Saturday 31 August 2013

The World Is A Wedding by Wendy Jones

This time last year, I stumbled upon a wonderful novel called The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones, I fell head-over-heels in love with Wilfred, with the story and with Wendy Jones' writing.  I was delighted to receive a pre-publication copy of The World Is A Wedding - the next instalment in the life of our hero Wilfred.

First, I have to say how beautifully presented The World Is A Wedding is.  Published in September 2013 by Corsair, this really is a gorgeous looking book.  A small hardback with the cover design embossed in gold and black print - no dustjacket, just straight onto the book - it's very lovely and a fine addition to anyone's bookshelf.

The story begins where The Thoughts and Happenings..... left off, and my advice to anyone who hasn't yet read the first book would be to get hold of a copy and read it first.  The World Is A Wedding does work as a stand-alone story, but reading the first one really will enhance the enjoyment of the story, you'll find out a bit more about the characters, and how they found themselves in their current situation.

Wilfred is the town undertaker, the town is Narberth in Wales, the year is 1926.  Wilfred is newly married to his great love Flora Myffanwy whom he met and fell instantly in love with on the day of her father's funeral. Both Wilfred and Flora have a past.   Wilfred was briefly married to Grace, a girl he mistakenly proposed to and regretted until the day they divorced.  Flora's first love was killed in the War.  Wilfred is going to try extra hard with this marriage, he feels as though he's been given a second chance, although he does feel terribly guilty about Grace.   Flora knows that Wilfred adores her, and although she wants to make him happy, she can't help but compare him to her lost love.

Grace fled Narberth after her divorce.  Rejected by her cold-hearted Mother, let down by her weak Father and horrified by her hero-soldier brother, she finds herself a job as a chamber-maid at the Ritz in London. Grace has a terrible secret to hide, and London seems like the only place where she can be ignored.

Once again, this appears to be something of a simple and straight-forward story, but Wendy Jones has a knack of dealing with some pretty serious and at times, quite dark issues without losing the warmth and affection from the story.  Her characterisation is amazing, she creates a cast that are deceptively simple, but are multi-layered and quite complex as the story evolves.

The World is a Wedding is a very worthy follow up to The Thoughts and Happenings .......   Wendy Jones has moved Wilfred on, he's become just a little more worldly wise, but has retained a touch of innocence and simplicity that endeared him to readers so much.

I must say a huge thanks to Sam Evans at Corsair, Constable & Robinson for sending my copy for review.

Wendy Jones grew up in 1970s suburbia, reading Mandy comic and eating Angel Delight for desert. Aged seven, she got a Brownie 'Hostess' Badge for which she set out a gold, wheeled trolley with a tea set and poured tea for the examiner.
Holidays were more productively spent at the 'end of the world in the west of Wales', playing in the undertaker's workshop and paint shop that belonged to an uncle.  It was a lot more fun than being good in suburbia and has provided ample material for her novels.
The first person to do an MA in Life Writing at UEA, Wendy has a PhD in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths, where she teaches.  She wrote Portrait of an Artist as a Young Girl, a biography of Grayson Perry, and hosts the literary programme 'Interesting Conversations' on Resonance104.4fm. The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals, the first in the Wilfred Price series, has been optioned for a television series by Carnival Films, the producers of Downtown Abbey.

Friday 30 August 2013

Foodie Penpal Reveal - August 2013

Yes, it's that time of the month again.  Can you believe that it's the end of August already?  It's been such a lovely summer, I love the sunshine.

This month I sent some local Lincolnshire goodies to Hayley who lives in Irvine in Scotland.  Hayley doesn't have a blog, but I think that she enjoyed her treats.
My parcel came from Anna.  I'm not really sure where Anna lives, all I know is that she is somewhere in the UK.  It's always very exciting when the parcel arrives - opening it up with absolutely no idea what delights will be inside.  Anna really did me proud, she sent me a really lovely selection.

The Spice Tailor Spinach Curry Mix - I'd told Anna that I like spicy food, but not too hot.  This mix is really mild and Anna says it's really yummy too.  I'm looking forward to trying this one out - I'll do it with chicken I think.

Forest Feast Blueberries - because I'd said that I love fruit, Anna thought that these were a little different. They are, they are really really gorgeous.  The perfect snack, I think I may be addicted already!

Crespo Dry Black Olives - these were to satisfy my love of Greek things!  I've not actually tried these yet as I'm currently making my way through an over-large box of fresh olives and marinated garlic that I got from the Continental Market in Marshall's Yard last week, but I do like the dried olives and will be indulging just as soon as my fresh olives are finished.

Vegetable Kettle Chips - these are so so lovely and very moreish - a huge bag but I didn't stop eating until they were all gone.  A selection of parsnip, sweet potato and beetroot - perfect, just perfect!

Oh and then there were boiled sweets!   My guilty pleasure - I know I shouldn't, my dentist will probably curl up in a ball and cry, but I just love boiled sweets.  I always have a bag of sweeties in the car.  Anna sent two whole jars full.  Fizzy Lemons and (my all time favourites) Pear Drops.  Old fashioned wonderfulness!

All in all, a great parcel from Anna - she did very well.

I love being part of Foodie Penpals - it's like Christmas every month.  If you'd like to find out a bit more, or maybe take part yourself, check out the joining instructions over at the Rock Salt blog.


Thursday 29 August 2013

The Misbegotten by Katherine Webb

Dark truths. Beautiful lies.

Bath, England, 1821. Rachel Crofton escapes the binds of her unhappy employment as a governess by marrying a charming self-made businessman. She sees a chance to create the family and home she has so long been without, but her new life soon takes an unexpected turn.

Through her new husband's connections, Rachel is invited to become the companion of the reclusive Jonathan Alleyn, a man tortured by memories of the Peninsula War, and tormented by the disappearance of his childhood sweetheart, Alice.

Starling, foundling servant to the Alleyn family, is convinced that Alice, the woman she loved as a sister, was stolen from her. Did Alice run away? Or did something altogether more sinister occur? Starling is determined to uncover the truth. Others want only to forget, and will go to extreme lengths to do so.

