Friday 28 February 2014

Book Launch Party - The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

A couple of months ago I entered a Twitter competition run by Cathy Rentzenbrink.  Cathy is Associate Editor at The Bookseller and We Love This Book.  She is also Project Director at Quick Reads. She has a great blog too. The prize was to be Cathy's 'plus one' at the launch party for Jojo Moyes' latest novel The One Plus One.

I read and reviewed The One Plus One at the end of last year, it's a wonderful book, another absolute triumph for one of my favourite authors.

I was delighted to receive an email from Cathy to tell me that I had won the prize.  The party was to be at The Ivy Club in Covent Garden.  I was very excited, but it was top secret and I was not to say anything about it, anywhere.  I had to keep quiet for a whole month!

Well, the date arrived on Monday, and off I went down to London on the train and made my way to The Ivy. Now, that alone, was very exciting - who hasn't heard of The Ivy - the place where all the celebrities seem to hang out?   The party was in The Club, even the entrance stairs and lift were deliciously plush!

Top: Jojo Moyes  /  Victoria Hislop & Kathy Lette
Bottom:  Jojo Moyes & Ian Hislop   /  Jojo and Polly Samson have the same taste in dresses!

I soon found myself drinking champagne and eating beautifully presented canapes in the most fabulous room, surrounded by lots of publishing people and lots and lots of authors.  I must admit I was a little star struck to find myself in a room with some of my all-time favourite authors; people whose books I had read and loved over the years.  I couldn't help but gaze around in awe at people like Victoria Hislop, Jenny Colgan, Kathy Lette, Polly Samson and of course Jojo Moyes.   I was thrilled to be introduced to Jojo and to get a lovely welcome and a big hug, she's sparkly and gorgeous and just as I imagined.   I managed to find Cathy through the throng of people and we had a quick chat and then listened to Jojo's speech - which was heartfelt and very funny.

It was really good to see Rebecca Chance and Serena Mackesy / Alex Marwood again too, I'd met them both a couple of weeks ago at the launch party for Rowan Coleman's The Memory Book.

I had to leave before the party ended, to get the last train out of Kings Cross, but I was so glad that I'd been there. It really was a great night, with so many friendly and welcoming people there.   The team at Penguin really know how to throw a fabulous party!

The One Plus One really is a wonderful book, if you've not read it yet, I'd urge you to make sure that you do so very soon.

Thursday 27 February 2014

The Biggest Lie by Lisbeth Foye

The Hague, Holland 1976.   After a procession of hapless relationships, 23 year-old Lana Milton finds herself recklessly falling for a man who should be out of bounds, but despite fighting with her emotions the affair begins, an affair which can only cause pain and heartache; not only to Lana but - more importantly - to the innocent party. 
Coming face to face with the one person she is hurting the most, Lana has to make a decision which breaks her heart. She knows that she is the only one to make the choice, something she can only do by lying, a lie which betrays the truth. Lana’s distortion of the truth closes the door on the only real love she has known. In life’s ups and downs even her best friend Tess, is not what she seems. Tess turns on her, leaving her and their friendship in tatters. 
Lana moves on to a new start in London where she meets rich, tormented Howard Marshall. Howard is frustratingly aware that his love for Lana is not reciprocated. Slowly, over-time his attempts to control her with his furtive mind-games and calculated derisory tactics only serve to curtail the chance of her ever loving him back in return. 
After nearly 20 years of manipulation, Howard’s desperate struggle to break the woman he loves finally backfires when Lana, now middle-aged and fuelled with the still-burning embers of her long-ago love, confronts Howard. She stands up to his bullying and devious malicious ways, her anger fills her with a renewed strength in which she finds the courage to leave him to start her life yet again. 
Now in her late fifties and living in a calm, non-disruptive world close to her family, Lana is content and yearns for nothing more in life. But fate has other ideas as it smashes through the door to bring her life around to yet another new start. 
The Biggest Lie – a tale of love, friendship, hope and strength is set in the era of glitter-ball discos which grows to maturity in the 21st century. Proof, that it’s never too late for anything..
The Biggest Lie by Lisbeth Foye was published on 11 November 2013 and is available in paperback and as an ebook.

The last couple of books that I'd read and reviewed were both pretty draining and emotional, I had a train journey to London coming up and wanted a read that didn't feature war, or death and destruction. Lisbeth Foye had sent a copy of The Biggest Lie some months ago, it had been on the shelf for far too long.

The Biggest Lie is Lana's story, and starts in the 70s in Holland where twenty-three year old Yorkshire girl Lana is working.  She has good friends and a few casual relationships with guys.

Lana meets Joe.  He's British too, in Holland for work and they are immediately attracted.  Yet Joe is married, his wife Jayne is back at home, waiting for him to find some accommodation so that they can live in Holland together.   Lana tries to kill her feelings for Joe, he's off-limits, he's married, he belongs to someone else.  Despite being just good friends for 18 long months, Lana and Joe become lovers and their relationship continues for years.  Joe is the love of Lana's life, and he claims that he adores her too.  Eventually, Lana cannot carry on hurting and deceiving Jayne and she and Joe part.

