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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.


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.


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

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.


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:



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!


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

Find out more about Sarah and her writing at:

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.

February 2016 new releases – hot picks!

1 Feb

It’s a while since I’ve done a monthly hot picks but now I’m back in the blogging habit I’m going to try to post my top picks from the new releases each month. There are some crackers on my ‘to read’ pile this month. Look out for these lovely books!

SwylerE-BookOfSpeculationUKThe Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (Atlantic Books February 4th )

I read this when it was released as an ebook last year and absolutely loved it. Magic, mystery, love, romance, tarot and a family curse – it will have you hooked! And the lead character is a librarian!

Simon Watson lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a travelling carnival and seldom calls. On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. The book tells the story of two doomed lovers who were part of a travelling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes and sketches. He is fascinated, yet as he reads Simon becomes increasingly unnerved. Why do so many women in his family drown on 24th July? And could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in years, risk the same terrible fate? As 24th July draws ever closer, Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before it’s too late.

The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky (TOR 11th February) tiger and wolf

This is such a beautiful book with its black and gold foil cover – look out for my interview with Adrian next week.

In the bleak northern crown of the world, war is coming

Maniye’s father is the Wolf clan’s chieftain, but she’s an outcast. Her mother was queen of the Tiger and these tribes have been enemies for generations. Maniye also hides a deadly secret. All can shift into their clan’s animal form, but Maniye can take on tiger and wolf shapes. She refuses to disown half her soul, so escapes, rescuing a prisoner of the Wolf clan in the process. The killer Broken Axe is set on their trail, to drag them back for retribution.

Maniye’s father plots to rule the north and controlling his daughter is crucial to his schemes. However, other tribes also prepare for strife. Strangers from the far south appear too, seeking allies in their own conflict. It’s a season for omens as priests foresee danger, and a darkness falling across the land. Some say a great war is coming, overshadowing even Wolf ambitions. A time of testing and broken laws is near, but what spark will set the world ablaze?

the stylistThe Stylist by Rosie Nixon (MIRA 11th February)

Hello! editor Rosie Nixon uses her insider celebrity knowledge to write a sparkling debut novel about fashion, celebrities and the red carpet.

When fashion boutique worker Amber Green is mistakenly offered a job as assistant to infamous, jet-setting ‘stylist to the stars’ Mona Armstrong, she hits the ground running, helping to style some of Hollywood’s hottest (and craziest) starlets.  Over the next few weeks, awards season spins into action with The Golden Globes, BAFTAs and the big one, The Oscars.  Mona is in hot demand and Amber’s life turned upside down as dazzling designer gowns are paraded on red carpets in Los Angeles, London and back.  Romance, red carpet crises, and crushing hangovers on both sides of the Atlantic ensues.  Meanwhile Mona is unravelling faster than a hemline.  What is Mona’s secret?  How will Amber keep her head?  And what the hell will everyone wear? 


When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid (Atom 11th wefltmFebruary)

This book has already won or been shortlisted for several awards – I can’t wait to read it.

Everyone wanted to break me. But stars aren’t broken, they explode. And I was the ultimate supernova.

My name was Jude. They called me Judy. I was beautiful either way.

School was basically a movie set. We were all just playing our parts. The Crew, the Extras, the Movie Stars. No one was ever real . . . especially me. I didn’t fit any category.

All the girls watched me – I could walk so much better than them in heels, and my make-up was alwaysflawless.

All the boys wanted to, well, you know . . . even if they didn’t admit it.

They loved me, they hated me, but they could never ignore me.

I only had eyes for Luke. A red carpet rolled out from my heart towards him and this year, on Valentine’sDay, I was going to walk that carpet and find my mark next to him. It would be like a dream.

But my dream was going to turn into a nightmare.

This is my story.


glittering art of falling apartThe Glittering Art of Falling Apart (Orion, 11th February)

I love the title for this book – sounds like a great time slip novel!

1980s Soho. Parties, love affairs and secrets . . .

1980s Soho is electric. For Eliza, the heady pull of its nightclubs and free-spirited people leads her into the life she has craved – all glamour, late nights and excitement. But it comes at a heavy cost.

Cassie is fascinated by her family’s history and the abandoned Beaufont Hall. Why won’t her mother talk about it? Offered the chance to restore Beaufont to its former glory, Cassie jumps at the opportunity to learn more about her past.

