The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide – Review


Translated by Eric Selland


“A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.

The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it. The book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America. – See more at:”

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

A couple reside in a rented property in the suburbs in Japan. They are meandering through life when suddenly a cat, adopted by neighbours begins to visit their house. As the cat works its way into their hearts and home she has an effect on their lives in other ways.

This is a short novella, only 136 pages long. There is a mystical almost whimsical feel to the story as the unnamed narrator tells us about Chibi the cat and how she motivates him and his wife. He notices changes taking place, neither of them being cat lovers, his wife starts to make a bed for the visitor, feeding her and leaving the door open to ensure she can visit whenever she likes. The cat inspires the narrator to make changes in his own life.

The author is also a poet and this shows in the writing. Short chapters of two or three pages appear to convey little but the story soon grows on you much like the cat. There is no big plot line, just a gentle meander through the lives of a Japanese couple. A charming little story.

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Waiting for Doggo – Mark B Mills – Review


Publication date – 20 November 2014


“One man. One dog. One big love. The perfect novel for anyone who loves MARLEY AND ME, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or ONE DAY.

No-one ever called Dan a pushover. But then no-one ever called him fast-track either. He likes driving slowly, playing Sudoku on his iPhone, swapping one scruffy jumper for another. He’s been with Clara for four years and he’s been perfectly happy; but now she’s left him, leaving nothing but a long letter filled with incriminations and a small, white, almost hairless dog, named Doggo. So now Dan is single, a man without any kind of partner whether working or in love. He’s just one reluctant dog owner. Find a new home for him, that’s the plan. Come on…everyone knows the old adage about the best laid plans and besides, Doggo is one special kind of a four legged friend…and an inspiration.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Dan arrives home to a letter from his girlfriend, Clara. He finds she has left him, vanishing and not telling family and friends where she has gone. She has taken most of her belongings but has left behind one, her rescue dog, currently known as Doggo, until a better name comes along. Dan attempts to return Doggo but on learning he would only be taken back if ‘certain parts were missing’ he changes his mind. Dan, currently unemployed, finds a job that will also accept Doggo. Soon the rescue dog alters Dan’s view of the world and brings welcome changes to his life, helping him learn to love again.

This is a lovely novel. I soon found myself charmed by Dan and Doggo and was wrapped up in their tale. It is only a short novel, just 213 pages and I found myself zooming through it.

Dan is a great character, someone who has flaws but recognises them. He appears to be easy-going, intelligent and funny and I was left wondering what Clara was looking for elsewhere. Mark Mills manages to convey Clara as a not very nice character in a short letter and brief mentions by other characters. His strength at creating well rounded characters continues in the rest of the story, Edie is lovely, Tristan, not so much and J adds an element of comedy. The standout character is of course Doggo, an ugly mutt who works his way into everyone’s hearts and who’s own story is touching.

Overall this is heart-warming, filled with love, laughter and friendship in all its forms. My only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough.

Mark Mills is also the author of The Whaleboat House, The Secret Garden and The Long Shadow. Having only read The Secret Garden I can say this is different from that novel but continues to show his story-telling ability. I look forward to reading more from him in the future.


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Jo Thomas – Q&A

Today Jo Thomas, author of The Oyster Catcher, answers a few of my questions.

Tell us a little about The Oyster Catcher.

The Oyster Catcher is set in Dooleybridge, County Galway. Population: 482 (or thereabouts). The last place Fiona Clutterbuck expects to end up, alone, on her wedding night. But after the words ‘I do’ have barely left her mouth, that’s exactly where she is – with only her sequined shoes and a crashed camper van for company. 

One thing is certain: Fi can’t go back. So when the opportunity arises to work for Sean Thornton, the local oyster farmer, she jumps at the chance. Now Fi must navigate suspicious locals, jealous rivals and a wild, unpredictable boss if she’s to find a new life, and love, on the Irish coast. And nothing – not even a chronic fear of water – is going to hold her back.

What inspired you to write The Oyster Catcher?

