Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Good House by Ann Leary

How do you prove you're not an alcoholic? 
Hildy Good has reached that dangerous time in a woman's life - middle-aged and divorced, she is an oddity in her small but privileged town. But Hildy isn't one for self-pity and instead meets the world with a wry smile, a dark wit and a glass or two of Pinot Noir. When her two earnest grown-up children stage 'an intervention' and pack Hildy off to an addiction centre, she thinks all this fuss is ridiculous. After all, why shouldn't Hildy enjoy a drink now and then?

But as the story progresses, we start to see another side to Hildy Good, and to her life's greatest passion - the lies and self deceptions needed to support her drinking, and the damage she causes to those she loves. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behaviour of one threatens to expose the other, with devastating consequences.

The Good House by Ann Leary is published in the UK by Atlantic Books on 3 October 2013.

This the story of an alcoholic.  Hildy Good is a reasonably successful real estate agent, in her mid 50s, she has a gay ex-husband, two petulant grown-up daughters, a mountain of debt and a problem with alcohol. Hildy herself doesn't have a problem with how much she drinks, she's happy drinking wine alone every evening, she enjoys her naked swims in the cold weather, in the company of her two dogs.  She could probably do without the hangover the next morning, and maybe she does forget some of the night before, but she's a grown up, she can handle it.  Or can she?

Hildy is a character that is difficult to like.  She's in denial and she's not always very nice.  She is, however, a well-drawn, believable character who is incredibly outspoken, often dismissive, but deep-down has a good heart.  Hildy is her own worst enemy, she does herself no favours at all.  Her constant denial of her problems, never learning from her mistakes - it's hard to find any redeeming characteristics at all.  Despite this, as a reader, I felt so sorry for Hildy.  It's clear that despite everything; her business and her friends, she's so lonely, and so unhappy.

The novel really is Hildy's story, but there are some great supporting characters mixed up in this tale too.  Rebecca; recently moved into town, she's rich and pretty and seems to have it all.  Peter; the psychiatrist who finds himself attracted to Hildy, and how her mind works.  And then there is Frank, probably my favourite character.  Frank is the town handy-man, a bit of an eccentric who doesn't really give a damn about what people think.  Frank and Hildy have 'history', which they tend to repeat every now and again!

It is clear that Ann Leary has drawn on her personal experiences when writing The Good House.  She gets into the mind-set of the alcoholic in denial, creating a realistic picture that the reader can totally believe in.

This is a novel that gently unfolds.  Hildy's story is layered with that of her fellow townsfolk.  It's engaging, often funny and very straight forward.  I enjoyed the story, and Leary's writing style.

My thanks to Corinna from Atlantic Books who sent my copy for review.

The Good House is going to be made into a movie, starring Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. I think that is perfect casting.  I'll look forward to seeing the film.

ANN LEARY is the author of the memoir An Innocent, A Broad and the novel Outtakes From a Marriage, and hosts a show on US radio station NPR. She has written fiction and non-fiction for various magazines and literary publications. She is married to the actor Denis Leary, and they share their small farm in Connecticut with their children, four dogs, three horses and an angry cat named Sneakers. Ann Leary has spoken about her own experiences of being an alcoholic and is available for interviews and to write features. Find out more on   Follow her on Twitter @annleary

Monday 23 September 2013

Blink Of An Eye by Cath Staincliffe

In a heartbeat, life changes.  
A sunny, Sunday afternoon, a family barbecue, and Naomi Baxter and her boyfriend Alex celebrate good news.    Driving home, Naomi's recklessness causes a fatal accident, leaving nine-year-old Lily Vasey dead, Naomi fighting for her life, Alex bruised and bloody and the lives of three families torn apart.
Traumatised, Naomi has no clear memory of the crash and her mother Carmel is forced to break the shocking truth of the child's death to her.   Naomi may well be prosecuted for causing death by dangerous driving.  If convicted she will face a jail term of up to 14 years, especially if her sister's claim that Naomi was drink-driving is proven.In the months before the trial, Carmel strives to help a haunted and remorseful Naomi cope with the consequences of her actions. 
Blink of an Eye is a novel about the nightmare that could be just around the next bend for any one of us.

I've been a fan of Cath Staincliffe's writing for some time now, and especially enjoy her stand-alone novels. She also the author of three crime series; Sal Kilkenny, Janine Lewis and Scott & Bailey.  The Scott & Bailey series have been made into a hugely popular TV series.

Blink Of An Eye is Staincliffe's fifth stand-alone and was published in paperback by Constable & Robinson's C & R Crime imprint on 18 July 2013.

Blink Of An Eye has firmly confirmed Cath Staincliffe's place as one of my favourite authors, she's delivered a novel that deals with serious and sensitive issues, and leaves the reader wondering just what they would do in the same situation.

The lives of the central family are shattered one Sunday afternoon.  Life had seemed pretty perfect as they all gather for a barbecue.  Carmel and Phil, the parents, were finally about to set off on their travels.  Their daughters were settled; Suzanne is happily married with a gorgeous new baby and younger sister Naomi is celebrating her boyfriend Alex's new job.  That was BEFORE.    Then comes the AFTER.     Naomi and Alex have an accident on their way home from the barbecue.  Naomi is seriously injured and Alex pulls her clear from the burning car.  They've hit and knocked down a nine-year-old girl who died at the scene.

