Monthly Archives: July 2016

Hemmie Martin – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Hemmie Martin to the blog. Hemmie is the author of  The Divine Pumpkin, Attic of the Mind, In the Light of Madness, Rightful Owner and Garlic and Gauloises. Her latest novel, What Happens After was published by Winter Goose Publishing on 8 March 2016.

Hemmie answered a few of my questions

1. Tell us a little about What Happens After.

Four couples attend a Parting Ways weekend at a hotel in Cambridge, where they hope to divorce amicably, mediated by two counsellors. When one of the participants is found murdered, DI Wednesday and DS Lennox are faced with a widow, sparring couples, the counsellors, and the hotel staff; with many of them having a reason to dislike the victim.

2. What inspired the book? 

I read an article in a Sunday paper about this type of scheme in the Netherlands, and thought it would be a great premise for a murder. I’m also a huge fan of Agatha Christie, and I love the way many of her stories centre around a house or a hotel – they could be transferred onto the stage. Just look at the popularity of The Mouse Trap – which I loved by the way.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

When I’m writing a crime novel, I have to have some plan in mind – which I usually transfer to a mind map – to ensure that I track each character’s movements at the time of the crime/s. Sometimes the antagonist changes from my original idea, part way through the novel, as the story has dictated I do that. For the backstory of the detectives, I tend to let the characters lead me, allowing myself to be surprised by the turn of events I hadn’t seen coming.

When I’m writing contemporary fiction, I tend to let the words flow freely, which I do find a more relaxing way to write.

It takes me about a year to write and edit – firstly by myself and secondly with my Editor at the publisher – a novel.

4. Having been through the creative process of writing and publishing a number of novels is there anything that still surprises you about the creative process of creating a book?

I still find that half way through each novel I have written, I believe I’m writing drivel and I should bin the story. I never have, as I’ve learnt that ploughing on does get results eventually, but it can be a tough time emotionally.

I still never really know when to stop editing. It’s a process I enjoy, and I’m always trying the sharpen a sentence or remove ‘dead wood’ from paragraphs. I would say editing has become easier overtime, and I’ve learnt a lot from my Editor.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I’m an avid reader, and I enjoy reading crime and contemporary fiction. I will read the opposite genre to the one I am writing so ideas from the novels I’m reading don’t leak into the one I am writing.

At the weekend, I love going to see live cover bands playing rock music in pubs. It’s a great way to relax, socialise, and sing along without anyone hearing me!

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

Ooh this is a tough question. I’m tempted to say ‘Testament of Youth’ by Vera Brittain as it is a hefty tome! 

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

Where do I see myself in five years’ time?  In an ideal world – which I know we are far from currently – I would like to be sitting in my own study in a house in Norfolk, with a small dog at my feet. I would love the DI Wednesday series to be serialised on the television, and I would still like to be writing a new crime or contemporary novel every year. I would also dearly love to be featured in the Saturday Guardian’s review section, as I have bought many of the books reviewed there.

If any of the above does happen I will be an exceedingly happy bunny!

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

Thank you for having me, Janet, your questions have been fun to answer.

About the book

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“What happens after the murder? A killing has occurred during a Parting Ways weekend, where couples make an attempt at divorcing amicably. The fallout points in many directions as Wednesday and Lennox are faced with a widow, sparring couples, the group facilitators, and the hotel staff, all as suspects. While the confounding case strengthens Wednesday’s negative views on relationships, it brings Lennox to a place of reflection as he analyzes his past and contemplates his future.”

 

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Literary comfort food

There is nothing better than choosing a new book to read, settling down and soon finding yourself lost in the pages. There is the anticipation of a good story, the threat that the book won’t be for you and the potential that you will stumble across a new all time favourite. But sometimes a lot of readers want to read something they are familiar with. They want to return to old literary friends, get lost in a world that they are familiar with. This may be to find your reading mojo, get you out of a book slump, or simply because you want to escape from a world where we have little control, to find solace in one where we know what to expect. I call these books comfort books, the ones that refresh the reading palette, bring us welcome joy and respite from an often weary world. They are the bookish equivalent of (new) pajamas and a (large) bowl of ice cream. For me, my comfort read is Persuasion by Jane Austen. It is guaranteed to lift me out of the doldrums, to escape into a wonderful cocoon of a bygone time and leave me with a warm glow. There is, for me, something beautiful about a book where you know exactly what is going to happen but you still savour every moment of the journey getting there. So using the hive mind that is social media I posed my question on Twitter and Facebook and was overwhelmed with the response. Here are the books that others turn to when they need a book cuddle.