Separated by a generation, but linked by a forgotten diary, these two women have more in common than they know . . .


The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato (Hodder, 11th February)kit

This sounds like a great historical romance read.

Dublin 1702. Irish beauty Kit Kavanagh has everything she could want in life. Newly married, she runs a successful alehouse with her beloved husband Richard. The wars that rage in Europe over the Spanish throne seem a world away.

But everything changes on the night that Richard simply disappears. Finding the Queen’s shilling at the bottom of Richard’s tankard, Kit realizes that her husband has been taken for a soldier.

Kit follows Richard’s trail across the battlefields of Italy in the Duke of Marlborough’s regiment. Living as a man, risking her life in battle, she forms a close bond with her wry and handsome commanding officer Captain Ross.

When she is forced to flee the regiment following a duel, she evades capture by dressing once more as a woman. But the war is not over for Kit. Her beauty catches the eye of the scheming Duke of Ormonde, who recruits her to spy upon the French. In her finery she meets Captain Ross once again, who seems just as drawn to the woman as he was to the soldier.

Torn between Captain Ross and her loyalty to her husband, and under the orders of the English Crown, Kit finds that her life is in more danger now than on the battlefield.

just havent met you yetJust Haven’t Met You Yet by Cate Woods (Quercus, 11th February)

I saw Paige Toon recommending this earlier today – it sounds like a great debut from Cate Woods.

Percy James has everything a girl could want: a comfy flat, a steady relationship and a truly lovely group of friends. Then she is approached by Eros Tech. Eros is ‘the future of love’ – an agency that brings together soulmates using phone data. Percy has been identified as a match for one of Eros’s super wealthy clients. The only problem is she already has a boyfriend . . . but what if this is *destiny*? Would you – could you – pass up a chance to meet your one true love?


A Summer at Sea by Katie Fforde (Century, 11th February)A summer at sea

I’m a big fan of Katie’s books and this is my favourite cover of hers yet!

Emily is happy with her life just as it is.

She has a career as a midwife that she loves . She enjoys living on her own as a single woman. But she’s also feels it’s time for a change and a spot of some sea air.

So when her best friend Rebecca asks whether she’d like to spend the summer cooking on a ‘puffer’ boat just off the Scottish coast, she jumps at the chance.

But she barely has time to get to grips with the galley before she finds herself with a lot on her plate.

Rebecca is heavily pregnant and is thrilled to have her friend on board doing most of the work. Then there’s Emily’s competitive and jealous kitchen assistant who thinks she should be head-cook, not Emily.

And there’s Alasdair, the handsome local doctor who Emily is desperately trying not to notice.

Because if she falls in love with him, as he appears to be falling for her, will she ever want her old life back again?

13 minutes13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz, 18 February)

I’ve already read the first couple of chapters of this and I don’t want to stop – gripping stuff!

I 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?

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter by Dinah Jefferies (Viking, 25th February)silk merchant

Number one best-selling author Dinah Jefferies is back with a new novel set in Vietnam and it sounds brilliant!

1952, French Indochina. Since her mother’s death, eighteen-year-old half-French, half-Vietnamese Nicole has been living in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Sylvie. When Sylvie is handed control of the family silk business, Nicole is given an abandoned silk shop in the Vietnamese quarter of Hanoi. But the area is teeming with militant rebels who want to end French rule, by any means possible. For the first time, Nicole is awakened to the corruption of colonial rule – and her own family’s involvement shocks her to the core…

Tran, a notorious Vietnamese insurgent, seems to offer the perfect escape from her troubles, while Mark, a charming American trader, is the man she’s always dreamed of. But who can she trust in this world where no one is what they seem?

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter is a captivating tale of dark secrets, sisterly rivalry and love against the odds, enchantingly set in colonial era Vietnam.

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

Book Club Picks 2016

7 Jan

The Richard and Judy Bookclub Reads for Spring were announced last week as were Waterstones eight 2016 book club reads. I’ve read five of the books listed and have a couple of the others on my shelves so I thought I’d do a round up of my recommendations from the lists!

the versions of usThe Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

This is the only book to appear on both lists and if you read my review last week you’ll know that I completely agree – I thought this book was brilliant and can’t recommend it highly enough!

