Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton – Review

Picador

Publication date – 3 July 2014

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“On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall? Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

– See more at: http://www.picador.com/events/jessie-burton-at-drink,-shop,-do#sthash.8LH8YxMN.dpuf”

4 of 5 stars

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

Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam in 1686, apprehensive about starting her new life with her new husband Johannes Brandt. She arrives at his home to be faced with his sister Marin, who is not pleased to see her, and no husband. As she waits for Johannes to appear she has to content with Marin, and the strange and unfriendly servants Cornelia and Otto.

Soon Johannes appears and with him he brings Nella a spectacular gift, a miniature of the house she now lives in. But as she engages the services of a miniaturist to furnish the house Nella discovers that the inhabitants of the house are not all they seem.

This is a beautiful book. The beauty of it starts before you even open to the first page. The cover is stunning, evocative and completely in tune with the story. Then you come to the end pages in the hardback edition where the beauty continues. The words that then come complete the beatific trilogy being of themselves completely captivating.

This is author Jessie Burton’s debut novel, which has of course been lauded. I tend not to think of whether a book is an author’s debut or their twentieth novel but read and consider the book itself, as it seems as if the plaudits are given almost as if it is a surprise that a first novel can be so good. A beautifully written, engaging and thought-provoking novel should be recognised for that on its own merit.

This novel is about love, unexpected, hidden, forbidden or expected. It is also a tale of prejudice, jealousy and the lengths people will go to hide secrets. It’s all one could hope for in a novel.

This is a enticing, beguiling read, that draws the reader in. I soon found myself absorbed in Nella’s world, eager to find out the secrets held in the house of Brandt and what the miniaturist would wondrously create next. I look forward to seeing what spells Jessie Burton can weave on readers in the future.

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Blog Tour – The Bookshop on the Corner – Q&A with Rebecca Raisin

Bookshop On The Corner Banner

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Bookshop on the Corner and author Rebecca Raisin, who also writes the Gingerbread Cafe series of books, kindly took some time out of her manic writing schedule to answer some questions.

Thanks so much for having me here, Janet!

  1. What’s the Bookshop on the Corner about?

It’s about a girl called Sarah who owns a secondhand bookshop in the small town of Ashford. Sarah loves romance books, and the idea of the Happy Ever After. Secretly she yearns for a love affair like one from the books, but doesn’t feel she’ll ever find it. She’s a little shy, and prefers the company of a good book to anything else, and refuses to settle for anything other than the book boyfriend bought to life. Sarah thinks books are magical, and has this notion they move around the shop when she’s not looking. She believes books choose us when we most need them and not the other way around. Her best friends try to gently cajole Sarah to step from behind the pages of her books, but she refuses until one day a reporter steps into her bookshop…

  1. Where did you get the idea for the series from?

The Bookshop on the Corner is a stand-alone, but is linked to the Gingerbread Café series because it’s set in the same town, and the girls from the café pop in every now and then. Originally Christmas at the Gingerbread Café was going to be just one book, but I had so much interest in a follow up that I wrote a second book, and there will be a third soon! Also Missy, Sarah’s friend from the Sassy Salon will have her own story soon too! I guess the characters have become real to me in a way, and I like touching base with them through another characters point of view!

  1. Are you a plan it all ahead or a write as you go kind of author?

I so wish I was a planner! I am too disorganised for that! Though soon I’ll have five or so books from the same town I’m having to make lots of notes about who said what or what happened so I don’t get any future details wrong! Before starting the third Gingerbread Café book I reread the first two so I could get back in the zone with how each character talks, and their personality. Lil, the owner of the Gingerbread Café is quite feisty compared to my bookworm Sarah, so it was helpful to go back and remember the differences between the two.

  1. Can you tell us anything about your current work in progress?

I’m writing the third Gingerbread café book! It’s the last one from Lil’s perspective and I must admit I will be sad to say goodbye! And boy, there’s a lot happening in this one! It’s set over Christmas and there’s so much to celebrate, but there’s also some sadness. When you live in a small town like Ashford, everyone knows everyone, and when something good or bad happens, it seems as though everyone is involved, which is quite sweet when certain things take place. (Gee it’s hard to say it without giving anything away! I hope that makes sense!)

  1. Have you suffered from the dreaded writer’s block and if so how did you cure it?

I guess we all have those times when writing doesn’t flow and feels like a chore. I know I’ve had plenty of times like that and the only thing to do is keep writing. It will come eventually and you can edit later. At some point clarity will strike and then you’re on your way again J

  1. You must answer a lot of these questions. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been, and what’s the answer?   

Oh good one! Hmmm.

If you could pick a character from your books to come to life, who would it be?

This is tough! Ha ha! It’d be a toss-up between Sarah from The Bookshop on the Corner or CeeCee from The Gingerbread Café!

Thanks so much! These were great fun!

The Bookshop on the Corner is published by Carina as an ebook and can be purchased here.

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Who is Sam Alexander?

Carnal Acts by Sam Alexander was published by Arcadia on 15 June 2014.

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Here’s the blurb:

“The northern English borderlands play host to crime noir at its darkest and most terrifying.DI Joni Pax, a London homicide detective, wounded in a disastrous raid, has been transferred to the newly formed Police Force of North East England. Her boss, DCI Hector ‘Heck’ Rutherford, is recently back at work after cancer treatment. Between them they are responsible for major crime in rural Northumberland and County Durham. Joni, the daughter of a black American and a white hippy, is a loner struggling to regain her self-confidence. Heck is happily married, but illness has left him fearful.Based in Corham, a town with Roman, medieval and industrial heritage, Pax and Rutherford investigate a murder at a brothel run by the Albanian mafia. In a series of breathtaking plot twists, we are drawn into the corruption that underpins the beautiful northern English countryside – as well as hinting at a mysterious world beyond the horizon. Carnal Acts explores abuse of many kinds – sexual, psychological and economic – taking the police procedural to places it has never been before.Dark, unremitting and terrifyingly relevant, Carnal Acts is a book you may hesitate to pick up and put down.”