Rachel's arrival has an unsettling effect on the whole Alleyn household, and suddenly it seems that the dark deeds of the past will no longer stay contained. Shattering truths lurk behind Bath's immaculate facades, but the courage Rachel and Starling need to bring these truths to light will come at a very high price

Historical fiction is not my favourite genre, but when I do read it I would always choose to read about ordinary people, I'm not a fan of novels based around the aristocracy or royalty.  I was tempted to read Katherine Webb's fourth novel The Misbegotten by both the beautiful cover and the fascinating description of the story.   I'm so very pleased that I did.   It's a huge hardback, over 500 pages, but I've been completely engrossed by it over the past few days.  It really is a wonderfully written novel, and one that I will recommend wholeheartedly.

The story is set in the city of Bath in the south of England and begins in 1803 when a small child is found walking alone from the nearby marshes.  She is taken in by Alice, a young lady who has a secret past of her own.  Alice names the girl Starling, and from that day on, the two are inseparable.   The story then skips to 1821, and the wedding day of Rachel and Richard Weekes.   Rachel is alone in the world, any fortune that her family had were lost by her father before his death, she is marrying beneath her class, but Richard Weekes appears to love her deeply and she has high hopes for their future together.

Rachel is introduced to her new husband's acquaintances, and it is through these that she meets the Alleyn family and is invited to become the companion of Jonathan Alleyn, a recluse who has suffered greatly since returning from the battlefields and finding that his beloved Alice has eloped with a secret suitor.  There is a great mystery surrounding Alice's disappearance.   Her faithful companion Starling believes that Jonathan is responsible for her disappearance and that Alice would never have left her behind.  Mrs Alleyn, Jonathan's mother will not speak Alice's name and makes it clear that she was a good-for-nothing who was not worthy of her son's love.

Rachel become more and more involved in the mystery surrounding Alice's departure, not least because she bears a striking resemblance to the missing woman, and that in itself sparks suspicion in Rachel's own mind. The story continues to skip back and forth in time, allowing the reader to understand and follow the events that led up to Alice's disappearance.

Katherine Webb has created an absorbing story full of intrigue with apparent ease, her writing is compelling and flows beautifully.  The characters are strong and so very appealing and each one of them grows so much as the story develops.  
The sights and sounds of nineteenth-century Bath are described beautifully, from the grand houses with downstairs servants, to the back-street ale-houses with the drunks and whores.  The snobbery and the hidden shame of the upper classes reveal the darkest of secrets, and the lengths that these people would go to avoid losing face amongst their peers.
Probably the most hard-hitting scenes in the book are when Jonathan Alleyn tells of his time on the battlefields of Spain.  Katherine Webb does not hold back in her descriptions of the complete and utter horror that was experienced by the soldiers in battle.  These scenes make for hard-hitting, violent and at times very emotional reading, but excellently done.

This is an absolute must-read, an outstanding story that will keep the reader engrossed until the very last word

The Misbegotten was published by Orion Books today, 29 August 2013.  My thanks to Emma Dowson from Orion who sent my copy for review.

Katherine Webb was born in Kent in 1977 and grew up in rural Hampshire before reading History at Durham University. A childhood fascination with ruined castles and the secrets of the past has carried forward into her fiction, which incorporates historical story lines and explores how past events can reverberate in the present.

She has since spent time living in London and Venice, and now lives in rural Wiltshire. Having worked as a waitress, au pair, personal assistant, book binder, library assistant, seller of fairy costumes and housekeeper, she now writes full time.

Katherine’s debut novel The Legacy was a Channel 4 TV Bookclub pick for 2010 and won the overall popular vote (chosen by the public) selling more than 200,000 copies. The Unseen was a Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller and sold over 100,000 copies.
Katherine Webb has a Facebook page and is also on Twitter

The G I Bride by Iris Jones Simantel

"Every girl's dream was to be whisked away by a handsome GI .....
Iris Jones had escaped the Blitz but now lived in crippling poverty after the way - until a chance meeting changed her life.  Aged just sixteen, she fell in love and married US soldier Bob Irvine. And soon after she set sail for a new life in America.
It was the 1950s, the land of hope, dreams and Doris Day movies.  But Iris ended up in a cramped Chicago bungalow, shared with Bob's parents.  With a baby on the way and a husband turning daily into a stranger, Iris was wracked by homesickness.  Trapped and desperately lonely, she had to make a fresh start, in a country where hope and opportunity thrived."

Although the majority of my reading is fiction, I do like non-fiction, especially memoirs and travel books.  The G I Bride is the sequel to Iris Jone Simantel's first book Far From The East End.  I haven't read the first one, but had no trouble whatsoever in following the story in The GI Bride - it works very well as a stand-alone story.

It is February 1955, and Iris Jones is saying goodbye to her family, and to Britain.  She is about to embark upon a life-changing journey, across the Atlantic to start married life with her American soldier husband Bob.  More than 100,000 women left the shores of England as GI Brides and Iris, at age sixteen was probably one of the youngest.   She was just a small child when World War II was being fought, she met her husband Bob after the war.   Iris did not have a happy home life, she felt unloved by her parents, and was living in poverty - America really did seem like the land of opportunity.

Starting with the account of her awful sea voyage over the Atlantic, to her first sighting of the Statue of Liberty, and then finding herself living with parents-in-law who made it plain that they didn't approve of her, Iris Jones Simantel recounts with honesty and often with humour how her dreams didn't quite come true.  No more than a child herself, her courage and bravery, and sometimes her utter desperation shines through her writing.  It's quite incredible that a young girl, barely out of school and very inexperienced would be allowed, or encouraged to make that journey - so far away from everything familiar, with no support except for a husband who she barely really knew.

The GI Bride is a down-to-earth story, told very well by an author who creates a wonderful sense of place with her writing.  She does not shy away from the harsh realities of her life, she doesn't gloss over the things that she had to do to survive, and is totally honest about what she did.  There is no doubt that Iris made some decisions that she may have come to regret, but it has to be remembered that she was young, alone, and incredibly protective of her young family.

My thanks go to Katie Sheldrake from Penguin who sent my copy for review.  The GI Bride was published by Penguin UK in paperback on 9 May 2013.

Iris Jones Simantel grew up in Dagenham and South Oxhey, before moving to the US with her GI husband Bob at the tender age of 18.  She now resides in Devon where she enjoys writing as a pastime.  Her first memoir about her childhood, Far From The East End, beat several thousand other entries to win the Saga Life Stories Competition.


Sunday 25 August 2013

A Serpentine Affair by Tina Seskis

Back in April this year I raved about Tina Seskis' first novel; One Step Too Far.  Looking back and reading through my review, I talked about how I got a 'tingle', that I was thrilled to discover a new author whose writing really did excite me.