My husband was offered a job on the west coast of Ireland, in Galway, to work on an Irish-language soap opera there. We went over to see the place to decide if we would go as a family. From the moment we arrived it poured with rain. I’ve never known rain like it, and that’s after living in Wales. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I decided that it wasn’t going to work, until that night when we went to a restaurant; a wonderful place called O’Grady’s. It’s an end cottage in a row of terraced cottages, painted light blue. You walk in and the fire is going, the candles are lit, and you look out over sea. And there I ate pacific oysters. I looked out of the cottage window and thought, OK, I get it. If this is what Galway has to offer, I’m in. And from then on I had some of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had, from wild foraged food, saffron sorbet, and the oysters, just wonderful. I thought, ‘this is sexy’. But it’s such a precarious business.  And an idea began to form.  

You won the RNA Katie Fforde Busary in 2013. Can you tell us a bit about the bursary, what you had to do to win it and how it affected your writing career?

The Katie Fforde bursary is entirely at Katie’s discretion. She chooses someone each year that she feels just needs an extra nudge towards publication. I had been in the RNA New Writer’s Scheme for a number of years and Katie decided it was my time. By the summer of that year I signed for The Oyster Catcher to come out as an e-book with Accent Press, a small, independent publisher in Wales. It came out in November 2013. In January of 2014 the book went to number 2 in the amazon kindle charts and sat between Twelve Years a Slave and The Book Thief. By the April I signed to Headline and now The Oyster Catcher is out in paperback. The Chestnut Tree has just come out as a short e-book and my next book is due out in February. So yes, winning the Katie Fforde Bursary certainly started the ball rolling on my road to publication. The fact that I am now a published writer is down to the faith and friendship I found in the RNA.  

What is your writing process? Do you plan it all before you start or just sit and write? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I have discovered I need to plot. I start with a game of consequences and then develop the big plot points. The Oyster Catcher was my first published book and so took some time to get right. In fact, an oyster takes three years to grow and I’d say that first book took the same amount of time. Now of course, I work a lot quicker and am writing a book and a novella a year. 

The Oyster Catcher is your first novel. What can we expect to see from you in the future? Can you give us a sneaky insight into your next book?

Yes, The Chestnut Tree is the novella that is just out as an e-book. It’s all about Ellie Russet, who leaves home and her restaurant in the wake of a disaster to housesit in the Kent countryside, the last thing she wants to do is cook for a living – ever again. Ellie’s new neighbour, Daniel Fender, is struggling to make ends meet as a furniture maker. Could the answer to his problems lie in the chestnut orchard at the bottom of the garden? 

Only Ellie can help Daniel unlock the delicious secret that will bring them the fresh starts they need. And as autumn approaches, romance will blossom amid the glowing embers of the chestnut fire… 

My next full length book is due out in February and is called The Olive Branch.  

After a Prosecco-fuelled girls’ night in gets out of hand, Ruthie Collins awakes to discover that she has bid for her dream Italian home online – and won. Recently out of a relationship, a new start is just what Ruthie needs. Anything is better than sleeping on her mum’s settee. 
But arriving in Southern Italy, Ruthie doesn’t know the first thing about running an olive farm. And with new neighbours, the tempestuous Marco Bellanouvo and his fiery family to contend with, all Ruthie wants is to go back home. 
Life can change with the click of a mouse. But all good things – friendship, romance, and even the olive harvest – take time to grow. Can Ruthie finally put the past to rest and find her own piece of the Dolce Vita along the way? 

I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

I suppose it’s the question I’m asking everyone else at the moment, if the world was your oyster what would you do? The thing about me is I want to change my job every week.  If the world was my oyster, I’d like to be a sweet chestnut tree farmer, live in a smallholding in Scotland or be an olive oil producer in Italy. I would love to be an artisan food producer, but exactly what I want to make changes every week.  But lucky enough for me, as a novelist who writes field to fork romantic fiction, I get to write about all these things and live out my farming fantasies with every new book.   