Blink Of An Eye is a fairly short novel, but Cath Staincliffe gets under the skin and into the minds of the lead characters so well.    Carmel is horrified to find that Naomi had driven home after drinking all afternoon, she cannot believe it.  Naomi was not the easiest of children, she had her moments during her teenage years, but Carmel would have bet her life that she would never have driven whilst drunk.   Naomi has no recollection of the accident at all.    When she learns that she is responsible for the death of a small child, and that she faces a prison sentence, her life crumbles.  Her guilt eats away at her, she distances herself from her family and breaks up with Alex.    Naomi's sister Suzanne does not hold back with her opinion, she is disgusted and rejects Naomi outright.

Carmel is determined that she will find out all of the answers and begins her quest to find out the truth.  The truth turns out to be the most shocking part of this story, an explosive discovery that changes things but doesn't make them better.

Told in alternate chapters by Naomi and Carmel, this story is so skilfully written, allowing the reader to get a real insight into the characters behind the story.   The tender, yet hard-hitting and descriptive writing shows just what the impact of such a traumatic event can have on an entire family.   Cath Staincliffe has a real gift for getting into the mind of the character, portraying Naomi's gradual breakdown with sympathy and realism.

A novel of betrayal, guilt and family relationships that is an utterly compelling read.

My thanks to Saskia Angenent from Constable & Robinson who provided my copy for review.

Cath Staincliffe is the author of the acclaimed Sal Kilkenny mysteries as well as being a scriptwriter for ITV's hit police series, Blue Murder, starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. Cath was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library award in 2006. She lives in Manchester with her partner and their three children.

For more information about the author and her other novels visit  Follow her on Twitter @cathstaincliffe

F**K - An Irreverent History of the F-word by Rufus Lodge

An amusing, informative, controversial and utterly irreverent history of the world’s favourite word.
F, U, C and K – four letters that can cause outrage, scandal, embarrassment or instant relief if you hit your thumb with a hammer.
In this wide-ranging and frequently hilarious history of the F-word, Rufus Lodge searches out the origins of our language’s most popular obscenity, and chronicles its dramatic arrival in our everyday lives. As he discovers, the F-word can be heard among aristocrats and astronauts, rock stars and royals, poets and politicians, even in the company of Father Ted and Basil Brush.
No-one is safe from the F-word’s outrageous progress, as innocent animals, fragrant mothers and squeaky-clean TV hosts are dragged into the fray. The cast of characters includes Shakespeare, the Beatles, Andy Murray, T.S. Eliot, Elton, Camilla and everyone unfortunate enough to live in an Austrian town with a very embarrassing name.
F*** is a cavalcade of priceless anecdotes, historical research, filthy jokes and definitions too devious for any decent dictionary – guaranteed to make you laugh, and broaden your vocabulary*.
* The publisher takes no responsibility for any embarrassment caused when readers drop the F-bomb after reading this book.

Rufus Lodge has written this book under a pen name, so as not to offend his elderly mother!

F**K - An Irreverent History of the F-word by Rufus Lodge is published by The Friday Project on 26 September, here's a book that is fascinating, explicit, laugh-out-loud funny, informative and really very very good.

So, do you use the F-word?  How do you feel when other people use it?  Does it appear less offensive when certain people say it?    I was brought up in an F-word free house, in fact I can honestly say that I've never heard my Dad use the F-word, never ever (although my husband assures me that Dad does swear - only never in front of his daughter!).    Me?  I'm quite good at the F-word, and have even been know to utter it in front of Dad at times.  Language and the evolution of the use of swear words really fascinate me.

I think that Lodge must have had a whale of a time when researching F**K - it's a real gem of a book, and yes, it may offend some people purely because of the title - but really, it shouldn't.   It's a history book, and anyone that loves language will be hooked from the very beginning.  Lodge has great style - he's presented his facts in a way that will appeal to most readers (although I expect teenage boys will snigger loudest!).

My thanks to Jo from LightBrigade PR, and The Friday Project who sent my copy for review.

Lodge has set out to trace the origins of the F-word and to explore its role in our language across the ages.  Lodge looks at everything from:

  • Just who brought the F-word across the channel into England in the first place
  • What on earth folk used in the Middle Ages before the F-word's invention
  • The F-word's role in film,music and literature
  • A handy guide to very British F-word phrases, F-word abbreviations and it's descriptive use when used in conjunction with names from the animal kingdom
  • The first utterances of the F-word on TV, which famous faces have slipped up on air over the years and why broadcasters are more apologetic about the F-word now than they were in Mary Whitehouse's day
Here's a clip of Richard E Grant reading from  F**k: An Irreverent History of the F-Word by Rufus Lodge. 

Saturday 21 September 2013

Under A Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

I can't describe how excited I was when my proof copy of Elizabeth Haynes' latest novel Under A Silent Moon dropped through my letter box.  I am a huge fan of her writing, and her first novel Into The Darkest Corner is one of the cleverest, most chilling stories that I've ever read - I recommend it to everyone that I meet.

Elizabeth Haynes has moved to a new publisher; Sphere, and they've been doing a fine job over the past week in marketing Under The Silent Moon to reviewers - we've received lots of clues via email, tempting and taunting us to try and solve the crime.  It's been a really clever way of raising awareness of a new novel.

Under A Silent Moon will be published by Sphere as an eBook on 15 October 2013, and as a paperback original on 24 April 2014.

