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Book review: Not the Only Sky by Alyssa Warren

27 Apr

not only the sky‘Wait. Patient. Now. Not long. Good girl. Wait here. Brave girl. Think of it as a vacation.’ ‘Back in a jiffy.’

Big Bend, population 500, South Dakota, 1988. Eight-year-old Tiny Mite lives in a ramshackle farmhouse next to her grandfather’s crashed airplane and the pine tree where she trains as a spy. Goddamn is her favourite word. Taking pictures with her camera made of aluminium foil and a tin can is her new big thing. She lives with Bee, her apocalypse-obsessed grandmother and Luvie, her hard-drinking great-aunt. And then there’s her mother Velvet, beautiful and desperate, still in love with her high school boyfriend who she left to have a brief fling with Tiny Mite’s absent father.

One night, Tiny Mite hears a cry, but it’s not what she imagines. And nothing will ever be the same. Six years later, Clea won’t let anyone call her Tiny Mite anymore. Luvie has fallen in love with a pastor, and Bee’s health is failing. Velvet is gone, and nobody except Bee, who can’t bring herself to turn her back on her daughter, will even mention her name.

Containing a wonderfully engaging and eccentric cast of characters who live long in the memory, this is the story of mothers and daughters, people bound by blood and geography, moments captured and lifetimes lost, and things never quite turning out as expected.

Not the Only Sky was a wonderful surprise to read; I’d expected a quirky read, something a little different, but what I found was not just quirky, but beautiful and heartfelt with characters that jumped off the page and will stay with me. Together with the thread of mystery that runs through the story, this all added up to a really excellent read.

Starting in 1988 and told in three parts over a decade, Not the Only Sky is the story of Tiny Mite/Clea and her family. In the first part of the novel we meet Tiny Mite and her family.  Tiny lives with her Mum, Velvet, her grandmother Bee and Her great aunt Luvvie in an old farmhouse deep in rural South Dakota. The town she lives in is small in a huge state and Big Bend is very much a forgotten corner of the world with run down shops, a dwindling population and a fair amount of poverty.

I love stories like this that tell of small town life and are populated by quirky but usually lovable and strong female characters. Tiny and the women that surround her certainly fit the bill; all are eccentric in different ways, slightly broken but still fighting and finding a way forward. Eight year old Tiny’s inner dialogue is just brilliant – I could have read her thoughts all day and in the tradition of Scout Finch and Swan Lake, Tiny has a a wonderfully unique take on the world.

So too does Tiny’s grandma Bee; deeply religious with a basement full of food stored for the apocalypse and a conspiracy theory for everything, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her character. Bee in particular has a complex line to tread, trying to keep her family together despite their individual difficulties. Not the Only Sky is very much a novel about the complexities of human relationships, particularly those of mothers and daughters and Alyssa Warren does a brilliant job of showing that there is often disparity between our thoughts and feelings and our actions and this gave me a lot of empathy for all of the charcters.

The story pivots around a day in 1988 that brings about huge change in the life of the family and is constructed in a very clever way so as to keep the reader guessing what happened to Tiny and Velvet that day. As the narrative jumps to 1994 then 1998 and moves between Velvet’s and Tiny’s (now known as Clea) stories, I was gripped!

I’m a big fan of books that follow a character through a number of years of their lives and I loved reading as Clea grew up and wishing wholeheartedly for a good outcome for her. With a timeless mix of old and new, heartbreak and hope, family ties and new beginnings, wise words and eccentric philosophies, Not the Only Sky is an excellent debut from Alyssa Warren and I’m very pleased to have discovered a wonderful new author.

5/5

Not the Only Sky is released today in paperback and ebook formats by Black and White Publishing.

Find out more about Alyssa Warren and her writing at: http://www.alyssa-warren.com/book/

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

Giveaway! Two copies of Skullsworn by Brian Staveley to be won!

20 Apr

I’m spoiling you this week with a second giveaway! I have two beautiful hardback copies of Skullsworn by Brian Staveley to give away.

skull cover

For one apprentice assassin, the clock is ticking . . . Skullsworn follows Pyrre, a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death, who goes back to the city of her birth to pass the final test of her religious order: killing ten people in a month. The trouble is, the test stipulates that among the ten offerings, one must be a person that she loves . . . 

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the description skullsworn. It doesn’t capture the beauty of her devotion to Ananshael, God of Death. She is not an assassin, but a priestess. Or she will be, if she can pass her final trial. The problem isn’t killing: Pyrre has spent her life training to kill where needful. The problem is love. To pass the trial, a skullsworn must offer their partner to Ananshael – but Pyrre has never been in love, and time is short. 

Pyrre throws herself into the other aspects of her trial – until she’s arrested by the brilliant, enigmatic Commander Ruc Lan Lac. He might be Pyrre’s last chance at love, so she must stay close – even as he investigates the murders she’s committing. It’s a dangerous dance, trying to fall for a man whilst worshipping a god he loathes. If she succeeds, she must betray her only love. And if she fails, a violent death awaits them both . . .