About the book:


“Kindle Bestseller and RNA Joan Hessayon Award Winner The Oyster Catcher is Jo Thomas’s irresistibly feel-good Irish novel of facing the past, finding your feet and falling in love.

Dooleybridge, County Galway. Population: 482 (or thereabouts). The last place Fiona Clutterbuck expects to end up, alone, on her wedding night.

But after the words ‘I do’ have barely left her mouth, that’s exactly where she is – with only her sequined shoes and a crashed camper van for company.

One thing is certain: Fi can’t go back. So when the opportunity arises to work for Sean Thornton, the local oyster farmer, she jumps at the chance. Now Fi must navigate suspicious locals, jealous rivals and a wild, unpredictable boss if she’s to find a new life, and love, on the Irish coast. And nothing – not even a chronic fear of water – is going to hold her back.

Join Fi on her r
omantic, unpredictable adventure as she learns the rules of the ocean - and picks up a few pearls of Irish wisdom along the way… “







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Stephen Lloyd Jones – Top 5 tips writing tips

Today Stephen Lloyd Jones, author of The String Diaries and Written in the Blood, tells us his top 5 writing tips.


Top 5 tips for writers in this genre

Let me say, right from the off, that with only two published novels under my belt it feels a little presumptuous to start offering writing advice. Instead, then, here are five things that I try to keep in mind when I’m writing. If they give you a little help along the way, so much the better.

Tease. Obfuscate. Deceive. 

You want your audience hanging on every word, right? You want them to say, ‘Oh shit, I didn’t see that coming.’ You want them to tense up as they realise things are not at all as they seemed?

So, don’t give them everything on a plate. Take off at a sprint, while they dash after you with one hand cupped to their ear. If you can see a busy junction up ahead, slow down and take their hand. Lead them gently into the middle of the traffic, then throw a hood over them and scarper. Dole out information – and misinformation – like a miser, as if it’s the most valuable resource in the world.

Do all this while remembering that they are likely more intelligent than you, more well-read than you and must be treated with complete respect at all times.

Be a perfectionist.

I rewrote each page of THE STRING DIARIES over twenty times before I decided it was ready for an agent to look at. The first three chapters – which form the initial part of any submission package – went through around forty or fifty drafts. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many times I revised the vital first pages . . . but we’re talking easily over one hundred.

These figures might seem a little excessive but they shouldn’t scare you. There are only so many literary agents and editors out there. You don’t get a second chance. So don’t screw it up by sending out anything but your very best work.

Be confident to the point of arrogance until you are published, then listen to every bit of advice you can get. 

Halfway through writing THE STRING DIARIES, I started to read about the submission process and the likely chances of success. If I wasn’t such an obstinate fool, I should have abandoned the book right there. It seemed that my chance of even landing an agent was around one in five thousand. Dreadful odds for a two-year time investment, don’t you think?

Then I thought, ‘You hear a lot about novels submitted in green biro, manuscripts with human teeth marks, crazy stuff. What if, say, I’m in the top 1% when it comes to those submissions? That puts my chances at one in fifty. What if I’m in the top 0.1%? That gives me a one in five chance! Per agent! It’s what sustained me while writing the second half of the novel.

Once I found a publisher, of course, I abandoned that particular suit of armour and listened to every scrap of advice I was given . . . and acted on nearly all of it.

Don’t just write for the eyes.

Visual descriptions are important, but I become immersed in a fictional setting far more quickly if all of my senses are engaged. When a writer offers me sounds and smells, a funny thing happens in my brain. I feel myself being transported.

As a (numbingly) simple example, try visualising the sea. Done? Now add the taste of sea salt and the cry of seagulls. Better, isn’t it?

Google Street View is a valuable tool.

My stories take place in multiple locations, scattered all over the world. While writing WRITTEN IN THE BLOOD, I was working on scenes set in California’s Yosemite National Park, Budapest, Northern Canada and Switzerland. While I’ve visited those locations, the ability to take memory-jogging virtual drives through them was invaluable. It really is an amazing resource.