Returning to England, Lana meets Howard, who at first seems a great catch.  He's wealthy and interesting and single.  Howard is not quite the guy he seems and over the years Lana is constantly worn down by his behaviour.

Single again, Lana finds herself living alone and enjoying life.  And then 'the biggest lie' of the title comes back to haunt her.

I didn't warm to the character of Lana for some time.  On the face of it she appears to be a twenty-something girl about town who is out for a good time, and nothing else.  She doesn't really care about her lovers, and makes some pretty awful choices there.  As the book progressed, more of Lana's character is exposed and although she does make some questionable choices along the way, deep down she is a caring girl who is a good friend.  This brings me to my favourite character; Bini.   Bini is Lana's work colleague and she really is a breath of fresh air. Indonesian and has a knack for muddling up her words, but also a bright and colourful character who is loyal and loving.

Another favourite character of mine was Stanley.  Stanley is Lana's little Westie dog, and her faithful companion throughout the majority of her years spent with Howard.  Some of the most heart-breaking and poignant pages of the novel feature Stanley.

I guess that The Biggest Lie is a story about choice.  The old saying applies; "you made your bed, you lie in it" and Lana certainly does that. Why she does it is another matter and although it's obvious that she adores Joe and he claims to love her deeply too, I have no idea why Lana allowed herself to be the 'other woman' for so long.  There was no explanation as to why Joe was not going to leave his wife Jayne, it was just accepted that Lana was always going to come second.  For that reason, I disliked Joe - as gorgeous and as funny and as clever as he may have been - he was also a coward.

The Biggest Lie is a long novel with over 500 pages, but it's an easy and quick read.  Despite my earlier misgivings about Lana, I did really begin to like her and care about her character. Some of the supporting characters were great and Lisbeth Foye really does know how to create some awful romantic interests! The story touches on many issues, including domestic violence and drugs which are cleverly weaved into the plot line without becoming the whole focus.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Biggest Lie.  I'd say that it was possibly a little over long, and could maybe do with a re-edit, but this didn't spoil my enjoyment of the novel at all.

About The Author:   I was born in York, England and during my late teens/early twenties I spent the years travelling,
I've always read books, most of my family are also bookaholics and, like most writers, I started writing stories when I was in primary school but I suppose that goes without saying and you guessed that already.
and working, in Europe before returning to England where I now live in Cambridgeshire.
I'm not sure why I didn't try to get my work published years ago, maybe it had something to do with the notion that authors, real writers, lived in a different sphere to me, a world of the privileged, like a club I had no membership to. Now I know different.

Monday 24 February 2014

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

Desperate to escape the Eastern Front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met; it is a marriage of convenience that promises ‘honeymoon’ leave for him and a pension for her should he die on the front. 
With ten days’ leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin; both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them.

 When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of Katharina that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. 
Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into the Nazi party hierarchy, wedding herself, her young husband and their unborn child to the regime. 
But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina, ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt, find their simple dream of family increasingly hard to hold on to.

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee is Atlantic Books' lead debut novel for 2014 and was published on 6 February.

For German soldiers, serving on the Eastern Front, the opportunity of marrying a girl back home gives them 'honeymoon' leave.  For the girl he marries - a war pension should her new husband die whilst serving his country.  Peter Faber and Katharina Spinell enter into this contract of marriage, never having met each other, but both eager to gain the benefits of an unlikely union.    Peter is an ordinary man, a teacher in a small town. Katharina has been encouraged to marry by her parents; a couple who make no secret of their determination to be part of the powerful set, led by Dr Weinart, a leading Nazi doctor, and his wife.

Peter takes his honeymoon leave, and he and Katharina meet for the first time, despite the unorthodox start to their relationship, they find that they are attracted to one another, and by the end of their short time together, they are in love.

Peter returns to war, taking part in the German offensive against Stalingrad, whilst Katharina remains in Berlin; pregnant with their child and looking forward to the time that they can be a real family, in a strong and victorious Germany.  Both of them have no doubt that Peter will return a hero, having helped Germany to win the war.

The contrast between Peter's horrendous experiences fighting against the Russians and Katharina's life of parties and fine food with high-ranking Nazi officers could not be starker.  Peter and his fellow soldiers are starving, they are lice-ridden, they are freezing.  They lose toe nails, they lose toes, they lose lives.  The soldiers battle on, convinced at the beginning that they are on the winning side, but as the weeks pass and their conditions worsen, seeds of doubt set in.  But still, they remain faithful to The Fuhrer.   Katharina, on the other hand only has to worry about how she should eat an oyster, or arranging the best party for her small son's birthday, and where can she find a pretty dress.    

Katharina and her family are reminded of what is really happening when her brother Johannes returns from the front.  He is a broken man, with no sight of the young, enthusiastic man who left Berlin.

The Undertaking is a brutal, no-holds barred story that will shock and stun the reader.  Audrey Magee is a writer of outstanding talent who has portrayed the realism of the battlefields of the Eastern Front with ease. The story is told largely in dialogue which only adds to the brutality and truth of this novel, the reader is thrust immediately into the action, with not a word wasted.