To enter this giveaway,  just leave comment in the box below or re-Tweet one of my tweets about this giveaway or like one of my posts about this giveaway on my Instagram page.

I’ll pick two winners using Random.org after the closing date.

This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Wednesday 26th April. Good Luck!

Guest post: Tears, the best editor by Brian Staveley

20 Apr

I’m delighted to welcome Brian Staveley to One More Page today to celebrate the release of his new fantasy novel, Skullsworn; a standalone novel, set in the world of Staveley’s critically acclaimed Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy.

Brian  has taught literature, philosophy, history, and religion before writing epic fantasy. He lives on a steep dirt road in the mountains of southern Vermont, where he divides his time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order. Welcome Brian!

Staveley 3_4I try, as a general rule, not to catalogue those aspects of my personality that embarrass me, but if I were to attempt such a catalogue, one item that would definitely make the list is this: I’m a movie crier.

Fine, you say. Everyone cries during movies. Obviously, I haven’t made clear the extent of the issue. I’m not talking about movies like Million Dollar Baby or Saving Private Ryan (though I cry during those, too). I will cry during X-Men. I will cry during a trailer for X-Men. If a television commercial is sufficiently moving—like something for life insurance or Subaru—I might cry during that, too.

Now, fortunately, we’re not talking about gasping, bawling, unable-to-breathe sobbing. Most people don’t even know I’m crying because I can be quite sneaky about it. I get a little choked up. There might be a silent tear or two. In a darkened movie theater it almost always goes unnoticed, though one needs to be discreet at Super Bowl parties.

Interestingly, the crying doesn’t always correspond to the sad moments. In fact, the crying often corresponds to the goosebumps I get during training montages, or when some character does something cool, egged on by an excellent sound track. Think: Han Solo’s surprise return at the end of A New Hope. This, for me, is an even more effective tear-jerker than the sad moments, like when Wicket the ewok is burned alive on a pyre. Wait, what? That didn’t happen? Well, good. I like Wicket.

Anyway, as it turns out, this crying tendency of mine has actually come to serve a vital role in my writing life. I cry when reading just as much as I do when watching movies. The book doesn’t necessarily have to be good, but it needs to create a certain mood. When I started writing fantasy, I spent a fair amount of time analyzing my own reactions to books. Whenever I put a book down for the night, I’d take a few minutes and try to understand why I chose to stop reading at that point, rather than earlier or later. When I decided to forge on into another chapter, I’d ask myself what, specifically, was making me want to keep reading. And when a book made me tear up, I’d dig into that, too. I wanted to understand the technical skull coverunderpinnings to my emotional reactions.

My own books don’t make me cry—I’m too close to them, too mired in all the various drafts and unexplored possibilities. There are, however, two possibilities when I reread a scene that I’ve written: either I feel not all that much, or I feel a cold skin-prickle that I recognize as the precursor to what, if I were reading someone else’s book, might end up as tears. When I’m editing, I know the scenes that should elicit the skin-prickle. If they fail to do that, I rewrite them from the ground up. It’s not that I expect my readers to share all of my emotional reactions. Nor do I think every scene needs to be a tear-jerker. And yet it’s useful, in a job that can get so intellectual, to have a visceral barometer of a scene’s success, even if it’s just a personal one. And if I can get someone else to sob all over the book during their lunch hour, so much the better. I won’t need to feel quite so strange about my own silent weeping.

Skullsworn is published by Tor UK in hardback, ebook and audio formats on 20 April.

Find out more about Brian and his writing at: http://brianstaveley.com/index/

You can follow Brian on Twitter @Brian Staveley.

Stop by again later today for a chance to win a copy of Skullsworn.

Book review: Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses by Carole Matthews

18 Apr

paper hearts cover

Christie Chapman is a single working mother who spends her days commuting to her secretarial job in London and looking after her teenage son, Finn.

It can be tough just getting through the day but Christie has always found comfort in her love of crafting and any spare time she has is spent in her parents’ summerhouse working on her beautiful creations. From intricately designed birthday cards to personalised gifts, Christie’s flair for the handmade knows no bounds and it’s not long before opportunity comes knocking. 

All of a sudden Christie sees a different future for her and Finn – one full of hope and possibility, and if the handsome Max Alexander is to be believed, one full of love too. It’s all there for the taking.
And then, all of sudden, Christie’s world is turned upside down.

Christie knows that something has to give, but what will she choose? Will she give up her dreams and the chance of real love? What price will she pay for doing the right thing? Can Christie find her happy ending in . . . Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I’ve read a number of Carole Matthews’ books over the years and they are always lovely, heartwarming reads but Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses is, for me, Carole’s best book yet. It has all the characteristics that I love in a good story; realistic characters that I could root for, a leading lady that I could identify with, lovely family relationships, emotional ups and downs and of course, a little romance. Not to mention the crafting – I loved learning about paper craft from Christie’s story and crafting fans will definitely enjoy this book.

