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Book review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

17 Mar

last act Hattie

No one keeps more secrets. No one is better at hiding them.

Eighteen-year-old Hattie Hoffman is a talented actress, loved by everyone in her Minnesotan hometown. When she’s found stabbed to death on the opening night of her school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of the community.

Sheriff Del Goodman, a close friend of Hattie’s dad, vows to find her killer, but the investigation yields more secrets than answers: it turns out Hattie played as many parts offstage as on. Told from three perspectives, Del’s, Hattie’s high school English teacher and Hattie herself, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman tells the story of the Hattie behind the masks, and what happened in that final year of her life…

Wonderfully evocative of its Midwestern setting and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this is a book about manipulation of relationships and identity; about the line between innocence and culpability; about the hope love offers and the tragedies that occur when it spins out of control.

I don’t normally read and review crime books – it’s not a genre I have a huge love for,  but something about the cover of The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman drew me in and when I read the synopsis, I couldn’t resist. I do love an American High School story and the title and synopsis had echos of an old favourite of mine, Twin Peaks and The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. 

There are three very strong character voices in this story; Hattie, Sheriff Del Goodman and Peter, Hattie’s school English Teacher. The chapters move between the murder investigation in the present, set in 2008 and the months leading up to Hattie’s death starting back in August 2007. The moves between characters and backwards and forwards in time give the story good pace and set up many questions, intrigues and mysteries as the novel progresses – I was certainly hooked!

Hattie is a wonderfully complex and well-written character. She’s an amateur actress and has plans to move to New York as soon as she’s finished high school. But for Hattie, acting isn’t just something she does on stage; she sees her whole life as a series of different roles and ‘acts’ accordingly. It’s a clever premise and the psychology of Hattie is one of the most gripping parts of the story-line, throwing up many questions about how we see ourselves and how others see us (or want to see us).

Sheriff Del was my personal favourite character in the book. In many ways he comes across as the ‘typical’ Midwestern small town Sherrif but I liked his shrewdness and his dry humour and I liked that we get to see underneath the tough exterior as we move through the book, particularly through his relationship with Hattie’s parents. His interactions with his young deputy, Jake, are brilliant and their competitiveness made me smile.

Finally, Peter – a city boy transplanted to his wife’s farm as she cares for her dying mother. Peter was the character that I liked least – possibly because he came across to me as very selfish but also because he seemed to think himself above most things! The three different narrative voices make for great reading though as we get different perspectives on events and I enjoyed piecing the time line together and trying to work out who had killed Hattie.

As well as reading this book, I listened to parts of it via the Audible version and I have to say that it is one of the best narrations I’ve listened to this year. Each character has a separate narrator and whilst they jump off the page, hearing them tell their story really increased the impact of it. If you’re a fan of audiobooks I’d certainly recommend giving the audio version a try.

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman is a clever and compelling thriller that will keep you guessing to the final pages!

4/5

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman is out now in Hardback, ebook and audio formats from Quercus.

Find out more about Mindy Mejia and her writing at: http://mindymejia.com/

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Exclusive extract! The Devil in the Snow by Sarah Armstrong

16 Feb

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Sarah Armstrong’s new supernatural thriller, The Devil in the Snow. Sarah lives in Essex with her husband and four children.  Her short stories have been published in Mslexia, Litro and other magazines and anthologies.  Sarah teaches creative writing for the Open University. Her debut novel, The Insect Rosary, was published by Sandstone Press in 2015.

DevilInTheSnow_FRONT‘It was only girls who had to worry about the devil…’

All Shona wants is a simple life with her young son, and to get free of Maynard, the ex who’s still living in the house. When her teenage daughter goes missing, she’s certain Maynard is the culprit. Her mother, Greta, is no help as she’s too obsessed with the devil. Her Uncle Jimmy is fresh out of prison and has never been entirely straight with her. Then there’s the shaman living in her shed. Shona soon discovers that the secrets she buried are as dangerous as the family curse haunting her mother.

Extract

She collected Jude from the school office, thirty-five minutes late on the second day of his first full week. He looked quite happy, swinging himself around in the head teacher’s chair. The head wasn’t quite so contented and made it clear that she was only postponing a pep talk about time management or consistency for five-year-olds because she wanted to go home today. Jude was smiling and pleased to see her and Shona was happy to leave.

Shona carried Jude home on her back for a treat to celebrate not getting told off. She clasped her hands under his bum as a seat but he still held on a little too tightly. By the time they got back her windpipe felt bruised.

She opened the back door and remembered. Dominic was still asleep.

Jude sat by him, as Shona had done, watching him.