Under A Silent Moon is something of a new direction for Elizabeth Haynes and follows a murder investigation headed up by DCI Louisa Smith.  Told over a six-day period and interspersed with source documents, readers are able to interpret the evidence alongside Lou and her team.

A suspected murder and a suspected suicide - both on the same night, both victims living within yards of each other, both victims linked to many of the same people.   Lou Smith is the newly-appointed Detective Chief Inspector, this is the first time she's been in charge of a murder investigation and she is determined that the killer will not get away.

Elizabeth Haynes has delivered a well-researched, incredibly well-written crime novel.  Her vast knowledge gained when working as a police intelligence analyst is apparent throughout the story, this is an exciting, compelling and extremely gripping crime drama.   Lou and her team are characters that are so realistic that they become part of your life when reading about them.  Lou has an especially difficult relationship with her DI, Andy Hamilton, they have a past, he's a bit of a playboy and something of a loose cannon.  Her relationship with Canadian Jason, her assigned analyst is much easier and their relationship develops throughout the story.

There is nothing that I hate more than solving a crime mystery half way through the book, there was absolutely no chance of this happening during Under A Silent Moon.  This is a tightly plotted story, with many twists and turns, lots of associated characters and so many potential suspects, just when you think you've solved it, something else happens, and bang! you realise that you were so so wrong.

The sub-plots, the lives of the associated characters and the mechanisms of the murder team all work so very well together, they all blend seamlessly together, and although this could be an overly complicated story, it really works.  Each individual strand is told so well and then sewn so well into the main story that it flows effortlessly.

Huge applause for Elizabeth Haynes, this really is a fine crime story.  A police procedural novel with a difference.  The added extras - the witness statements, the texts, emails and telephone analysis all work so well and add another dimension to the whole story.

I believe that this is the first in the series that will feature DCI Lou Smith - what a brilliant beginning, I'm already looking forward to the next instalment.

My thanks go to Stephanie Melrose, Press Officer at Little Brown Book Group (Sphere) who sent my copy for review, and has tempted me with her email clues over the last week.

Connect the clues and follow the conversation #underasilentmoon @Elizjhaynes  @thecrimevault

Elizabeth Haynes' first novel Into The Darkest Corner, won Amazon's Book of the Year in 2011 and Amazon's Rising Star Award for debut novels.  Having worked for the past seven years as a police intelligence analyst, she is currently taking a career break, and writes in coffee shops and a shed-office which takes up much of the garden.  Elizabeth grew up in Sussex and studied English, German and Art History at Leicester University; she now lives in Kent with her husband and son.  She is a regular participant in, and a Municipal Liaison for, National Novel Writing Month - an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Afterworld by Lois Walden

Meet four generations of the Duvalier family, for whom sugar cane is both a blessing and a curse.  From patriarch Carter, who perishes before the novel begins - after being hit in the head by an exploding manhole cover - and his indomitable holy-roller wife Lily, to their dysfunctional sons Winston and Steven, and their equally screwed-up grandchildren, the Duvaliers, both dead and alive, would do anything to keep their secrets hidden.
As their world is blown apart by the winds of Katrina, and consumed by greed and lust - and with Afterworld exercising an unearthly control over them all - their story creates a novel of unimaginable beauty, dark humour and terrible tragedy.

Afterworld is Lois Walden's second novel and is published in the UK by Arcadia on 22 September 2013.

This is certainly one of the most original novels that I have ever read.  It's a mash-up of sex, laughter, drink and debauchery.  A story told in many layers by many generations.   Each quirky voice is hugely individual and more than a little bit eccentric.

The reader is led through Louisiana, and along the way many secrets are uncovered and a corrupt world is exposed.

This is a story full of magic, it's incredibly clever - almost a little too clever for me and I find it quite difficult to write a review that does any justice to the quite incredible writing.  I'd really recommend that readers go out and read it for themselves.  Then, please, let me know what you think!

My thanks to Colin from who sent my copy for review.

Lois Walden is a writer, performer, lyricist, teaching artist, and founder of the star-studded gospel group The Sisters of Glory. In 2010 Arcadia published her strong debut novel One More Stop. Her latest is a hugely imaginative tour of Louisiana and its corrupt beauty, and seductive secrets along with a vision that carries through life, death, and back again. Most recently, she has been commissioned to write the Buddhist opera, Mila and is at work on her third novel. 
Find out more about Lois and her work at

Questions  & Answers with Lois Walden,  Author of Afterworld

What was the genesis of Afterworld?
I started writing a book of erotic short stories each of which was about how we use sex to control our lives, transcend our pain and hold power over others: the misuse of sexual energy, at which I am an expert! After quite some time, I pulled these stories out of the drawer, took a good look at this one in particular and decided it should be a novel. It is not just a book about sex; though there is quite a bit of sex in it... and sex is never just. Never.

Did writing Afterworld change your outlook in any way?
It's left me questioning everything I ever thought and believed. I am now, after all my searching, a romantic existentialist, which is an oxymoron: I only exist in the now and my heart is always breaking.
Though I am hopelessly questing for some mystical outcome – because of things that I have practiced and studied in my past – I know at this moment that there is no outcome. As Kenny Loggins wrote, "This is It." My faith in mankind and humanity with its group consciousness has been torn asunder. Life is about the individual. The greatest way to live a life or make a difference is to live one's life to its fullest. I can only make change by being more and more who I am without external rules. And who I am, hopefully, changes every second I am.