Twitter has been talking excitedly about this book for a while because Sam Alexander is not a debut novelist but an acclaimed British crime writer, writing under the pseudonym of Sam Alexander. So the guesses as to the true identity of Sam Alexander have been flooding in, and a long list of names have been generated.

And here’s that list:

#WhoIsSamAlexander?

Female: Ann Cleeves/ Mari Hannah/ Val McDermid/ Sarah Hilary/ Elizabeth George/

Minette Walters/ JK Rowling (+Robert Galbraith)/ Sophie Hannah/ Belinda Bauer/ Elly

Griffiths/ Helen Fielding/ Denise Mina/ Martina Cole/ MC Beaton/ SJ Bolton/ Laura

Lippman/ Cath Staincliffe/ Margaret Murphy/ Kate Ellis/ Sheila Quigley/ SJ Parris/ Laura

Wilson/ Alison Bruce/ Mo Hayder/ Mel Sharratt/Lin Anderson/ Manda Scott/ Caro Ramsay/

Agatha Christie (!)/ Alex Gray/ Alex Barclay/Jill Paton Walsh/ Anne Zouroudi/ Frances

Fyfield/ Eva Hudson/ Sophie McKenzie/ Jane Isaac/ Rachel Abbott/ Alex Marwood/ Sarah

Pinborough/ Louise Miller/ Eva Dolan/Susan Hill/ Tana French/ Ann Widdecombe/ Alanna

Knight/ Aline Templeton/ Shirley Mackay/ Aly Monro/ Zoe Sharp/ PD James/ Imogen

Robertson/ Julia Crouch/ Sue Grafton/ Susanna Gregory/ Alison Weir/ Fay Weldon/ Anne

Perry/ Jenny Colgan/ Carol Ann Davis/ Gillian Galbraith/ Joyce Holms/ Erin Kelly/ Ruth Dudley Edwards/ Stella Duffy/ Ruth Rendell

Male: Ian Rankin/ Peter Robinson/ Mark Billingham/ James Ellroy/ John Connolly/ Peter

James/ CJ Sansom/ Nick Stone/ Colin Dexter/ Irvine Welsh/ Jeffrey Archer/ RJ Ellory/

Stephen Booth/ Simon Kernick/ Anthony Horowitz/ Martyn Waites/ Ben Aaronovitch/

Rory Clements/ Lee Child/ Adrian Magson/ Neil White/ William Brodrick/ Paul Finch/James

Oswald/ Iain McDowall/ William McIlvanney/ Christopher Brookmyre/ Malcom Mackay/

Quentin Bates/ Martin Edwards/ Craig Robertson/ David Hewson/Terry Pratchett/ Maxim

Jakubowski/ John Lawton/ Julian Barnes/ Gordon Brown/ Steve Cavanagh/ Matthew

Lynn/ Simon Hall/ Colin Campbell/ Seth Lynch/ Roger Smith/ Thomas Mogford/ Ian

Fleming/ William Boyd/ Sebastian Faulks/ Paul Cornell/ James Runcie/ Simon Brett/

Stephen Leather/ David Jackson/ Dan Brown/ Gordon Ferris/Tony Black/ Quintin Jardine/

Allan Guthrie/ Sinclair Macleod/ Liam McIlvanney/ Tony Parson/ Steven Moffat/ Tim

Weaver/ Mark Gatiss/ Damian Boyd/ Phil Rickman/ Mark Sennen/ John le Carre/ Doug

Johnstone/ Ben Cheetham/ Stav Sherez/ Alan Hunter/ David Mark/ Christopher Gordner/ James Forrester/ Andrew Swanston/ Peter Ransley/ Bernard Knight/ Paul Doherty/

Michael Jecks/ Peter Tremayne/ Edward Marston/Stuart Neville/ Mason Cross/ Benjamin

Black / Reginald Hill/ Jo Nesbo/ David Baldacci/ David Wood/ Stephen Puleston/ Douglas Lindsay/ Steven Dunne/ Graham Masterson

Both genders: AD Garrett/MJ McGrath/ JR Rain/ JJ Salkeld/Tanya Carver/ Nicci French/

DS Butler/ RC Bridgestock

So far no one has guessed correctly. If Twitter pools it’s resources may be we can solve the mystery of #WhoisSamAlexander?

So what’s your guess? #WhoisSamAlexander

If you need a clue read Susi Holliday’s interview with Sam here

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Blog Tour – Crazy, Undercover, Love – Nikki Moore Q&A

Today is my stop on the Crazy Undercover Love blog tour and author Nikki Moore has kindly answered a few of my questions.

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1. Tell us about Crazy, Undercover, Love.

Crazy,Undercover, Love is my debut novel – the first of many, hopefully! So far it’s had some great reviews and is averaging 4.4 stars on Amazon, so I wake up most mornings with a massive grin on my face 🙂 I absolutely fell in love with Alex and Charley, the main characters, and hope readers do too. Here’s the blurb…

When uber-feisty career girl Charley Caswell-Wright takes on the assignment as PA to the gorgeous Alex Demetrio, CEO of Demetrio International, she’s there under entirely false pretences; to get her life back on track. Having lost the job she worked so hard to earn, she’s determined not to give it up so easily, especially when she didn’t deserve to lose it in the first  place.

Mr Dreamy CEO is her only chance of clawing back her career – and her reputation. So she has to keep things strictly professional… boy, is she in trouble!

2. How long did it take you to write Crazy, Undercover, Love and how long did it take you to secure a publishing deal?

I started the book in 2010 under a different title but never wrote it solidly because I was writing another book and short stories to enter into competitions at the same time, so it’s difficult to say exactly how long it took to write.