‘Who is he?’

‘I’m not sure. He’s called Dominic.’

‘Are we going to keep him?’

‘He’s just going to stay for a little while.’

Jude raised his eyebrows. ‘In our room?’

‘No.’

Jude frowned. ‘Cerys’ room?’

‘No, He’s just here for a couple of hours. We haven’t got any room, have we?’

Cerys had one bedroom while Shona and Jude shared the other and the walk-in office attached to it. The locked, little-used front room downstairs belonged to her husband, Maynard. The attic had a pull down ladder and a lot of dusty rubbish.

‘He’ll go soon,’ she said. She thought again that she should phone someone, but he’d said Meghan. She needed to hear the rest of that and, when he left, that would be her chance lost. She played it back in her mind, trying to convince herself that he had said something else, but it was always Meghan.

She heard the front door close as Cerys let herself in. Dominic stretched and sat up. Shona froze. What convinced Jude wasn’t going to work on her.

‘Mr Cartwright wants to see you last at Parents’ Evening,’ she shouted from the hall. ‘I wasn’t going to bother, but he asked. I wrote it on the sheet.’ Shona could hear the school bag drop to the floor. Cerys stopped in the doorway and stared.

She’d taken off her school tie, untucked the blouse and shaken her long brown hair free. Her skirt was rolled up at the waist, revealing thin legs with thick fist-like knees. Her nose, which seemed to have been growing out of sync with the rest of her face, was settling now, straight and pretty. Cerys still hated it.

‘Hi,’ she said. She wasn’t talking to Shona or Jude.

Shona looked at her. She hadn’t seen Cerys smile like that for years, open and happy. Dominic smiled back and Shona watched Cerys blush deep on her cheeks.

She hadn’t thought this through. She hadn’t thought what a boy like this would do to a fourteen-year-old. He was beautiful in a girlish boy band way, with large eyes and longish hair. How had she not noticed?

‘Dominic, I think I should call your parents now.’

‘There’s no need.’

‘They’ll be wondering where you are.’ Shona could sense Cerys fidgeting behind her.

‘I’m eighteen. I told them I’d be away for a while.’

‘Of course he should stay, Mum,’ said Cerys. ‘We’ve got room.’

‘Do we?’ Any minute now Dominic would start talking about instructions and Meghan, and then Cerys – what would Cerys do? Shona looked at her again. Cerys wouldn’t say a word. She was ready to jump whenever he told her.

Dominic stood and stretched again. ‘I slept on it. I’m going to stay in the shed.’

Shona thought about it, although it wasn’t a question. ‘And your parents?’

‘I’ll let them know.’

Cerys, still blushing, turned and went upstairs. Shona knew she’d be calling her friends, spreading the word. Shona knew this couldn’t really happen; she couldn’t let this boy sleep in the shed. But, to be honest, she didn’t need another fight with Cerys. She would be the one who would cause trouble over it and if it was fine with her… And Jude?

She didn’t think it would be more than a day or two, just long enough for him to tell her about Meghan. And, please God, he’d be gone before Maynard turned up.

——————————————————–

The Devil in the Snow is released today in paperback and ebook formats by Sandstone Press.

Find out more about Sarah and her books at: http://sandstonepress.com/authors/sarah-armstrong

Book review: The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

5 Aug

9780356506852Jack Sparks died while writing this book.

It was no secret that journalist Jack Sparks had been researching the occult for his new book. No stranger to controversy, he’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed.

Then there was that video: forty seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed – until now.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a book that leaps out, grabs you, petrifies you and doesn’t let go until the end! Based on a brilliant premise; that author Jack Sparks died whilst writing the book which has now been released by his brother in tribute to him, the story is in turns funny, outrageous and downright scary. I’m not so good with scary stories and this one was too much for me in places (I had to read it in daylight with people around me!) but neither could I walk away from it – I had to know what happened to Jack.

The book opens with an introduction from Jack’s brother, Alistair. As Alistair introduces Jack and his reasons for releasing Jack’s last book posthumously, the reader begins to form a picture of Jack ,who has found fame first as a journalist but latterly as an author of books that look into aspects of the society that we live in. Jack’s previous literary forays include the brilliantly titled Jack Sparks on Drugs – the ‘research’ for which ended with him entering rehab! This introductory potted biography of Jack is of course just his brother’s telling of Jack’s life and we soon get to know the real Jack Sparks as we begin to read his last book.