What do you hope that readers take away when they finish Afterworld?
I leave that up to the reader. I hope they have a fabulous ride, that they question their own beliefs. That
“pervert”, “drunk”, “gay”, “straight”, “death”, and “life”, are just labels to give man his identity. None of
these things is for us to judge.

Which writers do you most admire?
William Faulkner and Philip Roth. Philip Roth because his books tap into the psyche of my genetic makeup and Faulkner because I feel as though I've lived somewhere in the south and as if I were in some of his characters’ lives but was unseen. With his writing you really have to pay attention. Sound and the Fury and American Pastoral are my favorites. I read an enormous amount of non fiction; Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi and Hazrat Inayat Khan's, The Music of Life are two of my favorites. And let's not forget Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

Both your novels explore LGBT themes from different angles. What was different about writing One More Stop compared to Afterworld?
One More Stop was an incredibly personal book that tapped into my life on the road as a teacher in classrooms filled with tormented teens all over America. It also tapped into my relationship with my mother, who committed suicide many years ago. It gave me the opportunity to heal that particularly difficult mother daughter relationship. After all, when someone takes their life you tend to blame yourself for their death, even if it has nothing to do with you. Afterworld truly expresses the notion that at all times there is something in play between the seen and unseen. We do not have the slightest idea about the hows and whys of what we do or do not become. We make this shit up to survive.
For me, LGBT, gay or straight is all sexuality. How we deal with what we're dealt is what makes us genuine. I love women. I love men's bodies, but emotionally I am definitely gay. You can't hide behind any label. Look at what labels did to people like Oscar Wilde. I am glad I am alive at this time, and not that time. You have to claim your sexuality and not let it shame you.

What fascinates you about sex?
The lack of it, the quest for it, the power of it, the remembrances of it, the hopes for the future of it, the complete all encompassing need and desire for it, the manifestation of life through it. Whether you are gay, straight, just love it, because sex is great, fun. As far as I'm concerned, the libido is where it's at.
The other parts of us are so cluttered with moral morass. If you have completely lost touch with at least some shred of your libido, you might just as well die, or pray for an orgasm.

What is your obsession with death?
Some days the thought of it scares the shit out of me and yet, I look forward to it. It's a conundrum, and I like the fact that it has my brain twisted at all times. Probably what I write will always have some death involved. Because there always is some death involved. Sondheim says "Every Day a Little Death." People always try to put a rational spin on why death comes, but the truth is we don't have a clue.
Who or what influences you in your day to day, supports you in how you live, how you work, how you
play, how you see and live in the world?
Margot, my partner, supports me in more ways than I care to mention. She has taught me about will, hard work, and the way of the warrior. I tend to be passive. I mean like staring at bees sucking on clover. I can do that for hours, and have. I have walked away from many opportunities in my career because they required will, and work. I just walked, started another chapter, called it my way of dealing and left the baggage behind me. There was always the same baggage wherever I went, so now I stick to things, even if it drives me crazy.

Where do you write?
Anywhere. It's not that I write: I think and think, take notes, an idea goes into this part of my brain and I turn it around – it goes on for weeks and months – and I know how it begins and ends and I know the arc and the story... and then I sit down and fill it in. Sometimes I'm in a car and I have to pull off to the side of the road and write something. When I'm in the midst of writing I don't write every day – I wish I did – but because I do many other creative and foolish things, I can't. I'm not looking forward to sitting down to the next book. Afterworld challenged everything I believed in and I'm not anxious to be exposed again, but I will and I have begun. This next book is a very emotional novel.

How do you choose your subjects?
They choose me. People I meet, things that happen. The synchronicity of certain experiences and then all of a sudden seeing a panoply of a unique world. Sometimes they percolate for years.

What would I like to be when I grow up?

I'd like to be fully present.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Swimming Pool Summer by Rebecca Farnworth

On an idyllic Greek island, three women try to keep their secrets hidden.
Frankie hasn't had a proper relationship for years.  But although she tells everyone this is how she wants it, secretly she's in love with her best friend Patrick.
Tor didn't think she could have a baby, but now she is pregnant by her younger lover. Could this mean the end of a romance that has started to mean more to her than she expected?
Leila seems to have it all - a happy marriage, a beautiful daughter and a successful career.  But she is harbouring a secret that could destroy her marriage.
And when an unexpected guest arrives, events start to spin out of control ....... 

The nights are beginning to draw in, the temperature has dropped and I'm really missing the sunshine. Despite the grey and gloomy weather outside, Swimming Pool Summer by Rebecca Farnworth quickly transported me to the Greek island of Zakynthos with ease.

I'm a massive fan of Greece, especially the Ionian islands and have visited Zakynthos on three occasions.  It's clear from her writing that Rebecca Farnworth loves the island too, her passion for it's beauty and it's people shines though, adding so much to the whole reading experience.

Three women; Frankie, Tor and Leila arrive on Zakynthos - along with an assortment of friends, partners and children.  They've known and supported each other for years, way back to their university days.  This holiday is a chance to relax, away from the stresses of their busy lives, a chance to unwind and spend some quality time together.  Each of the women have their own worries and hopefully a couple of weeks in the sunshine will make them all feel better.

The women are shocked when their friend Patrick arrives.  He hadn't told them that he was bringing his new girlfriend Candy.   Twenty-two year old Candy with her fake nails, dyed red hair, towering heels and full make-up is going to find it hard to fit in, especially as Frankie is in love with Patrick.  Oh and then Matt arrives, everyone loves Matt except for Frankie who just can't bear him.  It looks like this is going to be a holiday to remember.