 At a guess, if I’d written all day every day it would have taken a good four or five months. The storyline has evolved a lot since the first draft, it’s been through the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme twice (a fab organisation, with a critique service that I can’t praise enough) and has undergone MANY rewrites; I kept going back and polishing it so it took longer than other books might. Then again other books might take longer – I think it depends on the story, and what else you’ve got going on at the time!

I finished it in June 2013 and decided to give myself a year to find a publisher.  If I couldn’t find one, I was  going to self-publish, then get on with the next book. Happily I didn’t need to. I had a one to one slot at the Romantic Novelists Association Conference 2013 with the fabulous Charlotte Ledger from HarperImpulse, who on the basis of the first chapter told me she loved my voice and wanted to see the rest. She made me an offer last October and Crazy, Undercover, Love was published as an ebook in April with the paperback due out later this summer.

3. What have you learnt about the publishing process that you think will help you in the future, and what was the biggest surprise?

It’s been a huge learning curve so far. I always thought getting offered a contract would be like reaching the summit of Everest but now I’m actually published I realise I’m just a tiny figure at the bottom of the foot hills! 🙂

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the last eight months is the amount of fiddly technical work that goes into readying a book for publication in terms of editing, copy-editing, line-editing, checking the epub proof etc. Now I know how much time that all takes I can be prepared to put that time aside for the next book!

The biggest surprise,  which I hadn’t really appreciated beforehand, is that it’s quite strange when you’re promoting one book while writing another. It’s difficult to juggle two different books and the practical aspect of promo versus the creative flow of writing. It’s right versus left part of brain. But I’m not complaining! I’ve worked hard to be published, am disciplined about juggling everything and am mega-excited about finally being a published author 🙂

4. Can you tell us anything about your current work in progress?

I’m just finishing off my next book Picnics in Hyde Park, and am looking forward to sending it into my editor. I’m really excited about it! It started off originally as The Nanny’s Revenge, and was a finalist in Novelicious Undiscovered 2012. 

Picnics in Hyde Park is about Zoe Harper, who returns to the UK after five years in the States following a break up with her fiance. On landing, she finds her sister’s life in ruins at the hands of the Riley brothers,  so she hatches a plot for revenge – Operation Nanny-gate – which involves moving in with famous music producer Matt Reilly, and his two children. But of course it turns out to be a little bit more complicated than she planned…

5. Do you have any advice for anyone writing their first novel?

That’s a big question! Hmm, where to start. I’ll share my top three tips, but there are many more 🙂

  1. Write it! Write the whole thing; bum on chair, fingers on keyboard. The first draft of your manuscript will not magically appear in a draw one day – it takes hours of hard slog and immersing yourself in your characters’ story for that to happen. As Nike say – Just Do It!
  2. Put it away for a few weeks or even a month after you’ve finished the first draft, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Expect to rewrite and refine and redraft. In fact, make the following your mantra … it’s not done until it’s the absolute best it can be.
  3. Never, ever, ever get impatient and send it out to agents or publishers before it’s ready. I know this is a hard one because you want to share your baby with the world, and get reassurance from other people that they think it’s beautiful too, but it really is worth hanging on until you’re one hundred per cent done. Then you will have something you completely believe in to sell, and won’t be caught in an awkward situation where someone wants to see the whole MS and you’re scrabbling to try and finish it to send to them before they lose interest!

6. You must answer a lot of these questions. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been, and what’s the answer? 

This is such a hard one! Argh, I don’t know. Okay …

Q. How many books do you see yourself writing in your lifetime?

A. As many as I can possibly manage! I have dozens of ideas and am really excited about the thought of getting them all down on paper.

Thanks for having me Janet, it’s been great fun 🙂

You can buy Crazy, Undercover, Love here:

Amazon – http://amzn.to./1gdpOxb
Google Play – http://bit.ly/1rTMrQw
iTunes – http://bit.ly/1mkzpHP
Kobo – bit.ly/QlpKpC
Sainsbury’s – http://bit.ly/1hoD1bj

Or to buy it as a paperback on pre-order, released on 26th June:-
Amazon – http://amzn.to/1rTKGmB

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Blog Tour – That Dark Remembered Day – Tom Vowler

Today is my stop on the That Dark Remembered Day blog tour. Author Tom Vowler discusses the merits and difficulties of writing from a female perspective.

At a recent reading an audience member asked me about writing from a female perspective (my first novel, What Lies Within, being narrated largely this way). At the time of planning the book, I’d thought it no different to trying to capture any other voice – a child’s, an old man’s, someone from a different culture or era. But, looking back, I think it presented some interesting and unique challenges. Several sections of my second novel, That Dark Remembered Day, are narrated by a female character, and, at time of writing, my next book will be told entirely this way.

The first impression someone gets of a text, before any true sense of plot or setting, is the character’s or narrator’s voice, so it needs to be both compelling and convincing if it’s to accompany the reader for 300-plus pages. It must set them at ease, be both resonant and consistent, so that, within a sentence or two, a connection has been made, an initial trust established. Fiction’s primary function is to create the impression of reality, a verisimilitude or plausibility, even in science fiction or magical realism the illusion must be maintained. If the spell is broken, even for a second, the story’s vividness is lost, the voice doubted.

I’d heard of writers who ‘do the opposite sex well’, as if it was some arcane, innate talent, or perhaps a module on a creative writing course, and I wondered whether I was one of them. The genesis of much of my fiction tends to come from an event, or at least a concept that fascinates, appals or terrifies me. This could be something seen on the news, or an experience closer to home, which immediately becomes the fulcrum the story turns on. With What Lies Within this took the form of a woman who’d been subject to a serious sexual assault, and so having taken this

dramatic starting point I needed a woman to narrate much of the book, and so I set about creating one.