Christie endeared herself to me straight away and I liked her more the more I read. She’s a single mum to fifteen year old Finn and the pair have a very close bond which was a joy to read. I loved that Christie is around the same age as me and as she did the dreaded commute into London each day, there was a lot that I could identify with. Christie has a great sense of humour as she tries to keep on top of holding down a full time job at a city law firm and caring for Finn who has been having some health problems and I admired her determination. Carole has based the character on her real life friend ‘Christine’ and her love and admiration for her and her son shines through on the pages.

Christie’s support network is wonderful and she has a brilliant relationship with her parents who live nearby. It was so lovely to read a story with such a positive emphasis on family – I wanted to move in with Christie’s Mum and Dad as I read! As Christie gets the opportunity to take her craft hobby to the next level by working with an American company, her family and friends rally round to support her – her law firm boss Robyn is another brilliantly written character who got a big thumbs up from me.

But just as things begin to look up, there’s more bad news on the way and this book certainly played with my emotions – it was only too easy to put myself in Christie’s shoes and to think how I’d feel if one of my sons was in Finn’s situation. I was on the edge of my seat rooting for both Finn and Christie to have the happy ending they deserved.

In addition to the family drama, Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses has a wonderful romantic thread to it too as Christie meets handsome American CEO Max and her fellow commuter Henry and they both show an interest in her. I loved Christie for staying true to herself as both men vied for her attention and Carole conjures up some seriously romantic ‘dates’ in very glamorous locations whilst keeping the reader guessing!

Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses is a fab and inspiring read about weathering the many ups and downs that life can throw at us – a lovely uplifting read that left me with a smile on my face.

5/5

Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses is out now in paperback, ebook and audio formats from Sphere.

Check out Carole’s fab website for more information on her books and the background to this story: http://www.carolematthews.com/

Please do check out the other stops on the blog tour and stop by here again later today for the chance to win a copy of this lovely book!

Book review: All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

12 Apr

all grown upAndrea is a single, childless 39-year-old woman who tries to navigate family, sexuality, friendships and a career she never wanted, but battles with thoughts and desires that few people would want to face up to.

Told in gut-wrenchingly honest language that shimmers with rage and intimacy, All Grown Up poses such questions as:
- What if I don’t want to hold your baby?
- Can I date you without ever hearing about your divorce?
- What can I demand of my mother now that I am an adult?
- Is therapy pointless?
- At what point does drinking a lot become a drinking problem?
- Why does everyone keep asking me why I am not married?

Powerfully intelligent and wickedly funny, All Grown Up delves into the psyche of a flawed but mesmerising character. Readers will recognise themselves in Jami Attenberg’s truthful account of what it means to be a 21st century woman, though they might not always want to admit it.

All Grown Up is an interesting and thought provoking read. For me, it wasn’t the most comfortable of reads at times but I did enjoy it. The novel tells the story of Andrea – a complex character if ever there was one. I felt like I’d been through the wringer after spending time in Andrea’s head and, a week after finishing reading, I’m still not sure what my feelings are for her! The readers reaction to Andrea is a key premise of the book. There are scenes that might shock, her language and narration of events is no holds barred blunt and she presents a version of the truth that begs for discussion and analysis.

My feelings for Angela veered from admiration to dislike and from empathy to pity. Andrea is happy on her own but through her narrative in All Grown Up  shows how she feels that society conspires to tell her that she’s taken a wrong path, that her choices aren’t right and that she should feel bad about them. For a large part of the story, Andrea does feel bad; about her relationships, her art, her family and friends. Even her apartment conspires against her! 

My initial reaction to Andrea was to be sympathetic – I could understand the pressures and frustrations that come with parents and friends thinking that you should be doing particular things with your life at certain points and I have strong feelings that a woman should be able to be single and childless if she wants. I found myself getting a little annoyed with Andrea because she didn’t seem to know what she wanted really and her choices seemed to be making her so unhappy.

The story is put together in chapters that jump around in time to slowly reveal the big picture of Andrea and those close to her. Two threads in this picture really interested me; Andrea’s relationship with her Mother and with her friend Imogen. Andrea’s mum was actually my favourite character – I thought she was strong, independent and willing to stand by her choices and fight for her family. 

But it was the relationship between Andrea and Imogen that intrigued me most. Not so long ago, I was on the Imogen side of this relationship having just had my first son and trying very hard to maintain a friendship with a friend who actively disliked children and had a very physical revulsion to motherhood in general. Andrea’s reaction to Imogen helped me to take another perspective on this particular friendship dilemma – I love how books can do that!

At the heart of All Grown Up is the big question ‘what makes us adults?’ and I think Andrea represents a lot of the questions that we ask ourselves as we try to be grown ups. Andrea doesn’t necessarily have the answers but in reading this book I’m sure many will recognise situations and mindsets that are familiar – a great novel to debate with friends.