Carys Bray, author of A Song for Issy Brady, Sweet Home and The Museum of You goes for Persuasion, as does Rebecca Mascull author of The Visitors and Song of The Sea Maid and Jane Lythell, author of The Lie of You and Woman of the Hour. Lyne Shelby, author of French Kissing chooses Pride and Prejudice as do a few other people, as we shall see. Jane Hanbury and blogger Christina Philippou are both Jane Austen fans.

One of blogger Sharon Wilden’s all time favourtite books is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Sharon blogs at Shaz’s Book Blog.

Tracey Sinclair, author of Dark Dates, Wolf Night and Angel Falls turns to Terry Pratchett books (the witches and guards ones) but she doesn’t just turn to his books for her comfort reads. She also loves Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos, The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Helen Giles, who blogs at Life of a Nerdish Mum picks up Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky if she’s in a reading slump and doesn’t know what to read.

Whilst author of Harvest Festival and 2000 Tunes Karl Drinkwater has read many novels more than once he’s now at the point where he wants to read new books as good as these. (Which of course is the only way to discover comfort books after all). He does however love to re-read short stories and his favourites include Roadside Picnic (Strugatsky), I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (Ellison), I Am Legend (Matheson), Who Goes There? (Campbell Jr), The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman) and The Lottery (Jackson).

Although blogger Caroline Vincent recently re-read and loved Pride and Prejudice her turn to books are those written by the crime writing queen, Agatha Christie. Caroline is not alone for Christie’s books are the go to books for book reviewer Louise Wykes also turns to any of Agatha Christies Marple or Poirot, saying they make her feel safe, and I see what she means. Other Christie fans are author T Scully and blogger Sandra Foy.

Josie Barton who blogs at the wonderful Jaffa Reads Too, turns to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon when she needs a comfort read. She says ‘ I have re-read it countless times and know that I can pick it up on a whim and know that I will feel better when I’ve spent some time with the characters’

Author of Blood and Roses Catherine Hokin has two books she gets lost in: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Wise Children by Angela Carter. Barbara Copperthwaite, author of Invisible and Flowers for the Dead chooses between The Night Circus, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Far From the Maddening Crowd by Thomas Hardy.

Terri Nixon, who is the author of Maids of Oakland Manor chooses between Stephen King’s The Stand or Jilly Cooper’s Rivals, showing that comfort reads can be diverse, even for the same reader! Julie Houston, author of Goodness, Grace and Me, The One Saving Grace and Looking for Lucy, plumps for any Jilly Cooper but in particular Riders and Rivals. In her words ‘the cheese on toast and a big fat cream bun of books’.

Linda Huber, who penned The Attic Room, The Cold Cold Sea and Chosen Child is also a Pride and Prejudice fan. She also reaches for her copies of Little Women, A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clarke and the Chalet School books when she needs ‘balsam for the soul’.

Jenny Blackhurst, author of Before I Let You In and How I Lost You, seeks solace in Dean Koontz’s Phantoms or Strangers, and has had to replace her copy of Strangers, so well read was her previous copy.

Cathy McNally, who blogs at 746Books, regularly re-reads The Secret History by Donna Tartt, as does Caroline Dunford, author of the Euphemia Martins mystery series.

Madeleine Reiss, author of This Last Kiss has read The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot a number of times and whilst Josa Young, author of Sail Upon the Land loves Persuasion her ‘valium’ read is Georgette Heyer.

Jessica Norrie, author of The Infinity Pool, feels that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books are just as good for adults as they are for children.

Ghostbird author Carol Lovekin’s choices are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (one of my other comfort reads), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson, Fall on your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald and can re-read Virginia Woolf’s diaries ‘ad infinitum’. Katey Lovell, author of the Meet Cute series turns to Jane Eyre or 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, whilst another fan of Jane Eyre is Rowan Coleman who’s books We Are All Made of Stars and The Memory Book appear further on as comfort reads themselves.

Author of They All Fall Down Cat Hogan’s constant companion is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, or if she needs ‘comfort food’ To Kill A Mockingbird.

For blogger Laura Delve, she turns to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling saying ‘..it brings me back to my childhood and makes me feel safe and happy” (and sometimes what we need for a book is to make us feel safe and happy after all). Another Harry Potter fan is blogger Laura Bambrey who also chooses non-fiction books about art history as her go-to recharge books.

For Jon Teckman, author of Ordinary Joe,  his choice is Catch-22 to ‘just marvel at Joseph Heller’s genius…’. Mary Jayne Baker, author of The Honey Trap also turn’s to Heller’s classic and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte too. Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist, Elijah’s Mermaid, and The Goddess and the Thief, also picks Wuthering Heights and blogger Abbie Rutherford picks Wuthering Heights or Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy.