About the book:

“The new, enthralling supernatural thriller from Stephen Lloyd Jones, following his highly acclaimed debut THE STRING DIARIES

High in the mountains of the Swiss Alps Leah Wilde is about to gamble her life to bring a powerful man an offer. A promise.

Leah has heard the dark stories about him and knows she is walking into the lion’s den. But her options are running out. Her rare lineage, kept secret for years, is under terrible threat. That is, unless Leah and her mother Hannah are prepared to join up with their once deadly enemies.

Should the prey ever trust the predator?

Is hope for future generations ever enough to wash away the sins of the past?

With a new and chilling danger stalking them all, and the survival of their society at stake, they may have little choice…”

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Morgan McCarthy – A few tips on getting published

Today I’m pleased to welcome Morgan McCarthy, author of The Other Half of Me, The Outline of Love and Strange Girls and Ordinary Women to the blog.  Here Morgan discusses her tips on how to get published.

A Few Tips on Getting Published

Firstly, make sure the novel is ready. I sent my first book off to agents in a fever of excited optimism as soon as I’d finished each draft. In the end it took several drafts before it was anywhere near a standard that agents and publishers would consider starting their own extensive editing work on it. If you can stand it, let your book lie for a month or two and do something else. Then revisit it, by which time you’ll see it more clearly. Seek opinions from honest people who like the kind of fiction you’re writing. You may have to pay for honesty. There are various manuscript reading services available online. I sent my own first novel to The Literary Consultancy, who gave me a clear (and at times painful) assessment.

When it comes to sending your book to agents and publishers, do your research! You need a targeted approach if you want to be taken seriously. Don’t take a scattergun approach; firing your book randomly into the publishing world in the hope it will hit the right people. (Somewhat sinister analogy, but I stand by it). Work out your genre and which other authors are like you. Go online or use The Writers and Artists Yearbook to find out who represents or publishes them. Look at the websites of agents and publishers to find out which people are responsible for other writers like you, and if they take submissions.
This shouldn’t need to be said, but agents don’t welcome submissions that have nothing to do with their stated genres. They won’t applaud your out-of-the-box thinking or be encouraged to widen their horizons from children’s fiction at the sight of your ground-breaking literary sci-fi meets erotic fiction masterpiece. You will get the standard ‘No’ slip – with a signature if you’re lucky – and your manuscript won’t be read at all.

On the same note: follow every single rule on the agent or publisher’s website. What it boils down to is this: everyone wants to find new talent but nobody really has time to read your manuscript. If you break the rules you won’t be differentiating yourself from the crowd and getting attention. You will get a sigh of relief that the reader doesn’t have to read past your cryptic cover letter, your ten-page synopsis, or your single-spaced first page.

But do break this rule: if an agent tells you to only submit to one agent at a time, ignore it. Agents take weeks and sometimes months to reply, so send your manuscript to several at once (remembering to personalise each letter, as explained above). Most agents do understand that you’d like to be published in your own lifetime. Having said that, don’t feel obliged to confess who else you have sent it to!

About the book:


“Three very different lives come crashing together in this dark, lyrical and enthralling story of warped perceptions, female intuition and ‘the other woman’.

They say you know instinctively who to trust.

Alice is normal; she’d never do anything rash. But when she sees her husband one day with a younger girl, she knows at once that he’s having an affair. And it must be stopped.

Vic loves her friend Michael, more than he knows. He wants happiness, and thinks he’s found it with the magnetic Estella. But Vic feels sure she can’t be trusted – and she needs to make Michael see that too.

They don’t know Kaya; her life is tougher than they can imagine. But Kaya’s a survivor, and she’s determined to find a way out of her miserable world.

Three women, three lives that come crashing together in this dark, lyrical and utterly enthralling story of warped perceptions, female intuition and ‘the other woman’.”

Strange Girls and Ordinary Women is published by Tinder Press and is available to buy now.

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Winter Siege – Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman – review

Yesterday I guest reviewed Winter Siege for Shaz’s Book Boudoir.