There are certain scenes and themes in that novel that, owing to my gender, I literally could not experience, and so much time was spent in conversation with female friends, as well as conducting interviews with some brave women, as I attempted to tease out the detail I sought – much like researching anything else, I suppose. But it soon became clear it was the smaller things, the intricacies and nuances of my female character, that would give me her voice: her language, both internal and external; how she regarded herself and others; her mannerisms; how she reacted to all the terrible and wonderful things that happened to her. It was an enormous challenge to put myself in her shoes, to inhabit her world, to try to understand the torment she felt. As was describing the sexual scenes from a female point of view.

Looking back, though I wasn’t entirely aware of it at the time, it was perhaps somewhat of a huge gamble – but then writing a novel usually is – the potential for getting it wrong considerable. Yet by the time I was at the point of no return, my character was fully formed, living and breathing in my mind, her voice as real as any other I’d written. She accompanied me (or I her?) on vast walks across the uplands of Dartmoor, exploring the beautiful and brooding landscape, where I realised what an important remedy the moor would be for her.

Many early reviews of the novel expressed incredulity that it was written by a man, which I suppose shows I’d done my job. Likewise, when I judge writing competitions, subconsciously ascribing a gender to an entry (pieces are anonymous), I’m always pleasantly surprised to be wrong, the author entirely absent from their fiction.

In That Dark Remembered Day my female narrator is another strong character forced to contend with enormous difficulties. Her husband returns from war a changed man, the traumas he experienced buried yet manifesting daily in his increasingly unhinged behaviour. She is also frustrated: with the labels attributed to her, the role of mother, nurse, wife, her life ebbing away unfulfilled. And as events take a tragic turn, she finds herself at the epicentre of a horror, the legacy of which will last a lifetime. Again the more time spent conceiving the character, bringing every tiny aspect of her to life, the better equipped I felt in capturing her voice. And once you have the voice, the illusion can begin.

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Bio

Tom Vowler is a novelist and short story writer living in south west England. His debut collection, The Method, won the Scott Prize in 2010 and his novel What Lies Within received critical acclaim. He is co-editor of the literary journal Short Fiction and an associate lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University, where he’s completing a PhD looking at the role of the editor in fiction. That Dark Remembered Day is his second novel. More at http://www.tomvowler.co.uk

About the book:

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“When Stephen gets a phone call to say his mother isn’t well, he knows he must go to her straight away. But he dreads going back there. He has never been able to understand why his mother chose to stay in the town he grew up in, after everything that happened. One day’s tragic events years before had left no one living there untouched.

Stephen’s own dark memories are still poisoning his life, as well as his marriage. Perhaps now is the time to go back and confront the place and the people of his shattered childhood. But will he ever be able to understand the crime that punctured their lives so brutally? How can a community move on from such a terrible legacy?”

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One Hundred Proposals – Holly Martin – Extract

Today we have a sneak peek at the new novel by Holly Martin One Hundred Proposals published by  Carina on 25th June 2014

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Prologue

‘Ok, you can open your eyes now,’ Harry said.

I blinked in the gloom of the cave. Moonlight tumbled through the opening above us, reflecting off the waterfall as it cascaded into the pool below. We had been in Australia for just a few days but I knew it would never cease to amaze me. Dancing in the pockets of the cave walls were hundreds of fireflies, sparkling like fairy lights.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

The fireflies started to gather together and slowly a shape was formed. I frowned in confusion and then within seconds the words, ‘Suzie, Marry Me,’ stood proud against the cave walls, written by the fireflies.

I whirled round to face Harry in shock. ‘How did you do that?’ I looked back at the fireflies, not wanting to miss anything. Would they perhaps move to form the lyrics of my favourite song? Were they super trained fireflies and in a minute they’d all whip out their mini cheerleader pom-poms and start some kind of dance where they would balance precariously on each other’s backs?

‘It’s some kind of fruit juice, they love it.’

I fumbled in my bag for my camera. ‘We have to get a picture for the website.’

I fired off a couple of shots and I could see a few other tourists had entered the cave and were clearly waiting for my answer. They’d be waiting for a long time.

‘So what do you think?’ Harry said. ‘Is this the perfect proposal?’

‘It’s definitely one of your best, very romantic.’ I focused my attention on the photos I was taking. They were going to look fantastic with the waterfall in soft focus in the background and the fireflies in sharp detail set against the inky blue light of the moon.

‘But still not the perfect proposal?’

‘Not for me, but someone else would love it.’ I watched the faces of the other tourists fall at my callous response. ‘We’re not together, we just work with each other.’ One couple looked at me dubiously, so I pressed on. ‘Our company creates the perfect proposal, this kind of thing is our bread and butter.’

I resisted the sudden urge to rush over to them and start handing out business cards. As if reading my mind, Harry slung an arm round my shoulder, restraining me with his hand.

I looked up at him innocently but he didn’t seem convinced.

The tourists moved further down the cave, leaving us alone.

‘You always do that,’ Harry said.

‘What, promote our business? I know, I can’t help it. I’m just so proud of what we’ve achieved that I want to tell anyone that listens and anyone that doesn’t.’

‘No, not that. You always say our company, our business. It’s yours, you started it. I’m just the tech guy.’

It was just me to start with. I created the.PerfectProposal.com over two years ago when my boyfriend at the time proposed drunkenly to me over a greasy kebab. It struck me that maybe the menfolk of this world might need a little helping hand to create a proposal their girlfriends would remember forever. Although the greasy kebab is not one I’m likely to forget.

Harry was my web designer. When the business first started he would come by my office, the back bedroom in my home, every day to help update the website with my new ideas, photos and special offers. In the end it made sense to make him a permanent feature. Our website looked fantastic and as an online company this was integral to our success.

But Harry wasn’t just the geeky IT guy, far from it. He was the biggest man I had ever seen in my life, with large thighs and big feet. He had stubbly, dark hair and chocolate eyes. But he also had a vivid imagination – where I was organising the logistics for a champagne helicopter trip, he would be the one that would come up with something completely unique like using fireflies.