I loved that this story is a book inside a book – Jack’s final work is presented in its ‘unedited’ format and is fascinating but what adds an extra layer is the inclusion of emails, social media and reports of conversations with others in Jack’s life. Emails to his editor, comments on his Youtube channel and other social media outlets give a wonderful insight into Jack’s persona and keep the reader guessing about the ‘real’ Jack. Initially at least, I didn’t think Jack was a very likeable character – he’s arrogant, self-obsessed and confrontational – as you can imagine, this goes down a storm on his networks.

With no punches pulled, the story proper starts with a recount by Jack of his witnessing an exorcism in Italy. It’s a pretty gory scene but Jack very much sees it as a piece of theatre and that’s where the trouble starts. Jack’s actions that day trigger a chain of events that ultimately lead to his death. As a frightening video appears on his YouTube channel that he knows he didn’t post, the story steps up a gear and takes turns that I could never have imagined.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a very modern take on our fascination with ghosts and the supernatural, amplified through the use of social media. Fans of films like The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project will love this book – it truly is frightening and Jason Arnopp skillfully keeps the shocks and surprises coming wrapping them all up in an enticing mystery. I’m already looking forward to his next book!

4/5

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Jack Sparks at: http://www.jacksparks.co.uk/

Guest post: Best Friends Forever or Just for Now? By Alison Rattle

19 May

Today I’m delighted to welcome Alison Rattle to One More Page on the latest stop of her V for Violet blog tour. Alison grew up in Liverpool, and now lives in a medieval house in Somerset with her three children, her husband – a carpenter – an extremely naughty Jack Russell and a ghost cat.  She has worked as a fashion designer, a production controller, a painter and decorator, a barmaid, and now owns and runs a travelling vintage tea room. Alison has also published three previous YA books about young Victorian women with Hot Key Books – The Quietness, The Beloved and The Madness. Welcome Alison! 

Alison Rattle photoRemember your best friend from school? Did you promise each other to be friends for always? Is she still your best friend now? Or did you lose touch the minute you walked out of the school gates forever?

Female friendships can be among the most intense relationships of our lives, especially those formed during our school years. Friendships can be made accidentally when you are thrown together by circumstances. I remember Raj who I sat next to in biology classes. We had nothing in common outside of those classes, but for those few hours every week we were the best of mates. She was the clever, good girl of the class and I was the slightly naughty one. But our friendship developed to such a stage that I once persuaded her to let off a stink bomb in the classroom, as we knew for a fact that she would be the one student no teacher would suspect. The plan worked. But to this day I have no idea what Raj did with her life. I don’t even remember her surname. And she probably doesn’t remember the stink bomb.

And then there was Amanda. We moved up to big school at the same time and only lived around the corner from each other. We spent almost every night at each other’s houses and went through puberty together. We compared the sizes of our growing boobs, practised kissing our reflections in a mirror and raided our mum’s supplies of sanitary towels and tampons, fascinated by these objects of womanhood that we didn’t need yet. We started our periods at around the same time and I had never felt closer to anyone. But then Amanda moved schools, her parents choosing to send her to a private school in another town. I never saw her again.

Then along came Pamela. We had seen each other from a distance, across the playground. She was always hanging around with a group of cool girls. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to wear my tie in a tiny knot and roll my skirt up to above my knees. They all had boyfriends too. Older boys who would meet them after school on their motorbikes. They were popular and thrilling and I wanted to be part of their group. When we moved up a year I found myself sitting next to Pamela in our English class. We hit it off immediately. We spent lessons giggling and messing about and thinking of ways to wind up our teachers and skip school. Our cross country runs consisted of Pamela’s boyfriend meeting us around the corner in his car and driving us around the course. He would drop us off twenty minutes later and we would run back into school pretending to be out of breath and always scoring the best times. Outside of school, we rebelled in the only ways we could in our small town. We tried our first illicit drink of alcohol together, snuck into pubs, went to parties, shared clothes and lost our virginities in the same week. We shared all the terrible, dangerous, wonderful things about growing up.

At the heart of my latest book, V for Violet, there is an intense friendship between the main character Violet and her best friend Jackie. All the v for violetway through school they have done everything together. Violet has a photograph album of memories in her head with pictures of all the special times they have shared. From their very first day at school when Violet accidentally wets herself and Jackie gives her her own dry knickers, to the rainy day when they both carve their names under a park slide and promise to be friends forever, Violet experiences the same intense feelings that first love brings. She can’t imagine her life without Jackie. But then school ends and suddenly Jackie has a new life and new friends and Violet is tossed aside, her heart broken.

 I’m happy to say that Pamela never broke my heart. We still keep in touch after all these years and when we do manage to see each other (we live at opposite ends of the country) it’s like no time has passed. We don’t even notice each other’s wrinkles. But I know that’s a rare thing and that I’m very lucky to still have that connection to my youth. Most teenage friendships are, like first love, so intense and all-consuming that they burn themselves out.