You can view the review here and I’d like to thank Sharon for allowing me to guest review for her.

My rating 4 of 5 stars

About the book:


Run, run, girl. In the name of God, run.

It’s 1141 and freezing cold. Gwil, a battle-hardened mercenary, watches in horror as a little girl with red hair is dragged away by his own men. Caught in the middle of the fight for England she is just one more victim in a winter of atrocities. 

But a strange twist of fate brings them together again. Gwil finds the girl close to death, clutching a sliver of parchment – and he knows what he must do. He will bring her back to life. He will train her to fight. And together, they will hunt down the man who did this to her. 

But danger looms wherever they turn. As castle after castle falls victim to siege, the icy Fens ring with rumours of a madman, of murder – and of a small piece of parchment the cost of which none of them could have imagined . . . 

Ariana Franklin’s final, brilliant standalone novel, left incomplete at the time of her death, now finished by her daughter.”

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The President’s Hat – Antoine Laurain – review

Gallic Books

Translated by Jane Aitken, Emily Boyce and Louise Rogers Lalaurie


“Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him.

Daniel’s thrill at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in the land persists even after the presidential party has gone, which is when he discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind.

After a few moments’ soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel somehow … different.”

3.5 of 5 stars

Daniel Mercier finds himself alone in Paris whilst his wife and son are away. On the spur of the moment he decides to visit a brasserie. Whilst eating President Mitterrand sits down at the table next to him. As Mitterrand leaves the restaurant, he leaves behind his black Homburg hat. On the spur of the moment Daniel keeps the hat for himself. As he begins to wear the hat he notices a change come over him. Could it be the hat?

This is a short novel, only 208 pages and is a charming concept; following the journey of a hat from the head of the Head of State all the way to that of a middle aged French aristocrat. Each new wearer of the black felt headpiece begins to act in a way they would not have before, or discover a new lease for life. Some, like Daniel, attribute the change to the hat, others are unaware of its effect.

There is a magical, almost fairy tale like quality to this book. This is in some part due to the setting of Paris but also to the writing style of Laurain. The book feels almost like a series of short stories, each one linked by a common theme. The snapshot into each life is brief but also well rounded, you get a feel for each character in a short space of time. In fact I soon found it easy to establish who were favoured characters and who I did not feel for too much. Daniel for example, felt to me to be a needy character, easily led and one who does not stand up for himself. He is also obsessive to the point that it becomes unhealthy and has a very understanding wife. It is however a joy to see how each character changes as the story progresses. The epilogue nicely fleshes out and finishes the story, completing the picture as a whole.

The story is set in the 1980s and features real life characters, interspersing the fictional ones. This adds to the surreal feeling of the novel, being never quite sure who is real and who imagined. I am looking forward to Laurain’s next book The Red Notebook, which is published by Gallic Books in 2105.



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Cover Reveal – Appleby Farm series by Cathy Bramley

Today I’m pleased to reveal the covers for the new series by Cathy Bramley, author of Ivy Lane.

AF ebooks final

This series of four ebooks is a spin-off series and Cathy has this to say about them

“After I finished writing Ivy Lane earlier this year, my editor asked me if I’d consider a spin-off series, taking one character from Ivy Lane and plunging them into a new setting and a new story with perhaps a few surprise visits from some old friends from Ivy Lane. I thought this was a great idea and immediately set to work creating Appleby Farm, which I’m hoping readers of Ivy Lane will fall in love with.

It’s set in the glorious Lake District, an area I adore, and follows the story of a young woman and her fight to save the farm which has been in her family for generations. It features lots of wonderful people including a very attractive farmer on neighbouring Willow Farm, Vintage tearooms, a trip to Paris and a wedding. Appleby Farm will be published by Transworld in four monthly parts between February and May 2015 and they are all available to pre-order now!

The covers themselves have been designed by Kate Forrester, the same illustrator who drew my Ivy Lane covers and I think she has conjured up the warm and friendly farm set in the beautiful Lake District perfectly.