4/5

All Grown Up is out now in hardback and ebook formats from Sepent’s Tail.

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

Guest post: The Challenge of Writing Sizzle (When you’re used to Sweet) by Inge Saunders

9 Apr

Today I’m welcoming Inge Saunders to One More Page to talk about the challenges that she faced when writing her latest novella, The Wolf’s Choice. Inge lives in the biggest small town in South Africa‒ Worcester. She fell in love with books when she started reading romance novels with her grandmother. Intrigued by the worlds books unlocked, it was inevitable she would take pen to paper. She holds an Honors degree in Community Development and Learning Support and loves to sink her teeth into the research part of a story.

When she’s not writing about that ‘inexplicable attraction’ she’s reading almost every sub-genre in romance out there, spending time with friends and family and taking hikes in her hometown’s National Karoo Park.

Inge SaundersAs with all things in life, trying something new does bring its own set of challenges. And going from writing sweet contemporary romance to more spicy paranormal romance wasn’t the exception.

I remember at one point I did a post on my Facebook Author Page on the research I’d done on ‘how to approach writing a love scene’. Don’t worry I won’t do a recount here *smile*

But what is the challenge of writing sizzling instead of sweet? Romance is romance after all. There can’t be much difference between the two. And right there, I would lose my reader. Because a sweet romance reader is looking for something different than a reader who prefers a more sizzling read. As an author with a deep respect for readers (because I’m a reader myself) I sat back and dug deep to understand the complexity of the challenges I’m going to face as I tell the story.

The Wolf’s Choice is my first foray into romance that sizzles. It also forms part of a bigger world, The Black Hills Wolves, created by Heather Long and Rebecca Royce for Decadent Publishing. So I had to keep the requirements of the series in mind and stay true to what the creators had in mind of for it. And since the inspiration for the novella started off in my imagination with these two innocent teens meeting at the local Swimming Hole, I knew that I’m going to have a problem if I kept to my ‘old’ style of sweet romance writing (even though the scene when read on its own is sweet).

I think it’s good to note at this point that I don’t just read sweet romance. The romance books I buy range in heat levels, but I usually gravitate towards the stories that contain a happy medium. And that’s the crux for an author who’s going from a ‘clean’ read to a much hotter one. The first challenge you’ll face is to ask yourself, where’s my comfort level with the hotness-factor? Once you’ve established this, you’ll know whether you’ll be able to write a romance that sizzles or have to completely abandon that writing path.

The second challenge, I found, has to do with language, what words to use? Do you want to be graphic? What do your favorite authors use when they tackle a love scene? And most importantly, what type of language is used by the authors contracted for the series/line you want to write for? If the language is an issue for you, then don’t. To force is a crime *smile* and no one likes to be forced to do anything. I’ve read authors who use the words dick, pussy, etc. in such a jarring way that I stopped reading the story. To me, they are out of sync with their characters. If your heroine has never throughout the book even thought of sex or referred to her body parts in her mind or in the dialogue in erotic terms, then goodness why are you now suddenly having her using those terms? The language becomes jarring.

That’s something I had to study in The Wolf’s Choice. A woman with sexual experience wouldn’t necessarily be coy about sex. Though we all know it’s not that cut and dried, characters, like people are complex. (And this you’ll find out about my heroine Rebecca, when you read the story). But there are certain universal things we all accept and don’t about characters in novels.

So language is a definite challenge when writing a sizzling romance.

Don’t lose the plot. No seriously, don’t. Essentially you’re telling the story of two people falling in love and the obstacles that keep them from doing that. As a romance writer that’s your first priority. Don’t get bogged down by how hot your book’s supposed to be. Or by what page number your characters should have, at least, kissed. Or made love.  And don’t write love scenes as fillers. Some publishers might compromise story because sex is the subject of that imprint. But you have to keep in mind that at the heart of every romance is the emotional bond between the hero and heroine. The emotional bond adds layers to the sizzle and the sizzle in your story should advance the plot.

The important thing to acknowledge is that you’ll face challenges as you go along, but to not allow them to keep you from telling your story.

Thank you Inge.

The Wolf’s Choice is out now in ebook formats.

Find out more about Inge and her writing at:

Blog: https://ingesaunders.wordpress.com/

Books by Inge Saunders: http://bit.ly/1defI54

Twitter: @saunders_inge

The Wolf's Choice_1800x2700“I’ll pledge my loyalty to you through a blood oath, if you’ll support my choice of mate.”
Drew sank into his chair. “What does Rebecca have to say? The last time I spoke to her, she didn’t mention you.”
Blaine smiled. He hadn’t earned himself any favors. “She doesn’t know yet.”