A Serpentine Affair is the second novel from Tina Seskis, and over the past couple of days I have just devoured it.  Once again, this author has produced that tingly feeling and I'm just delighted.

"Seven old friends.   One annual reunion.  Countless feuds.
How do friends stay friends for 25 years when there's so much to feel aggrieved about, such a tangle of lingering resentments?  So when their picnic in the park goes horribly wrong and someone ends up in the Serpentine, who knows what really happens?
And just what secrets from the past are about to unfold, changing everyone's lives forever?"

Sounds intriguing doesn't it?  It is, it's really well put together, well paced and packed with characters that evolve so well, who change through the course of the story, some of them very likeable, others who are loathsome and a couple who really are very very sad.

Tina Seskis has managed to tell the story of these seven women, from their university days right up to the present by cleverly weaving each story together using quite short and snappy chapters.  I'll admit that at first it took me a little while to remember quite who was who, and who was married to who, but it really doesn't take long to get the characters and the relationships worked out.

There is a definite sense of reality within this story, most women seem to have very eclectic sets of friends, and I could certainly relate to that feeling of 'moving on' in life, yet still wanting to remain friends with people I met years ago, when I was a very different person, in a different place in my life.  These seven women all feel the same, they have shared memories yet have moved on.  They are no longer girls starting out in life and although they feel a sense of loyalty to their friendship group, each of them are struggling with the thought of the annual picnic.     The picnic begins, the alcohol flows and truths are told.  Feelings are hurt, tension is high and voices are raised, the picnic ends, but this is just the beginning of the next chapter in their lives.  A chapter that is going to change their futures.

I'm going to say no more about what happens, if I did I would possibly spoil the plot for readers who haven't yet read the book.   I will say that I adored this story, possibly even more than Seskis' first novel.   A Serpentine Affair is incredibly well put together, the air of suspense and tension grows with each chapter as the characters begin to reveal and find out more about themselves.  There are some incredibly poignant moments, some horrific truths, and the ending is perfect.

Tina Seskis is most certainly a very accomplished and clever author, her next book is due for release in 2014, I will be waiting incredibly impatiently for it!

I was absolutely thrilled to see my name mentioned in the author acknowledgements at the end of A Serpentine Affair, it's been a real pleasure to read both of the novels.  I was lucky enough to win my copy of A Serpentine Affair through a competition on Josie's wonderful blog Jaffa Reads Too.  Thanks Josie!

Tina Seskis grew up in Hampshire, the daughter of an airline engineer and a sales rep. She studied business at the University of Bath and then worked for over 20 years in marketing, advertising and online, with varying degrees of success. Before that she did a variety of other jobs including door to door encylopedia selling in the US, industrial relations for Ford in Halewood, Liverpool, and selling bacon butties with her granny in the Halfway Hut at Wentworth Golf Club.

Tina never intended writing a novel. She wrote One Step Too Far over a two month period in summer 2010 and then gave up writing entirely for well over a year, before writing her second novel A Serpentine Affair in autumn 2011. Her third book (working title Collision) is due for completion in 2013, and is the coming together of a key character from each of the first two novels, if Tina can make the plot work.
Tina lives in North London with her husband and son.

For more information about Tina and her writing, visit her website at   Check out the Facebook page, and Twitter account too.


Friday 23 August 2013

Author Chat with Elizabeth Forbes & **GIVEAWAY** A paperback copy of Nearest Thing To Crazy

Those of you who follow my blog regularly will remember how impressed I was by Elizabeth Forbes' debut novel Nearest Thing To Crazy which was published by Cutting Edge Press in July 2013.

Those of you who haven't heard my ravings about this book should read my review.  Nearest Thing To Crazy is one of those stories that stick in your head for a very long time.  Clever, tense and as I've said before; a bit of a head-fuck.  It's one of my top reads of 2013 - it's excellent.

Cutting Edge Press is one of my favourite publishers.  Small, but yes very perfectly formed, they have a real talent for discovering exciting new talent.  Their book list is eclectic and exciting and I'm delighted to review for them.  Another great thing about Cutting Edge is that they are friendly, and personable, and human.  Through the wonderful world of social media, I've been able to form some great relationships with their publicist and with their authors.   Since my review first appeared back in June, I've had quite a lot of online contact with the author, and we've had some laughs and chats.  Hopefully, one day, we will meet in person, when I've wangled an invite to one of Cutting Edge's parties or launches!   So, I'm really delighted to welcome Lizzie here to Random Things, she's agreed to answer some questions for me, and Cutting Edge are offering a paperback copy of Nearest Thing To Crazy to one person - entering the giveaway is easy.  Fill out the Rafflecopter widget below, simple!   Good luck!

Now, over to Lizzie who has answered my questions :

What are you reading at the moment?
Elizabeth Forbes
I’ve just finished Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klausmann. And I have also just read Isabel Ashdown’s Summer of ’76 because it’s set on the Isle of Wight where I come from, and I was about the same age as one of her characters during that long hot summer; so it was a great trip down memory lane. She’s not an Islander herself but she has really caught the detail of time, place and atmosphere.
 Now I am back in writing mode, so I’m dipping into books like ‘Stranger Than Fiction – When our Minds Betray Us’ by Marcus Feldman, and ‘Why Does He Do That’ by Lundy Bancroft. I’m also dipping into Andrew Motion’s ‘In The Blood’ about his unhappy experience at prep school.

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?
Only if they’re good ones... No. Seriously, yes I do. Obviously it’s lovely to get four and five star reviews and it does hurt when someone throws in a one star. But books are like Marmite, and it would be very dull if everyone liked the same things. And good criticism is always worthwhile because I need to learn where I can improve my writing.

How long does it take to write a novel?
About a year all told, by the time it’s gone through first draft and then a massive tidy up, refining the plot and the writing. I re-write and re-write and change things every time I read through. I was still trying to make changes when the final proof arrived, and was very charmingly slapped on the wrists and told ‘enough’. My re-writing nearly always consists of cutting, making the narrative as clean and transparent as possible. I want the writing to be invisible, so that the reader hopefully finds it effortless to read – that’s not to say it’s ‘simple’ because I think the writing has to be good, otherwise the reader would notice, and be irritated by it and have their involvement with the novel interrupted. Bad writing is never invisible to the reader, in my opinion.

Do you have any writing rituals?
No, but I’d be grateful for some if anyone’s got any to share! I am the world’s greatest procrastinator, but oddly no matter what time I sit at my desk, I usually find that the words don’t start to flow until 4.00 pm. Before that I fiddle about researching on the internet, or reading, and trying to quieten my mind to reach the ‘writing’ level.

What was your favourite childhood book?
I think as a young child my favourite was Winnie the Pooh because he was loveable, silly and funny. All the characters are so endearing and still make me laugh: hunting for heffalumps and poor Eeyore losing his tale and being depressed about his birthday. A A Milne’s poems, too – the word play and rhythm is a great introduction to the joy of language for children. Of course, that was before we had Roald Dhal. And then I read Jane Eyre around the age of 10, which was so frightening, all that deprivation and cruelty, the cold, the rejection. We lived on the Isle of Wight, but my parents came from Yorkshire, and we would return to visit relatives. I knew how bleak the moors were, and the thought of poor Jane all alone, near death, out there in the freezing cold really caught my imagination.  And then to be rescued by St John who was so claustrophic and creepy.
I became obsessed with D H Lawrence, around the age of 12. I was a precocious youngster. I remember adoring Women in Love and the Virgin and the Gipsy, and then progressing to the gritty Sons and Lovers.  Lady Chatterley came a bit later (oops, no pun intended!).

Name one book that made you laugh?
Ha! Winnie the Pooh. Oh and McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy. Revisiting it now I’ve only just realized that he died in 2004. What a pity. A great writer and so incredibly funny.

Name one book that made you cry?
Well I recently read ‘A Fucked up Life in Books’ by Anonymous and it was so raw; stripped bare in its emotional honesty that I found it incredibly moving and my eyes welled up at times.  But I don’t cry easily with books because, annoyingly, I’m thinking about the structure, and how the author has done what they’ve done... I’m just too analytical I suppose.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Probaby Rebecca. To find out if she really was rotten to the core, or whether Maxim was making it all up to justify his actions.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
J M Coetzee’s Disgrace to a man, or The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman to a woman.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
Louise Doughty’s prose style is exactly how I would like to be able to write. I think she’s brilliant in terms of her realistic plots and her ability to express such a depth of consciousness in her characters. For the same extraordinary ability to access the ‘other’s’ consciousness I would say Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady and his portrayal of Isabel Archer.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
Anything about mental health, abuse, psychiatry – all of which I find fascinating and am able to say ‘it’s research’ – which, of course, it is! I suppose you could call it my ‘mind porn’.

Who are your favourite authors?
Probably those already mentioned – J. M. Coetzee, Ian McEwan, Dickens – and the other 19th century giants. Joseph Conrad gives me goose bumps. And Lionel Shriver and Maggie O’Farrell. Oh and not forgetting Jane Austen. And I think there’s so much good fiction around at the moment; so many extraordinarily talented writers.

What book have you re-read?
Coetzee’s Disgrace, because he crams so much about life and the human spirit into a fairly short book.  
Set against the background of the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa he manages to portray the weakness, the hubris, the stupidity of man; the excruciating and unnecessary pain we cause ourselves both individually, tribally and internationally, but he also offers us a glimmer of hope. I think his prose is excellent in the way that he manipulates form to intensify meaning. For me he is definitely a writer’s writer.

What book have you given up on?
I’ve just given up on a novel that’s been hugely hyped and is riding high in the charts right now, but I couldn’t possibly say what it is. Oh, and I have to confess I haven’t yet mastered Ulysses, apart from the Molly Bloom soliloquoy!

Elizabeth Forbes is on Twitter, and Nearest Thing To Crazy has a Facebook page.   You can also find out more about Cutting Edge Press at their website, or checkout their Facebook page and their Twitter account.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday 22 August 2013

Stop Dead by Leigh Russell

Stop Dead by Leigh Russell is the fifth in a series featuring Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel and was published in paperback by No Exit Press in May 2013.

I always enjoy a well constructed police procedural story, and Stop Dead is certainly that.  I'll admit that I haven't read the first four books in the DI Steel series, and did worry that this may hamper my enjoyment of Stop Dead.  It didn't.  Leigh Russell takes time to explain Geraldine's current situation and a little of her background, without overwhelming a new reader with too much detail, but enabling us to get a feel for her main character.

Set in central London, this is a tight and well written police thriller.  What starts out as an investigation into the murder of a local businessman, soon turns into a hunt for a suspected serial killer.   It is clear to DI Steel and her team that these four murders are connected, the method used by the killer is brutal and horrific and no details have been released - this is no 'copy-cat' killer.   

Leigh Russell writes well, not just in her plotting and her characterisation, but in her structuring of the novel.  Fairly short chapters, made up of short, sharp paragraphs really hook the reader's attention and made me want to carry on reading - she almost tempts the reader with snippets of information thrown into the mix.   Unlike DI Steel, the reader does know a little about the murderer - not a lot, not the identity, or the reason, but enough to tantalise and taunt.

I was really impressed by this story, I like Geraldine Steel, she's a strong character, with her flaws and a little bit of her own baggage.  Steel's colleagues are also well-drawn and interesting, especially Sam, her closest colleague and Nick who shares her office - he's definitely got a back-story that I will be interested to see develop.

A great whodunit, some fabulous characters and more importantly for me, I didn't work out the conclusion before I got to the end.   I'll certainly be on the look out for the next in the DI Steel series.

My thanks to Real Readers who sent my copy of Stop Dead for review.

Leigh Russell studied at the University of Kent gaining a Masters degree in English and American
literature.  A secondary school teacher, specialising in supporting pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties as well as teaching English, Leigh Russell is married with two daughters and lives in Hertfordshire.  Her first novel, Cut Short, was published in 2009, followed by Road Closed in 2010, Dead End in 2011 and Death Bed in 2012.
For more information about Leigh Russell, her books and upcoming events, visit her website, she also has a Twitter account.

Monday 19 August 2013

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

"I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart."
In 1871, I was serving as a visiting physician for the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.  While seeing to the health and well-being of the residents of the Lower East Side, I met a young girl, twelve years of age, named Moth.
In the pages that follow, you will find her story, told in her own words, along with occasional notes from my hand.  In the tradition of my profession, I intended to limit my remarks to scientific observations only, but in the places where I felt compelled to do so, I've added a page or two from my past.  These additions are offered in kindness and with the best of intentions.

I read Ami McKay's first novel The Birth House back in 2007 and absolutely adored it. I was delighted to get hold of a copy of The Virgin Cure which was published here in the UK by Orion in September last year.

We meet Moth, a young girl who lives with her mother in the tenements of New York, it's the  1870s and life is tough for the inhabitants of Chrystie Street.   Moth's father abandoned them, and her mother makes a small living from telling fortunes.  Moth knows that one day she will be sold.  That day comes sooner than she thinks and Moth soon finds herself fighting to survive.   She finds herself in a situation that is far worse than she could ever imagine.

This is a wonderfully well-researched story of terrible injustices, and even though it is set over 150 years ago, there are issues within these pages that are still so relevant today.   Ami McKay writes with ease, producing some fabulous characters who almost burst from the page.  Her sense of pace and timing is superb.  I especially enjoyed the added extras - those snippets of notes and clippings add a very realistic touch.

A story filled with strong female characters, some who have lost all hope, others who are determined to fight against the odds for what they believe in.

The Virgin Cure is a delight to read, it's entertaining and heart-warming.

Ami McKay's debut novel, The Birth House, was a number one bestseller in Canada, winner of three CBA Libris Awards, nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and a book club favourite around the world.  Previously a music teacher, Ami's literary career started with a year of writing thank-you notes to people she didn't know.  Now every day is a writing day. Born and raised in Indiana, Ami lives in Nova Scotia.
To find out more visit her website at  Ami also has a Facebook page and is on Twitter

Sunday 18 August 2013

Looking For La La by Ellie Campbell

In a recent survey 65% of mothers admitted feeling undervalued, over-criticized and constantly tired.
Cathy is no exception.  Her dull, uneventful days as a stay at home, mother of two, are radically transformed however with the arrival of a heavily-lipsticked postcard addressed to husband Declan.  Who is the mysterious La La?  Could Declan really be having an affair?  And is Cathy actually being stalked?  Whatever - it will definitely prove riveting gossip for the Tuesday Twice Monthlies, Cathy's 'Mothers Restaurant Research' group where scandal flows as recklessly as the wine.  But what starts as a light-hearted investigation with best friend Raz, soon turns into something much more sinister.

I don't think that I'm quite the target market for Looking For La La, the latest novel from two sisters who write together under the name Ellie Campbell.  I'm in my late forties and have never had kids, so the school-gate politics of the Mummy group is quite alien to me.  I live in a small market town in rural Lincolnshire, so again, don't really identify with the professional city-dwellers that populate this story.   However, despite really really taking an instant dislike to Cathy, the main character in this story, I found myself hooked by the storyline.  Before I knew it, I was half-way through the book and eager to find out who the bloody hell is La La?

Cathy is a bored stay-at-home mum, her husband Declan works hard, and works very long hours.  He's started to drop hints about Cathy going back to work, now that the kids are at school.  He gets frustrated by the untidy house, the lack of any food in the cupboards and the time Cathy spends with her friends.  And quite rightly so!  Cathy thinks that Declan is just an old moaner, he's not, he's spot on.  Most days Cathy manages to get the kids to school within seconds of the bell ringing and then spends the rest of her time mooching about, talking to her friends, half-heartedly starting new projects and not much else.  So that's why I didn't like her.  I'm not sure if the reader is supposed to sympathise with Cathy or not, but I certainly didn't.

Then the postcards start to arrive.  Addressed to Declan and appearing to be from a mystery lover - who calls herself La La.   Cathy and her best friend Raz (who is living in their loft whilst her flat is refurbished), are determined to find out who La La is.  Declan denies all knowledge, he's far too busy with work, keeping the customers sweet and impressing the bosses.

Despite the fact that Cathy annoyed the hell out of me, I did enjoy this story.  The pace is fast, the characters are wonderfully drawn, and although the story is somewhat far-fetched in places, it really is well written.

Looking For La La is the perfect summer read.  Read it in the sunshine with a glass of something cool by your side, suspend reality and just get stuck in.  The twists and turns kept me entertained and I really didn't suss out who La La was until the final reveal was made.

Ellie Campbell is a pseudonym for sister writing team, Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell, who collaborate from their respective homes in Surrey, England and Colorado, USA.    Their novels 'How To Survive Your Sisters' and 'When Good Friends Go Bad', are previously published by Arrow books and available as ebooks.    Find out more at their website, or on Facebook and Twitter

Friday 16 August 2013

Malarky by Anakana Schofield

This afternoon I sat out in the sunshine and met 'Our Woman'.      
Our Woman is the lead character in Anakana Schofield's debut novel Malarky which was published in the UK by Oneworld Publications at the beginning of August.

The cover of this novel is scattered with praising comments from well-known and much-loved authors such as Emma Donoghue and Margaret Atwood.  The paperback version is beautifully presented, with almost childlike illustrations that on closer inspection, are perfectly suited to the story within.

Malarky is not an easy read by any means, although it is a short novel at just over 200 pages.   The story is set out in episodes, rather than chapters and although the setting is modern-day Ireland, Our Woman has a very traditional and distinctly regional thought process that is echoed in her speech (or thoughts as is usually the case during the story).   The episodes are often short, and sometimes change quickly in tense and voice, which at times can be challenging to the reader.  I was able to read the whole novel in two sittings and I personally think that this would be the best way to tackle Malarky, immerse yourself in the world of Our Woman.

Obsession, psychosis and sex - these are the three main themes that I took from this story.  Our Woman is obsessed with her husband, her son, and what her circle of friends may be thinking of her.  The issues of sexuality and infidelity feature heavily and the psychotic episodes have a strange, sad, sometimes humorous tinge to them.

A lonely farmer's wife, in rural Ireland.  Dealing with homosexuality and betrayal - then grief.    This is an unusual novel, it's quirky and a little off-the-wall.   It's also beautifully written, honest, often startling and sometimes uncomfortable.   It's clever, maybe sometimes a little too clever - a little prior knowledge of Catholic Ireland, history and folklore does help.

Certainly a novel that will make people talk, some will love it, I have no doubt that some will not.  Me?  I liked it very much.

Anakana Schofield is an Anglo-Irish writer of fiction, essays and literary criticism.  Malarky, her first novel, won the First Novel Award, was selected as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, and was shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.  It has also been named on sixteen different Best Books of the Year lists.
For more information about Anakana Schofield, visit her website at, or follow her on Twitter

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

I talked about Jamie Ford's first novel; Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet here on my blog back in June 2011.  Reading back through my review, I see that I used words such as 'masterpiece' and 'beautiful' - I still feel that way about the story, it's a book that has stayed with me for 2 years, and one that I recommend to anyone that I meet.

When my review copy of Songs of Willow Frost arrived, I felt a mixture of emotions; excitement that at last Jamie Ford has written another book, and a touch of nervousness in case I felt let down.  How on earth would he match the first one?

I have spent the last few days totally immersed in the world of Willow and William, the two main characters in this extraordinary story, and now I have finished reading, I feel a little like I did when I finished his first novel - a sense of loss that the characters are no longer part of my day, but also a sense of complete satisfaction - this really is a novel to savour and enjoy.

The story is set in Seattle in the 1920s and the era of Depression.  William Eng is a Chinese-American boy who has spent the last five years in the Sacred Heart Orphanage. It is 1934 and life is not easy at Sacred Heart, poor food, lots of chores and no love, coupled with the fact that many of the children are not in fact, orphans, but have been left in the care of the Nuns with the promise from their parents that one day they will come back.  It is this promise that gives the children hope, but not William.   He has not heard from his Mother since the day he entered the Orphanage, and has no idea why she went away, or if she will ever return.   A rare treat is arranged, and the boys from Sacred Heart are taken on a trip to the movies.  When William spots up-and-coming movie star Willow Frost on the big screen, he is convinced that she is is Mother.  He is determined that he will find her and find out why he abandoned.

The story moves back to 1924 where the young Liu Song is living with her ailing mother and her cruel stepfather.    As tragedy and disaster follow Liu Song around, she has to grow and mature quickly, and eventually she develops into her alter-ego Willow Frost.

Songs of Willow Frost is a story that will engross the reader, it is absolutely compelling, with characterisation that will stun and a sense of place that evokes the sounds, the smells and at times, the despair of Seattle and it's inhabitants during the harsh Depression years.  

Jamie Ford has drawn on his own Chinese-American heritage, it is clear that he has done some meticulous research, but his sense of ownership of these characters and their story shines through.   His writing allows the reader to live and breathe each character.     These times were brutal and often very cruel, especially if you were of Chinese heritage, even if you were born in America, if you were a woman, then things were even harder.   Willow's story is at times heartbreaking, unfair and desperately cruel, but it is the hope and determination of William that really shines through - a small boy whose faith in love pulls his mother back from the brink.

I feel that I've 'gushed' when writing this review, but I really did love every word of Songs of Willow Frost. I'd hoped for second novel that would live up to the excellence of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet and that's exactly what I got - and more.

I have to say a huge thank you to Lesley and Chiara from Allison & Busby who sent my copy for review.

Songs of Willow Frost will be published here in the UK by Allison & Busby in hardback on 10 September 2013.

Jamie Ford is the great-garndson of pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from China to San Francisco in, like his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter
1865, where he adopted the Western name 'Ford'.  Jamie lives in Montana.   For more information, please visit his website at

Monday 12 August 2013

Lost and Found by Tom Winter

It started with a letter .......
Carol is unhappily married to a man she doesn't love and mother to a daughter she doesn't understand.  Stuck in a life she doesn't want and crippled with guilt, she can't shake the feeling that she has wasted her life.  So she puts pen to paper and writes a Letter to the Universe.
Albert is a widowed postman, approaching retirement age, and living only with his cat, Gloria, for company.  Slowly being pushed out at his place of work, he is forced own to the post room where they sort undeliverable mail.  Forgotten in his work place and bullied by his neighbours, Albert is extremely lonely.  When a series of letters turns up with a smiley face drawn in place of an address, he cannot help reading them.

Lost and Found by Tom Winter is published by Corsair - Constable & Robinson.  The hardback was released on 21 February 2013 and the paperback will be released on 15 August 2013.

I often read advance copy books, with plain covers, and rarely judge a book by it's cover, but I have to mention how beautifully presented Lost And  Found is.   The cover design and illustration is just gorgeous, with a sort of a vintage feel to it.

It would be easy to assume that Lost And Found is going to be a love story, maybe a little sweet, and possibly a little moralistic.  I don't really like those kind of stories.   I was delighted to find myself thrust into the world of on-the-verge of being bitter Carol, and sad lonely Albert.   Two characters who have been created so well and are so realistic that it's impossible not to find yourself drawn into their lives.

This is not a love story, it's more a story of lost love.  It's certainly not sweet, although it's very touching. And whilst the moral of the story is most certainly 'grab life whilst you can', the author doesn't preach.

Carol and Albert are two people who have let life slip them by, they've not really taken control of what they want.  Albert has spent many many years as a widower, and it's only as he approaches retirement and discovers the letters that Carol has written, that he realises that he could have done more.   Carol has always known that she could have had more, but made a life-changing decision many years ago, and has lived unhappily with the consequences ever since.

Although Carol and Albert are the main characters in this novel, and between them, they tell the story, there is also an amazing cast of characters to support them.  From Max, the neighbour who makes Albert's life hell to Helen, Carol's best friend.  Each and every one of them adds something special to the mix, all expertly crafted, some of them are awful, some of them are very funny and one of them is especially crude!

Lost and Found is a witty, touching and incredibly well written debut novel.  I loved Carol and Albert, I loved the premise and I thought it all worked so well.

My thanks go to Jessie from Constable & Robinson who sent my copy for review.   Constable & Robinson have produced a great trailer to go with the book, based on the same design as the cover illustration.

Tom Winter is a British writer living in Berlin.  Lost and Found is his first novel.  He is currently at work on his second book.   Follow him on Twitter @wintrybits

Saturday 10 August 2013

My Beautiful England by Michelle Flatley

My Beautiful England explores what life is truly like for an immigrant in the UK, deftly interconnecting the stories of three very different women, all searching for a new identity in a deprived Northern town.

Su, a Thai bride, arrives after the tsunami to live with her ageing husband. Despite her best efforts to become 'Englishised', visions of the tsunami and Thai superstitions continually impede her efforts.

Samina, from Pakistan, feels suffocated in an arranged marriage. Living with her new husband and domineering mother-in-law, she longs for the independence of other western women.

Lenka is from Poland, and lives in a women's refuge with her daughter, hiding from her abusive husband while trying to rebuild their lives.

When the local language school advertises English lessons, the three women are thrown together, united in their desire to interact with others. In the process they develop a unique bond as they try to identify what it really means to be “foreign”.

My Beautiful England highlights the often overlooked human stories behind the bigger picture of immigration, offering a charming, emotionally resonant and ultimately hopeful exploration of friendships across cultures.