I really enjoyed this novel.   Rebecca Farnworth writes a great story.  I loved the short chapters, each one told from the viewpoint of one of the characters.  This really lets the reader get to know each of the main players by not only seeing the side of them that everyone else sees, but being party to their secret thoughts and hidden secrets.  
It would be easy to really dislike a couple of the characters.  Frankie is stubborn, obsessive and a bit of a control freak, she doesn't appear to know how to enjoy herself.   Candy appears to be a bit of a bimbo, more interested in waxing and fake tan than getting to know her holiday companions.   Patrick can be foul, he drinks too much, he's rude and he's incredibly thick skinned.

As the story unfolds, the reader gets to know more about each character, and sees beneath the exterior, gets to know the story behind the facade that they put up.  

I loved the mix of holiday sunshine and relaxation and some very serious issues - the author blends these very well and has produced a really enjoyable, easy to read novel that made me yearn for another holiday very soon!

My thanks to Tina at Tripfiction who sent my copy for review.  Swimming Pool Sunday was published by Arrow Books (Random House) on 18 July 2013.

About Rebecca Farnworth (from her website

I didn’t seriously get into writing until I was in my thirties, despite always wanting to be a writer. Before that I was an English teacher, then worked at the BBC as a radio producer.I loved working at the BBC. But I still wanted to write and there never seemed to be enough time. So I took a leap of faith and decided to go freelance so I could continue to work in radio [and therefore eat – I cannot do the starving artist routine] and finally write. I wrote light-hearted features for magazines, and I started writing my first novel.The turning point in my career as a writer came when I was interviewed by the literary agent, Maggie Hanbury, who was looking for a ghostwriter for Katie Price’s autobiography. It was one of those life-changing moments, though I didn’t know it at the time. I got the job and ghost wrote what was to be the first of four best selling autobiographies. I have also ghost written a series of best selling novels with Katie Price.I have also written three novels under my own name, Valentine and A Funny Thing About Love and my third novel Swimming Pool Summer comes out in July 2013. I would describe my novels as romantic comedies that should make you smile but also have a bit of grit in them.
I live in Brighton with my husband and three children.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

The Green Hills of Home by Emma Bennet

Gwen Jones, a young Welsh writer, is desperate to save the family farmhouse from being sold from under her critically ill mother and herself.
When she lands a lucrative three-book deal with an eminent publisher, she thinks her problems are all over.  However, Gwen's need to be near her sick mother means she's unable to travel to London to work with her devilishly desirable editor, John Thatcher, and he must come and stay with her in Wales.
Handsome and eminently capable, cosmopolitan John is used to getting his own way and has plans for the future which certainly don't include being distracted by pretty Welsh girls; nevertheless when he journeys into the country to work with Gwen it's not long before he finds himself falling in love with her, as well as the house she's so anxious to save.
But is John capable of loving anyone as much as his job?
And when he has to decide between his goals and Gwen, which will he choose?
The Green Hills of Home is Emma Bennet's debut novel that was independently published on 21 June 2013.

A heart-warming and sweet romance, this is an enchanting little story following the tried and tested tradition of boy meets girl, they overcome many obstacles in their way, they fall in love.

Although the story centres around the two main characters of Gwen and John, I felt that the real stars of this novel were the Welsh setting and Gwen's wonderful dog Oscar!    Gwen is an aspiring author, living in Wales with her mother in the house that she grew up in, she works shifts in the local tea-room in between penning her novel.  John is an editor, he is focussed on his work, more at home in the City than in the country and determined that he will not be swayed by his feelings for Gwen.   Gwen desperately needs this book deal, her home is about to be sold, her mother is in hospital after having a stroke, she feels responsible and carries a heavy burden on her shoulders.

As Gwen and John start to work together on her book, their relationship gradually changes.  John begins to enjoy the solitude of the beautiful Welsh countryside, walking the dog and becoming part of the small community.   Gwen realises that she doesn't have to be quite so independent, that there is the possibility that she may not have to shoulder all of her burdens alone.

This is the sort of story that is perfect for either reading in the sunshine, with a glass of something cool to accompany it, or alternatively tucked up on the sofa with a mug of tea and a packet of biscuits.  It's a get-away-from-it-all, feel good novel will raise the spirits and leave the reader with a warm feeling.

I'd like to thank my friend Joan who passed on a copy of The Green Hills of Home from Emma for review.

Emma Bennet grew up and lived in London, before falling in love and moving to Wales to be with her own hero.   Emma now lives with her husband, children and many animals in a small Welsh market town.  The beautiful landscape around her home gave her the inspiration for The Green Hills of Home.
Her second novel, The Spaniard's Secret Daughter will be available late 2013.

Emma likes (in no particular order); cake, books, Cary Grant films, prosecco, chocolate, guinea pigs, knitting, quilting and happily ever afters!

Find out more about Emma at her website, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter


Monday 16 September 2013

You Are The Love Of My Life by Susan Richards Shreve

It's 1973 and the Watergate scandal is on everyone's lips.  Lucy Painter, a children's book illustrator and single mother of two, leaves New York and the married father of her children to return to Washington, DC, to the neighbourhood where she grew up and the house where her father committed suicide.  Lucy hopes for a fresh start, but her life is full of secrets: her children know nothing of her father's death or the identity of their own father.  As new neighbours enter their insular lives, her family's safety and stability become threatened.