What if you had said yes . . . ?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Luptonquality of silence paperback

I read this book when it came out in hardback and was absolutely gripped by it – it’s a tense, thrilling read that pitches a mother and daughter against the elements.

The cold was shocking in its violence. She’d thought the colour of cold was white, like snow, or blue perhaps, like on a cold tap, but cold like this was conceived in a place without daylight and was black, the absence of all light and colour.

Somewhere out there was Matt.

She yelled his name into the dark as loudly as she could. But although her mouth formed the shapes to make the sound and her lungs forced his name into a scream, the sound was obliterated by the wind so that she didn’t know if she’d made any sound at all.

paris bookshop newThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

A beautiful novel that examines the power of books and reading to change lives. I loved Jean Perdu’s ‘literary apothecary’ and wished I could pay it a visit! With a quirky cast and a love story with a difference, this is a must read for book lovers.

On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.


Crooked Heart by Lissa Evanscrooked

An excellent, funny and poignant novel with characters who will stay in your heart long after you close the pages. Read my interview with Lissa to find out more!

When Noel Bostock – aged ten, no family – is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he winds up in St Albans with Vera Sedge – thiry-six, drowning in debts. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.

The war’s thrown up all manner of new opportunities but what Vee needs is a cool head and the ability to make a plan. On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.

Together they cook up an idea. But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all . . .

sophie starkThe Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

A clever book that gives tantalising glimpses of a lead character that we never actually meet! One of my favourite books of 2015. I can’t wait for more people to read this so that I can discuss it with them!

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is the story of an enigmatic film director, told by the six people who loved her most. Brilliant, infuriating, all-seeing and unknowable, Sophie Stark makes films said to be ‘more like life than life itself’. But her genius comes at a terrible cost: to her husband, to the brother she left behind, and to the actress she can’t quite forget.

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winmanmarvellous ways

I treated myself to the gorgeous hardback of this but haven’t got round to reading it yet – hopefully soon!

Marvellous Ways is eighty-nine years old and has lived alone in a remote Cornish creek for nearly all her life. Lately she’s taken to spending her days sitting on a mooring stone by the river with a telescope. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it.

Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the Second World War. When his promise to fulfil a dying man’s last wish sees him wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit, the old woman comes to his aid.

Have you read any of the other books on the lists? Which would you recommend?

Review round up 2015

20 Dec

As 2015 comes to a close, I’ve been trying to catch up on books I read but didn’t get round to reviewing. Here are some mini reviews of the ones that got away earlier in the year!

dandelion yearsThe Dandelion Years by Erica James

The Dandelion Years is the first of Erica James’ books that I’ve read. I was drawn to this book initially by the references to Bletchly Park. The code breakers of World War Two have always held a fascination for me. Coupled with the fact that this is a book where the lead character is a book restorer, I had to know more!

This is a lovely story of family, history and love and I found it a gently compelling read. Starting in the present we meet Saskia and her unconventional housemates. This is three men and a little lady grown up as Saskia lives with her dad and two grandfathers which is a set up that I’ve never come across before but made for a refreshingly different family group in the book.

Saskia is given a book to restore and finds a manuscript hidden inside. Titled The Dandelion Years, the handwritten pages tell a tale of wartime love and Saskia is soon hooked. While I enjoyed the main story it was the chapters that took me back in time that I enjoyed most and caught my imagination and curiosity.

James sets a number of mysteries out for the reader and as the story progressed I enjoyed beginning to piece the picture together but I still couldn’t predict what had happened to the Katsura that the historical element of the book focussed icon. With romance, history and an intriguing mystery, this is a lovely novel about seizing the moment and moving forward despite heartbreak loss and uncertainty.

the sistersThe Sisters by Claire Douglas

The story focuses on Abi – a grieving twin whose identical sister has recently died. The questions and cliffhangers come thick and fast starting with a high impact opening chapter and its soon clear that Abi has a lot to deal with. I loved the way that Claire drip fed details about what happened to Abi’s twin Lucy to us and I thought she struck a tantalisingly perfect balance between moving the story forward and deepening the mysteries in it.