‘And you always put yourself down. We’re equal partners now, you helped to make the company a success too,’ I said.

He shrugged, never keen to accept that he played such an important part in it. He gestured to the fireflies that were starting to break formation now. ‘Is it too sickly?’

I let my camera hang round my neck and leaned into him, I loved the way I fitted against him. ‘I love it, I really do, it’s… magical. But there’s still something missing.’

Was there really such a thing as a perfect proposal? Three months ago, just before Valentine’s Day, Harry had made it his mission to provide me with one. But deep down I knew what I wanted and I doubted Harry would be able to deliver it. I should have told him that when he first started this wild goose chase. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.

Chapter One

Three Months Before

I put the phone down on another excited client and sighed. It was February 11th and we’d had a surge of customers all desperately wanting to propose on top of the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day. I felt like screaming. It was only by careful planning that I’d arranged that my customers weren’t going to be there at the same time. That’s just what a girl wants to feel special, to see other girls being proposed to at the same place and time that she was. Was there no originality anymore? Harry was brilliant at coming up with unique proposals, but no matter how many times I had tried to sell Harry’s ideas to them, they wanted the traditional and that was that.

‘Another Eiffel Tower?’ asked Harry as he absentmindedly uploaded photos to our rolling gallery.

‘He wants a dozen red roses delivered to the observation deck at eight.’ I rubbed my head in defeat. ‘What about something different, going to the ballet or proposing over a bag of chips at the end of Brighton Pier?’

He swivelled in his chair. ‘What would be your perfect proposal?’

I looked at him and had a sudden flash of him holding me in his arms and asking me to marry him.

‘I don’t know, the perfect guy would definitely be a bonus.’

‘Ok so you have your perfect guy and it’s not greasy kebab boy –’

‘Let’s be clear, it was the kebab that was greasy not the man.’

He waved away the details. ‘So Orlando Bloom or some other non-greasy hunk is asking you to marry him, how would he do it?’

I took a sip of tea whilst I pondered this. If one of my customers phoned up at a loss for inspiration I had a hundred ideas. But for me, my mind was blank.

‘I have an idea.’ Harry’s eyes were suddenly bright with excitement. He whirled round on his chair and started tapping away furiously on his computer. I peered over his shoulder at our website.

Proposer’s Blog

How Do You Propose to a Proposer?

Over the next hundred days I intend to find out. I will find one hundred ways to propose to our Chief Proposer Suzie McKenzie, and post the results here for your enjoyment. One thing’s for sure, not one of my proposals will be on top of the Eiffel Tower with a dozen red roses.

‘You can’t put that, we’ve had fifteen customers who want to propose like that over the last week,’ I said, ignoring the sudden thundering of my heart that Harry was going to propose to me.

‘Then maybe they’ll have a rethink.’ Harry was already uploading a picture of a diamond ring onto the blog.

‘Or ask for their money back.’

But Harry was still writing.

Day 1: The Traditional Proposal. Location: Our office.

He stood up and got down on one knee – yanking the snake ring off his thumb, he held it aloft to my shocked face.

‘Suzie McKenzie, you are my best friend and I cannot imagine finding anyone I would rather spend the rest of my life with. Marry me.’

The world stopped. My mouth was dry. How unfair was it that the one thing I wanted most in the world was happening right in front of me and it was as real as a pair of breasts on Sunset Boulevard.

I wanted to snatch the ring off him, stuff it on my finger and march him down to the nearest registry office. But I didn’t.

I cleared my throat of the huge lump. ‘Too clichéd, wrong location, wrong ring.’

He grinned as he appraised his ring and stood up, clearly not fussed by this rejection. He started typing.

Crashed and Burned. Apparently a snake ring with evil red eyes and the beige walls of our cramped office isn’t good enough for her. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Surely not. A hundred days of this torment? I didn’t think I could bear it.

He looked at his watch. ‘Oh, I’ve got to go, hot date with Sexy Samantha again tonight.’

Samantha was his first girlfriend in nearly a year. When I first met him he seemed to go through a different girl each week, so I wasn’t sure why he’d gone through the sudden dry patch. But Samantha was definitely the type to tempt him out of it.

I’d had the pleasure of meeting Sexy Samantha the night before. Suspicious of Harry’s relationship with his best friend, she’d barrelled into my home and demanded that Harry introduce me. I came downstairs in leggings and an oversized black hoodie – I knew I was hardly dressed to impress. And impress her I didn’t. The look of relief when Samantha saw me was palpable. She, on the other hand, was a vision of heavenly loveliness. She was almost as tall as Harry, with long blonde hair and curves everywhere. My eyes were immediately drawn to a big pair of breasts, squeezed between an overly tight top. Harry was definitely a breast man. All of his girlfriends were very well-endowed in the breast department. Some of the breasts, I suspected, weren’t even real – though Harry didn’t seem to mind. I was more in the straight up, straight down department, definitely no curves and not really any breasts to speak of.

I watched Harry log off his computer with haste and obvious excitement about what Sexy Samantha had in store for him that night.

‘I have a hot date too,’ I blurted out, watching for any flicker of jealousy. Of course there was none.

‘That’s great Suze.’ He looked genuinely pleased. ‘You haven’t seen anyone since Jack…’ He trailed off. My life was defined into two segments. Before Jack and After Jack. I wondered if Jules felt the same. He grabbed his jacket, averting his eyes from me, perhaps knowing that he had said something he shouldn’t. ‘It’s about time you got back on the horse again. We can swap notes tomorrow.’

‘Or not.’ I couldn’t bear thinking about that conversation. The literal ins and outs of Harry’s date would be something I really didn’t want to hear. I’d changed the subject twice that morning already when he started giving me explicit details that would be right at home on the pages of an erotic fiction novel. Sexy Samantha was far kinkier than those baby blue eyes might suggest. Besides, what did I have to contribute to that conversation? My hot date consisted of a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a night in with the beautiful Brad Pitt. I logged off my own computer, keen to show him I also had something exciting to run off to.