There is a gentle elegance to Susan Richards Shreve's writing.  This is a slow-moving and quietly composed novel, one that relies heavily on it's characters rather than it's plot.

Lucy and her two children are moving from their New York home, they are going back to the house in Washington where Lucy found her father's body hanging after he committed suicide.  Ever since that day Lucy has lived a life that revolves around secrets.  Her mother whisked her away, insisted that they spoke only in French, changed their surname and never spoke about her father again.   Lucy studied art, she met the married man who became the father of her two children when she was no more than a child herself, he has been her only lover ever since.
Lucy's children have never known who their father is and know nothing about their grandfather's death.

Washington is very different to New York City.  The neighbours are overly friendly, thinking nothing of walking into Lucy's kitchen without an invitation or even knocking.  This is a tight-knit community, the residents like to know everything about everyone, and if they don't - well they imagine.   One of the most talked-about residents is August Ruff; Lucy's next door neighbour.  A young widower, an author, a bit of a recluse.  Lucy and August soon become friends.

This is not a story to excite a reader, it won't make you rush to turn the page, the plot is vague and drawn out.  However, the characters are beautifully created, with many layers.  The neighbourhood is perfectly described - the almost claustrophobic friendships are splendid.

The real beauty of this novel is the exploration of the effects that secrets can have on a family, the long-reaching effects of hiding truths and the difficulties in exposing them.

You Are The Love Of My Life is published here in the UK by W W Norton on 17 September 2013 - my thanks to the publishers who sent my copy for review.

Susan Richards Shreve is the author of fourteen novels, a memoir, and twenty-nine books for children.  She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment grant and is cochairman of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation.   She lives in Washington, DC.
Find out more about Susan Richards Shreve at her website 

Sunday 15 September 2013

In Bloom by Matthew Crow

Francis Wootton is a fifteen year old poet manque and as far as he's concerned his subtle genius is wasted on his family - and pretty much everyone else in his hometown of Tyne-and-Wear.  His mum's run off her feet, his dad's just run off, his older brother Chris is permanently broke, and he isn't even sure he likes his best friend Jacob. So Francis often stumbles over the obstacles of adolescence alone.
Lower Fifth is supposed to be his time, the start of an endless horizon towards whatever-comes-next.  But when he is diagnosed with leukemia, that wide-open future suddenly narrows, and a whole new world of worry presents itself.
There's the notion of being held back a year at school, the threat of imminent baldness, having to locate his best shirt in case a visiting princess or pop-star fancies him for a photo-op ..... But he hadn't reckoned on meeting Amber - fierce, tough, one-of-a-kind Amber - and finding a reason to tackle it all - the good, the bad, and everything in between - head on.

In Bloom will be published by Much-in-Little; an imprint of Constable & Robinson, in hardback on 19 September 2013.

So, another novel aimed at young adults that deals with the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis - this has been done before, and there has been a lot of comparisons already between Matthew Crow's In Bloom and John Green's The Fault In Our Stars.  I've not read the John Green book, but I have read other young adult novels in the past few years that have a similar subject matter.  I wondered how the subject could be dealt with originally.   I am still in a state of wonder!  Wondering just where Matthew Crow has popped up from? I hate to admit that I'd not heard of him before now, but I am certainly going to track down his other works, if they are anywhere near as well written as In Bloom, then a treat is in store.

Being a fifteen-year-old boy is never easy, all of those raging hormones, the discovery of the opposite sex, the thought of having to leave school and find a job in the not too distant future.  Having to deal with the more popular, more trendy guys at school - it's far from easy.   For Francis Wootton, things seem even harder.  His single mum is always busy, his dad did a bunk years ago, his grandmother has few social graces and his older brother is both skint and gay.  Francis likes poetry and books, and old films.  He's a thinker, not a fighter.  Life is hard.

Francis has cancer, so does Amber.  Francis loves Amber and hopes very much that she will love him too. That first teenage romance is hard enough for an everyday couple, but having to get to know each other and find out what is important to both of them is made so much harder when most of their relationship is carried out on the children's cancer ward - in between treatments, vomiting, losing their hair and trying to just keep living.

I love Francis Wootton, I love Amber and I love their respective families.  Matthew Crow is an exceptionally talented author who has expertly created a realistic and brilliant character in Francis.  This is an honest, sometimes very painful, often extremely funny and always uplifting novel that really touched my heart. Francis is a boy who is determined, yet vulnerable.  His emotions and hormones are all over the place, his feelings for Amber both excite him and frighten him.  He's completely under her spell.  

I was completely under Matthew Crow's spell.  This short novel is just perfectly brilliant and I will recommend In Bloom to all readers, young and old.

My thanks to Saskia from Constable & Robinson who kindly sent my copy for review.

Matthew Crow was born in 1987 and raised in Newcastle.  Having worked as a freelance journalist since his teens he has contributed to a number of publications including the Independent on Sunday and the Observer.  He has written two novels for adults. The second, My Dearest Jonah, was nominated for the Dylan Thomas Prize.  In Bloom is his first book for young adults.
Follow Matthew on Twitter @mizzlecrizzle
Matthew Crow has put together playlists inspired by Francis and Amber.  You can listen on Spotify and even join in the playlist and add your own songs.  Listen to the playlists.


