Friday, 30 May 2014

Book of the Month: May

 
Keep Your Friends Close
 
by
 
Paula Daly
 
 
Natty and Sean Wainwright are happily married. Rock solid in fact. So when Natty's oldest friend, Eve Dalladay, appears - just as their daughter collapses on a school trip in France - Natty has no qualms about leaving Eve with Sean to help out at home.

Two weeks later and Natty finds Eve has slotted into family life too well. Natty's husband has fallen in love with Eve. He's sorry, he tells her, but their marriage is over.

With no option but to put a brave face on things for the sake of the children, Natty embarks on building a new life for herself.

And then she receives the note.

Eve has done this before, more than once, and with fatal consequences...
 
*     *     *     *     *
 
After reading and enjoying Paula Daly's debut novel, Just What Kind of Mother Are You? last year, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Keep Your Friends Close and it was definitely worth the wait. I loved the book and devoured it within a couple of days, hooked on Natty's tale as she tried to claw back the life stolen by Eve. I loved every page, particularly the ending as I thought it was brilliant. I'm very much looking forward to the future releases from Paula Daly!
 
My full review of Keep Your Friends Close will be on the blog soon.
 
 
Click here to see all Books of the Month
 

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Spilt Milk by Amanda Hodgkinson

 
 
In 1913 sisters Nellie and Vivian Marsh are destined to remain spinsters. They live a simple, impoverished life on the outskirts of a village with only each other to rely on. But then Joe Ferier enters their lives and the fiercely close relationship between the sisters will be shattered, with the cracks remaining for years to come.
 
In 1939, Nellie's eighteen-year-old daughter Birdie finds herself pregnant. As an unmarried mother, Birdie feels she has no choice but to give the baby up for adoption. To shield herself from the stigma, Birdie goes to stay with her aunt Vivian for the duration of her pregnancy, where she begins to uncover the Marsh sisters' past.
 
Spilt Milk is told over several decades, beginning with Nellie and Vivian's childhood and moving through to their old age. Part one centres around the Marsh sisters and their meeting of Joe Ferier, who has a damaging effect throughout their lives. I did enjoy this part of the story, but I did think it dragged, especially compared with the second part, which swept through years and generations from one paragraph to the next. I think of the all the characters, I felt for Birdie the most as she suffered at the hands of fate time and again, which made her judgements quite harsh at times.
 
It was interesting to see how times changed for the Marsh sisters, beginning with such a secluded and hard life at the start of the century, moving through the decades and wars and shifts in attitudes. It was quite saddening to see the gulf in the sister's relationship and how that continued to shape their future and that of their loved ones. Spilt Milk isn't the most cheerful of reads, but I was drawn into the characters and their lives and wanted to keep reading to find out where Nellie, Vivian and Birdie would end up. A slight criticism for me would be the ending as I felt there were a few loose ends I would have liked tying up (but then I like my endings tied up neatly in a pretty bow). Overall, I thought the book was a good read, full of secrets and loss and the fragile ties of family.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Writing Book 2 - Part 5



Music To Write To

For me, writing and music go hand in hand. I always have to have some background noise otherwise it just feels too weird. I can't have the TV on, as this causes distraction and I end up watching the TV screen instead of my laptop's. But music is different. I can have that playing in the distance, even with lyrics, while I happily tap away at my keyboard.

The type of music is important too. If I'm writing something festive, it makes sense to have Christmassy music on (and also I'll use any excuse to listen to Crimbo music). And when writing A Beginner's Guide To Salad I listened to a lot of cheesy 90s pop to channel Ruth (who adores the cheese).

Book 2 (which now has a sparkling new title - Everything Changes But You) has a title that was inspired by the Take That song Everything Changes, so I've been listening to a LOT of Take That while writing the book. I also use Spotify to listen to music on my laptop, which allows you to listen to artists or songs that are similar to the ones you have chosen, which I find handy. I like Take That, but I think listening to the same songs for several months would have sent me ever so slightly barking!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Giveaway Winners: Dear Thing


Thank you to everyone who took part or helped to spread the word about the giveaway. Rafflecopter has chosen three winners at random, who have been notified via email. The winners are:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy your prizes.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan: A Joint Review

There are few things I like better than talking books on Twitter (it's what it was invented for, wasn't it?) and when I was asked if I wanted to do a joint review with fellow book lover and Twitterer Emma (@EmmaIsWriting), I said yes! We were both reading Jenny Colgan's Little Beach Street Bakery and decided to put our thoughts together.