‘Where did you meet him?’

I racked my brain as I fluffed out my hair in the reflection of a photo showing me and Harry covered in snow and grinning ear to ear after sledging at the indoor Snow Zone. Before Jack.

‘Skiing,’ I said, then wished I hadn’t.

He stopped in his hasty exit. ‘Skiing? When have you been skiing?’

‘I go every Sunday, skiing lessons, he’s my ski instructor.’ I was making it worse.

‘You hate skiing.’

I had said that hadn’t I. Because this photo was taken when we had our first and last skiing lesson a year before. I had spent forty minutes falling on my bum – as kids as young as five glided effortlessly past me – and the last twenty minutes of the lesson, after Harry had been upgraded to the adult slopes, trying to get up and rolling around on the floor with my skis in the air, looking like an oversized beetle stranded on its back. Harry had felt sorry for me that I had failed so spectacularly and had taken me sledging instead. Much more up my street. There was no skill at all involved in sliding down a slope in a red plastic sledge.

‘I like it now. I’m very proficient. Obviously just needed the right instructor.’

‘Well that’s great, maybe we can go together sometime.’

I fixed a smile onto my face. ‘Maybe.’

‘What’s his name?’

I cast around for a suitable name and a suitable adjective to describe him, something comparable to Sexy Samantha. I had nothing, no names in my head at all. The only name in my head was Harry and that would be too weird. He was staring at me, waiting for me to come up with a name, the silence stretched on. I had to say something.

‘Tim.’ I almost shouted out with relief. ‘Tiny Tim.’

Great. Just great.

Harry’s face fell. ‘Tiny Tim?’

‘Yes.’

‘As in…’ he waggled his little finger at me.

‘No, no, of course not, he’s very big in that department. Big all over in fact. Huge. It’s kind of an ironic name.’

‘Big like me?’

‘Well I have no idea how big you are in that department.’ My eyes cast down to the sizeable bulge in his jeans and I felt my cheeks burn as he clearly saw me checking him out.

‘I meant in height,’ Harry said. I’m sure I saw his mouth twitch as he supressed a smile.

‘Oh yes, he’s very tall.’

‘Good. That’s good. I have a friend who’s a ski instructor at the Snow Zone, he might know your Tim. What’s his surname?’

‘Timmings.’

I was a terrible liar.

‘Tim Timmings?’

‘That’s right.’

A horn tooted outside and Harry peeled back the net curtain to wave at Sexy Samantha as she leaned on the bonnet of her sexy red convertible. I didn’t think I’d ever be so relieved to see her again.

‘Well have fun.’ Harry threw me a cursory wave as he thundered down the stairs. A second later I heard the front door slam.

I peered out the window, hoping not to be noticed as Harry swept Sexy Samantha into his arms and swung her round as if he hadn’t seen her in months. As he deposited her on the floor she waved up at me and I was forced to wave politely back.

With a wheel spin and the stereo blaring out something young and hip, the red convertible roared up the road, taking my heart with it.

I’d been in love with Harry for two long, painful years and we were further away today from getting together than we had been when we first met. We were now firmly in the friend zone and there was never any coming back from that.

Two years was way too long for unrequited love. It was time I moved on with someone else. I would just fall out of love with him, simple as that.

I sighed as I walked into my bedroom and got changed into my cow print onesie. I flicked through some songs on my iPod until I found something suitably rousing and as Gloria Gaynor started belting out ‘I am what I am’, I turned up the volume, leapt up onto the bed and danced and wiggled my bum in time with the lyrics. I was highly skilled in the playing of air drums and as Gloria reached a crescendo so did my frenetic drum playing. As the instrumental kicked in I leapt off the bed, doing the splits mid-air. I pulled a muscle in my groin and as I flicked my hair theatrically out of my face I saw Harry’s eyes widen in horror as I landed on top of him, one leg somehow hooked over his shoulder as my other foot kicked him square in his crotch.

He screamed in pain. I screamed with embarrassment as he staggered back and landed hard on his bum, my leg still wrapped round his neck.

Gloria was still singing loudly in the background as we stared at each other. Finally I managed to speak.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Currently, wondering if I’ll ever be able to have sex again. Can you please get off my lap?’

I quickly climbed off him, kneeing him in the face as I tried to stand up. He slowly staggered to his feet, doubled over in obvious pain.

‘I forgot my wallet,’ he said, by way of explanation.

I swallowed. ‘You saw me dance?’

He lifted his head and this time there was no mistaking the grin. ‘From the very beginning to the dramatic finale.’

I groaned.

‘I better go, Samantha will be wondering where I am. Nice onesie by the way. Does Tiny Tim have one too? A horse or a pig perhaps?’

I stared down at myself, at the pink udders hanging limply from my stomach, and wanted the ground to swallow me up. ‘He’s not coming round till later.’

‘Of course not. And I imagine he thinks you look quite cute in it.’

Cute? Puppies were cute. Is that how he thought of me, as a cute little puppy?

He moved to the top of the stairs and I followed him.

‘Do you think I look cute in it?’

He turned and walked back up a few stairs, kneeling on the stair below me so we were eye to eye. ‘Yes.’

My heart dropped. I was so far in the friend zone I was now categorised as cute. He’d be patting me on the back next and telling me he saw me like a sister.

‘Sexy cute?’

‘No.’

My heart sank into my feet.

‘I bet Samantha would look sexy in it?’

‘I doubt it. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to look sexy in it.’

I felt slightly better at this.

‘And don’t underestimate the value of cute, it’s a great quality to have.’ He leaned forward and kissed me on the nose. ‘And don’t stay up too late, I have a big day planned for you tomorrow.’

He ran down the stairs and was gone a second later.

I touched my nose, still feeling the softness of his lips. He thought I was cute. I smiled as I fell in love with him all over again.