Of course, I grew up in the time before Facebook and all those other social media sites, so when you lost touch with someone, you really lost touch. I wonder now if that all makes a difference? Because even if your friendships fade after leaving school you can still keep in touch to a degree by simply finding someone on Facebook. If only I could remember Raj’s surname. I would definitely look her up, if only to reassure myself that the stink bomb incident didn’t completely ruin her life!           

 V for Violet by Alison Rattle is out now in paperback and ebook formats published by Hot Key Books.

Follow Alison at www.alisonrattle.com or on Twitter:@alisonrattle

 

April 2016 new releases – hot picks!

3 Apr

So, March was the month where we all took it in turns to be ill in our little family so I didn’t get as much reading or blogging done as I’d hoped. But with a sunny new month comes a fresh start and I’m very excited about the April new releases. Here are the ten books I’m hoping to read this month.

head over heelsHead Over Heels (Geek Girl Book 5) by Holly Smale (HarperCollins Children’s Books) April 7th

I’m such a big fan of Holly Smale’s Geek Girl Series I’m currently halfway through this book and think it’s the best yet!

“My name is Harriet Manners, and I will always be a geek.”

The fifth book in the bestselling, award-winning GEEK GIRL series.

Harriet Manners knows almost every fact there is.

She knows duck-billed platypuses don’t have stomachs.
She knows that fourteen squirrels were once detained as spies.
She knows that both chess and snakes and ladders were invented in the same country.

And for once, Harriet knows exactly how her life should go. She’s got it ALL planned out. So her friends seem less than happy, Harriet is determined to Make Things Happen!
If only everyone else would stick to the script…

But is following the rules going to break hearts for GEEK GIRL?

Who’s That Girl by Mhairi McFarlane (HarperCollins) 7th Aprilwho's that girl

Another fab read from the author of the bestselling You Had Me At Hello. The hardback has a beautiful pearly cover and this is a story that will make you giggle!

When Edie is caught in a compromising position at her colleagues’ wedding, all the blame falls on her – turns out that personal popularity in the office is not that different from your schooldays. Shamed online and ostracised by everyone she knows, Edie’s forced to take an extended sabbatical – ghostwriting an autobiography for hot new acting talent, Elliot Owen. Easy, right?

Wrong. Banished back to her home town of Nottingham, Edie is not only dealing with a man who probably hasn’t heard the word ‘no’ in a decade, but also suffering an excruciating regression to her teenage years as she moves back in with her widowed father and judgy, layabout sister.

When the world is asking who you are, it’s hard not to question yourself. Who’s that girl? Edie is ready to find out.

passengerPassenger by Alexandra Bracken (Quercus Children’s Books) 7th April. 

I’m so excited about getting my hands on this book having seen the great reviews from the US release. I love books with a travel theme and this one has the added bonus of another favourite theme of mine – time travel!

New York City, present day

In one night, Etta Spencer is wrenched from everything she knows and loves. Thrown into an unfamiliar world, she can be certain of only one thing: she has travelled not just miles, but years from home.

The Atlantic, 1776

Captain Nicholas Carter is tasked with delivering Etta to the dangerous Ironwood family. They are searching for something – a stolen object they believe only she can reclaim. But Nicholas is drawn to his mysterious passenger, and the closer he gets to her, the further he is from freedom.

The Edges of the World

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey
across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by a desperate thief. But as Etta plays deeper into the Ironwoods’ game, treacherous forces threaten to separate her not only from Nicholas, but from her path home – for ever.

The Map of Bones (Fire Sermon Book 2) by Francesca Haig (Harper Voyager) April 7thmap of bones

Having loved The Fire Sermon, I’ve been eagerly anticipating book two in the series! Do check out the blog tour and look out for my stop on 9th April!

The second book in Francesca Haig’s critically acclaimed debut fantasy series.

The ashes of the past cannot hide the truth forever.

The Omega resistance has been brutally attacked, its members dead or in hiding.

The Alpha Council’s plan for permanently containing the Omegas has begun.

But all is not entirely lost: the Council’s seer, The Confessor, is dead, killed by her twin’s sacrifice.

Cass is left haunted by visions of the past, while her brother Zach’s cruelty and obsession pushes her to the edge, and threatens to destroy everything she hopes for.

As the country moves closer to all-out civil war, Cass will learn that to change the future she will need to uncover the past. But nothing can prepare her for what she discovers: a deeply buried secret that raises the stakes higher than ever before.

these days of oursThese Days of Ours by Juliet Ashton (Simon and Schuster) April 7th

I heard Juliet read from this novel at the recent Simon and Schuster Spring Blogger event and I can’t wait to hear more!

A novel about love. Raw important love. Small, beautiful love. And what happens when the person you love cannot be yours… Perfect for fans of Rowan Coleman, Jane Green and David Nicholls.
 
Kate and Becca are cousins and best friends. They have grown up together and shared all the most important milestones in their lives: childhood birthday parties, eighteenth birthdays, and now a wedding day as they each marry their childhood sweethearts, Charlie and Julian.
 
Kate has always loved Charlie – they were meant to be. Then she discovers that life never turns out quite how you expect it to. And love doesn’t always follow the journey it should.
 
But best friends are forever, and true love will find a way, won’t it…?

The Keepers: Ethan by Rae Rivers (HarperImpulse) April 7thEthan Cover

Rae was one of the very first authors I read from HarperImpulse and I’ve been hooked on her Keepers Series ever since. It’s finally Ethan’s turn in the spotlight and it’s a sizzling read!

“Going to Ameera to find Hazel. Stealing the spell … You think you can pull it off?” he asked.
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
Just as she thought he’d kiss her, he reached for her jacket and said, “Then let’s go.”

A portal to another world has opened, unleashing dangerous creatures on earth. A dark witch is out for revenge. The stakes are high, a war inevitable.

One person can stop the madness. Jenna. She’s a Keeper to a powerful hybrid witch but she harbours a secret and if Jenna steps through the portal – seduced by the whispers of her hidden past – she may never return.

Fortunately, she has company… infamous Bennett brother and fiercely protective Keeper, Ethan. Their whip-cracking banter makes them perfect sparring partners in training, but how will they manage when their lives and everything they were born to defend are on the line?

When the battle lines are drawn, will Jenna and Ethan stand side by side – as friends, protectors, lovers … or as traitors?

the obsessionThe Obsession by Nora Roberts (Piatkus) April 14th

I do love Nora Roberts! I actually squealed when the proof of this book was delivered!

Naomi Carson is a survivor. As a child, her family was torn apart by a shocking crime. It could have destroyed her, but Naomi has grown up strong, with a passion for photography that has taken her all around the world.

Now, at last, she has decided to put down roots. The beautiful old house on Point Bluff needs work, but Naomi has new friends in town who are willing to help, including Xander Keaton – gorgeous, infuriating and determined to win her heart.

But as Naomi plans for the future, her past is catching up with her. Someone in town knows her terrifying secret – and won’t let her forget it. As her new home is rocked by violence, Naomi must discover her persecutor’s identity, before it’s too late.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (Borough Press) April 21st eligible

A favourite author taking on one of my favourite books – I can’t wait to see how the two come together!

From the bestselling author of Prep, American Wife and Sisterland comes this brilliant retelling of Austen’s classic set in modern day Cincinnati.

The Bennet sisters have been summoned from New York City.

Liz and Jane are good daughters. They’ve come home to suburban Cincinnati to get their mother to stop feeding their father steak as he recovers from heart surgery, to tidy up the crumbling Tudor-style family home, and to wrench their three sisters from their various states of arrested development.

Once they are under the same roof, old patterns return fast. Soon enough they are being berated for their single status, their only respite the early morning runs they escape on together. For two successful women in their late thirties, it really is too much to bear. That is, until the Lucas family’s BBQ throws them in the way of some eligible single men . . .

Chip Bingley is not only a charming doctor, he’s a reality TV star too. But Chip’s friend, haughty neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, can barely stomach Cincinnati or its inhabitants. Jane is entranced by Chip; Liz, sceptical of Darcy. As Liz is consumed by her father’s mounting medical bills, her wayward sisters and Cousin Willie trying to stick his tongue down her throat, it isn’t only the local chilli that will leave a bad aftertaste.

But where there are hearts that beat and mothers that push, the mysterious course of love will resolve itself in the most entertaining and unlikely of ways. And from the hand of Curtis Sittenfeld, Pride & Prejudice is catapulted into our modern world singing out with hilarity and truth.

steeple streetThe Nurses of Steeple Street by Donna Douglas (Arrow) April 21st

I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed all of Donna’s previous Nightingales nursing series so I’m really looking forward to this book which starts a completely new series. And it’s set in Yorkshire – yay!

Welcome to the district nurses’ home on Steeple Street, where everyone has a secret…

Ambitious young nurse Agnes Sheridan had a promising future ahead of her until a tragic mistake brought all her dreams crashing down and cost her the love and respect of everyone around her. Now she has come to Leeds for a fresh start as a trainee district nurse. But Agnes finds herself facing unexpected challenges as she is assigned to Quarry Hill, one of the city’s most notorious slums. Before she can redeem herself in the eyes of her family, she must first win the trust and respect of her patients and fellow nurses.

Does Agnes have what it takes to stay the distance? Or will the tragedy of her past catch up with her?

The Assistants by Camille Perri (Corgi) April 21stthe assistants

I’m looking forward to discovering a new author with this debut. There’s a fab quote from  Paige Toon on the front cover –  an excellent endorsement!

Behind every successful man is a busy assistant and Tina’s boss is very successful.

But Tina is tired of being overworked and underpaid.
She’s bored of her damp flat and her mounting debts.
Then a blip in the expenses system sends Tina a cheque.
She’s a good person.
But she’s desperate.
This isn’t stealing.
It’s an administrative error.
Right?

What would you do if you thought you’d get away with it?

 


What are you looking forward to reading this month?

Guest post: Enjoy Being Published by Annemarie Neary

22 Mar

Today I’m delighted to welcome debut author Annemarie Neary to One More Page. Annemarie was born in Northern Ireland and educated in Dublin — at Trinity College, where she studied literature, and King’s Inns, where she qualified as a barrister. She has a Masters in Venetian Renaissance art from the Courtauld Insitute, and Venice is something of an obsession.  

Most of her career has been spent working as a lawyer in London. She has lived on Clapham Common for more than 20 years with her husband and three sons. Her novel Siren will be published on 24th March by Hutchinson (Penguin Random House UK) with another novel to follow. Welcome Annemarie!

AN_1808_1266 B&WWhen you sign a book deal, plenty of things can give you angst if you let them. Don’t let them. Something to remember  — while it is still your book, it also belongs to other people too now. These people are on your side – their interests (mostly!) coincide with yours.  Have a strong idea of your own book and what matters to you most about it, but be flexible as well.

Editing

Your editor is not trying to ‘ruin your book’. S/he is trying to help you tell your story in the most cogent way possible. S/he loves your book — and wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. So relax. No good editor will try to rewrite you in their own image, so don’t be too defensive. Stand up for the things you feel strongly about, but do take advice on matters that affect narrative tension and flow.  A lot of people within the company will probably have read the ms by the time it reaches the editing stage, so if there is consensus on a plot glitch, for example, or if they feel a certain section drags, they’re probably right.

Jacket design

The publisher’s perspective is partly dictated by the ‘box’ into which your book has been placed. You were hoping for hearts and flowers, but you’re getting ‘retreating figure on dark street’ and big jagged lettering. What’s happening?  Maybe there’s a mismatch between you and the publisher when it comes to the key characteristics of the book? Not very likely, if you’ve come this far together. Perhaps they are attempting to align your book with that of Author X. Maybe they’re being innovative, going for crossover appeal, taking advice from Retailer Y…  Whatever it is, you need to discuss this. If you hate your cover, it’s worth saying so. You’ll have to live with it for a long time. Your contract will give you room for manoeuvre here, but you also need to take into account the reaction of retailers and key influencers, and recognize that to some extent the jacket design will be dictated by the zeitgeist.

Reviews

Scary. Some people will love your book and others really won’t.  You may choose to read reviews or ignore them. Personally, I think that if someone could be bothered to read your book and give it a considered review then you should be bothered to read it. But don’t obsess. And, whatever you do, don’t reply to a bad review. Ever.

Envy and Upping the Ante

To finish a novel is a big achievement. To get it published is nothing short of miraculous. Don’t beat yourself up that your novel isn’t on the front table at your local Waterstones or that its ranking is a six figure number on Amazon (or that Whatsername, on the other hand….). That way madness lies. Get on with the only thing that really matters — writing the next one.

 A small window

Your book is new for a very short time, so do what you can to help it along during those first few weeks. If book clubs get in touch, try to make time to connect with those readers, whether in person, through an emailed Q&A, or via Skype. Support the reviewers who are reading your book and posting about it by spreading the word about their sites, and retweeting reviews (and not just your own!). With interviews and Q&As, try to give sensible answers that don’t come back to haunt you down the line…  If you’re not already on Twitter, I’d advise you to join. It is a wonderful way of making connections with other writers and linking in to the book world generally.  People are generally very supportive, and it can be a great comfort. Just try not to spend all day on there. Use internet blocking software like Freedom or Self Control if you really start to develop a serious Twitter habit.   After all, the only thing that really matters is that you are writing that next book.

Thanks Annemarie!
SIREN COVER FINALAnnemarie Neary’s psychological thriller, Siren, will be published by Hutchinson on 24th March 2016

HE STOLE HER LIFE. AND NOW SHE WANTS IT BACK.
Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies.
A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth.
Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down.
But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

 

The One Where I Join A Book Club!

11 Mar

I’ve always wanted to be part of a real life book club so when a friend who lives round the corner suggested setting one up with some of the other mums from school, I jumped at the chance. Last night was the first meeting of the book (wine and cake) club and it was a resounding success! There are thirteen of us, so quite a big group and plenty of opportunity for discussion!

As last night was our first get together we hadn’t read a book in preparation but everyone had been tasked to bring one book suggestion with them. We all wrote the name and author on a piece of paper and put them in a hat. We drew them out to get an order and now have at least a year’s worth of reading to look forward to as we’re aiming to meet every 5-6 weeks.

I was really intrigued to see what our reading list would be and spent quite a while trying to decide on a title to throw into the hat! I’m really excited about the final list and of the 13 books on it I’ve only read two already! I’m looking forward to discovering new books and authors as the year goes on and getting to discuss them with friends. As we read the books below I’ll try to summarise the thoughts of the group!

Our reading list is:

  1. The Green Road by Anne Enright
  2. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
  3. The Blue by Lucy Clarke
  4. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
  5. The Stranger by Harlen Coben
  6. Us by David Nicholls
  7. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
  8. A Little Life by Hanya Yanaginera
  9. The Secret History by Donna Tart
  10. The Actual One by Isy Suttie
  11. The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies
  12. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker
  13. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Have you read any of these? Are you part of a book group and how does it work?

Book review: Vigilante by Shelley Harris

8 Mar

vigilanteFor Jenny Pepper, housewife, charity bookshop worker and mum to a stroppy teen, life has become a little boring. She was once an actress, but now spends every day tidying up after other people.

Then, on her way to a party one night, Jenny bravely steps in to save a woman in trouble. Suddenly her world is exciting again – and she’s a hero. As she starts patrolling the streets of her small town, she feels more alive than she has in years. But when a real villain appears, Jenny’s daughter is in danger. Will she tell the police what she knows or go it alone and risk losing everything?

VIGILANTE is about an ordinary woman stuck in a rut – and the extraordinary lengths she’ll go to recapture her life.

What better book to review on International Women’s Day than a novel about a woman and her desire to take back the feeling of power in her life? Jenny is a forty-something housewife with a teenage daughter, a job in a charity bookshop and a comfortable husband and home. What struck me immediately about Jenny was the familiarity of her home life. I don’t have teenage children (yet!) but as she described the sorting, tidying and ‘managing’ of home, school and work I immediately felt an empathy and solidarity with her.

I was surprised by the arc that the book quickly took as Jenny makes an uncomfortable discovery whilst on one of her tidying drives and compounded by feeling that her life is stuck in a rut is spurred to create a new persona for herself. Although a bit of fun at first, Jenny’s ‘costume’ really does give her a different perspective on the world and when she steps in to help a woman who is being attacked one night, she finds a rush that she’d thought long gone.

Vigilante also surprised me by being a much darker book than I expected when I first opened the pages and what starts as an examination of one woman and her desire to feel that she matters, soon moves to become a tense and frightening thriller as an attacker begins to prey on the girls at Jenny’s daughter’s school. I’ll admit to being shocked by some of the events that happen in this book and they are made all the more stark against the familiarity of Jenny’s home life.

The book begs the question ‘How far would you go to protect the people you love?’ and as I went on this journey with Jenny I couldn’t help but put myself in her place, knowing that if an attacker was on the loose I’d do anything to protect my own family and hoping that I’d be as brave as Jenny.

The book sheds a stark spotlight on the issue of women’s safety and how women are depicted and taught to deal with potentially dangerous situations and it shocked me into realising that we are conditioned to be aware and ‘avoid’ certain situations; to defend ourselves, escape and get away; rarely to stand ground and never to fight back.  As you can see I found Vigilante incredibly thought provoking and I’d recommend this as an excellent book for book groups as there are so many aspects of it that could spark really interesting discussions (the book also has excellent reading group notes at the back).

Vigilante takes the accepted definition of ‘hero’ and turns it on it’s head. I loved that Jenny is a woman just like me or you. She’s not super fit, she’s not skinny and she’s not happy with the way she sees herself and other women and girls depicted and treated – so she decides to do something about it and I loved reading about it as she did.

4/5

Vigilante is out now in ebook and paperback formats.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Shelley and her writing at: http://shelleyharris.co.uk/

 

 

Book review: 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

21 Feb

13 minutesI was dead for 13 minutes.

I don’t remember how I ended up in the icy water but I do know this – it wasn’t an accident and I wasn’t suicidal.

They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you’re a teenage girl, it’s hard to tell them apart. My friends love me, I’m sure of it. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to kill me. Does it?

13 Minutes is Sarah Pinborough’s first foray into writing for a young adult market but the book shouldn’t be dismissed by those not in that age bracket – I’m an old(er) adult an I couldn’t put it down! This is a chilling look at schools, the pressures faced by teenagers today, social media and the cult of the queen bee.

It’s an age old story; every school has that girl and group of girls that everyone either wants to be, or wants to be friends with; even those who don’t, know who they are and what they are up to. In this novel, Jenny, Hayley and Natasha are The Barbies; all blonde, beautiful and confident – they rule the school.

Becca used to be friends with two of the Barbies and is now on the outside. She was best friends with Natasha  and 13 minutes is as much an examination of the dynamics of female friendships as it is a chilling psychological thriller. The dark and twisted characteristics of Sarah’s other novels are firmly present in this book as she sets up a complex web of friendship and deception seen through the eyes of several narrators. By the end of the novel I was questioning everything and feeling distinctly shaken – this is a story that you will not put down easily and will linger with you when you do.

The novel opens with Natasha’s near death experience. Technically, she was dead for thirteen minutes, pulled from a frozen river in the early hours of the morning. As Natasha awakens in hospital she has no memory of the events leading to her being found in the river.  The narration of the book from different points of view adds to its complexity. Short narrative chapters are interspersed with extracts from newspapers, text messages, diary extracts and police reports. My mind was working overtime as I tried to work out what was really going on and one of the reasons’s I enjoyed this book so much is that every time I thought I’d worked it out, Sarah turned the tables!

I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s writing for a while now but this is my favourite of her books that I’ve read so far. 13 Minutes is a gripping and tense psychological thriller that will keep you up turning the pages long into the night and then have you sleepless as you try to get to grips with the frightening premise!

5/5

13 Minutes is out now in hardback and ebook formats from Gollancz.

Find out more about Sarah and her writing at: http://www.gollancz.co.uk/sarah-pinborough/

Short story Spotlight: Quick Reads 2016

5 Feb

quick reads

Each year, The Reading Agency releases a set of Quick Reads books. These are short books that cost £1 or less and are designed to encourage people to read more or to get back into reading after a break. I can’t praise these books enough -they are they excellent standalone stories from some of the top authors writing today and are brilliant for trying new authors and squeezing in reading when you’re busy!

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of Quick Reads and the new releases which were launched yesterday are all excellent. There’s something for everyone in the line up and I was delighted to see two books that particularly appeal to me:

baby beachThe first is Baby at the Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond. I’m a big fan of Lucy and her novel, Summer at the Beach Cafe is one of my favourite summer reads ever. Lucy has already released two follow up ebook short stories and I was delighted to see that Baby at the Beach Cafe is not just a quick read but also one of the World Book Night books this year.

I spent the hour before I picked my sons up from school this afternoon happily enjoying this Quick Read and I finished it off this evening – it’s the perfect length to enjoy in an evening or during breaks from work and I loved being back in Cornwall with Evie and her lovely cafe. If you haven’t read any of Lucy’s books yet, this is a perfect introduction to her writing and as Evie prepares to bring a new arrival into the world there’s lots in this book that new and expectant mums will identify with!

The second Quick Read that caught my eye is The Anniversary, a collection of shortanniversary stories edited by another of my favourite authors, Veronica Henry. I’m a big fan of short stories – as a busy mum, I haven’t always had the time or energy to get involved in reading a long novel so I turned to short stories and serialised novels as a way to get my reading fix quickly! This is a lovely collection and features ten fab authors. There’s a story each from ten top authors; Fanny Blake, Elizabeth Buchan, Rowan Coleman, Jenny Colgan, Philippa Gregory, Matt Haig, Veronica Henry, Andy McNab, Richard Madeley, John O’Farrell and The Hairy Bikers!

I really enjoyed this collection and was pleased to see historical fiction short stories from Elizabeth Buchan and Philippa Gregory alongside contemporary fiction. I loved Fanny Blake’s story and found Richard Madeley’s very poignant – I’ve not read any of his books but this has made me want to read more and the final set of recipes from The Hairy Bikers is a great treat – they sound delicious and I might even have a go at making them!

Do check out these and past Quick Reads releases!

You can find out more about Quick Reads on the Reading Agency website or follow @quick_reads on Twitter.