Thirteen years ago Rebecca Ferguson died, at least to everyone in the Black Hills territory. With a human mother and unable to shift into a wolf, Magnum Tao, the deranged alpha of the Tao Pack would’ve had both her and her father killed for deceiving him. Magnum didn’t allow humans to mate with members of his pack.
Now Magnum is the one who’s dead, and Rebecca can return.
But coming back from the dead, building a new life after her divorce, and opening a library in town aren’t the only obstacles Rebecca faces. Elijah, her father, doesn’t approve of her being in Los Lobos to the point where he forbids her to get involved with the pack, especially the males.
Their relationship has suffered because of her absence and she hopes to bridge the divide, confident that she doesn’t want a romantic entanglement with anyone human or wolf, anyway.

In walks sexy private detective Blaine Walker.
Thirteen years ago Blaine stumbled on his mate at the local swimming hole. The next day, she was dead. Once he learns Rebecca is alive and living in Los Lobos, he decides it’s time to give up his career in Brooklyn and return to the Black Hills. But he knows it won’t be easy to claim her since Elijah’s unnaturally overprotective. The only way Elijah will back off is to challenge him.

A challenge that will end in one of their deaths.
The Tao Pack’s rebuilding itself and needs to guard against any threats outside or in. For Blaine to have any chance to claim Rebecca, Elijah needs to be dealt with and to deal with Elijah, Drew, the alpha of the Tao Pack, has to sanction the challenge according to pack law.

Rebecca can’t deny the old attraction she felt for Blaine is still there and even stronger now that they are grown up. She’s caught between the man fate has brought back to her and her father, whose affection she’s craved her whole life.
But there’s a secret governing Elijah’s erratic behavior that can cost Rebecca everything she’s worked hard to build and everything she thought she could never have with a man or wolf.
Will Rebecca and Blaine beat the odds stacked against them?
Or will the choices they make ultimately lead them down a path both of them don’t want?

Guest post: Historic houses and the inspiration for Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

6 Apr

I’m very excited to welcome Helen Peters to One More Page today to talk about her love of historic houses and how it inspired her beautiful new children’s novel, Evie’s Ghost. Helen grew up on an old-fashioned farm in Sussex, surrounded by family, animals and mud. She spent most of her childhood reading stories and putting on plays in a tumbledown shed that she and her friends turned into a theatre. After university, she became an English and Drama teacher. Helen lives with her husband and children in London, and she can hardly believe that she now gets to call herself a writer. Welcome Helen!

helen petersI have always loved visiting historic houses and imagining myself back to the days when they were properly lived in. And I’ve always envied the present-day staff who get to live in staff apartments in these beautiful places. The idea for Evie’s Ghost came to me when I visited Osterley Park, an incredibly grand eighteenth century palace now owned by the National Trust. I was fascinated to discover that the family who built it had only one child, a daughter, who had eloped, aged seventeen, with a man her parents considered unsuitable. I imagined a twenty-first century girl coming to live in this house because her mother had taken a job there. What if this girl somehow travelled back in time to meet the girl who lived there two hundred years earlier, and became caught up in her elopement plans?

I set the early drafts of Evie’s Ghost at Osterley Park, but Osterley Park is a sparkling, gilded, light-filled Georgian mansion, and I realised that I wanted the house in my book to have an older, ghostlier feel. So I based my fictional Charlbury House on another National Trust property: Chastleton, in Oxfordshire, an extraordinary house that has barely changed in four hundred years. I stayed with my family in the holiday apartment at this spooky Jacobean mansion one misty October half term, when the gardens, with their thick holly hedges and misshapen yew topiary, seemed particularly mysterious and ghost-laden.

Evie finds herself working as a housemaid at Charlbury, and visiting the servants’ quarters of historic houses helped me to imagine the lives of servants in the days before running water and central heating. Petworth and Uppark in Sussex have really well preserved servants’ quarters, with evocative artefacts and archive material that give the visitor a glimpse of servants’ working conditions and duties.

I find handwriting from the past particularly powerful, being so personal and specific. At my very favourite National Trust house, Ightham Mote in Kent, scratched into the glass of an upstairs window are the words, ‘Ann East, April 24 1791’. I’ve visited the house several times, and always wondered who Ann East was and why she scratched her name into that window. And then I read about Hellens Manor, an ancient house in Herefordshire, which has a particularly haunting message scratched into a bedroom windowpane. The message reads: ‘It is a part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it should prove our bane.’ The story goes that a young woman called Hetty Walwyn, who grew up at Hellens Manor in the seventeenth century, eloped with a stable boy. When she was widowed a few years later and returned to Hellens Manor, her family, furious at the disgrace she had brought upon them, imprisoned her for the rest of her life in the room where she scratched this message into the window glass with her diamond ring. According to legend, her ghost still haunts the chamber.

When I read this tragic tale, all the elements of my story finally came together. On her first night in her godmother’s house, Evie finds a message scratched into the glass of her bedroom window. It reads, ‘Sophia Fane, imprisoned here, 27th April 1814’. Evie’s discovery of this message is the beginning of her journey into the past and the story of the girl who scratched those words on her window two hundred years earlier.