For Sarah Vincent, author of The Testament of Vida Tremayne her go to book is Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de La Mere.

Cassandra Parkin, author of The Summer We All Ran Away and The Beach Hut, is another Persuasion fan. She also picks up Mansfield Park, The Secret History, The Great Gatsby and any Agatha Christie so has a great range to choose from.

Roisin Meaney, author of The Reunion, Two Fridays in April and After the Wedding would choose between Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov , The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler.

Blogger Kirsty Rogerson picks Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook saying its always easy to dip in and out of. Her alternative comfort read is The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes.

Thorne Moore, author of Motherlove and The Unravelling, lists all of Jane Austen’s in the following order: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility but also likes to mix things up with The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K Le Guin.

Clodagh Murphy, author of Some Girls Do, The Disengagement Ring, Frisky Business, goes for Dorothy L Sayers or Jane Austen.

Blogger Pam McIlroy has a look selection box of comfort books: Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy and The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.

Margaret Madden who blogs at Bleach House Library turns to Rebecca, or Pride and Prejudice, or childhood favourites, The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers.

Fiona Cane, author of The Other Side of the Mountain picks up The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald when she is seeking literary comfort food, whilst the go to book for Susie Lynes, author of Valentina, is Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore.

Bev Spicer, author of One Summer in France and Stranded in the Seychelles, uses her favourites to remind her what great writing is. She reaches for Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood ‘for its unsentimental nostalgia and ruthless characterisation’, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad for ‘its terrifying insights and imagery’ and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx ‘just because I can open it at any random page and be amazed by the language’.

Author of Hampstead Fever and One Night in the Jacaranda, Carol Cooper keeps it in the family by choosing Cocktails and Camels by Jacqueline Carol, who happens to be her mother, and reaches for it as it is ‘the funniest and most comforting book I have ever read’.

For the author of The Cosy Teashop in the Castle, Caroline Roberts her pj and ice cream books are We Are All Made of Stars or The Memory Book, both by Rowan Coleman which she describes as ‘both beautiful’.

Over on Twitter I gathered these responses (I’ve not included who said them as I’ve not got their permission). Here is a list of what people turn to for a bit of literary comfort:

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

A Village Affair or The Rector’s Wife, by Joanna Trollope

Most of Bill Bryson’s books

Confessions of a Middle Aged Woman by Sue Townsend

The Hungry Cyclist by Tom Kevill Davies

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Agatha Christie

Dashiel Hammett (described as ‘pure joy’)

Anything by Paige Toon or Lucy Diamond

Wuthering Heights (‘even though it’s pretty depressing, all told…’)

Marian Keynes ‘and I’d immerse myself in Ireland and the Walsh Family’

‘most of the time something aimed at children or young adults, such as Howl’s Moving Castle or if I’m being grown up any Chic Lit’

Nancy Mitford (‘never fails’)

‘I’d go for a big, American thriller in the Lee Child style, a shot of pure entertainment’.

And don’t worry if you don’t have a comfort read. You aren’t alone. Bloggers extraordinare Anne Cater, Karen Cocking and Victoria Goldman don’t have such reads. Lisa Briggs Hardy rarely re-reads (but is planning on re-reading the Faraway Tree books before the film is released and who can blame her – I may use the same excuse!). Hemmie Martin, author of What Happens After, finds comfort in the book she is reading at the time (which I think is a wonderful way of looking at books).

So it’s apparent that all kinds of genres can provide that comfort read. The wonderful thing about books is that they provide different things to different people.

Do you have a go to book that brings you all the feels? Do let me know what it is if you do!

 

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Influences on writing In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Rebecca Mackenzie to the blog. Rebecca is the author of In a Land of Paper Gods which is published by Tinder Press and is released in paperback on 28 July 2016.

Rebecca has written a fabulous post on the influences on influences on writing IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS

 

Thank you for hosting me today on my blog tour for IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS. The novel follows the story of Henrietta S. Robertson, a child growing up in a missionary boarding school in China who, while her missionary parents are busy pursuing their calling, discovers a divine calling of her own. 

 

For today’s post, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about the influences on writing IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS, particularly how I discovered the character of Etta. 

 

My childhood was spent in Thailand, Malaysia and India. I lived in these places because of my parents’ work – they were Christian missionaries. Their mission organization was founded in China more than a century before, and I grew up listening to stories of these missionaries bringing the gospel to the Chinese ‘field’. When it came to writing a novel, I thought China would be a wonderful place to set a story – somewhere that was an unfamiliar terrain to me, yet that at the same time, had inhabited my child self’s imagination. China had an unknown, yet almost mythical resonance for me, and called more powerfully than the landscapes I already knew. 