Pre –order your copy of One Hundred Proposals now. http://amzn.to/1ouP9w0

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Season to Taste – Natalie Young – review

Tinder Press

isbn9781472209399-detail

“The most subversive and gloriously unexpected novel you’ll ever read about the end of a marriage and its aftermath.

Always let the meat rest under foil for at least ten minutes before carving…

Meet Lizzie Prain. Ordinary housewife. Fifty-something. Lives in a cottage in the woods, with her dog Rita. Likes cooking, avoids the neighbours. Runs a little business making cakes.

No one has seen Lizzie’s husband, Jacob, for a few days. That’s because last Monday, on impulse, Lizzie caved in the back of his head with a spade. And if she’s going to embark on the new life she feels she deserves after thirty years in Jacob’s shadow, she needs to dispose of his body. Her method appeals to all her practical instincts, though it’s not for the faint-hearted. Will Lizzie have the strength to follow it through?

Dark, funny and achingly human, Season to Taste is a deliciously subversive treat. In the shape of Lizzie Prain, Natalie Young has created one of the most remarkable heroines in recent fiction.”

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Lizzie Prain has been married to Jacob for nearly 30 years. Until 3 days ago when she hit him over the head with a spade whilst he was in the garden. Now he’s in pieces in the freezer that sits in the shed and Lizzie had to get rid of him, one way or another…

There’s a sense of sadness that permeates this novel, together with loneliness and a surreal feeling of detachment. All of this mirror’s Lizzie’s feelings so essentially the book is Lizzie, but is also needed by the reader to understand how she can do the unimaginable.

One of the recurring points Lizzie refers to is that Jacob often commented on her lack of imagination, it was something even her mother had accused her of. Yet Lizzie has the imagination to dispose of Jacob’s body in the manner she does. This may be to show Jacob that he was wrong, she is eating his words, literally, or is used by Natalie Young to cast doubt on Jacob’s alleged treatment of Lizzie.

I loved the premise of this book and was eager to see how it played out. Whilst I liked the book I didn’t love it, though this was by no means any reflection on the author or the book. All the ingredients are there for a great story; interestingly characterised people and an intriguing story line.

This book is not for the squeamish. It is thought provoking, macabre, disquieting and unlike anything I’ve read before and because of this I’m glad I read it.

 

 

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Dying for Murder – Suzanne F. Kingsmill – review

Dundurn Press

9781459708181

“Zoologist Cordi O’Callaghan thinks she’s in for a relaxing birdsong study at a research station on Spaniel Island, off the coast of South Carolina. But, as usual, she can’t escape the chaos that follows her everywhere she goes. As a hurricane rages, trapping her and the rest of the researchers, the director of the station is found dead under troubling circumstances.

Unable to resist a mystery, Cordi sets out to investigate, and ends up getting a crash course on the life habits of bats, sea turtles, and rattlesnakes — and a refresher on attempted murder.”

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review.

The story opens with Cordi O’Callagan seeing her car is being stolen. Despite chasing after the car she fails to catch the culprit and along with loosing her car, she looses valuable research. On the suggestion of her friend Duncan she travels to Spaniel Island, together with her friend Martha. When she gets there she finds that her fellow researchers have secrets to hide. Soon after her arrival a hurricane hits the island. Before Cordi and her fellow researchers can be evacuated Cordi comes across the body of the director of the research station. Soon she finds herself trapped on the island, investigating the murder, and trying to avoid being the next victim.

This is the third installment of the Cordi O’ Callaghan series and the first I have read. I didn’t feel at a disadvantage though as the other books in the series are only briefly referred to, and are used to give Cordi some ‘expertise’ in solving murders.

I liked the setting of this book. The closed off, storm swept island added to the atmosphere of being trapped on an island with a murderer.  The biological information, for example, regarding bats, turtles, snakes and birds was interesting and well researched.  Cordi did have the annoying habit of accusing everyone of murder, which seemed to just hamper her investigation, but I think this was a device to through the reader off the scent.

This was an easy, quick read, what I’d class as a gentle paced murder mystery and I’d read others in the series.

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Blog tour – The Long Fall – Julia Crouch

Today is my stop on The Long Fall blog tour and we find out all about the cover of the book from the design team at Headline.

 

Designing THE LONG FALL

With Julia Crouch’s new novel THE LONG FALL out this month, cover designer Patrick Insole explains how her stunning new cover look came about.

Designing a cover for Julia Crouch’s brilliantly dark and edgy psychological thriller, THE LONG FALL threw up some interesting challenges, and its Greek setting gave this designer a yearning to head to the scene of the crime…

Unlike a lot of crime and thriller packaging, psychological thrillers tend to demand a subtler approach, dealing in nuances and atmosphere, the aim often being to give a sense of unsettling unease to what would otherwise be an everyday scene or moment.

With The Long Fall, as is often the case, it was important not to try to tell too much of the story – the novel spans different times and places, and getting everything in would be nigh on impossible. Much of the nerve-shredding enjoyment of reading the book comes from slowly piecing together how the characters are linked to the shocking event that begins the book, and the cover is about reinforcing that link without giving anything away.

We quickly established that we wanted the cover image to be set in Greece, the location for that initial scene. A straightforward decision, but one that presented its own difficulties – the main one being how to get across a sense of drama and threat in an image of a sun-drenched Greek island. Picture research involved trawling through hundreds of images of all too idyllic Greek locations – lots of tastefully dilapidated ruins and rugged, often barren coastline, but nothing that quite set the right tone. In desperation I even went back through photos from my own holidays to Greece but, though a lovely trip down memory lane, I couldn’t really see any of my attempts at artful sunsets or picturesque plates of souvlaki making for a particularly strong cover image.