Set in Burnley, Lancashire in 2005, My Beautiful England by Michelle Flatley is the story of three women. Three very different women with one thing in common.    They are all immigrants, newly arrived in England. They each have their individual problems and issues but are bound together by their wish to find happiness in 'beautiful' England.   They meet at the Language Centre, where they are determined to overcome their difficulties with the English language and pass the certificate to become 'English'.

Su is a 44-year-old widow from Thailand.  Her beloved husband died in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, she has become a 'Thai Bride' and is now married to Bobby. Sammy is 18, fresh from Pakistan and living with the husband that her family found for her.  Lenka is Polish, the victim of domestic violence and mother to Anna.

Michelle Flatley writes with confidence, it is difficult to believe that this is her debut novel, she has really got to the heart of each of these women, and allows each of her characters to develop slowly and beautifully. Despite the title, Flatley certainly does not present England, or the English as beautiful.  Hard hitting and at times a little painful, the ignorance, prejudices and sometimes hate of the home-grown characters is not hidden away.

The isolation and sense of loneliness that Su, Sammy and Lenka feel at the beginning of the book is stark, and their developing friendship is beautiful to follow.  These three women start out frightened yet hopeful and as time passes and they learn a little more each day about their new homeland, they discover together, grow together and at times, cry together.   This story does not gloss over any issues, it contains violence and situations that are emotionally demanding, but it is honest and truthful, and most of all, it is wonderfully written.

This is a stunning debut from Michelle Flatley, and another success from Cutting Edge Press who consistently deliver new, exciting and innovative fiction.   My Beautiful England was published on 4 July 2013 and is available in paperback or eBook.

My thanks to Saffeya, publicist at Cutting Edge Press who sent my copy for review.

Michelle Flatley teaches English as a foreign language in the North of England, where she lives with her husband and children. She was inspired by her students to write My Beautiful England, her first novel. 
For more information, visit or follow Michelle's tweets

Thursday 8 August 2013

** Book Giveaway ** Beneath An Irish Sky by Isabella Connor

Earlier this week I reviewed Beneath An Irish Sky by Isabella Connor and hosted an author Q&A.  If you missed it, please take a look.  It's a really great read, another gem from Choc Lit publisher.

I'm really pleased to be able to offer a paperback copy of Beneath An Irish Sky to one lucky winner.  Entering is easy, just fill out the Rafflecopter widget below.  The giveaway will close in one week.

Good Luck!

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Tuesday 6 August 2013

Beneath An Irish Sky by Isabella Connor

Beneath An Irish Sky by Isabella Connor is the latest release from Choc Lit, and will be published in paperback here in the UK tomorrow - 7 August 2013

Choc Lit are a publishing house that consistently deliver the goods.  Their books are well-written and intelligent stories, often with a touch of humour and magic, and always beautifully presented.

Beneath An Irish Sky is the debut novel from Isabella Connor who is not one, but two new authors.  Liv Thomas and Val Olteanu co-wrote this story, taking over five years to complete it.  I dearly hope that this is the first of many novels from them.

I became caught up in the story within the first two paragraphs.  The writing is engaging and draws the reader in straight away as we are introduced to Jack Stewart, in Ireland to identify the body of his estranged wife. Annie left Jack twenty years ago, he thought that they were deeply in love, he thought that they were happy, but she left suddenly, with no notice and Jack has not seen her since.  Hearing that Annie has been killed in a car accident aged just 40 is a shock, discovering that he has a son that he knew nothing about is an even bigger one!

Annie came from an Irish Traveller family, Jack comes from a wealthy, successful and very snobbish family.  His parents never approved of Annie, and made it clear that they thought Jack was better off without her.  Jack tried to forget, but really Annie was his true love.  

Annie brought up Luke as a single mother.  As far as he is concerned Jack Stewart didn't want him and banished his mother from the family.  Luke's life has been tough, although adored by his mother, he's suffered at the hands of his violent uncles.   Luke hates Jack.

Slowly and carefully the story unfolds.  Why did Annie tell Luke that his father did not want him?  Why did Annie never tell Jack that he was a father?   Two men, both suspicious, both grieving - how will they ever repair the damage that has been done?

This really is an excellent story. Combining the world and tradition of the Travelling people with the upper-class snobbery of the English Stewart family and adding in a mix of supporting characters.  The plot gathers pace, starting slowly, introducing the characters and building to an ending that I really didn't predict.

I was intrigued to learn that Isabella Connor is in fact two new authors and am delighted to welcome Liv and Val here today to my blog.  They've agreed to answer a few questions about their writing and reading habits:

Hi Anne, thank you for inviting us to be on your blog.  As we say in the interview, 'Beneath An Irish Sky' has been part of our lives for over five years, but it's very surreal to now see it in print, dissected and analysed by people everywhere!    Liv and Val

Liv Thomas lives in England, Val Olteanu in Canada.  They met on a Tolkein fan forum and decided to write a novel together.  Despite living some 4700 miles apart (and with an 8 hour time difference), they succeeded in producing their debut novel. 'Beneath An Irish Sky' which is now available as eBook and paperback. They write under the pen-name of Isabella Connor and are already deep into co-authoring their second novel.

What are you reading at the moment?   

Val: “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” by Kathleen Flinn. It’s a memoir. When she lost her job, Kathleen used her savings to go to Paris to study at the Cordon Bleu cooking school. I love people who take such huge risks like that. I also adore Paris, and the city permeates the book. Hopefully I’ll pick up some culinary tips since cooking is not my forte. I’ve just reached this part, which resonates with me:

I put together several little vols-au-vent. They look as if a kindergartener put them together with Play-Doh.

Liv: I’m working my way through Choc Lit’s vast library, and am currently reading “The Elephant Girl” by Henriette Gyland. I’m also re-reading “Strangers,” one of my favourite Dean Koontz books. I want to see if the ending affects me the same way it did when I first read it. It was quite surreal, because it gave me an uplifting sensation, quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It’s so long since I’ve read it, I can’t actually remember what the ending was – just the feeling it invoked.

Do you read reviews of your novels?    

Val: “Beneath an Irish Sky” has been recently released as eBook and paperback, so the reviews are just starting to appear, and we are reading them. Liv and I are very curious about the response to our story. How could we not be after spending five years writing it? We write to be read – to tell a story that we hope people will enjoy. Our readers are important to us.