The Undertaking is not an easy read by any means, it can be very uncomfortable at times and not just because of the hardship and deprivation that is portrayed.  No, there is a feeling of despair for the characters, and yes, a twinge of disloyalty too, for caring about these German soldiers.  We, the readers, know the outcome of the war, and it is this that can provoke the feelings of discomfort. These soldiers gave everything, they suffered terrors that are almost unbearable to read about, but they continued as they believed that Germany would be the victor.

This is a novel that deals with loyalty and hope, with bravery and at times with cowardice. It is also a love story in the most unconventional way.   It is a unrelenting story, Audrey Magee is an extremely gifted author, her dialogue-led style of writing coupled with her depth of human understanding is outstanding.

My thanks to Alison of Atlantic Books who sent my copy for review.

AUDREY MAGEE worked for twelve years as a journalist and has written for, among others, The Times, The Irish Times, and the Guardian. She has a Masters in journalism from Dublin City University and a BA in German & French from University College Dublin. She lives in Wicklow with her husband and three daughters. The Undertaking is her first novel. 

For more information, visit her website

Saturday 22 February 2014

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Each summer, Jenn and her husband Greg return to Deia, on Mallorca's dramatic west coast. 
This year the arrival of Emma, Jenn's stepdaughter, and her new boyfriend Nathan threatens to upset their equilibrium. 
Beautiful and reckless, Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. As she is increasingly seduced by Nathan's youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur. 
What follows is a highly-charged liaison that puts lives and relationships in jeopardy. 
For Jenn, after this summer, nothing can ever be the same.

The Lemon Grove is published by Tinder Press - an imprint of Headline on 27 February 2014 and is Helen Walsh's fourth novel.

We join Jenn and Greg who are taking their annual holiday on Majorca, in the villa that they rent every year. The sun is hot, the days are long and full of food and drink, lounging by the pool, exploring nearby villages and enjoying the slow pace of life.  Jenn is unsettled, their usual routine is set to change.  Their daugher Emma is arriving, with her new boyfriend and neither Jenn nor Greg seem really keen on the idea.   Emma is only fifteen, Nate is seventeen and appears much older, and more experienced.

Emma and Nathan arrive, and things get off on the wrong foot.  Jenn fell asleep in the sun, topless and Emma is mortified and embarrassed that her 40-something mother could behave like that in front of her boyfriend.

This story is told over seven days.  Not very long, but long enough to turn everything that Jenn believed about herself, her family and her daughter on it's head.  Nathan triggers something inside her that is totally alien to her, a feeling of passion and lust that she's never felt before. Neither of them really do anything to prevent the inevitable and it's not long before Jenn has given in to her inner passion and Nathan is an eager partner.  So follows the development of a relationship that can only cause harm and destruction for everyone. Jenn knows that, Nathan knows that, but their animal attraction far outweighs the possible implications of getting caught.

Helen Walsh has written a story that is short (just over 200 pages), but that delivers a punch that left me reeling.  The heat of Majorca, the sights, the smells, the sounds are all so brilliantly written that the the reader is left  feeling as though they too are prickling under the bright midday Spanish sunshine.   And then there are the scenes between Jenn and Nathan.  Raw, animalistic sex, that pulls no punches in the description - this is no love-story of slowly emerging passion, this is fast, hard sexual tension that has to be sated by these two unlikely lovers straight away, no matter where they happen to be.

As Jenn's feelings emerge, and it clear that Nathan is all too happy to sample the body of his girlfriend's mother, I wanted to shout at her, for God's sake woman, stop!  Stop and think about what you are doing. Their relationship unfolds rather like a car crash in slow-motion; the reader wants it to stop, but cannot help but keep reading, anticipating and hoping that Jenn will swerve to avoid the collision.

Alongside Jenn and Nathan's relationship, Jenn also has her feelings about Emma and Greg to think about. Emma is her stepdaughter, Jenn has brought her up since she was a baby, yet there still seems to be a divide in the family.  It's clearly Greg and Emma versus Jenn at times and she can't help but resent Emma's closeness to her father.  Greg seems preoccupied, and he's beginning to annoy Jenn.  The familiar things that she once loved so much are now beginning to grate on her, or is this because Nathan's smooth body is there to tempt her wherever she turns in the villa?

I read The Lemon Grove in two sittings.  It is an utterly brilliant read and I cannot praise it highly enough. The examination of a marriage, of a family and of time moving on for a woman is so cleverly done. It is rare that the desires of an almost middle-aged woman are written about so explicitly and so honestly and the hot and sticky setting of Majorca only adds to the sense of danger of this story.

The ending is shocking.  It is so cleverly written, and so unexpected - it felt like I was left hanging from the edge of a cliff by a fingernail.  The final paragraphs are the true triumph of this novel.

I think you can tell that I absolutely loved The Lemon Grove and would recommend it highly.  Tinder Press, once again, have published a stunner of a novel.

Helen Walsh was born in Warrington, England and moved to Barcelona at the age of sixteen. Working as a fixer in the red light district, she saved enough money to put herself through language school. Burnt out and broke, she returned to England a year later and now works with socially excluded teenagers in North Liverpool. Helen Walsh is the author of the novels Brass, Once Upon a Time in England, and Go To Sleep.
You can find out more about Helen Walsh and her novels by visiting her website    Follow the tweets about The Lemon Grove on Twitter #lemongrove
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Friday 21 February 2014

Summer At The Lake by Erica James

It was a wedding invitation that changed everything for Floriana...

If she hadn’t been so distracted at the thought of having to witness the one true love of her life get married, she would have seen the car coming.  

If she’d seen the car coming, there would have been no need for elderly spinster Esme Silcox and local property developer Adam Strong to rush to her aid.  

And if Floriana hadn’t met Adam and Esme she would never have had the courage to agree to attend Seb’s wedding in beautiful Lake Como.

For Esme, Lake Como awakens memories of when she stayed at the lake as a nineteen-year-old girl and fell in love for the first time. So often she’s wondered what happened to the man who stole her heart all those years ago, a man who changed the course of her life.

Now it’s time for both Esme and Floriana to face the past - and the future - on the shores of this most romantic and enchanting of lakes.

Summer At The Lake is Erica James' eighteenth novel and is published in hardback by Orion on 27 February 2014.

Over the years, I've read and enjoyed quite a few of Erica James' novels, my favourite is The Holiday - especially is I read it whilst on holiday in Corfu, where the story is set.

I was really looking forward to reading Summer At The Lake, not least because the weather has been so awful just lately, and I thought it would great to be able to transport myself away to the sunnier climes of Italy.

This novel is 400 pages of pure indulgence, I absolutely loved it.  Despite the length, I raced through it, devouring the story which is filled with wonderfully created characters and takes the reader from the dreamy spires of Oxford to the evocative Lake Como in Italy.

Three very unlikely friends meet when Floriana is knocked over by a car.  Adam Strong and Esme Silcox rush to help her and it is at that moment that a firm friendship between the three of them is formed.  Floriana is an Oxford tour guide, a free spirit, independent, and a little bit quirky.  She is also reeling with shock, having just received an invitation to the wedding of one of her oldest and closest friends, Seb.  Seb and Floriana lost touch a while ago and it is clear that Floriana feels more than friendship toward him.  Esme is in her 80s, a gentle and elegant lady who never married and spends her days listening to the radio with just her faithful cat for company.   Adam Strong is a property developer, with a broken heart and welcomes the opportunity to be the knight in shining armour, it may help him to get over his latest failed relationship.

Erica James cleverly weaves the stories of each of the character into the here and now.  As these three main characters form their friendship and begin to open up to each other, the reader learns their story too.  For me, Esme's story of her time spent in Italy with her father, over sixty years ago was the most engaging and fascinating.  It is clear that this elderly spinster has many secrets hidden in her past, and as she tells of how her heart was broken by the only man she ever loved, and the tragedy that followed, the story takes another turn.

Despite loving Esme's story best, I found both Adam and Floriana to be really well developed characters too, with their own stories of disappointment and heartbreak that impact on the people that they have become.

The three friends find themselves travelling together to Italy, so that both Floriana and Esme can face up to things that have happened in the past and learn to move on without so much regret and sorrow.  Their seven days in Italy are beautifully written, the sense of the place with the sights, sounds and smells of Lake Como and the surrounding towns and villages is just wonderful, and as their friendship develops, so do the characters.

I was totally hooked by Summer At The Lake, it's the perfect read for either a sunny afternoon in the garden or curled up on the sofa in front of the fire.  A real feel-good read, with characters and settings that the reader will really care for, and maybe even fall just a little in love with!

Huge thanks to Emma and Gaby from Orion who sent my copy for review.

Biography-pictureWith an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and the recent Sunday Times bestseller, The Hidden Cottage, Erica divides her time between Cheshire and Lake Como in Italy, where she now strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.

For more information about Erica James and her other novels, visit her website 
Check out her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter @TheEricaJames

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Diary of an Unsmug Married by Polly James

What happens to love when life gets in the way? 
A funny and perceptive read about real relationships. Perfect for fans of Dawn French, Sue Townsend and Bridget Jones’ Diary. 
Meet Molly Bennett. Married to Max and mother to two warring teenagers, she’s just ‘celebrated’ a significant birthday. 
Bridget Jones would call Molly a “smug married”. So why doesn’t she feel it?

Is it because everyone seems to be having a better time of it than her? Or is it that Max has started showing more interest in ‘business trips’ and less interest in their sex life?
Molly begins to despair. And then an old school friend starts flirting with her through Facebook …

The Diary of an Unsmug Married by Polly James was published by Avon on 13 February 2014

Readers of a certain age will recognised the term 'smug married'; invented by the one and only Bridget Jones in her own famous diary.

Molly Bennett is far from smug, she is most definitely unsmug.  Molly's diary details her everyday life and focusses mainly on her family and work.  Family is husband Max who seems to be a little preoccupied with working out and catching the eye of their new (attractive) neighbour.  Molly also has to share her home with two teenagers who can't really stand each other, and their antics are where most of the laughs come from.

Molly works for her local MP, in his constituency office, he's a bit of an idiot and Molly really hates her job.

Molly has just celebrated a 'landmark' birthday, and to be honest she feels like life is just coming apart, and then she receives some messages on Facebook, and then she starts to consider ..

The Diary of an Unsmug Married is a fairly quick and very easy read, despite it's length.  Molly is one of those women who make the rest of us feel OK, or smug about ourselves!   I enjoyed reading about her home and family, especially some of the children's antics, but really couldn't connect with the stories about life at the office. Molly works for a politician, so it's natural that the book centres heavily on political issues, and although there is a lightness to this aspect of the diary, I began to lose interest very quickly in those parts and much preferred the time spent with the family.

Without the politics, I would have loved this book, but the details of Molly's work and 'The Boss' just annoyed me after a while, so although I do think this is a light-hearted, genuinely funny book, I can't say that I loved it.

I do like the diary style that it's written in though.  Short and to the point and keeps the story moving along nicely, well apart from when The Boss rears his head, but that's what Molly thinks too!

On the whole, The Diary of an Unsmug Married is an honest look at the life of a stressed out, middle-aged woman.  It's funny in parts, it's very realistic, but for me, it did have it's downside - and that was the politics.

My thanks go to Olivia from LightBrigade PR who sent my review copy on behalf of the publisher.

Polly James was born in Wales, but now lives in East Anglia, which she finds unnervingly flat, and chock-full of writers.
She works as an editor, but has had a variety of different jobs, ranging from teaching dance, and designing clothes, to being an advisor for the CAB and a caseworker for two different Members of Parliament. She has found something to laugh about in all of them.
Polly is married, with two children, and a large extended family, none of whom find her half as funny as she thinks she is.
Find out more about Molly at The Mid-Wife Crisis Blog 

Monday 17 February 2014

Don't Stand So Close by Luana Lewis

A lingering, compulsive debut novel that will keep you tightly in its grip. 
What would you do if a young girl knocked on your door and asked for your help? 
If it was snowing and she was freezing cold, but you were afraid and alone? 
What would you do if you let her in, but couldn't make her leave? 
What if she told you terrible lies about someone you love, but the truth was even worse? 
Stella has been cocooned in her home for three years. Severely agoraphobic, she knows she is safe in the stark, isolated house she shares with her husband, Max. The traumatic memories of her final case as a psychologist are that much easier to keep at a distance, too. 
But the night that Blue arrives on her doorstep with her frightened eyes and sad stories, Stella's carefully controlled world begins to unravel around her.

I'm delighted to be taking part in the BLOG TOUR for Luana Lewis' debut novel Don't Stand So Close today.

Don't Stand So Close was published in hardback by Bantam Press on 13 February 2014.

This is at times, a very disturbing and often unsettling story, but it is written so well, with a really authentic feel, that I found myself turning the pages so quickly in a desperate need to discover just what is the truth.

It's a cold and snowy night when a young girl knocked on Stella's door.  Stella is loathe to let this stranger into her house, she has enough problems of her own, and can't bear the thought of having to deal with someone that she doesn't know.    However, Stella does care about people and can't let this young girl sit outside in the freezing cold.  She opens her door and lets her in.   This is the start of the night that will change Stella's life forever, and the start of this gripping story.

The story is centred around the hours of that long night and the interactions between Stella and the young girl, who we discover is called Blue.   Flashbacks to Stella's previous life and Blue's connection to that life are cleverly interwoven into the plot, which gives the reader a great insight to why Blue has arrived.

Despite this, I found that I just didn't know who or what I could believe.  Don't Stand So Close is the ultimate in the unreliable narrator; not one, but two or three, if we include Stella's psychiatrist husband Max who plays a massive part in the story.

Luana Lewis has used her professional expertise to create a gripping psychological drama that deals with many issues including post-traumatic stress, agoraphobia and the delicate balance of the doctor/patient relationship.

This is an excellent debut novel, I was well and truly hooked from page one, right up to the undeniably shocking ending.

I am delighted to welcome the author, Luana Lewis here to Random Things today, she has kindly answered some questions.  I hope you enjoy the answers.

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?  
My book is only just about to be published – so there aren’t very many reviews to read yet, and yes, I do read them. Much to my delight and intense relief, the reviews so far have been positive. After years of writing and editing a book, it is so encouraging to read a positive review where someone has enjoyed the novel and taken the time to write a thoughtful piece. Sometimes the reviews are so insightful and readers see things I hadn’t even articulated for myself. So on dark days…I can always go back and read those!

But inevitably, I’m sure there will be people who don’t like the book and I’m steeling myself to deal with that feedback. I’m not sure if it is good for a writer’s soul or confidence to read really negative reviews. Of course people are entitled to their opinions, and I’m not criticizing the reviewers in any way – just questioning if it is the author’s interests to read them.

I thought hard about the second part of your question about whether I take reviews seriously as I think it’s an important point, especially for a new writer where confidence is easily knocked… I did a bit of research on the internet to see what other authors thought about the topic, and came across a wonderful blog post by author Thomas Taylor (  He commented that he reads reviews selectively and ultimately he believes that ‘In the end, reviews are surely meant for readers first and foremost. Authors should get on with writing their next book.’

I am very grateful to people who have taken the time to read and review Don’t Stand So Close. No doubt the worst thing for a writer would be not to be reviewed at all. If no-one knows about the book, then no-one will read it!

How long does it take to write a novel?     
My first published novel, Don’t Stand So Close, took around six months to write a first draft, and then a further year or so to edit and re-write.

Do you have any writing rituals?    
I tend to write wherever and whenever I can, but if possible I spend an hour or two first thing in the morning right after school drop off, writing at a café. I find that a very productive time.

What was your favourite childhood book?
The Chronicles of Narnia, followed closely by the Famous Five.

Name one book that made you laugh?
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. I was reading it on the underground and I kept laughing out loud which is unlike me but it was just so hilarious and I adored the writing style. People were looking at me like I was insane.

Name one book that made you cry?

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  I started crying about a third of the way in and didn’t stop until the end. It’s unusual for me to cry that much in a book -  I found it exceptionally moving .

Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Aslan from Narnia, without a doubt.  In terms of adult fiction, I wouldn’t mind a meeting with Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole!

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
Post Office by Charles Bukowski, my favourite book of all time.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
There are so many authors I admire. In terms of psychological suspense, I thought Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane was genius, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is one of my all time favourite novels.

What is your guilty pleasure read?    
Nothing – I think any and all reading is good!

Who are your favourite authors?
There are so many – but to name a few:  Peter Carey, Philip Pullman, Mordecai Richler, Antje Krog, Dalene Matthee, Marlene van Niekerk, Charles Bukowski, C.S. Lewis, Robert Harris, John Le Carre, Stieg Larrsen, Johan Theorin, Dennis Lehane…I could go on and on!

What book have you re-read?
Post Office and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz  by Mordecai Richler.

What book have you given up on?  
Despite finding the beginning possibly the funniest thing I have ever read, in the end I gave up on The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared  - it became a series of ever more unlikely events and the characters and plot weren’t developing in a way that held my interest.

S.L. Lewis

Luana Lewis is a clinical psychologist and author of two non-fiction books.  As well as writing for several newspapers, magazines and journals, and contributing to various discussions on mental health, Luana has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.

Follow her on Twitter

Sunday 16 February 2014

The Diary of a Single Parent Abroad by Jill Pennington

When Jill and her family moved to Italy she expected life to change but she had no idea how massive that change would be. 
Shortly after the move, she discovered her husband had been having an affair and had no intentions of staying in Italy. Despite being in a foreign country with no income, limited language skills, a house that needed rebuilding and three young children to care for, she never once considered returning to the UK. 
With strength and determination she accepted any challenge, dismantling a derelict house to ground level, digging out a three metre deep well with her hands to get free water and overcoming her fear of the chainsaw to cut the winter wood. When there was very little money for food she made risotto with nettles collected from the roadside. She overcame many problems learned new skills and discovered that money is not important, and the only things in life that matters are health, happiness and her children. 
Jill's story is delivered with an ever present hint of humour, because, she says, "Without laughter life wouldn't be funny!"

The Diary of a Single Parent Abroard by Jill Pennington was published in June 2013.  I have enjoyed this tale of an adventure that turned out very differently from the initial plan.   When Jill and her husband decided to move to Italy, almost on the spur of the moment, with their three children, they had big dreams.  They would buy an old run-down house and renovate it so that it would become their dream home.  Their children would be brought up in the sunshine, allowed more freedom than in the UK and eating fresh food, grown on their own land.

It soon became clear to Jill, after leaving everything behind in England, that she and her husband had very different dreams.  He intended to carry on the affair that he had been having for some time, and his long-term plans did not include an idyllic life in rural Italy with his family.

Faced with such a shock, many of us would have taken the first flight back home.  Back to our family, back to the place where we speak the language and where our friends could support us.  Not Jill.  With a steely determination and a strength of character that is at times unbelievable, she was determined that she would stay, and that her children would have the life that she longed for them.

Jill's diary takes the reader on her journey.  It's a tough journey, and things are never easy for Jill.  The language is a barrier, the paperwork, the attitude of Italian builders, and most of all the appalling treatment dished out by her soon-to-be ex husband.   Despite all of these hurdles, Jill continued to believe, she continued to get her hands dirty and create the life that she wanted.

The book is written very simply, and from the heart.  It's an easy, often funny tale that is honest and straight talking.  There are parts of the diary that could do with a re-edit, but this is still an engaging and fascinating look at what it's really like to start over in a new country, with no money, but masses of self-belief.

Image of Jill Pennington

Jill Pennington was born in West Yorkshire. She now lives in Italy on a small farm in the Apennine mountains with her three children.