Just about everyone in the story feels unreliable as narrators and this was one of the key reasons I enjoyed this book so much – just when I thought I’d worked out who was manipulating who a new detail or event would make me question everything again.

Abi is a complex character and her thought processes and motivations equally complex against a background of grief, self blame and concerns for her mental health. Seemingly minor and plausible events like the misplacement of a letter or medication escalate into more sinister occurrences and throughout as a reader I was as unsure as Abi as to who was responsible. This lent an uncertain quality to the story and made it all the more gripping.

Abi moves in with Bea And her brother Ben and this is where the story really takes off. The relationships between the siblings is intriguing and adds further to the drama and mystery of the book. A fab psychological thriller –  I thoroughly enjoyed Claire Douglas’s gripping debut.

The New Woman by Charity Norman the new woman

Charity Norman has written some of my favourite books of recent years and I was delighted to be chosen to give out one of her books for World Book Night earlier in the year.  I can always rely on Charity to provide a thought-provoking read that will make me look at an issue from many different angles and The New Woman is no exception.

Luke Livingstone is a highly respected solicitor; a family man with a lovely home, wife, children and grandchildren. But Luke has been living with a huge secret; a secret that defines the very core of who he is and as the novel opens, it is a secret that has driven him to take a heartbreaking decision. I have little experience of transgender issues personally but with her characteristic sensitivity, Charity shines a light on what it’s like to feel you have to hide your true identity from those you love.

Charity captures the nuances and intricacies of family life so well. Seeing Kate, Elish and Luke’s perspectives was fascinating and made me think about my own parents and what they really think about my choices as opposed to what they’d like me to think they think! Norman cleverly illustrates the point that as much as we may think we know what our nearest and dearest are thinking only that person can ever really know what’s going on in their heads. For Luke this is a huge identity issue but I could see echoes of the theme throughout the book as key characters were forced in turn to address their own hidden secrets.

I hope that transgender children today would find more acceptance than Luke did when he was young; the story made me concerned and sad as I read but ultimately was a tale of strength and transformation for all.

the ice twinsThe Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

I read more psychological thrillers in 2015 than I ever had before and The Ice Twins is one that stands out as being particularly and chillingly memorable. Angus and Sarah Moorcraft are trying to piece their lives back together following the tragic death of their daughter Lydia. What is already a devastating subject is made more intense by the fact that Lydia has an identical twin, Kirstie. Everything Kirstie does is a reminder of Lydia and when Kirstie begins to act strangely, Sarah and Angus don’t know how to react.

This is a novel of complex psychology, isolation, the unique relationship between twins and the effects of devastating grief on a family. As Angus, Sarah and Kirstie decide to move to a remote and tiny Scottish Island to a house that Angus inherited from his grandmother, they add an extra dimension to their problems.

But it is Kirstie’s insistence that a mistake has been made and that she is actually Lydia that gives this book such a chilling and memorable edge. I was on the edge of my seat as I read The Ice Twins and the imagery of the isolating Scottish landscape added wonderfully to the otherworldly and spooky events of the novel. With the mystery of what really happened to the twins tantalisingly waiting to be revealed, this is a gripping page turner and will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.



Extract and Giveaway! The Sisters by Claire Douglas

14 Aug

214B3702Today is the final stop on Claire Douglas’s blog tour for her debut novel, The Sisters and I’m delighted to be able to share an extract from the book with you.

Claire’s publisher, Harper Collins has also very generously given me five copies of the book to give away to lucky readers! The Sisters is an absolute treat to read and had me staying up way past my bedtime to keep turning the pages trying to work out who I could believe!

Claire has worked as a journalist for fifteen years writing features for women’s magazines and national newspapers, but she’s dreamed of being a novelist since the age of seven. She finally got her wish after winning the Marie Claire Debut Novel Award in 2013, with her first Novel, The Sisters. She lives in Bath with her husband and two children.  


I see her everywhere.

She’s in the window of the Italian restaurant on the corner of my street. She has a glass of wine in her hand, something sparkly like Prosecco, and her head is thrown back in laughter, her blonde bob cupping her heart-shaped face, her emerald eyes crinkling.

She’s trying to cross the road, chewing her bottom lip in concentration as she waits patiently for a pause in the traffic, her trusty brown satchel swinging from the crook of her arm.