 

I set the novel during the Second World War, a period of great turbulence in Asia, and asked myself what it would be like to be a child of missionaries in China at this time. I researched as I wrote, reading tracts, diaries, military history. A school prospectus and school magazines provided lots of information about mission schools, which is how the children were educated at that time, often thousands of miles from home. I looked at many school photographs and tried to imagine movement, scents, sounds into the scenes, and memories and futures into the people gathered there. 

 

There was one photo in particular that contributed the feel of the character of Etta. It was of a picture of a class of girls. One girl at the edge of the group was a blur. She had been moving – could not sit still? up to mischief? – and was rendered a greyish smudge. It made me think of a fast paced, energetic girl, who had disappeared from history. In reading diaries and letters I also found out that many of the children were called ‘ghost girls’ by Chinese, for with their pale skin, eyes and hair, they looked such strange creatures. The idea of ‘ghost girls’ spoke to the idea of a child that had all but vanished, a child caught between two cultures, and in the turbulence of war, a childhood lost. I wanted to give this child and her childhood a voice. And so the voice of Etta began to run across the pages. 

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About the book:

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“A gorgeous literary debut in the tradition of The Poisonwood Bible about a school for the children of British missionaries in China, at the top of a mountain, at the edge of the Second World War

Jiangxi Province, China, 1941

Atop the fabled mountain of Lushan, celebrated for its temples, capricious mists and plunging ravines, perches a boarding school for the children of British missionaries. As her parents pursue their calling to bring the gospel to China’s most remote provinces, ten-year-old Henrietta S. Robertson discovers that she has been singled out for a divine calling of her own.

Etta is quick to share the news with her dorm mates, and soon even Big Bum Eileen is enlisted in the Prophetess Club, which busies itself looking for signs of the Lord’s intent. (Hark.) As rumours of war grow more insistent, so the girls’ quest takes on a new urgency – and in such a mystical landscape, the prophetesses find that lines between make believe and reality, good and bad, become dangerously blurred. So Etta’s pilgrimage begins.

A story of a child far from home and caught between two cultures, In A Land of Paper Gods marries exuberant imagination with sharp pathos, and introduces Rebecca Mackenzie as a striking and original new voice.”

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Before the Blog review – Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

I thought it would be a good idea to put all of my reviews in one place. I’ve therefore created a Before the Blog review page where all of these reviews can be found. I will hopefully be able to say where it was first posted and when I read it.

Title –  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Publisher – Headline

Originally posted – Goodreads

Read – 10 – 13 August 2013

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“The incredible novel from the author of Oscar-nominated THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. For fans of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME and THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.

A powerful and important book for fans of Mark Haddon, THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and Jay Asher.

How would you spend your birthday if you knew it would be your last?

Eighteen-year-old Leonard Peacock knows exactly what he’ll do. He’ll say goodbye.

Not to his mum – who he calls Linda because it annoys her – who’s moved out and left him to fend for himself. Nor to his former best friend, whose torments have driven him to consider committing the unthinkable. But to his four friends: a Humphrey-Bogart-obsessed neighbour, a teenage violin virtuoso, a pastor’s daughter and a teacher.

Most of the time, Leonard believes he’s weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he’s not. He wants to thank them, and say goodbye.

In this riveting and heart-breaking book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick introduces Leonard Peacock, a hero as warm and endearing as he is troubled. And he shows how just a glimmer of hope can make the world of difference.”

I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Read giveaway.

It’s Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday. It’s also the day he’s going to shoot his former best friend and then kill himself. Abandoned by his parents, Leonard wants to say goodbye to the four people he counts as his friends.

Though the reason why Leonard wants to kill himself is heart wrenching (I won’t mention it here so as to avoid spoilers), another layer to the sadness is the loneliness that Leonard feels. His friends are an elderly Bogart fan, a violin playing fellow student, a pastor’s daughter and his Holocaust teacher, none of whom he really knows.

He’s highly intelligent in some respects – recognising genuine works of art and being in advanced English for example but child-like in others. He says to himself if someone just wishes him happy birthday he’ll not kill his best friend and himself.

Despite the not so easy to read topic the boom itself is surprisingly easy to read. I found myself alternating between wanting to give Leonard a good shake and wanting to give him a hug.

Not my normal read but I’m glad I read it. A thoughtful and thought-provoking read. As Leonard may say Ubergood.

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Under the Reader’s Radar – celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

The first book to be highlighted this week is The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, published by Oneworld Publications.