Regular updates are on Facebook 

Thursday 13 February 2014

The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton

A fight for survival.
April 1943. In the bloody turmoil of war, John Easley, a journalist mourning his lost brother, is driven to expose a hidden and growing conflict: the Japanese invasion and occupation of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. But when his plane is shot down he must either surrender or struggle to survive in a harsh wilderness.
A search for the truth.
Three thousand miles to the south, Helen Easley cannot accept her husband’s disappearance—an absence that exposes her sheltered, untested life. Desperate to find and be reunited with him, she sets out on a remarkable journey from the safety of her Seattle home to the war in the north.
A love story like no other.

The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton is published by Mantle (Pan Macmillan) on 13 February 2014.

On June 3, 1942 the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Four days later, an invasion force of nearly 2500 Japanese combat troops seized and held the islands of Attu and Kiska.
The war in the Aleutians was relatively small in the context of the global conflict, and yet some five hundred thousand people took part.  Dozens of ships, hundreds of planes, and an estimated ten thousand lives were lost.  Journalists were ordered out of the region, military censorship was tight, and most of the campaign was fought beyond view of the civilian press.

In The Wind Is Not a River, Brian Payton has made this forgotten part of the history of the Second World War central to his story.  He has created two characters; John Easley and his wife Helen, and woven their fictional love story into these actual events.   Whilst doing this, he has created a novel that is not only beautifully written, but is so atmospheric and with such a real sense of place that the bleak Alaskan islands feel as though they are just a touch away from the reader.

There is a sparseness to Payton's writing that only adds to the depth of the words, he has created a story that engages from the first paragraph, transporting the reader through a journey that is often bleak, cruel and unfair.   The characters are realistic, with flaws, sometimes erratic and often harsh, but they always have hope and steely determination.

As John battles to survive in the Alaskan wilderness, after being shot down whilst travelling undercover, his wife Helen is back in Seattle imagining what horrors may have befallen him.   Helen is not prepared to accept that John is dead, she is determined to find out the truth.  John meanwhile, is determined that he will not die, he will survive so that he can go home and tell the truth about the hidden war in Alaska.  He is determined that he will avenge his brother's death and he will see his beautiful wife again.

This is not just a story of survival, this is first and foremost a story of love, and of heartbreak.  It is the love between John and Helen that spurs them on.

A powerful and engrossing novel that is elegantly written.

My thanks to Sophie from Pan Macmillan who sent my copy for review.

Brian Payton has written for theNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, andBoston Globe. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, Canada.

More information can be found at his website  
Follow him on Twitter @bapayton

Monday 10 February 2014

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

A chilling psychological thriller about a marriage, a way of life, and how far one woman will go to keep what is rightfully hers

Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. 

The Silent Wife was published in the UK by Headline on 21 November 2013.

There are readers who carry on with a book, right to the end, even if they are not enjoying it.  I am not one of those readers.  I don't believe in spending my free time on something that does not give me pleasure, after all you wouldn't carry on watching a TV programme that you hated, or eat a meal that tasted bad would you?  This doesn't mean that the books that I don't like and don't finish are bad books, it just means that they are not for me, but undoubtedly many other readers will love them.

This brings me to The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison.   I read every page, right to the end, but I really didn't like it.  I wanted to like it, I liked the premise, I love the cover, but I just didn't like the story, or the writing. So why did I finish it?  Well, there is something there, something that pulled me in and tempted me right the way through, that made me carry on reading - I really thought that this was going to turn out to be one of those surprises - a book that proved me wrong.    It wasn't and it didn't.

Jodi and Todd, or 'Him and Her' as their alternatively narrated chapters are titled.  They've been together for twenty years.   Todd's a bit of a bloke, likes his fast car, his swanky office, being the boss and shagging around.  Jodi puts up with it, she's always refused to marry him, children have never appeared, but by God, she's a great housekeeper and cooks a fine meal every night - along with folding Todd's newspaper and making sure that his shirts are ironed.

Then Todd strays just a little too far.  His best mate's teenage daughter - yes, that far.  Then she's pregnant, and the next thing he knows, he's leaving Jodi and getting married to his young lover.  Both Jodi and Todd crumble.  Todd convinces himself he's going to die  ..... be careful what you wish for!!   Jodi realises that she should have married him, and that the past twenty years don't count for anything when you are a common-law wife.

I disliked both Todd and Jodi - I don't have a problem with unlikeable characters, but these two were boring aswell.  Their story was a chore to read, especially Jodi's - hers seem to be a study in psychology and drifted off into reams of academic speak quite often.  Todd was just an arsehole if I'm honest - no redeeming features and basically got what he deserved.

Lots of well known and respected authors have praised this book.  Maybe I missed something, I'm not sure, but I do know that I won't be going back to have another look.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Book Launch Party for The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

I was back down in London this week.  One of the very best things about book blogging is the invitations to lovely parties.  Last week it was the Pan Macmillan Women's Fiction Party and this week was the book launch for Rowan Coleman's The Memory Book.  