It's Raining Men by Milly Johnson

Regular readers of my blog will remember that I went to the launch event for Milly Johnson's ninth novel It's Raining Men .  It was held at Waterstone's in Meadowhall, Sheffield and my friends Kate and Wendy and I had a great time that day.  There were dancing men, umbrellas and chocolate!  Check out my post from last month to find out more about our day.

Well, the weather has certainly changed, and not for the better.  It's been chilly and rainy and generally grey here in Lincolnshire over the past week.  I thought to myself; 'How can I get a bit of sunshine back?' and then remembered that I still had It's Raining Men to read - if anyone can bring a bit of fun and brightness into the world, then it's Milly Johnson.

It's Raining Men was published on 1 August 2013 by Simon & Schuster.

It's Raining Men is a little bit of a change for Milly, it features her trademark gritty Northern humour, and some fabulous leading characters, but added to the mix in this novel is a little hint of magic.  I'll admit that at first I wasn't sure if I would like the magical element, but am happy to say that she's nailed it, and nailed it down pretty hard and fast!

Three best friends, successful women who work hard and are all having a bit of an emotional roller-coaster of a time with their love lives.   May, Lara and Clare decide that it's time for some me-time, they need to get away from the relentless working routine, from their partners and from the City.  They need a break, somewhere where they can relax and be pampered, somewhere that is out of the way but will still provide the little luxuries that they deserve.   The spa that they book sounds perfect and they have ten whole days to spend chilling out and catching up on life.

They find themselves in Ren Dullem - this is not the spa resort that they booked.  This is a strange little village, with very few women, the sun doesn't shine and the locals are far from friendly.

And so begins their adventure in a village that wouldn't look out of place in a horror movie.  Dealing with three very different brothers, some very anti social shopkeepers and maybe a witch too!

Milly Johnson has served up a fabulously fun and quirky summer read that will delight her fans, add a little magic to mix of strange, but wonderfully drawn characters and let yourself be sucked in by the story. I loved the description of the village Ren Dullem - it's almost a character in it's own right.    Recommended as a great get-away-from-it-all story that will have you giggling and smiling.

Milly Johnson is a Sunday Times top ten bestseller, poet, columnist, joke-writer, radio presenter-in-training and winner of Come Dine With Me.
She likes cruising on big ships, owls, Peller Icewine, shopping for handbags in Venice, Ikea meatballs, the sea and having her hair done.  She hates marzipan, doing accounts and sandpaper.  Her novels are about the universal issues of friendship, family, betrayal, babies, rather nice food and a little bit of that magic in life that sometimes visits the unsuspecting.
It's Raining Men is her ninth book.
Find out more at or follow her on Twitter @millyjohnson

Saturday 14 September 2013

The Literary Gift Company - Gift Ideas for Bookish Folk

I have a weakness for all things book related and am lucky to have quite a few close friends who feel the same way.  I do enjoy tracking down special gifts for my bookish friends and over the past couple of years I've bought some really great items from The Literary Gift Company.

I was delighted to receive a parcel from Dani at The Literary Gift Company this week, she'd sent me one of their new items; the 2014 Bookish Cover Art Diary.   What a really gorgeous diary this is, it will make the perfect gift for bibliophiles, and although I hate to mention it, Christmas is really not far away now, so if you are planning to start your gift shopping soon I'd really recommend that you check out what The Literary Gift Company have to offer.

I really do love this diary.  It's spiral bound, with one week to a page and enough space to scribble those important appointments on every day.   The classic book cover pictures are wonderful - bright and colourful and really make the diary something very special.

Bookish Cover Art Diary 2014

Description: This carefully curated collection of ground breaking graphic design spans the spectrum of classic covers from antiquarian first edition dust-jackets to pulp fiction paperbacks and everything in between. Based on the popular Bookish range of Cover Art posters. 

A portion of the profits from this diary will go to The National Literacy Trust.

Details: Page to a week diary. Spiral-bound paperback. Measures 21 x 15cm.

The diary is priced at £7.99, and there is free delivery if you place an order of £30 or more.  

 I can assure you that you will have no problems at all in finding lots of other really interesting gifts to make up your order, and take advantage of the free delivery service. 

Here are  just a few of the other great items available from The Literary Gift Company

Description: Now you can give that priceless gift of a bit of peace and quiet to the reader in your life. Not particularly polite, but sometimes people need to be told! Perfect for anyone who just needs to finish the next chapter. And the one after that...Details: bone china. Measures 8cm high. Price: £9.95 

Borges Library Bag

Description: Borges' famous quote encapsulates our feelings for those precious and special places, libraries. Show your love for our much-threatened common resource with this beautiful bag, printed in white on red-brick-university-red.

Details: large strong cotton book bag with short handles. Measures 38 x 43 x 10cm.
Price: £5.00
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Friday 13 September 2013

Win a collection of Evergreens Classics from Alma Books

Alma Books were recently voted the Bookseller's Independent Publisher of the Year 2013

‘Alma’s publishing is making a cultural contribution that cannot be ignored
What they have done with translated fiction is absolutely astonishing.’  

To celebrate their win, Alma Books have just launched their classics 'Evergreens' series - the series is all about making great literature available to every reader at an affordable price of £4.99 without compromising on production and design.

Alma Books sent me a copy of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte from this new collection, and I have to say just how lovely these books are.   The cover is beautifully retro in design and I especially like the illustrations and text notes inside.  Despite these books retailing at only £4.99 - they really are great quality - bound in a very thick cover with substantial paper pages and text that is a decent reading size.  