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“On her fiftieth birthday and now deemed economically worthless, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material: a state-of-the-art facility where she will make new friends, enjoy generous recreational activities and live out her remaining days in comfort. The price? Her body – harvested piece by piece for the ‘necessary’ ones, until the day comes when she must make her Final Donation. But Dorrit finds her days at the Unit peaceful and consoling: she no longer feels like an outsider, a single woman in a world of married couples with children. Until she unexpectedly falls in love – and everything changes.”

The Unit was suggested by Rebecca Bradley. Rebecca is the author of Shallow Waters and her latest novel feature DI Hannah Robbins, Made to be Broken, was published on 30 June 2016.

Here’s what Rebecca had to say about The Unit:

“It’s stunningly well told in a simple and straightforward way, conveying the sense of how normal this situation is. The undercurrent of fear is woven in with the calm and natural friendships that arise within a group of people who are not at all dissimilar….The reality of reading gave me a sense of calm and concerning unease at the same time. It’s smoothly and expertly told and I absolutely loved it.”

You can read Rebecca’s full review here.

Also back this week to recommend another book is Bettina from Tripfiction. If you haven’t visited her fabulous site where you can find fiction to cover anywhere in the world then I highly recommend you do.

Today Bettina recommends The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer, published by Vintage.

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“Shortlisted for the 2015 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature
Winner of the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2014

The Scatter Here Is Too Great heralds a major new voice from Pakistan with a stunning debut – a novel told in a rich variety of distinctive voices that converge at a single horrific event: a bomb blast at a station in the heart of the city.

Comrade Sukhansaz, an old communist poet, is harassed on a bus full of college students minutes before the blast. His son, a wealthy middle-aged businessman, yearns for his own estranged child. A young man, Sadeq, has a dead-end job snatching cars from people who have defaulted on their bank loans, while his girlfriend spins tales for her young brother to conceal her own heartbreak. An ambulance driver picking up the bodies after the blast has a shocking encounter with two strange-looking men whom nobody else seems to notice. And in the midst of it all, a solitary writer, tormented with grief for his dead father, struggles to find words.

In a style that is at once inventive and deeply moving, Tanweer reveals the pain, loneliness and longing of these characters and celebrates the power of the written word to heal individuals and communities plagued by violence. Elegantly weaving together a striking portrait of a city and its people, The Scatter Here Is Too great is a love story written to Karachi – as vibrant and varied in its characters, passions, and idiosyncrasies as the city itself.”

Read more on the Penguin website.

Here’s what Tripfiction had to say about it:
“This is a very impressive book. Bilal Tanweer was born and raised in Karachi… and it shows. The city comes through on every page of the book – the filth, the mass of humanity, the constant traffic jams, the charm of many of its people – and the nastiness of others….Tanweer loves the city and its people. The people he writes about are real (if flawed…) and Karachi is absolutely at the heart of the book. It is a vibrant and challenging portrayal of the place and its inhabitants.”
You can read the full review on the Tripfiction website here.
So there we have it, two new books that may have passed you by. I haven’t read either of them, but I think that may have to change. What do you make of today’s suggestions? Do you have any quiet books that you think should be more widely read? If so do let me know.

 

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Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley – Review

Published by Simon and Schuster

Publication date – 14 July 2016

Source – review copy

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“‘Intelligently written, finely observed and surprisingly moving, this is a book you’ll find hard to put down’ Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project

Companions come in all shapes and sizes.
Companionship lasts forever.

Lily and the Octopus is a novel about finding that special someone to share your life with.
For Ted Flask, that someone is Lily, and she happens to be a dog.
This novel reminds us how to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Reminiscent of The Life of Pi and The Art of Racing in the Rain, with spins into magic realism and beautifully evoked universal truths of love, loyalty and loss, a hilariously sardonic and not altogether reliable narrator, and one unforgettable hound who simple wisdom will break your heart and put it back together again, Lily and the Octopus captures the search for meaning in death and introduces a dazzling new voice in fiction.”