It became clear that we were going to have to resort to a little trickery to get the feel we wanted. I liked the composition of this image taken, as chance would have it, in Ikaria, the setting for the first moments in the book – despite the cheerful blue skies and azure seas, it had the slightly vertigo inducing feel I was after, with that lone tree clinging precariously to the edge, and the distant coastline adding to the sense of height.

 long fall untreated

© Percy Ryall/Alamy

By playing with the contrast and taking much of the saturation out of the image, we were able to inject some much needed drama, and some additional threat was provided by some carefully placed clouds. And some gulls. Because everyone knows gulls are evil. It was a tricky balancing act – too much contrast and it starts to look like a bleak Dartmoor tor rather than rugged Greek coastline.

Introducing a figure was important too, providing a useful narrative pull without, once again, giving anything away.

The type was, in a way, the most straightforward part of the cover – the title lends itself to a strong, bold treatment, and the crisp, geometric lines of the typeface Gotham just felt right in contrast with the more organic and tumbledown scene behind, with just a hint of texture to soften the otherwise stark white lettering.

The resulting cover is, I hope, full of the right atmosphere and sets the tone for the gripping story that unfolds within. For me, particularly given the cover was designed at the height of the wettest, most miserable British winter in living memory, it left me with an urgent need to book my next holiday somewhere hot and sunny, the Greek Islands being top of the list. Though lonely walks along rocky cliffs will not be on the itinerary…

 The Long Fall TPB jacket

And here’s what Julia thinks of the new cover…

When Headline said they were going to redesign my ‘look’, I was in two minds. Part of me was sad, because I really liked the existing, elliptical feel of the covers of Cuckoo, Every Vow You Break and Tarnished, but I was also excited, because change brings so many possibilities. As a former graphic designer – although with no book cover experience – I am aware of the need to update and keep things fresh. Typefaces that might have looked bold and contemporary a couple of years ago start to appear a little tired, or derivative – even if the only thing they are copying is themselves. And, similarly, the use of imagery, angle and colour goes in waves in book covers – something that works for one author is then adopted by another publisher for another book and then, ironically, the original can start to look like a copy… So I was so pleased to see the new look for The Long Fall. Patrick has achieved that design holy grail of something that manages to look fresh and clean while also appearing to have been there for ever. I love the clean, clear, crisp type – it will really stand out on a shelf, as well as when reduced down to icon size. And the

drama of the image – the tension between the figure, the height and distance and those looming birds really captures some of the dilemmas my protagonist faces during her journey through my twisted story. Headline has this great policy of allowing authors to have some input into their covers. I tend to prefer to step back, because I know that it is such a specialist area of design. I think the only two things I have done here are to change the clothes of the woman – the original positional had her in trousers, which I didn’t feel right about – and to ask for the broken down effect – I have been using my diaries from when I was an eighteen year old backpacker, and have come to love their bent and broken covers. Something in me felt that it would be a good move for the novel, too. I have to say I love it! And, like every author, I really can’t wait to see it laid out on shop bookshelves. Patrick is a genius.

THE LONG FALL is published June 19 2014

Follow Julia on Twitter: @thatjuliacrouch

And here are all the stops on the blog tour:

Julia Crouch blog tour poster

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The Axeman’s Jazz – Ray Celestin – review

Mantle

the-axemans-jazz-978144725886501

 

“New Orleans, 1919. As music fills the city, a serial killer strikes . . .

New Orleans, 1919. As a dark serial killer – The Axeman – stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him . . .

Though every citizen of the ‘Big Easy’ thinks they know who could be behind the terrifying murders, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, heading up the official investigation, is struggling to find leads. But Michael has a grave secret, and if he doesn’t get himself on the right track fast, it could be exposed . . .

Former detective Luca d’Andrea has spent the last six years in Angola state penitentiary, after Michael, his protégée, blew the whistle on his corrupt behaviour. Now a newly freed man, Luca is back working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as that of the authorities.

Meanwhile, Ida is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreaming of a better life, Ida stumbles across a clue which lures her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, to the case – and into terrible danger . . .

As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer’s identity, the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim. And as the case builds to its crescendo, the sky will darken and a great storm will loom over the city . . .

Inspired by a true story, THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ, set against the heady backdrop of jazz-filled, mob-ruled New Orleans, is an ambitious, gripping thriller announcing a major new talent in historical crime fiction.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Set in New Orleans in 1919 The Axeman’s Jazz is based on an actual murderer, dubbed ‘The Axeman’ who was viciously killing families in their homes, leaving the axe used behind at the scene. He wrote to the local newspaper declaring he would commit more murders unless every house and building was playing Jazz on a particular evening. The actual letter written is recounted in the book. As the murders continue Michael Talbot, a police detective, Luca d’Andrea, his former mentor and Ida, a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency who has dreams of becoming a detective herself, all embark on their own investigations to unmask the killer.

I loved the layout of this book. Each chapter alternates between a character, usually Michael, Luca and Ida, with each one developing the story in a slightly different way. Each character is well defined and they develop with each chapter, along with the investigation. As well as the main characters, there were a host of brilliantly drawn side characters, a young Louis Armstrong being one of them.

I was easily transported back in time to pre-Prohibition Louisiana. The racial tensions of that time were keenly highlighted, being integral to the story. The melting pot of people that New Orleans was, set when segregation was still a part of life, with the heady mix of Creoles, Cajuns, Italians, Blacks and Whites all coming together, causing clashes, racial tension and suspicion, was excellently detailed. The streets of New Orleans were brought to life, matching how I imagined the city to be at that point in history.  The descriptions of the city, the bayou and the surrounding areas were vivid, I could easily imagine myself walking down the French Quarter, trudging through the swamps abutting the city, or being swept up in the maelstrom of the hurricane that hits the city with such devastating force.

The murder mystery itself is well paced, with enough red herrings and clues to ensure that the story didn’t feel dragged out. I soon reached that lovely phase in reading a great book, where as a reader I wanted to continue reading the story, but I didn’t want that story to end. I was left hoping that we would see more of Michael and Ida and that we will be treated to more of their investigations.

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