Thanks to Alma Books, I have one set of four Evergreens Classics to give away here on the blog today. Entering the competition is easy - just fill out the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.  The giveaway will stay open for seven days, and one lucky winner will receive a set of the four books detailed below!

Why read the best works of literature in poor-quality editions or on a flickering screen? Why pay over the odds instead?

With the new Alma Classics series of Evergreen Classics, you’ll be able to own stylish and beautifully crafted editions of the greatest classics of all time, both English and in translation, for under five pounds.

Lavishly produced, with a wealth of extra material, new translations and a fresh editorial approach, the Alma Classics Evergreens will become the new standard editions for all students and lovers of good books.

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
A new edition to include pictures and an extensive section on Emily Brontë’s life and works

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
A new translation which contains a wealth of extra reading and visual material

Machiavelli’s The Prince
A new translation which contains a wealth of extra reading and visual material, including a new translation of Hegel’s famous essay ‘Machiavelli’s The Prince and Italy’

Erasmus’s Praise of Folly
A new translation of Praise of Folly which includes other works by Erasmus not available in any other editions – such as Pope Julius Barred from Heaven (first ever English translation), Epigram against Pope Julius II and a selection of his Adages – as well as extensive annotations and a detailed section on Erasmus’s life and works

More titles will be added to the series on a regular basis after the series’ launch in September.

For more information about Alma Books and Alma Classics, check out their websites: and, the Alma Books Facebook page and the Alma Classics Facebook page or the Alma Books Twitter feed 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday 9 September 2013

Tempting Fate by Jane Green

When Gabby first met Elliott she knew he was the man for her.  In twenty years of marriage she has never doubted her love for him - even when he refused to give her the one thing she still wants most of all.  But now their two daughters are growing up Gabby feels that time and her youth are slipping away.  For the first time in her life she is restless. And then she meets Matt ....
Intoxicated by the way this young, handsome and successful man makes her feel, Gabby is momentarily blinded to what she stands to lose on this dangerous path.  And in one reckless moment she destroys all that she holds dear.
Consumed by regret, Gabby does everything she can to repair the home she has broken. But are some betrayals too great to forgive?

I've read quite a lot of Jane Green's novels over the years, and am especially fond of 'Bookends' which was published way back in 2000.    I haven't read any of her more recent novels, I felt that maybe I'd grown out of stories that featured twenty-something single girls, looking for love.   I was pleasantly surprised when I started to read Tempting Fate.   Jane Green's characters have matured too, along with her writing style and her plots.   Tempting Fate is the story of Gabby, a woman in her forties, happily married for twenty years to the love of her life.   Gabby and Elliott are settled, successful and are looking forward to spending their latter years together, seeing their two lovely daughters grow and leave the nest and settling back to reflect on what has been, so far, a very happy marriage.

Gabby is English, but has lived in America for many years.  Her relationship with her own mother was always fraught, Gabby felt that her bohemian mother Natasha really didn't have a lot of time for her, preferring to tend to the many waifs and strays that she welcomed into their home.   Marrying Elliott, becoming a mother and being part of a circle of friends has made Gabby finally feel wanted.    There is just one more thing that would make her happier, but Elliott won't hear of it, and it seems that Gabby's fate is sealed.

A chance meeting with young, handsome and very rich Matt will change Gabby's life forever, and after just one night she hurtles down the path through her 'year of insanity'.  

Tempting Fate really is a great read.  It will appeal to women in their middle years, those of us that are happily settled and think that we know what life is all about.  It will make those readers talk a deep breath and take a critical look around them, to see if things really are as clear-cut as we like to think.   The story is also a reminder to us, making it clear that excitement and passion are not always the best way.

Jane Green writes very well, she gets into the intricacies of family relationships, and also those often difficult friendships between mature women.   The themes of betrayal and hope run strongly through the story. Resentments and secrets are exposed and explored and the intimate, often hidden thoughts of the everyday married women are slowly revealed.

Tempting Fate is an enjoyable, well-written novel from a much loved and well established author.  Her fans will not be disappointed, and I hope that she gains many new readers too.

My thanks to Francesca from Penguin Books who sent my copy for review.  Tempting Fate will be published as a Michael Joseph Paperback Original by Penguin on 12 September 2013.

Jane Green's first book 'Straight Talking' is credited with sparking a revolution in women's literature when it was published sixteen years ago.  Hailed as the voice of a new generation of women, Jane was writing about twenty-something women who were single, solvent and very independent.  She filled a chasm in contemporary women's fiction, brushing aside the aspirational bonkbusters of the time to speak to women in a real way.
Now in her forties, Jane's work continues to set her apart from all the rest.  Her writing has grown and changed with her, whilst still retaining a realism and emotional honesty which is rare in the genre.
She's on of only a handful of women's fiction authors that regularly gets reviews in both the broadsheet press and tabloid papers.  All fourteen of her novels have been huge top ten bestsellers, she's sold over 3 million copies in the UK alone.  Jane is one of the few English women's fiction authors to make it in America, where she is also a guaranteed bestseller.
Now married for the second time, she is now Jane Green Warburg, and lives in Connecticut with her husband Ian Warburg and their blended family of six children.

For more information about Jane and her books, visit her website, or her Facebook page, she is also on Twitter.