Lily and Ted have spent 12 blissful years together. Just because Lily is a dachshund and Ted is man in his 40s doesn’t mean their relationship means any less. But suddenly it would appear that their time together may be drawing to an end. An interloper, an octopus, has started to take Lily away from Ted. But Ted isn’t willing to give up without a fight…
This is a very moving story of the finality of life. As humans we know from a relatively young age that our life is a finite one. We accept it, as we have to, forgetting so that we can get through each day, until for one reason or another, mortality confronts us. In this surreal story, full of magical realism, Ted has to address his feelings towards death, whether he wishes to fight it, rail against it and deny it will happen. It did take me a little while to get used to Ted’s viewpoint on what was happening, to understand his codes and the things he didn’t say. But once I did I was soon wrapped up the story, a story that is tinged equally with sadness and happiness.
It is very difficult to review this book as to do so could give away the story and it is one that each reader will generate their own take on. For me, the story of Lily and her octopus was a metaphor for fighting against the tide of grief, as if by delaying it and denying it, the inevitable end will not appear. This is a story of grief, of how it is possible to grieve for someone who is still here, and how it is permissible to do so. the rage that Ted feels is perfectly immortalised as the Octopus, has he fights it’s clinging hold over Lily, and vicariously Ted.
The novel is partly autobiographical for author Steven Rowley did have a dachshund called Lily and we can read a little about her at the end of the novel. The characters are a joy to read. Ted is a lovely man, committed to his friends, his sister and Lily and aware to some degree of his faults, for example the distant relationship he has with his mother. As the story progresses we see Ted evaluating his life, assessing where things might have gone wrong and acknowledging things in himself he wishes to change. Lily is beautifully portrayed, with a subtle balance between animal and humanisation. She reflects characteristics of Ted that he perhaps doesn’t see in himself and brings out the best in him. Ted’s friend Trent and sister Meredith bring comedy and compassion to the story and Bryon, who appears for only a few pages, almost shines off those pages, such is the portrayal by Steven Rowley.
I’m not one who normally cries at books, nor do I seek out ones that I think will induce eye rain, as Lily calls it. But I admit there was a little optical precipitation at parts of this very moving story.

This book is a moving testament to love, and shows that love between a pet and owner is just as valid as any other type of love.

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Rosy Thornton – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Rosy Thornton to the blog. Rosy is the author of The Tapestry of Love, More Than Love Letters, Ninepins and Hearts and Minds and her latest book, a collection of short stories entitled Sandlands, is published by Sandstone Press on 21 July 2016.

Rosy kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Sandlands.

Sandlands (due for release by Sandstone Press on 21st July) is my first venture into short story-writing, after publishing five novels. The stories which make up the collection are all set in and around the same small village in coastal Suffolk, and share many common themes as well as one or two minor characters: the natural world, wildlife and the relationship of people to their landscape, and also how the past can make itself felt in the present in various unexpected ways. Some of the stories are ghostly or magical; some are poignant and sad; one or two are (I hope!) funny.  

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the short story collection?

That’s an easy one! I was brought up in Suffolk but have lived for the whole of my working life over in Cambridge, where I am a university lecturer in law. Then, four years ago, I moved back to my home county (at least whenever I’m not required to be in Cambridge to teach!), in the village of Blaxhall where my stories are set. Maybe I’m biased, but I find it a uniquely beautiful place, with its rich farmland and water meadows, ancient forests and open heaths, its salt marshes, dunes and shingle beaches. There is also something haunting about a landscape so apparently timeless, where the sense of history – of past generations of feet walking the same lanes and pathways – is constantly present. And I hope I have captured some part of that atmosphere in the book. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I never plan at all – not even with longer fiction. But the particular joy of a short story is that it needs no grand, complex structure, with story arcs and character arcs and carefully woven sub-plots and the rest. One key idea (a thought, a mood, a memory; some small paradox, perhaps, or a strange juxtaposition), a weekend at the laptop and you have your story all complete, at least in first draft form.  

4. You have written both short stories and full length novels. What do you think are the benefits to both formats? Do you think that writing compelling prose that is tempered with brevity in short stories helps with writing novels? 

Benefits for the reader, I assume you mean? Well, the joys of sustained immersion in a created world, of engagement with a set of characters over the course of a hundred thousand word novel are unmatched, I think. But short stories have their own special pleasure, and for me it often lies not so much as what is said as what is not: the white space necessarily left around the text in terms of both back story and what-happens-next, the loose ends left untied, the implications suggested but unexplored. I think a good short story can give the reader’s imagination enormous scope to roam.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all? 

Writing stories is what I do to relax, and escape the rigours of my day job as an academic lawyer. Research and legal writing are a big part of my job – articles and casenotes for the legal journals, the occasional monograph – so I had spent twenty years writing and publishing before I even thought about turning my hand to fiction. When I did, it was a revelation: no double-checking of every fact, no need to cite authority for every proposition, no footnotes! Suddenly, I was allowed to make stuff up – and it was gloriously liberating.

But I also enjoy long walks in the Suffolk countryside with my two crazy spaniels, Snuffy and Ted – often writing scenes in my head as I go!

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

Hmm, tricky one. I’d say my favourite book (in common with many others) is probably Pride and Prejudice, or perhaps Persuasion. But they are both short, and I know great swathes of them by heart in any case, so that would be a waste. I think I’d have to go for something weightier… so I’ll say Middlemarch, which I already love but I know would yield even more to enjoy on repeated re-readings. 

