working at Tea-On-The-Hill.
One day, while working at the tea shop, she meets Billy, an actor who is shooting on location nearby. There is instant chemistry between the pair but the relationship doesn't prove to be an easy one. The media takes an interest in the pairing, ex-girlfriends arrive back on the scene and Sophie faces the constant battle of not feeling good enough to date a celebrity. When Sophie is thrust in Billy's showbiz world, she is forced to question whether their relationship is strong enough to survive.
I'd been looking forward to reading Billy & Me since falling in love with its gorgeous cover. It screams classic chick lit and I wasn't disappointed as I started to read. I instantly warmed to the character of Sophie, who is clearly suffering from some sort of trauma in her childhood. She is quite a timid young woman but very likable and has a lovely relationship with Molly, the owner of Tea-On-The-Hill and has a great rapport with the shop's customers. The village of Rosefont Hill sounds like such a charming place, particularly the tea shop and, despite the gossip, is home to a close-knit community.
Sophie clearly has a secret from her past, which the reader is teased with for the majority of the book but, without giving away any spoilers, I was left feeling a little bit flat when all was revealed as I was expecting something 'more'. I felt for Sophie, particularly as the event shaped her entire future from then on and tarnished her childhood but I don't think it warranted such secrecy.
The only other slight niggle with the book for me was the overuse of exclamation marks. It isn't a big deal but there were so many of them that they started to really bug me in the end. But other than that, I enjoyed Billy & Me and thought it was a proper old fashioned chick lit novel with warm, fun characters in a delightful setting.
Millie is ecstatic when she's accepted on the student exchange program, which means she will get to spend a year studying in America. She can't wait to enrol at Kendry and throw herself into the American student life she's seen on television.
But her life in America may not turn out to be the dream Millie envisioned. There are so many rules to keep up with - from fashion to what to eat and drink - and balancing studying with her new hectic social life proves to be difficult and could result in a premature end to her American adventure.
Millie and the American University is a fun tale of college life in the US. Millie gets to experience frat parties, the Greek system and the bitchiness of sorority girls. Millie struggles to fit in to begin with until she meets Jen and Casey, who take her under their wing. Unfortunately, Millie soon realises Jen and Casey wouldn't be out of place in the film Mean Girls. There seems to some sort of party every night and Millie, wanting to experience all Kendry has to offer, begins to fall behind in her studying. And that's before she even starts dating!
I liked how each chapter starts with an email, relaying Millie's experience and feelings to her university friends back in England. I really warmed to Millie's character and I loved how she threw herself into life at Kendry. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity so she wants to grab it with both hands. I was worried for Millie to begin with as she seemed to be falling under Jen and Casey's spell but she is a strong young woman who refuses to follow the crowd when her instincts tell her otherwise.
There are lots of different kinds of parties thrown at Kendry with their own drinking games, which I loved reading about and I also found the whole Greek system interesting, learning more about it along with Millie. Millie and the American University is the prequel to Millie and the American Wedding, which I haven't read yet but I'd love to know what happens next.
As a book worm, there’s nothing I love more than when a set of characters I’ve fallen in love with are reunited in another instalment of that series. I do love imagining what might have become of the characters, but I love reading about their next adventures more. As a writer when you write a series of book, you get the same feeling. It’s like catching up with old friends and hearing about what they’ve been up to.
After I’d finished Millie and the American Wedding, I felt that the story in real-life wouldn’t have finished there. I knew that I had to write a sequel, but when I tried to think about what would have happened, I kept wondering how the characters had met in the first place, and what had happened when Millie and Rob got together at first. And that’s when it hit me, I had to write a prequel. I’ve just released Millie and the American University which is the prequel to Millie and the American Wedding.
Set seven years before the first book, it was fun to go back in time and see how the characters had all met. It was also a great opportunity to play around with their personalities. In the new book, the characters would have been in their early twenties before they got their careers and real-world problems. I know how different I am from my twenty-one year old self *cringes in horror at the memories* and so I had to adapt my characters too. Going to university is a rite of passage for anyone who goes and I felt that Millie’s year abroad would have caused a massive change in her personality. That was her opportunity to grow in confidence and come out of her shell.
I was scared at first about writing a prequel as people would know what comes next in the story. but then I thought, imagine if Sophie Kinsella wrote a prequel to Confessions of a Shopaholic, I love anything with Becky Bloomwood in and I’d love to read it. I read Chrissie Manby’s Secret Life of Lizzie Jordan after reading the sequel Getting Over Richard, and I enjoyed reading them in the wrong order. It was great to find out where the characters had come from and how they’d got together. I think if a reader really connects with the characters that they just enjoy reading more about their lives. I’m intrigued about new readers and whether they’ll read Millie and the American Wedding before or after the prequel. Either way, I hope that they enjoy revisiting the characters as much as I did when I wrote it.
Millie and the American University is available now.
You can find out more about the author on her website or follow Annabel on twitter
...for the first time. I know, I know. I should have read it before now, especially as I call myself a chick lit fan. My flimsy excuse is that I was 13 when the book was published and still engrossed in Sweet Valley High. I'm not sure what my excuse is for the years in between as I love the film. I did actually buy both Bridget Jones's Diary and The Edge of Reason last year but haven't got round to reading them but with the release of the third instalment, Mad About The Boy, not too far away, I decided it was finally time to open the book.
What are you reading? And what haven't you read but feel that you 'should' have?
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?
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'.
Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop by Abby Clements
I first saw the cover for Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop on Twitter and couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. It's so beautiful and ice cream-y and it's even more gorgeous in the flesh with added shininess. One of my favourite parts of the cover are the fonts used for the title, which rightly take centre stage. Again, they look even better in the flesh but I love the use of different fonts and the two colours used, which complement each other beautifully and, like the overall feel of the cover, are cheery and summery.
Heartbroken Laura is on her way to Florida's Key West with friends Marty and Bridget to give herself some time and space to think about her crumbling marriage. Her husband, Matthew has betrayed her and Laura isn't sure she can forgive him. The trio book into their hotel and while Marty and Bridget are happy to flirt with fellow holidaymakers, Laura can't help thinking about Matthew.
But that all changes when the three girls sign up for scuba diving lessons and Laura feels an instant attraction to instructor Leo. A holiday fling may not be the best idea under the circumstances but Laura can't seem to stay away from Leo and begins to worry that she won't be able to say goodbye and face what is left of her marriage when the holiday comes to an end.
The Longest Holiday is a fab summer read filled with heat and passion but also runs much deeper. Laura has never had much luck with men and now she must decide whether she can forgive Matthew and salvage their marriage or whether it is too much to handle and time to end it for good. Leo has also had a life filled with heartache and loss and has built a protective wall around himself, which can leave him appearing cold at times but you know there is a smouldering heat beneath the surface. Leo pulls off the gorgeous, brooding hero to perfection and I couldn't blame Laura for going after him. He sounds delicious! Their relationship is passionate but time is playing against them from the start and there is also the added complication of Matthew. Laura loves her husband so the decision between working through their problems and saying goodbye to him is a tough one.
I really liked Laura's best friend, Marty from the beginning, warming to her instantly but it was Bridget who grew on me the most. Technically she is Marty's friend rather than Laura's but it is Bridget who offers the most support when Laura needs it.
I have to admit that That Longest Holiday is the first Paige Toon book I've read but I loved it and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a fun summer read.