Thank you Helen – I love visiting historic houses too – such fab inspiration!

Evie’s Ghost is released today (6th April) by Nosy Crow.

Find out more about Helen and her books at: http://nosycrow.com/contributors/helen-peters/

Repro_Evie'sGhost_cvr.inddEvie couldn’t be angrier with her mother. She’s only gone and got married again and has flown off on honeymoon, sending Evie to stay with a godmother she’s never even met in an old, creaky house in the middle of nowhere. It is all monumentally unfair.

But on the first night, Evie sees a strange, ghostly figure at the window. Spooked, she flees from the room, feeling oddly disembodied as she does so.

Out in the corridor, it’s 1814 and Evie finds herself dressed as a housemaid. She’s certain she’s gone back in time for a reason. A terrible injustice needs to be fixed. But there’s a housekeeper barking orders, a bad-tempered master to avoid, and the chamber pots won’t empty themselves. It’s going to take all Evie’s cunning to fix things in the past so that nothing will break apart in the future…

Guest book review: When My Ship Comes in by Sue Wilsher

5 Apr

My lovely Mum is back today and she’s been reading Sue Wilsher’s debut novel, When My Ship Comes In.

shipKeep the family together, that’s what her old mum always said. Put up and shut up. And that’s what everyone else did around there.

Essex, 1959. Flo earns her money as a scrubber, cleaning the cruise ships and dreaming of a day when she might sail away from her life in the Dwellings, the squalid tenements of Tilbury docks. Then the Blundell family are evicted from their home.

Fred, Flo’s husband, finds work at Monday’s, a utopian factory town. Suddenly, it seems like everything is on the up for Flo Blundell and her children. Even Jeanie, Flo’s sulking teenage daughter, seems to be thawing a little in her shiny new surroundings.

But when Flo’s abusive husband Fred starts drinking again, he jeopardises the family’s chance to escape poverty for good.

Flo is faced with a terrible decision. Must she fight to keep her family together? Or could she strive for the life of her dreams – the kind of life she could have when her ship comes in?

GRIPPING! From the first page!

Sue Wilsher has an amazing ability with words – hauling the reader into this book, warts and all! No feeling is spared just true and real descriptions that have you on the edge of your seat – not because this is a story with an amazing adventure thread or a deceptive dark secret – but because this story is REAL! You live the minute, every minute!

Flo Blundell has awful and desperate decisions to make from the outset of the story, based around Tilbury docks and set in 1959, when folk were still feeling the scars of war but light was beginning to dawn on a better future for some.Flo is very loyal to her family, eight year old Mikey, fifteen year old twins Jeanie and Bab’s and her dear elderly ailing mother who lives in the tenement next door.

Although her husband is a drunkard and treats her aggressively – when he is at home, Flo remains the loyal wife, for she relates to her husband’s dark secrets of the past, and excuses him because, “He can’t help it.” Flo has a secret plan of her own; the Oxo tin in the larder helping to hide her dreams of a better life across the sea, but that is dashed when the contents are needed to deal with a very imminent and demanding problem, which can’t wait.

Cleverly the book switches from the third person to the first person – at first I found this a bit odd and had to do a double take to decide who was relaying events – but then I realised this was a very good tactic, because the person describing events was actually the character who chose to say very little – this was a wonderful way of getting inside someone’s thoughts and actually helping the reader to understand their way of thinking.

One dilemma leads to another and poor Flo has to deal with many dramas and heartbreaks all because of Fred’s inability to control his temper!  Amazingly life seems to turn a corner at this point, but cleverly Sue still has the reader with heart in mouth expecting the worst and then just when you start to relax – Wham! Everything turns upside down again!

Sue’s descriptions are so real that you can smell the smog, taste the grime and feel every punch and kick launched at Flo. Thankfully there are some saviours in this traumatic world and Flo finds friendship and support in the least expected quarters. She never gives up on herself or her family and latterly makes a very brave decision.

Jeanie is the quiet moody twin who seems angry with the world, no matter what – she has her own plans and ambitions and although she has an affinity with her twin, when the time comes to face one of the cruellest decisions, she does so alone. Sue Wilshire has obviously researched her facts and because of my age I could relate to many things that happened, hearing similar stories when growing up and remember well the tin bath in front of the fire!

This isn’t a ‘Happy ever after story’ but it is a heart wrenching and heart-warming story of life in the late fifties and early sixties, for the working classes. A lovely read and I look forward to other volumes from Sue.

5/5

When My Ship Comes In is released in paperback and ebook formats on 6th April by Sphere.

Find out more about Sue Wilsher and her writing at: https://historicalwriters.org/writer/sue-wilsher/

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

Guest post: Ten reasons why I love my choir by Annie Lyons

4 Apr

Please welcome Annie Lyons to One More Page today on the latest stop of her blog tour for The Choir on Hope Street. Annie worked as a book seller and in publishing  before taking the jump to author. Her debut, Not Quite Perfect, went on to become a number one bestseller. Her second book The Secrets Between Sisters was nominated in the best eBook category at the 2014 Festival of Romance and Life or Something Like It was a top ten bestseller.

Annie enjoys channeling her inner Adele as part of her own beloved community choir and joins me today to tell us why she loves her choir so much. Welcome Annie!

annie lyonsNearly two years ago my sister-in-law came to me with a proposal, which she said would be ‘fun’. Alarm bells began to ring at this point. During our child-free years our definitions of ‘fun’ led to some pretty evil hangovers and one particularly lengthy wait in A&E.

Still, we are older and wiser now or maybe just perpetually tired, so these days the proposals tend to be a bit more low-key.

‘My friend’s starting a community choir. She’s lovely. It will be fun. Do you fancy it?’

And actually I realised that I did. I’m not sure if it’s my age or possibly the age of my children, but I was suddenly aware that I no longer had any hobbies aside from ‘reading whilst my eyes slowly close at bedtime’ and ‘going to the cinema to see films provided they are rated 12A or below’.

I had officially become middle-aged and boring. It was time to get a hobby and have another go at this thing called fun.

So off to choir I went. From the first second I stepped into the room and we belted out ‘California Dreamin’’ I have loved it.

Here are the reasons why.

1. Singing is good for you

Due a combination of a wonky spine, two children and writing, I have a bad back but I never notice it while I’m singing. After a session of belting out everything from Stevie Wonder to Snow Patrol, my back often feels less tense too. It might be the posture, the breathing or my pretty awesome moves but there’s something about it that is positively healing.

2. Life has a soundtrack

In the film of my life, I make an entrance every morning to ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone. Sadly, a combination of factors including my inability to make coherent conversation before the first coffee of the day and the withering response I would receive from my children, makes this impractical. However, I always have a song buzzing in my head. Sometimes it’s an ear-worm, often it’s something fantastic. Being part of a choir means I can now belt these out in the car, shower and supermarket with the legitimate excuse that I’m rehearsing. It’s brilliant.

3. You are never alone in a choir

I can carry a tune and I learn a harmony but I am not a soloist. Despite my best efforts in front of the mirror giving a heartfelt rendition of choir logo‘Someone Like You’, I am not Adele. I’m not even Adele’s backing singer but I would give it a go if the call came. I can sing fine on my own but I sing better with my choir buddies. There’s something about catching someone’s eye mid-song and sharing a smile because you’ve got this. You are nailing ‘Uptown Girl’. Billy Joel would be proud.

4. You are learning new stuff and it’s challenging

In week three we started to learn ‘Africa’ by Toto. If you don’t know this song, add it to your playlist immediately. There’s a reason why NME ranked it 32 on a list of 50 ‘most explosive choruses’ – it’s choral catnip. It also has a three-part harmony (four if you’re ambitious). I was in group three. We ran through each part and then tried them all together. It didn’t go well for me. I kept getting distracted by the tune, groups one and two and Jeff Porcaro’s impeccable drumming. It was frustrating and difficult.  Our MD directed us to an enthusiastic and charming Italian musician’s You Tube channel. He had helpfully recorded each harmony part. I pored over this video and decided that I loved this man. I made my husband (a talented musician himself) practice with me. I played it over and over in the car. And then it went in. Just like that. Like all those lyrics to 80s pop songs that are actually turning out to be quite handy now, the ‘Africa’ chorus harmony, part 3 is indelibly printed on my brain. And it feels good (cue Nina Simone moment).

5. Performing in public is a blast

When I was a kid, I used to get nervous to the point of nausea about doing anything in public. Now, I get excited. Again, it wouldn’t be great for anyone if it was me singing on my own but in the spirit of ‘we’re all in this together’, it’s pure fun. Even when it goes wrong. And of course, when it goes right and people clap (an unexpected and welcome pleasure) or indeed cheer, it’s nothing short of intoxicating.

6. We get to do some amazing stuff

tate modernLast year, we took part in an event to mark the opening of the new Tate Modern building in London. Our choir formed part of a 500-voice London community choir performing a specially composed piece called ‘The Bridge’ by installation artist Peter Liversidge. We rehearsed and performed in the Tate’s awe-inspiring turbine hall with the brilliant conductor, Esmeralda Conde-Ruiz. The piece was weird, wonderful and completely original. It felt incredible to be part of this and even my nine-year-old son (habitually underwhelmed by anything that isn’t linked to football or wrestling) declared it to be, ‘really cool, Mum.’ And it was.