The Memory Book launch party invitation
The gorgeous venue - Jewel Picadilly

I have no doubt at all that The Memory Book is going to be huge, I think it's Rowan's best novel so far, and she has written some absolute crackers, so it had a lot to live up to.   There have already been some great reviews about The Memory Book, I blogged about it at the end of January, please take a look if you haven't already seen my review.

I was thrilled to be invited to the launch party for this wonderful book, and very excited at the thought of meeting Rowan in the flesh.  I already felt as though I knew her a little bit, she's great to follow on Twitter, but actually meeting her was even better.   So, I booked my train ticket, arranged some time off work and had it all planned out.   And then ..... the tube strike!    Oh, did I panic!   What would I do?  How would I get there?  How would I get home?   With much encouragement from Rowan via Twitter and Facebook, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.   Blimey, London was chaos, pure madness - so many people.  More than two cars is a traffic jam where I come from, so this utter pandemonium was more than a little scary. But I made it there on time, and was quite chuffed with myself.  

The venue was The Parlour Bar at Jewel Picadilly, and it was perfect for the launch.  Red and plush and glittery and warm, just lovely.  Lots of fizz and lovely nibbles went down well too.   And Rowan?  She is just gorgeous; so warm and welcoming and gives great hugs - I was so pleased that I was there.  I was also so delighted to meet a couple of fellow bloggers who I've followed for some time now.   Rea from Rea Book Review and Amanda from One More Page - we had a great chat, it's lovely to meet like-minded book lovers.

Top:  Rebecca Chance and I pose for the camera. Rowan reads from The Memory Book.   The goody bag
Bottom:  Amanda (One More Page), Rebecca Chance, Rowan, Rea (Rea Book Review) and me

I also met some great authors.  We spent loads of time chatting to Rebecca Chance, she is a very beautiful, funny lady who I'd love to spend more time with - I think she has some wonderful stories to tell!  I also spent some time chatting to Serena Mackesy, also known as Alex Marwood - I didn't know that Serena and Alex were the same person.  Serena's The Temp is one of my all time favourite novels, I really must read Alex now.

There were so many other authors there too, some I briefly spoke to including Cally Taylor and Tamsyn Murray, and of course the wonderful team at Ebury who made the night so special, great to meet Amelia and the others at long last.

I was a totally fabulous evening, and I was sorry to have to leave before the party ended, but I had to get back across London to get the last train home.   That was another adventure in itself!   Somehow I got dreadfully lost and was saved from a night on the streets by the doorman of The Ritz, London and a wonderful black cab driver.

So I finally got back to quiet Lincolnshire clutching my goody bag which was another delight.  Some scrumptious chocolates by Lindt, a packet of forget-me-not seeds and a little red notebook - a 'memory book' all of my own.

Thanks Rowan and the Ebury team for a really special evening - it was an honour to be part of it.  Those of you who haven't yet read The Memory Book - read it soon, you are in for a real treat!

Saturday 8 February 2014

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Meet the Hurst Family. 
Meet Violet Hurst -16 years old, beautiful and brilliant. So why is she being accused of being a danger to herself and others? 
Meet her brother Will Hurst – the smartest and sweetest twelve-year old boy around. 
But does he really need all that medication he is being told to take? 
Meet oldest sister Rose – the one who got away. She disappeared one night in her final year of school, never to be heard from again. 
And then meet their mother – Josephine. Perhaps it will then all start to make sense…

Mother, Mother was published by Harper Collins on 16 January 2014 and is Koren Zailckas first novel.

Set in New York state, the story is told in alternate chapters by Will and his sister Violet who are both damaged in their own way by their mother Josephine.    Josephine is a monster mother - of that there is no doubt, it is clear from the very start of the story that it is her actions and behaviours that control this completely dysfunctional family.

There is another child; Rose.   Rose left home a few years ago and both Will and Violet spend a lot of time wondering why, and as more time passes, and they think longer, slowly they begin to comprehend how their mother has directed their lives.

Will is autistic, and has epilepsy - he takes pills.  Violet takes pills too - hers are a form of escape. It is clear that the people who really need medication in this story are Josephine and their father - a couple who are so lacking in parenting skills, who are so wrapped up in their own worlds, that it is a crime that they were ever allowed to procreate.

The story battles on until the end, when the truth of Josephine's depravity is exposed, and the mopping-up of results of her actions has to begin.

I do enjoy a psychologically flawed lead character and Josephine is certainly that.  However, the author has made it clear from the beginning of the story just what Josephine is and what she is capable of, therefore, for me, this story didn't quite have the surprise or shock factor that I would have liked.

Mother, Mother is very readable, it moves along at a quick pace.  I wasn't so keen on the characterisation, or their development and some of their actions and narrative felt a little wooden and flat at times.  It's an interesting look at a difficult subject, but for me, it didn't quite hit the mark.

KOREN ZAILCKAS is an internationally bestselling writer, and has contributed to The Guardian, U.S. News & World Report, Glamour, Jane, and Seventeen magazine. She currently lives with her family in the Catskill mountains of New York.  More information can be found at