Liv: I’d love to be able to be blasé about reviews, and just take a look now and then. Maybe in time that will happen, but right now it’s so new, and I’m so anxious, looking for reviews is almost an obsession. I appreciate what people have to say as long as it’s constructive – we can learn so much from a good reviewer. I do get rattled if someone makes what I consider an invalid criticism, but have to be strong enough not to respond. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but it would be good sometimes to ask a question – like “did you miss that bit?” ;)

Do you take them seriously?  

: If someone has taken the time to write a serious, thoughtful review, then I will certainly take it seriously. As writers, we are always open to developing our craft.

Liv: Definitely. Especially if a particular point has been raised more than once. Good reviewers are helpful for our learning curve.

How long does it take to write a novel? 

: Liv and I took five years to write “Beneath an Irish Sky” but that included a substantial rewrite and cutting the book from its original 240,000 words to 110,000! We’ve almost finished writing our second novel, and that took less than two years. If I didn’t have to work full-time, I could probably write a novel of twenty chapters in six months (with the equivalent time beforehand for planning and research).

Liv: It would be interesting to answer this question in five years’ time, when we’ll hopefully have at least three more novels in the bag. It’s hard to know how long it would take if writing was my full time occupation, but I work four days a week, so can’t write nearly as long as I’d like. I don’t think it would ever take us five years again, though – we’ve learned so much in that time.

Do you have any writing rituals? 

Val: I prefer to write longhand, so I always have a ready supply of notebooks (nothing special, just ordinary lined A4) and 2H pencils with eraser tips. I usually type up what I’ve written the next day – it’s a great form of editing. I also prefer to write outdoors although the rainy months in Vancouver make that a challenge!

Liv:  I always used to write longhand, and could not go straight to Word. Now I find it really difficult to physically write. Laziness might have something to do with it, but I find using my PC so much quicker. I like to be alone, but that doesn’t happen often.

What was your favourite childhood book?  

Val: ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ And I regularly re-read it as an adult. I just love those alarmingly vivid characters like the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter. I also think Alice was my first role model – always asking questions and speaking her mind.

Liv: I was always reading as a child. I loved Enid Blyton, and of course, would write my own adventure stories, just like her. I was probably a child plagiarist, come to think of it. I had favourite books which I’d read over and over, some of which are quite obscure but I still remember so well – ‘Death Mask,’ by Ellis Peters, ‘Don’t Knock the Corners Off’ by Caroline Glyn, ‘Exile for Annis’ by Josephine Elder. And the classic children’s stories – ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘The Water Babies,’ etc.

Name one book that made you laugh?  

: I remember laughing out loud on a London Tube train at something in Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and a woman scowled at me like I’d cursed in a church. Other people craned their heads to see the title of my book. I do that a lot, too – I’m always nosy about what other people are reading.

Liv: I also laughed aloud on a train at one of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ books. I don’t know if anyone noticed. I just kept reading. And laughing.

Name one book that made you cry?  

Val: ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. It’s about a father and son in a post-Apocalyptic world. The subject-matter was heavy-going yet I couldn’t put the book down because the main characters were very real and I cared desperately about what happened to them. The ending broke my heart so much that I couldn’t bear to watch the movie, even though I love Viggo Mortensen, who played the role of the father.

Liv: I tend to avoid books which I know are about sad things, but I can still get caught – the last book I actually cried at was Sue Moorcroft’s ‘Starting Over,’ the last few pages of which were such a roller-coaster of emotion I had tears running down my face.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?   

Val: I’ve just finished reading Jane Lovering’s ‘Star Struck’ and I fell in love with her cool and intense hero, Jack Whitaker. A talented and mysterious writer of a famous fictional sci-fi show, Jack smokes, wears rumpled clothes, and often walks around in his bare feet. If I met him, we’d have margaritas by the hotel pool, then I’d persuade him to come away with me in a Mustang convertible on a crazy road trip across America.

Liv: Probably Gandalf, because I’d try to talk him into weaving a few spells for me. One of my favourite heroes is Jim Ironheart from Dean Koontz’s ‘Cold Fire.’ Dean Koontz is actually very good at writing the kind of hero who is attractive to women. Some male writers create heroes who are very Boys Own, action-men type, who might appeal more to a male reader. Oh, and Barrons from Karen Moning’s ‘Fever’ series. Christian Grey, eat your heart out…

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 

Val: Any book with a Scottish theme because her homeland is her passion.

Liv: ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett. (Questions which ask you to choose one of something are really hard!)

Are you inspired by any particular author or book? 

Val: Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” which I first read in my early teens. I loved her descriptions of Manderley, the mystery at the heart of the story, and the fact that her narrator (the Girl) was gauche and uncertain. I don’t like romance characters to be too perfect.

Liv: Enid Blyton inspired me as a child. Maeve Binchy has also inspired me – such a natural story-teller. I’d have to include Tolkien – after reading ‘Lord of the Rings,’ it was two years until I read another book. I was bereft! The mark of a good book is surely one you can’t put down but don’t want to end.

What is your guilty pleasure read?   

Val: Twitter is my guilty pleasure read. Guilty because it means time spent away from my own writing, but there’s so much creativity and wit to be found on Twitter. I love Joanne Harris, Louise Brealey, Ian Rankin, Jennifer Saunders, A L Kennedy, Sam Neill, Alan Cumming …

Liv:  Fan fiction maybe? I actually wrote some ‘Lord of the Rings’ fanfic. I just regret that I never had Faramir as a dominant, into S&M. I could be a millionaire now…

Who are your favourite authors?  

Val: There are so many! Impossible to choose. A friend and I used to assign a favourite author for each letter of the alphabet so here goes: Austen, the Brontes, Peter Carey, Daphne Du Maurier, George Eliot, Fitzgerald, Gaskell, Joanne Harris, Ishiguro, James Joyce, James Kelman, Penelope Lively, Hilary Mantel, Naipaul, Terry Pratchett, Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Tolkien, Barry Unsworth, Virginia Woolf. But that’s only a fraction of the many writers I love.

Liv: I’m ashamed to say, I’ve never read many classic authors, so my taste is pretty mainstream, but I think there’s some great stuff out there. Through Choc Lit I’ve discovered writers whose work I really like. Also Patricia Scanlan, Lesley Pearse, Dean Koontz, Tolkien – and a wonderful Irish writer called Walter Macken, whose trilogy ‘Seek the Fair Land’ is one of my favourite reads of all time. Maybe I’d give that to my best friend instead.  

My thanks to Choc Lit who sent my copy of Beneath An Irish Sky for review and to Liv and Val for their interesting and honest answers.   I loved the book and wish you lots of success x