7. There’s always cake

As everyone knows (ask Gareth Malone if you don’t believe me), the secret to a really good choir is excellent cake. We have a brilliant resident baker called Lucy (you can check out her rather super cake, book and film blog here – https://keeps-me-busy.com/ ). If Lucy ever left the choir, I think we would be in trouble. It’s simply not possible to channel your inner Dolly or indeed Kenny during ‘Islands in the Stream’ unless you have either eaten or are about to eat cake. The raspberry and Prosecco cupcakes were a particular high-point.

8. Every community needs a choir

Yes, we kick up our heels at the Tate Modern and of course, when Kirstie Allsop invited us to her Handmade Fair, we said ‘will there be cake?’ and then agreed when we found out there would. But actually, our wonderful MD, Kari set up the choir for our local community. So we sing in our pub, at fundraising events, local fairs and basically anywhere we can if we’re asked. And when something awful happens as it did last year when a local boy and his aunt were killed when a car came off the road during a police pursuit, we come together to try to offer support by singing to raise money for the people who need it. It won’t take away the sadness but music has a way of offering comfort when you need it most.

9. Every choir needs a brilliant Musical Director

Our MD, Kari is a passionate, enthusiastic fizzing ball of energy. She inspires, cheers and boots us up the backside when we’re off key. She’s a great dancer and does her best to stop the mum-dancing and get us grooving. She teaches us new stuff, she encourages others to lead songs and she challenges us. Most of all, she makes it fun.

10. Choir people are good people

I have met some lovely people since joining the choir. We sing, we chat, we sing some more, we eat cake, chat some more, possibly have another slice of cake and do a bit more singing. It’s the perfect evening really. Add in the occasional Prosecco-fuelled gig and I’m a happy camper. I have found my people and singing with them is the best.

Thank you Annie – you’ve made me wish I could sing! Your choir sounds wonderful!

lcohs-final-coverThe Choir on Hope Street is released in paperback and ebook formats on 6th April from HarperCollins.

The best things in life happen when you least expect them.
Nat’s husband has just said the six words no one wants to hear I don’t love you any more’.Caroline’s estranged mother has to move into her house turning her perfectly ordered world upside down.Living on the same street these two women couldn’t be more different. Until the beloved local community centre is threatened with closure. And when the only way to save it is to form a community choir none of the Hope Street residents, least of all Nat and Caroline, expect the resultsThis spring, hope is coming!

Book review: The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

3 Apr

The Cows (2)COW [n.]
/kaʊ/

A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.

Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.

Tara, Cam and Stella are strangers living their own lives as best they can – though when society’s screaming you should live life one way, it can be hard to like what you see in the mirror.

When an extraordinary event ties invisible bonds of friendship between them, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration, and a life lesson to all.

Sometimes it’s ok not to follow the herd.

The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other, but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life, they need to find their own voice.

When the bright yellow proof of The Cows arrived at my door, I got very excited. I’d heard good things about Dawn O’Porter’s young adult novels and I couldn’t wait to see what she’d written for adult readers. With it’s bold proclamation #DONTFOLLOWTHEHERD and striking yellow and black cover as well as a promise that everyone would be talking about this book in 2017 I jumped straight in!

I wasn’t disappointed. Dawn has written a novel that is frank, honest, funny and a page turner; The Cows might shock you, it might surprise you and it will certainly give you plenty to talk about. My first thought on finishing the book was that I wished the rest of my book group had read it because I really wanted to talk to someone about it and I can just imagine the fun we’d have discussing it.

The Cows tells the stories of Cam, Tara and Stella; three women who don’t know each other at the start of the book but who are all connected by the end of the story. All three live in the vicinity of London but that’s the single uniting factor as the story begins. Cam is a very successful lifestyle blogger, famed for her feminism and for her honesty. She’s passionate about her choice to be on her own with no ties and no intention of having children.

Tara is a TV documentary maker and single mum with a six year old daughter and Stella is a PA to an award winning photographer and struggling to deal with the grief that cancer has caused in her life. Three very different women with very different stories, none of which map directly to my own but I found that I could empathise on a number of levels with all of them at different points in the book. Through Cam, Tara and Stella and their friends and families, Dawn examines what it is to be a woman in 2017.

Set in a social media world where a person can go from unknown to ‘trending’ in 60 seconds, no topic is off limits. From motherhood to masturbation, the scope is wide and that’s what I loved about this story which brings to the fore so many of the judgments that we make about ourselves and others every day and puts them under the microscope.

Dawn also managed to tick the elusive box of making me stop in my tracks with heart-stopping surprise as I read. No spoilers here but it was brilliant to have that moment of shock as I read and as an avid reader it’s a rarity that I don’t see something coming!

The Cows has a life affirming message about taking even the worst of situations and turning it around to make something good. I felt like Dawn O’Porter had given me a push and said ‘get on with it’ when I’d finished reading – and I will!

4/5

The Cows is released on 6th April in hardback and ebook formats by HarperCollins.

Find out more about Dawn and her writing at: http://www.dawnoporter.co.uk/

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