 
Polly Waterford is recovering from a toxic relationship. Unable to afford their flat, she has to move miles away from everyone, to a sleepy little seaside resort in Cornwall, where she lives alone above an abandoned shop.
 
And so Polly takes out her frustrations on her favourite hobby: making bread. But what was previously a weekend diversion suddenly becomes far more important as she pours her emotions into kneading and pounding the dough, and each loaf becomes better and better. With nuts and seeds, olives and chorizo, with local honey (courtesy of local bee keeper, Huckle), and with reserves of determination and creativity Polly never knew she had, she bakes and bakes and bakes . . . And people start to hear about it.
 
Sometimes, bread really is life . . . And Polly is about to reclaim hers.
 
 
J= I’d been looking forward to reading Little Beach Street Bakery ever since I saw the beautiful cover with its pretty pinks and blues and the selection of baked goods (who doesn’t like a cover with a cupcake or two?) and I wasn’t disappointed. I immediately connected with Polly and felt for her as her business with partner Chris crumbled and she was forced to move out of their lovely flat and find somewhere cheaper to live. Polly ends up on a small island, which is accessed by a causeway and I loved the idea of being shut off and isolated much of the time, creating a tight-knit community. Polly quickly gets to know the people of the town, from the friendly fishermen to the unwelcoming Mrs Manse who owns the town’s bakery. Although Mrs Manse is incredibly unpleasant towards Polly, there is obviously a story buried beneath the hostile exterior and I liked getting to know the woman better and digging away at the layers until we discover what makes her act the way she does.

E= Polly will do anything for her other half, Chris. I wasn't sure if they were married or just in a relationship, but either way, I disliked him the first page. I desperately wanted Polly to get rid of him. She gave up her own dreams in order to make his a reality and she did, but then it flopped. She's a warm hearted character who was an absolute pleasure to read about. We have to talk about Neil the Puffin. Oh my days. Cutest character in the entire Fictional world (sorry Hedwig!). He was brilliant. He lifted Polly's spirits up when she needed it the most and he was simply the best. Eep!

J= The descriptions in the book were so vivid that I felt like I was there, sitting on the harbour with the smell of fresh bread in the air. Polly begins living in shoddy conditions, but Jenny Colgan really sold the place to me. I’d have moved into Polly’s flat straight away – whether it had a leaky roof or not! And then there was the puffin, who I could gush about all day. I’ve never paid much attention to puffins before, but after reading Little Beach Street Bakery, I want one. Quite badly. Whether they’re supposed to be pets or not. The puffin was so adorable and probably my favourite part of the whole book. I wanted to reach into the pages and give him a big squeeze!

E= "Oh Christ, I'm the kind of woman who talks to sofas." Jenny is a very witty person and that certainly comes across well in the book with the hilarious one liners. Polly's personality is funny and Jenny's wit oozes through onto the pages. With every chapter, Polly's love for bread shines through. For me, that's the only negative aspect (joking, obviously) of the book: IT'LL MAKE YOU CRAVE BREAD SO DAMN MUCH!! I was extremely tempted several times to put the book down and just read the recipes. I couldn't wait. I had to eat bread whilst reading.

J= Little Beach Street Bakery is a light-hearted read with a great set of characters (even Reuben grew on me in the end). I thought Polly was a brilliant main character for the book. She’s very down to earth but, instead of wallowing that she’s going through a rough patch, she gets out there and makes the best of a bad situation, which I really admired. I liked the relationships that Polly forms with the different members of the community and I thought that there was a good mix of both humour and heartfelt moments within the book. A word of warning though: you will be hungry throughout the novel due to the delicious, mouth-watering bread being baked!

E= In all honesty, I couldn't fault this book. Jenny Colgan is one of those rare authors and by rare, I mean that with every book comes consistency. I'm never disappointed by what she writes. Oh, but Jenny - please write a book just about Neil the Puffin. Please and thank you.
 
Twitter: @jennycolgan
Website:
http://www.jennycolgan.com/
 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Book Extras

One of the great things about DVDs is the extras you sometimes get: outtakes, cut scenes, interviews etc. So when I released A Beginner's Guide To Salad, I decided to do a bookish version and created some book extras, which you can find below.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00HTMHJ8S?*Version*=1&*entries*=0
 
 
Characters
 
Bios: Ruth, Billy & Jared
 
 
 
 
Quizzes:
 
 
 
 
Other
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Blog Tour: Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

Today I'm delighted to be taking part in Julie Cohen's blog tour for Dear Thing, with a review and a giveaway!

 

Claire and Ben have been trying for a baby for years. When their latest round of IVF results in a miscarriage, Claire decides it’s time to give up. She can’t keep putting herself through this, both mentally and physically, but then they are faced with another option to have the child they are so desperate for.

Single mother Romily would do anything for her best friend, Ben. Along with his wife Claire, Ben has always been there for her, helping her to raise her daughter, so she decides it’s time she repaid them. Romily offers to act as a surrogate for the couple. It will only be nine months of her life and then Ben will have everything he has always wanted. But being a surrogate isn’t as easy as Romily first thought. Especially as she is in love Ben.

Dear Thing is a heart wrenching tale of love, loss and fulfilling dreams. Claire is desperate to hold her child in her arms but it doesn’t seem possible. All around her, friends and family are starting families and it breaks her heart that she cannot share their joy. It was saddening to watch the hope seep from her as the dream of motherhood moved further and further away. She is wary when Romily first offers to carry her child. She doesn’t know Romily that well, but it is more than that. Claire’s hopes have been raised so many times and she’s afraid of going through that all again, only to come crashing down if it doesn’t work, so I could totally understand her reluctance.

I also felt for Romily. She’s been in love with Ben for years, but he sees her as nothing more than a friend, no matter how close that friendship is. Romily is quite impulsive and she doesn’t think things through before she goes ahead with the surrogacy. Being pregnant is hard enough with the lack of sleep and raging hormones, but on top of that Romily has to give up the baby, a baby she has made with the man she loves. I think if the book had been solely from Romily’s point of view, I would have rooted for her and Ben to get together and live happily ever after, but as I knew Claire in depth too and knew how much she wanted a child, I was stuck in the middle, wanting both of them to get their happy endings but knowing it wasn’t possible.

Dear Thing is the first Julie Cohen book I’ve read but I definitely want to read more in the future as I really liked her writing style. It was warm and touching and I was quickly drawn into the lives of the characters and their stories.



The publishers have provided 3 copies of Dear Thing for me to give away. To enter, simply fill in the Rafflecopter form below.

The giveaway ends on Tuesday 20th May. Rafflecopter will then pick the winners at random, who will be notified via email before being announced on the blog.

This is a UK only giveaway.

Good luck!

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 12 May 2014

Cover Stars: A Place To Call Home by Carole Matthews

 
Every month I choose my favourite cover from my TBR pile. Feel free to comment or add your own suggestions for ‘Cover Stars’.
 
 
In the dead of night, Ayesha takes her daughter, Sabina, and slips quietly from her home, leaving behind a life full of pain. Boarding a coach to London, all Ayesha wants is a fresh start.

Hayden, a former popstar, has kept himself hidden away for years. He's only opened up his home to two people - Crystal, a professional dancer with a heart of gold, and Joy, an ill-tempered retiree with a soft spot for waifs and strays.

When Crystal asks Hayden if Ayesha and Sabina can stay with them, he reluctantly agrees and, as different as they may be, they quickly form an unlikely bond. So when enemies threaten their peaceful home, they will do all they can to save it and each other.


*     *     *     *     *
 

I love a pretty cover - and this one is definitely a pretty cover! I love the pink flowers framing the bottom of the cover, with a similar pink replicated in the title and splashes of it in the figure's clothes, the tree's blossom and the door, which brings everything together. When I look at the cover, I'm instantly drawn in and I'm eager to find out who these people on the cover are and what has brought them to the house.

I like how the cover is easily identifiable as a Carole Matthews book as it has the same style of cover as her previous novels, creating a brand.


Click here to see all 'Cover Stars'

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings

 
 
Harmony has been happily married to Will for years. They have a lovely flat, jobs they enjoy and good friends. But a miscarriage six months ago has put a strain on their relationship. The couple never planned on having children but the surprise pregnancy changed Harmony's mind and she was devastated when they lost their baby. Will is reluctant to talk about the possibility of trying again, which is driving a wedge between the couple. He's always been adamant that he doesn't want to be a father, due to a traumatic childhood that he has shared very little of with Harmony. But when Will is reacquainted with Luke, an old school friend, his past resurfaces and Harmony may finally discover the truth about her husband's childhood.
 
I immediately felt for Harmony when I began reading The Judas Scar. She and Will have always agreed that they won't have children, but when Harmony discovers she is pregnant, that she is carrying a new life inside her, her outlook changes irrevocably. Sadly, she miscarries and she feels that Will isn't as supportive as he could be and feels she is carrying the burden of the loss on her own. There is clearly a reason why Will is so set against having children, but he refuses to talk about his past, leaving it buried where it can't harm him. But when Luke arrives, his past resurfaces and he is forced to face what happened all those years ago.
 
The book starts off quite gently at first as Harmony and Will try to deal with the miscarriage and the effect it is having on their marriage, but then the book starts to take on a much more sinister edge as the facts of Will's dark past begin to emerge. I think the thing I liked most about The Judas Scar was that nobody is entirely innocent, yet nor are they completely villainous. It isn't as black and white as that. Each person is affected by their past or the choices they make - which aren't always the wisest choices - and that made them far more real and believable for me. The secret of what happened is horrific in itself but the deep emotional scars and the refusal to deal with what happened causes yet more damage years down the line, which I found quite saddening and just goes to show that one event can have a domino effect of grief, gathering momentum as it continues to destroy lives.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Guest Post: Zanna MacKenzie

Creating The Memorable

By Zanna Mackenzie
 
 
What makes a book particularly memorable for you? The plot? The setting? The characters? For many of us it’s the characters which make a novel linger long in the memory or prompt us to rush to purchase another novel by the same author in a series because we’re so keen to find out what those same great characters are up to next.

But how does a writer create memorable characters? Now that’s a tough question!

A person who had read my latest novel If You Only Knew said they liked the main characters in the book but would have loved to have been able to learn much more about them in terms of the details of their lives. They said they like lots of information and description about a character, where they live, their clothes, their habits etc. when they are reading. Fair enough. We each have our personal preferences when it comes to reading styles we like. For me, when I read, it’s more about getting a ‘sense’ of the character than wanting to know every detail of their lives – but we can all be looking for something different in the same book, which is what makes creating memorable characters a tricky business.

I seem to recall a famous UK author once saying in an interview that she never describes characters in her novels. The reason? She wants the reader to create their own mental picture of them instead. I thought this was a wonderful and fascinating concept. Sometimes I’ve read a book and developed a firm picture in my mind of certain characters which didn’t quite fit with the described look of the character. Why? I think there can be little things about a character which might trigger a personal memory of people we know in real life or actors we have seen on TV or in a movie we particularly enjoyed, and these things come together like pieces of a jigsaw to create our very own image of that particular character in a book.

When I’m creating characters for my novels I get an idea of the type of person they are and what their particular issues are and then I use astrological personality profiles to start to build all aspects of the character. I put together a detailed biography for each main character and include family and relationship history, school and education, career, car, house, looks, clothes, in depth personality stuff, strengths and weakness and much more.

Do I include all of this level of detail in the book? Usually no, I don’t. Why? I personally prefer to include just enough detail to help create that mental picture and an understanding of who a character is rather than add in lots of detail or backstory about them.

So, what is the answer to that earlier question about creating memorable characters? In truth, I think what makes a character memorable is different for everyone. It may be something in their personality we can relate to; it may be a character’s particular strength or vulnerability; it could be their issue or quest in the book we identify with. There are lots of things which can make a character stand out to us when we’re reading and they’re all equally valid!


What makes a character memorable for you when you’re reading a book?


 
Zanna Mackenzie lives in the UK on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border with her husband, 4 dogs, a vegetable patch that’s home to far too many weeds and an ever expanding library of books waiting to be read.

Being a freelance writer and editor of business publications is her ‘day job’ but, at every opportunity, she can be found scribbling down notes on scenes for whatever novel she’s working on. She loves it when the characters in her novels take on minds of their own and start deviating from the original plot!

If You Only Knew is Zanna’s third novel; her previous books The Love Programme, and How Do You Spell Love? were both published in 2013.

Find out more about Zanna at:

www.zannamackenzie.blogspot.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ZannaMacKenzie

Facebook: www.facebook.com/zanna.mackenzie

Goodreads - http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/10703273-zanna-mackenzie

Amazon Author Page -
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Zanna-Mackenzie/e/B00BKY1A18/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0


If Only You Knew is available on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here

Friday, 2 May 2014

Book News: Title and Blurb of Book 2

Book 2 is now with an editor, so I thought it was time to share the title (it's quite tired of being called Book 2 now) and the blurb. It's another romantic comedy but with a sprinkling of magic that has been so much fun to write.

So, here goes. Book 2 is to be called:

Everything Changes But You

Ally Richmond is dreading turning thirty and bidding farewell to her youth. And when her husband says he wants to start a family, she begins to panic.

Is this all that life has to offer from now on? Popping out babies and growing old gracefully? She wants a life crammed with glamour and spontaneous adventure, not one full of dirty nappies and night feeds.

When Ally makes a silly birthday wish for a new, exciting life, her wish is granted.

But when Ally is presented with the freedom and opportunities she craves, she soon realises this new life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that there really is no place like home.
 

I'm still tweaking away at the cover, but I'll be sharing this soon too!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Guest Post: Emily Poule

Nostalgia is not an affliction. Contrary to the progressive, future-minded culture we exist in, it doesn’t hurt to look backward every now and then. For me, looking backwards is a bit of a literary science. I lie on my back, I listen to Coldplay, and I think about the past: people, places, moments. It takes time to make sense of things and when we take a second to revisit our histories, we see the narrative…the themes and the characters…and we have the bones of a good story, possibly, a great one. We have the opportunity to reimagine; do something with our what ifs.

 

Here for the Cake is about a scatter-brained academic, Mina Joseph. Though she is bright and witty, she is passive to a fault, and that horrible quality is one of the reasons she lost the love of her life, Lucas Gibson, to her childhood friend and foe, Ella Hutchinson. When Luke’s best man, Benjamin Fogarty, shows up and offers her a chance to win her man back, she takes it.

At it’s heart, Here for the Cake is all about taking chances; about opening your mouth and saying the things that you’re scared to say and doing the things that you must to get what you want. Love is terrifying but if you don’t have the courage to go after love, you’ll lose to someone who does. Yes, it’s a battleground and no, it never turns out the way you think it will.

It’s definitely a comedy because I love to laugh and I just can’t help taking my stories there. It’s full of characters based off of people I know; some that I love or have loved deeply. It’s also a bit of a patchwork quilt: a streaming of my own personal stories. No, it’s not 100% accurate. I’m a writer and an embellisher so it’s the funnier, more exciting version of my past experiences; the version of the truth that I will one day tell my grand children.

The most honest parts of this book are the themes: how great friends are our salvation; how sometimes those shitty people don’t get their come-uppance and sometimes they do; and how love can sometimes surprise you but that it’s always a possibility.

Here for the Cake is my first novel and is the first in a series of three. If you’re looking for a book that may make you laugh, may make you cry, and may even speak to you, give it a shot. I loved writing this book and I hope you can feel that when you read it.
 


Here for the Cake is available as an ebook. 
 
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