The link to part one on Amazon UK is


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Falling – Emma Kavanagh – review



“A brilliant debut psychological thriller by a former police psychologist. Perfect for fans of Nicci French, Tana French and S. J. Watson.

A plane falls out of the sky. A woman is murdered. Four people all have something to hide.

Jim is a retired police officer, and worried father. His beloved daughter has disappeared and he knows something is wrong.

Tom has woken up to discover that his wife was on the plane and must break the news to their only son.

Cecilia had packed up and left her family. Now she has survived a tragedy, and sees no way out.

Freya is struggling to cope with the loss of her father. But as she delves into his past, she may not like what she finds.

‘Before the plane crash, after the plane crash, such a short amount of time for the world to turn on its head… ‘”

4 of 5 stars

A plane takes off for Scotland on a snowy day in March. It fails to make its destination, instead crashing into the Welsh mountains. Soon after the body of a woman is found. Four people, left to deal with the repercussions.

This is a story about tragedy, deceit, betrayal and endings, of people leaving loved ones and of people being taken from them. It starts with a bang, literally, when a plane falls out of the sky. Each chapter deals with one of the main characters. These are short and sharp chapters, the dangerous kind where you tell yourself you’ll read just one more and suddenly you are a quarter of the way through the book. I loved this way of telling the story, allowing it to develop layer upon layer.

I enjoyed reading this book. The pace was just right. Whilst I guessed some of the story before it was revealed I enjoyed the journey. I found myself speeding through the last 100 pages. There is a darkness and a bleakness to the novel. This is assisted by the setting, the snowy winter days seeming more like night adding to the atmosphere.

This is very much an ensemble piece. Each of the characters are well drawn individually and draw together well to create the whole. In fact I soon concluded who I would like and wouldn’t like from the first chapter of each character. Whilst I liked most of the characters, I was not enamoured with Cecilia. It may have something to do with the fact that at the time of reading I had just had a baby but the fact that Cecilia had left her young son made me dislike her, and set the tone for how I received her for the rest of the book. As the story develops her reasons are explained and shed light on her character and the reason behind her actions.

Although there is a murder to solve and a plane crash to investigate this story is more about the survivors than the victims. It is a story about how a momentary decision can have an impact on so many lives, how the ramifications can be felt years later and how tragedy can separate and unite people. It is a story about how the end can just be the beginning.

This is the debut novel of Emma Kavanagh. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.



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Aven Ellis on Beta Readers

As part of the Behind the Book series, Aven Ellis, author of Connectivity and Waiting for Prince Harry tells us about how she uses Beta readers when writing.

A year has now passed since I published my debut novel, Connectivity. I’ve learned so much about the industry in these past 12 months, and this is the most important thing I have learned:  the importance of having a good beta team behind me as I write.

My Beta Team (affectionately called my Beta Baes) is made up of avid readers and book bloggers. I was blessed to find women of all ages, from around the globe, who are willing to take on the challenge of reading my work in progress. They’ll offer feedback if a scene doesn’t seem quite right, tell me when I’m headed in the right direction, and will re-read scenes a couple of times if I’m struggling with something in the manuscript. They see things I don’t.  And they’re always willing to stop down and answer a poll question if I’m not sure which direction I’m going in.

I have used the team for my next two releases, Surviving The Rachel  (February 2015) and The Definition of Icing (Dallas Demons #2, May 2015) and I can only say that they made the process of writing both of these books more FUN. I loved sharing my work as I wrote. With my team, they get each chapter as I write it, so we really are writing the book together in that respect. But to get feedback and encouragement through the whole process made all the difference in the world, as I was able to correct things as I went along rather than finding something that didn’t work and have to rewrite the whole manuscript. 

But my team is more than beta readers to me. My Beta Baes are my family. They inspire me daily to keep writing. They encourage me with emails and tweets and I look forward to my daily interactions with my friends. These are friends I didn’t know a year ago, but now can’t get through the day without talking to them.

And now I’ll never write a book without them. That’s how important they are to the process, and I’m grateful to have such amazing women be a part of my writing journey. 

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