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all of the Q&As you have taken part in what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Because Sandlands is set in a real village – and, what’s more, the village where I live – I wish someone would ask me, ‘Are any of the characters in the stories based on anyone you know?’ So that I can reply, most emphatically, ‘No!’ I live in terror that my neighbours will imagine themselves to be portrayed in the book and take mortal offence. But honestly, folks, it’s just fiction – I mean nothing by it, I made it all up! 

Rather more seriously, it does concern me that it might seem fearfully presumptuous, having lived in a village for five minutes, to write a book as if you own the place. That is really not my intention. I make no claims to any special understanding – I am still very much a newbie, skating the surface of what there is to know about the area. Everyone’s experience of a place, I always think, is different. And all I aim to do in Sandlands is to share my personal version of Blaxhall, based on my own relationship with the village and its very special landscape. 

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

Thank you very much for inviting me along, Janet!

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About the book:

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“From the white doe appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton’s delicate and magical collection of stories. The enigmatic Mr Napish is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long-lost letters; a nightingale’s song echoes the sound of a loved voice; in a Martello tower on a deserted shore Dr Whybrow listens to ghostly whispers. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined.”

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Before the Blog review – Truth or Dare? by Laura James

I thought it would be a good idea to put all of my reviews in one place. I’ve therefore created a Before the Blog review page where all of these reviews can be found. I will hopefully be able to say where it was first posted and when I read it.

Title –  Truth or Dare

Publisher – Choc Lit

Originally posted – Goodreads

Read – 29 November 2013
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“Love’s a dangerous game…

Kate Blair’s sick of unrequited love. She’s quietly waited for Mickey for the past six years and finding a compass-carved heart, with their initials scratched through the middle, only strengthens her resolve: no more Mickey and no more playing it safe.

It’s time to take a chance on real love and Declan O’Brien’s the perfect risk. He’s handsome, kind and crazy about her so it’s not long before all thoughts of Mickey come few and far between.

But old habits die-hard. Kate may have started to forget … but has Mickey?”
Kate has been in love with her friend Mickey since she was 11. She thinks that he only thinks of her as another little sister and she’s never taken the next step as she didn’t want to ruin her relationship with his sister Rose, who is her best friend.

The story opens in 1989 when Kate and Rose are 22. Kate lives alone, controlling her life with an almost obsessive compulsive nature and suffering from anorexia. Rose moves from one man to the next never thinking that she will be ready to settle down.

Kate believes she will never find a man she will love as much as Mickey but then meets Declan, Mickey’s boss. She soon falls for him and finds the feeling is mutual. Rose, meanwhile, attends a business meeting little realising she’ll meet someone who will make her feel completely different about monogamy. Whilst all this goes on it appears that Mickey has gone missing…

This is not a typical romance story. I started out reading thinking I could predict the whole story and I was wrong. I don’t want to go into what happens in this review as I think this would spoil it but I’ll just say the story is not full of happiness and joy. Difficult topics are dealt with including alcoholism and anorexia and there are some downright loathsome characters.

I’ll admit that I felt uncomfortable at some of the storyline but I think this is simply because I wasn’t prepared for the type of story the author told. I am however glad that I took the opportunity to read this book and would like to thank the publishers for providing me with a copy for review purposes.

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The Perfect Match by Katie Fforde – Review

Published by Arrow

Publication date – 12 February 2015

Source – own copy

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“Country cottages, romance, humour and making dreams come true. The wonderfully romantic novel from the No. 1 Sunday Times bestselling author of Recipe for Love, A French Affair and The Perfect Match.

Three years ago Bella Castle left her home town nursing a broken heart over Dominic Thane, the man she fell in love with but couldn’t have …

Now she’s made a new life for herself in the country, working as an estate agent.

Bella loves her job and she loves her boyfriend Nevil. But recently he’s been preoccupied, and she’s starting to question if his future hopes and dreams are a perfect match for hers.

And when Dominic turns up unexpectedly in search of his dream house, she begins to wonder if home is really where the heart is. But she’s over him, isn’t she?” Read more on the Penguin website.

Bella Castle thinks that her life has settled down. She has a job she loves at a local estate agency, she’s adores living with her Godmother, and she’s happy enough with her boyfriend Neville. And then one day Dominic turns up. And it just so happens that Dominic was the man she left her home town for, a man she had fallen in love with but who was unobtainable. Bella’s settled life, make become anything but settled…

When it comes to my favourite authors I tend to prolong reading their latest book for as long as possible. This may seem a little perplexing but I get so caught up in the worlds they create that I don’t want to wait ages for their next book. My random thinking is that if I wait for a long time to read one book, their next will be here sooner. And so that is what I did with The Perfect Match, knowing that Katie Fforde’s next book would soon be here.

Neville was quite slimy and annoying from the outset and made me wonder what Bella saw in him. Dominic was taciturn and grumpy but in a way that this disappeared as he spent more time with Bella, allowing the reader to grow to like him more. As for Bella, she was mixed character, content in her life and then trying to deal with the fallout her emotions feel when Dominic returns.  For me she took more of a back seat to Alice and wasn’t the lead character as such. There were times when I didn’t agree with her thought processes and when she appeared to be making more of fuss about things than were necessary. For example I didn’t see why she should have run away when she fell for Dominic rather than just getting on with things and when she didn’t stand up to Neville but thought of the things she should say. On the whole though she was a pleasant enough character and meant well. There were some obvious mistakes and assumptions made by the characters in the novel but these lent themselves well to the story, making it a pleasure to anticipate them and see how the characters dealt with them.

The other characters were great additions to the story. I loved Alice and her side story of meeting Michael, and the trials they faced as ‘older’ people stepping into the world of romance. In fact, their story made the book for me. It was lovely to follow the relationship between the two develop, to see how they got over the hurdles that could put a stop to their fledgling romance before it had really started. Even the way they met was lovely.  The Agnews, house hunting clients of Bella’s were quirky and Jane Langley lent a down to earth bent to the story, echoing the fears of some older people who are afraid of having to leave the place they love when they age.

I always find Katie Fforde’s novels lovely escapist reading, they provide a lovely world to be engulfed in for a few hours. They are what I like to call a hug in book form. The Perfect Match was a lovely way to get away from the world for a few hours. I’m looking forward to escaping into another of Katie Fforde’s books soon.

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Toppling the TBR pile – Orenda Books

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Today’s cause for the imminent collapse of my precariously balanced wishlist is Orenda Books. They launched in 2015 with some terrific titles and it looks like they have some treats in store for the latter half of 2016 after the range of fabulous books they published in the first half of the year. You can read about those here.

July first and the next book from writing duo Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, writing as Michael Stanley is out. A Death in the Family sees Botswana’s Assistant Superintendent David Kubu Banu defying orders to investigate the murder of his own father. The case reveals corruption, greed and a series of complex murders to challenge the grieving detective.

Also out this month is the next in the Dark Iceland series from Ragnar Jonasson. Blackout is set in between Snowblind and Iceblind and sees Ari Thor investigation the fatal beating of a man. A young reporter has travelled from the capital to do her own investigating. Meanwhile the 24 hour sunlight has been darkened by an ash cloud from a nearby volcano. Can Ari Thor find out who committed the terrible crime? And what secrets is the reporter hiding?

September is a bumper month for bookish treats and includes the publication of Louise Beech’s second novel. In The Mountain in My Shoe Bernadette is about to tell her husband she is leaving him, but on the day in question he fails to return home. So too does Conor, a little boy Bernadette has befriended. Together with Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her past to discover what has happened to her husband and to Conor.

Also out this month is Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal. Allis Hagtorn, a TV presenter, leaves her partner and heads to a remote house in the fjords, ostensibly to become housekeeper to a recluse. But her employer Sigurd is not the old man she expected and as they wait for his wife to return their encounters develop into an obsessive relationship.

Michael J Malone’s A Suitable Lie is also out in September. Andy Boyd can’t believe his luck. After being widowed when his wife died in child birth he didn’t think he would find love again. Then he meets Anna. When he ends up in hospital on his wedding night he should have realised thinks weren’t as they seemed with Anna. But he ignores the warning and it seems his dream life could turn into a nightmare.

On to October and fans of The Hummingbird and The Defenceless will be pleased to hear that Kati Hiekkapelto’s latest, The Exile is released. Ana Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth. There her purse is stolen and the theif found dead. She is caught up in a murder investigation that involves her family, and the refuge crisis that has engulfed the continent.

Still in October and Antti Toumainen’s The Mine is released. Investigative reporter Janne Vouri heads to a mine in Northern Finland, trying to discover the truth about a mining company who appear to have caused an environmental disaster. But when the mining executives begin to die in a series of accidents and Janne’s life begins to unravel it seems Janne has stumbled across something that could cost him dear.

If that’s not enough I can give you a sneak peek as to what to expect in 2017…

Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb sees a female bounty hunter encounter dangers that could threaten not only her life, but that of her daughter.

Sealskin by Su Bristow retells the Selkie legend and a small community’s response to differences and deals the nuances of personal relationships.

Cursed and Killed by Thomas Enger is the next in the Henning Juul series.

The Faithful Friends and The Ice Swimmer are two more books in the Gunnarstranda series by Kjell Ola Dahl.

So there we have it, lots to look forward to from Orenda books. I know which one’s I need to get, what about you?

 

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