She’s running for a bus in black sandals and skinny jeans, wire-framed glasses pushed back on to bedhead hair.

And each time I see her I begin to rush towards her, arm automatically rising to attract her attention. Because in that fraction of a second I forget everything. In that small sliver of time she’s still alive. And then the memory washes over me in a tsunami of emotion so I’m engulfed by it. The realization that it’s not her, that it can never be her.

Lucy is everywhere and she is nowhere. That’s the reality of it.

I will never see her again.


Today, a bustling Friday early evening, she’s standing outside Bath Spa train station handing out flyers.

I catch sight of her as I’m sipping my cappuccino in the café opposite, and even through the rain-spattered window the resemblance to Lucy makes me do a double take. The same petite frame swamped in a scarlet raincoat, pale shoulder-length hair and the too-large mouth that always gave the impression of jollity even when she was anything but happy. She’s holding a spotty umbrella to protect herself from another impromptu spring shower and her smile never fades, not even when she’s ignored by busy shoppers and hostile commuters, or when a passing bendy-bus sends a mini tidal wave in her direction, splashing her bare legs and her dainty leopard-print pumps.

My stomach tightens when a phalanx of businessmen in suits obscure my view for a few long seconds before they move, as one entity, into the train station. The relief is palpable when I see she hasn’t been washed away by the throng but is still standing in the exact same spot, proffering her leaflets to disinterested passers-by. She’s rummaging in an oversized velvet bag while trying to balance the handle of her umbrella in the nook of her arm and I can tell by the hint of weariness behind her cheery smile that it won’t be long before she calls it a day.

I can’t let her go. Gulping back the rest of my coffee and burning the roof of my mouth in the process, I’m out the door and into the rain while shouldering on my parka. I zip it up hurriedly, pull the hood over my hair to guard against the inevitable frizziness and cross the road. As I edge closer I can see there is only a slight resemblance to my sister. This woman’s hair is more auburn than blonde, her eyes a clear Acacia honey, her nose a small upturned ski-slope with a smattering of freckles. And she looks older too, maybe early thirties. But she’s as beautiful as Lucy.

‘Hello,’ she smiles, and I realize I’m standing right next to her and that I’m staring. But she doesn’t look perturbed. She must be used to people gawping at her. If anything, she looks relieved that someone has bothered to stop.

‘Hi,’ I manage as she hands me the leaflet, limp from the rain. I accept it and my eyes scan it quickly. I take in the bright print, the words ‘Bear Flat Artists’ and ‘Open Studio’ and raise my eyes at her questioningly.

‘I’m an artist,’ she explains. By the two red spots that appear at the apples of her cheeks I can tell she’s new to this, that she’s not qualified yet to be calling herself an artist and that she’s probably a mature student. She tells me she has a studio in her house and she’s opening it up to the public as part of the Bear Flat Artists weekend. ‘I make and sell jewellery, but there will be others showing their paintings, or photographs. If you’re interested in coming along then you’re most welcome.’

Now that I’m closer to her I can see she is wearing two different types of coloured earrings in her ears and I wonder if she’s done it on purpose, or if she absentmindedly put them on this morning without noticing that they don’t match. I admire that about her, Lucy would have too. Lucy was the type of person who didn’t care if her lipstick was a different shade from her top or her bag matched her shoes. If she saw something she liked she wore it regardless.

She notices me assessing her earlobes. ‘I made them myself,’ she says, fingering the left one, the yellow one, delicate and daisy-shaped, self-consciously. ‘I’m Beatrice, by the way.’

‘I’m Abi. Abi Cavendish.’ I wait for a reaction. It’s almost imperceptible but I’m sure I see a flash of recognition in her eyes at the mention of my name, which I know isn’t down to reading my by-line. Then I tell myself I’m being paranoid; it’s still something I’m working on with my psychologist, Janice. Even if Beatrice had read the newspaper reports or watched any of the news coverage about Lucy at the time, she wouldn’t necessarily remember, it was nearly eighteen months ago. Another story, another girl. I should know, I used to write about such things on a daily basis. Now I’m on the other side. I am the news.

Beatrice smiles and I try to push thoughts of my sister from my mind as I turn the leaflet over, pretending to consider such an event while the rain hammers on to Beatrice’s umbrella and on to the back of my coat with a rhythmic thud thud.

‘Sorry it’s so soggy. Not a good idea to be dishing out flyers in the rain, is it?’ She doesn’t wait for me to answer. ‘You don’t have to buy anything, you can come along and browse, bring some friends.’ Her voice is silky, as sunny as her smile. She has a hint of an accent that I can’t quite place. Somewhere up north, maybe Scottish.

I’ve never been very good at placing accents.

‘I’m fairly new to Bath so I don’t know many people.’ The words pop out of my mouth before I’ve even considered saying them.

‘Well, now you know me,’ she says kindly. ‘Come along, I can introduce you to some new people. They’re an interesting bunch.’

She leans closer to me in a conspiratorial whisper, ‘And if nothing else it’s a great way to have a nose at other people’s houses.’ She laughs.

Her laugh is high and tinkly. It’s exactly like Lucy’s and I’m sold.



sisters coverOne lied. One died.

When one sister dies, the other must go to desperate lengths to survive

After a tragic accident, still haunted by her twin sister’s death, Abi is making a fresh start in Bath. But when she meets siblings Bea and Ben, she is quickly drawn into their privileged and unsettling circle.

When one sister lies, she must protect her secret at all costs

As Abi tries to keep up with the demands of her fickle friends, strange things start to happen – precious letters go missing and threatening messages are left in her room. Is this the work of the beautiful and capricious Bea? Or is Abi willing to go to any lengths to get attention?

When the truth outs, will either sister survive?

To enter this giveaway just leave a comment in the box below and I’ll draw five winners using after the closing date.

This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Sunday 23rd August.

Good luck!

Book review: Redemption Road by Lisa Ballantyne

28 Jul

redemption roadThe crash is the unravelling of Margaret Holloway. Trapped inside a car about to explode, she is rescued by a scarred stranger who then disappears. Margaret remembers little, but she’s spent her life remembering little – her childhood is full of holes and forgotten memories. Now she has a burning desire to discover who she is and why her life has been shrouded in secrets. What really happened to her when she was a child? Could it have anything to do with the mysterious man who saved her life?

Redemption Road by Lisa Ballantyne kept me hooked from its explosive opening chapter right to the end. This is the story of Margaret Holloway who is rescued by a stranger from her car following a motor way pile up. As you would imagine, her near death experience has a profound affect on Margaret and she is keen to know more about the mysterious scarred man who saved her life. But the crash also throws up frightening and confusing memories and feelings for Margaret forcing her to confront her past and childhood events that had been blocked from memory.

I thought Margaret’s reaction to the crash was realistically written and my sympathies for her grew stronger as I learned more about her job as a teacher, her role in helping struggling students and her relationships with her husband and children. Ballantyne paints a picture of a strong, capable and successful woman and I found it fascinating, emotional and sometimes painful to read as Margaret tried to come to terms with what has happened to her.

The novel is mainly narrated from three key perspectives and moves easily between the past and the present to tell Margaret’s story. In addition to Margaret we hear from Angus Campbell, Big George and Kathleen Henderson and I enjoyed the perspectives that the different characters bought to the sotry. This isn’t a novel of big shocking reveals but it subtly builds and as a reader I enjoyed the way that Ballantyne delved into the character of her narrators and kept me guessing about what would happen next. Angus has the honour of being one of the least likeable characters I’ve encountered in a while – he really did make my skin crawl! My feelings for Big George were completely mixed and Ballantyne skilfully takes the reader on a journey of discovery with George as he finds himself in an increasingly complicated and hopeless situation.

George’s relationship with his daughter is heartbreaking yet beautiful to read and I thought Ballantyne made the point well that what the outside world sees or can be led to see by the press is often very different to the situation as it really is. This would make a great novel for discussion with a book group as I imagine opinion could be quite divided on the events of the story and their consequences.

The book features some excellent ‘extras’ including an interview with Lisa and an extract from her previous novel. The theme of redemption is strong throughout the book and I thought the ending particularly poignant and well done. Ballantyne writes about difficult issues with sensitivity and emotion whilst keeping the reader engrossed with a well paced story. I enjoyed this family drama and the different perspectives given and I’m now keen to read Lisa’s debut, The Guilty One.


Redemption Road is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

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

Find out more about Lisa and her writing at: