Thursday 30 June 2016

The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan

The farm sits with its back towards the Atlantic; a long stretch of granite, hunkering down. For over 300 years it has stood here, steeped in the history and secrets of one family. A farm at the very edge of the world.
1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer's daughter, Maggie, and against fields of shimmering barley and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war. But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to atone for her behaviour - but has she left it too late?
2014, and Maggie's granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn't wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?

The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan is published in hardback on 30 June by Hodder & Stoughton and is the author's second novel.  I reviewed her first book, The Art of Baking Blind on Random Things in August last year.

When I reviewed Sarah Vaughan's debut, The Art of Baking Blind last year, I said that I looked forward to reading more from this author. Well, here is is, almost a year later, and it has certainly been worth the long wait. The Farm at the Edge of the World is absolutely beautifully written, it's a story that holds the reader enthralled, from first page to last.

I have a real fondness for a dual-time story, and this one is done particularly well, spanning the seventy years from World War II, to the present day. Sarah Vaughan weaves the stories from both eras together incredibly well, growing her vibrant characters so very well. They creep into the reader's life and stay there, long after the last page is turned.

The glorious setting of Skylight Farm, set on the edge of the hill, with nothing between it and the fierce Atlantic ocean is poetically and artfully described, giving a sense of place and a feel for the Cornish countryside that makes the farm, and  Cornwall characters in themselves. Sarah Vaughan doesn't just recreate the summery, sunshine-filled Cornwall of happy holiday memories though, she also shows her readers the darkness and desolation of the wide open spaces and the raging sea, and she does it so very well.

Alice and Will are young evacuees, sent from London to Skylark Farm to escape the bombs of London. Both of them embrace their new life in the countryside. Will soon realises that life on the farm is his destiny and is determined to stay. Alice, younger and quieter is thrilled with the open spaces and the wild rabbits in the fields. Both of them are taken under the wing of Maggie, the daughter of the house, who teaches them how to be a child in the country.

Life on Skylark Farm is uninterrupted by the horrors of war, although local families have lost their sons and brothers in the conflict. Life and farming carries on, it's hard work and often bloody and cruel, but Will and Alice are happy.  Relationships change as the years pass by, and in the long, hot summer of 1943, life for all of them will change forever.

Fast forward to 2014, and Maggie is still at Skylark Farm. Farming is a tough business to be in nowadays, and she and her daughter Judith are determined to protect their legacy from rich developers who would like nothing more than to turn their home into a holiday complex. Maggie's granddaughter Lucy joins their fight when she flees London, and her failing marriage and career, and arrives back at the farm that she calls home.

Maggie has lived with the consequences of the events of 1943 for all of her life, she's sometimes very bitter, she finds it very hard to express love towards her family,  Alice too has regretted her actions for many years and it's her decision to try and atone for what she has done that reveals the dark secrets that have been hidden for so many years.

Sarah Vaughan is a very clever author. She's created a story based on love, guilt, regret and pain that is, at times quite heart breaking. She's captured the feelings and emotions of her characters, both as young people just starting out in the world, and also when they are in the last years of their lives.

Convincing, compelling, strong and charismatic characters, The Farm at the Edge of the World is absolutely captivating, I loved it.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to become a journalist. After two years at the Press Association, she spent 11 years at the Guardian as a news reporter, health correspondent and political correspondent, and then started freelancing.
The Farm at the Edge of the World is her second novel.
Sarah lives near Cambridge with her husband and two young children.

Find out more about Sarah Vaughan and her writing at
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @SVaughanAuthor


Wednesday 29 June 2016

Stranger Child by Rachel Abbott

One dark secret. One act of revenge.
When Emma Joseph met her husband David, he was a man shattered by grief. His first wife had been killed outright when her car veered off the road. Just as tragically, their six-year-old daughter mysteriously vanished from the scene of the accident.
Now, six years later, Emma believes the painful years are behind them. She and David have built a new life together and have a beautiful baby son, Ollie.
Then a stranger walks into their lives, and their world tilts on its axis.
Emma's life no longer feels secure. Does she know what really happened all those years ago? And why does she feel so frightened for herself and her baby?
When a desperate Emma reaches out to her old friend DCI Tom Douglas for help, she puts all their lives in jeopardy. Before long, a web of deceit is revealed that shocks both Emma and Tom to the core.
They say you should never trust a stranger. Maybe they're right. 

Stranger Child by Rachel Abbott was published by Black Dot Publishing on 14 May 2015. This is the fourth book in the DCI Tom Douglas series, but please don't let that put you off.  I haven't read any of the others in the series, and didn't realise that this was book four until I went to check it out on Goodreads - after I'd read it.  I'm sure that the first three in the series; Only The Innocent  (May 2013); The Back Road (May 2013) and Sleep Tight (February 2014) do give the background of DCI Douglas, but not having read them will certainly not affect any enjoyment of Stranger Child.

Stranger Child is a deeply unsettling, chilling and very well written story. Rachel Abbott's style of writing is accessible and flows very well. She keeps her readers on a knife edge, and although you do start to expect the unexpected, there are some very clever twists that won't fail to surprise.

The reader knows more than the lead character, Emma. From the opening paragraphs, we've been let into the secret that the car crash that killed Emma's husband David's first wife was not the simple accident that everyone presumed. However, we are as much in dark as everyone else as to where their young daughter Natasha disappeared to.

When Natasha reappears, out of the blue, and refusing to say anything about where she has been, or who with, Emma's world is turned upside down. The scene in the kitchen, as Emma looks out of her window into the dark night, and suddenly becomes aware of two eyes staring at her, behind her, is quite terrifying, and sets the tone and pace for the rest of the book very well.

DCI Tom Douglas is a cleverly constructed character, a great policeman, but also weighed down with issues of his own, and memories of times past. These emotions do affect the way that he deals with this case, and also the discovery of the body of a young girl in nearby woods, but also add a depth to his character that I enjoyed discovering.

Stranger Child is a big book, with many characters and at times, a fairly complicated and maybe a little far-fetched, plot. But hey, they say that truth is stranger than fiction and you only have to trawl the net and read the newspapers to find that very odd, and very implausible things do happen, every day, everywhere.

I really enjoyed this story, and Rachel Abbott's writing. She has woven some dark themes throughout the story which is tense and quite gripping. She'll take you to dark places, but she does it very well.

My thanks to the author and publisher who sent my copy of Stranger Child for review.

Rachel Abbott's debut thriller, Only The Innocent, was an international bestseller, reaching the number one position in the Amazon charts both in the UK and US.
This was followed by the number one bestselling novels, The Back Road, Sleep Tight and Stranger Child. Nowhere Child - a short novel based on the characters from Stranger Child - was Rachel's fifth book. In February 2016, she released her sixth book, Kill Me Again.
In 2015 Amazon celebrated the first five years of the Kindle in the UK, and announced that Rachel was the number one bestselling independent author over the five-year period. She was also placed fourteenth in the chart of all authors. Stranger Child was the most borrowed novel for the Kindle in the first half of 2015.
Rachel now lives in Alderney - a beautiful island off the coast of France, and is now able to devote time to her other love - writing fiction.

For more information see Rachel's website
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @RachelAbbott


Tuesday 28 June 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

It's terrifying enough to witness a murder.
It's worse when no one believes you.
It was meant to be the perfect trip. A press launch on an intimate boutique cruise and a chance for travel journalist Lo Blackwood to recover from a traumatic break-in and her unravelling relationship.
Except things don't go as planned.
Woken in the night by screams, Lo witnesses a body thrown overboard from the cabin next door. But the records show that no one ever checked into that cabin, and no passengers are missing from the boat.
Is stress driving Lo to the brink?
Or is she trapped at sea with a murderer?
And will they strike again? 

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware is published by Harvill Secker on 30 June 2016 and is the author's second novel.

I read and reviewed Ruth Ware's debut In A Dark Dark Wood in July of last year. I enjoyed it very much and have been looking forward to this clever author's latest offering.

Once again, Ruth Ware has served up a huge dish of dark, disturbing, claustrophobic and chilling writing, she's created a story that made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle and I began to jump at the sight of my own shadow.

Lo Blackwood; travel journalist, although not that successful, she's been given the opportunity to report on the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise ship. She's determined that this will be her breakthrough moment, the article that gets her noticed. Lo's not the luckiest of women; her relationship with with boyfriend Judah seems to be unravelling quickly, she's also pretty shaken up after disturbing an intruder in her flat. She's not slept properly for ages ... she's a bit of a wreck.

Things don't really improve when Lo boards the Aurora Borealis, despite the super-luxury, Lo just can't settle properly, she's tired and not that impressed by her fellow guests.

Lo witnesses a murder. Or does she? She's convinced that a body has been thrown overboard, and she knows who it was. Nobody else on board remembers seeing the woman in cabin 10, and Lo begins to sound like she's delusional. She knows what she heard, she knows who she met, she even borrowed a mascara from the woman .... the mascara is missing.

Ruth Ware has created a stifling environment, despite the luxury and glamour, there is a seediness about the Aurora Borealis and it's passengers that will chill the reader to the bone. There are characters galore, and each one could be a suspect ... that's if there really was a murder. Lo is not the most reliable of narrators, and the author throws in snippets of background detail about her throughout the story, enough to make the reader question Lo's story.

Drama, suspense and a definite creepiness; The Woman in Cabin 10 is a top quality mystery story penned by a very clever author.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in Sussex. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer. She now lives in North London with her family.

Her debut thriller, In A Dark Dark Wood, was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, and has been optioned for film by New Line Cinema.

Find out more about Ruth Ware at
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @RuthWareWriter


Monday 27 June 2016

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs #BlogTour

Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music, literature and dance. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer, training with some of the world's most gifted performers.  When a young Samuel Beckett comes to work for her father, she's captivated by his quiet integrity and falls passionately in love.  Persuaded she has clairvoyant powers, Lucia believes her destiny is to marry Beckett. But when her beloved brother is enticed away, the hidden threads of the Joyce's lives begin to unravel, destroying Lucia's dreams and foiling her attempts to escape the shadow of her genius father.
Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent by her father to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. But now she decides to speak.
Inspired by a true story, The Joyce Girl is a compelling and moving account of thwarted ambition and the destructive love of a father. 

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs is the winner of the Impress Prize for New Writers, longlisted for the Bath Novel Award and the Caledonia Novel Award and was published by Impress Books on 16 June 2016.

Profits from the first year of royalties of The Joyce Girl will be donated to Young Minds; the UK's leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

The Joyce Girl of the title is Lucia Joyce, the daughter of world-famous Irish author James Joyce. Annabel Abbs has taken this little known character from history and with meticulous and intense research has re-created her life for the reader.

The Paris setting is exquisite, the vibrancy of this city full of artists come alive on the pages, as does young Lucia. A dancer, a dreamer with a big heart, she's full of life and colour and wonder. Yet Lucia is oppressed by those that surround her and the reader experiences each crushing experience alongside her.

Interwoven throughout the novel are the interviews and conversations that Lucia has with esteemed psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and as Lucia begins to speak, the reader meets the real Lucia. These chapters are incredibly well written, with such a wonderful insight into the workings of the brain, the treatment of people with mental health problems and the intricacies of human relationships.

Lucia captivated me from the very first page. Her excitement and joy for life, her love for her family, despite their displays of pure selfishness, and the downward spiral of a life that could have been wonderful, but instead was stifled and silenced.

Beautifully written, compassionate towards Lucia, yet startling and heartbreaking too. The Joyce Girl is a wonderfully fictionalised account of a young girl who was pushed to her limit in life and has been pushed to the background after her death.

Thanks to the author and the publisher for my review copy of The Joyce Girl.

Annabel Abbs grew up in Bristol, Wales and Sussex before studying English Literature at the University of East Anglia.
Her debut novel, The Joyce Girl, won the 2015 Impress Prize and was longlisted for the 2015 Bath Novel Award and the 2015 Caledonia Novel Award.
Her short stories have been long and shortlisted for various awards.
She is now completing her second novel, based on the life of Frieda von Richthofen, wife and muse to DH Lawrence.
Before she began writing, she spent 15 years running a marketing consultancy where her clients included Reuters, Sony and the FT.
She lives in London and Sussex with her husband and four children.

Follow her on Twitter @annabelabbs   
Follow The Joyce Girl on Twitter @The_JoyceGirl


Friday 24 June 2016

The Museum of You by Carys Bray #BlogTour #MyLifeInBooks

Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, now she's not so sure. She'd like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else's story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.
Darren has done his best. He's studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want - everything he can think of, at least - to be happy.
What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is still full of her mother's belongings. Volume isn't important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be.
But what you find depends on what you're searching for. 

Welcome to my spot on the Blog Tour for The Museum of You by Carys Bray, published by Hutchinson (Penguin Random House) on 16 June 2016.

2016 has been a very very good year for books. I look back over the past six months and see so many wonderful stories, such a wealth of amazing writing. I'm not sure how on earth I will ever pick out a list of Top Books of 2016.

The Museum of You by Carys Bray is another incredible addition to the treasures of 2016. I was totally bewitched by the writing, the story and the absolutely wonderfully created characters. The story consumed me, the depth astounded me, and best of all, it also made me laugh ... out loud.

It's the long summer holidays and this year, Clover Quinn is old enough to look after herself when her bus-driver dad, Darren is out at work. She spends her days pottering around the house and tending to the family allotment. She collects fresh vegetables for her Grandad and her Uncle Jim, although she knows that Uncle Jim won't eat them ... sometimes he doesn't eat anything for days, when he's 'not himself'.

Darren Quinn drives his bus around the neighbourhood, thinking about his daughter. He's always
done everything he can to make Clover happy, he wonders if he's done enough.  He thinks about how he could have gone to University, if Clover's mother hadn't left her handbag on his bus, all those years ago. He worries about Jim, he's not too sure what to think about his mate Kelly, and he spars and jokes with long-time best pal Colin.

Meanwhile, Clover has an idea. After a visit to the Maritime Museum in Liverpool, she decides to create the life of Becky, her mum. She'll be the curator of the exhibition, she'll go into the second bedroom that's full of bags and boxes of 'stuff' that belonged to her mother, and she'll use the stuff to tell Becky's story.

The problem is that nobody has ever told Clover the real story about her mum. Mrs Mackerel next door often refers to Becky as A BIG GIRL and always finishes any sentence about her with BLESS HER. Her Dad doesn't have many photographs, and she's a little bit frightened of asking too many questions.

So Clover takes the stuff, and imagines her own story, and tries to make her imaginings into Becky's story,

Carys Bray's writing is so gentle but oh so powerful, her words pack a punch that touches the heart and her characters seem so alive.
Clover is an extraordinary character, she's wise and witty and kind and caring. She's also missing a mother, and despite her desperate love for her father, she yearns to know everything there is to know about Becky.
Darren is a great bloke. He's kind, he's sometimes impatient and grumpy, he knows his faults, but he loves Clover so much. He's spent her lifetime protecting her from the truth, and by doing so, he finds it harder and harder to move on. He can't throw anything away, he can't speak honestly to Clover, he's struggling.

I love this book so much. I adore Mrs Mackerel, the old lady next door whose mixed up words and shouty language had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. These characters are so well rounded and their story is so moving. The setting and the era are perfect.

Beautifully imagined and expertly told The Museum of You is a complete triumph. I continued to think about the characters long after I finished the story. Beautiful

My thanks to the author and the publisher who sent my copy for review.

I'm thrilled to welcome Carys Bray here to Random Things today as part of the Blog Tour for The Museum of Us.  She's talking about 'My Life in Books'

My Life in Books ~ Carys Bray

Morris's Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells  My mum had a collection of books that she only got out during December. This made them seem really special and exciting. On December 1st we received our advent calendar and we were also allowed to rummage through the Christmas books. My absolute favourite was Morris's Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells. Morris is the youngest member of his family and he's feeling left out on Christmas Day. Then he spots an overlooked present under the tree and suddenly everyone wants to play with him.

The Book of Mormon  I haven't put 'by' after the title of this book because it's either written by a series of ancient American prophets (if you're a believer) or by Joseph Smith (if you're a non-believer) - and I couldn't fit all that on one line. Before I was born my parents read this book and converted to Mormonism. As a result I was raised in a very religious household. Growing up, I believed in the historicity of The Book of Mormon. Nowadays, I view it as a piece of 19th century Biblical fanfiction - I still like some of the stories, though.

First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton  I worked my way through Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series when I was about nine or ten. Even back then, 30+ years ago, the books seemed to be set in a completely different world. They were full of strange ideas (boarding school), unfamiliar traditions (midnight feasts) and new words - it was some time before I realised that decent not pronounced deck-ent.

The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy  In my mid-teens I adored Thomas Hardy. I studied Tess of the D'Ubervilles at school and went on to read all of Hardy's novels. My favourite was The Trumpet Major, perhaps because Anne Garland is more ordinary and down to earth than some of Hardy's other heroines. I haven't read any Hardy since I had children - I think my reluctance to revisit his work may have something to do with a certain scene in Jude the Obscure which seems all the more shocking to me since becoming a parent.

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields  I read The Stone Diaries in my thirties, when I was doing my BA. I had just spent a decade being a stay at home mum and I was finally finding the time to read properly again. I thought the early scenes in the kitchen were remarkable - such beautiful domestic descriptions. When I reached the end of the first chapter I went back and read it again.  I think it was the first and only time I've ever done that.

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by T S Eliot  I also read The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock while I was doing my BA. I loved Eliot's language and the poem's depictions of social awkwardness. At the time I was thinking about how to leave Mormonism without becoming estranged from my extended family and friends. 'Do I dare disturb the universe?' The question echoed in my head - do I dare disturb my universe? In the end, I dared.

Hey Yeah Right Get A Life by Helen Simpson  During my MA I was workshopping a story called 'Everything a Parent Needs to Know' when the workshop leader said she thought I would enjoy Helen Simpson's stories. The following week, she passed me her copy of Simpson's collection, and she was right. I loved it. I also felt like it gave me permission to write about things that interest me. As Simpson said, 'It does seem ridiculous that describing domestic work and life - the daily reality of most women in the world - is seen as letting the side down.'

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews  I read a review of All My Puny Sorrows on Sara Crowley's blog. It sounded amazing. Then a friend offered to lend me her copy (which I still haven't returned) and it was as amazing as I had hoped. All My Puny Sorrows is a comic novel about suicide and bereavement - that may sound impossible and/or crass, but it is wonderfully funny and desperately sad. There is a scene at the end of the novel involving a series of phone calls that will always stay with me. 

Carys Bray ~ June 2016

Carys Bray is the author of a collection of short stories, Sweet Home, which was awarded the Scott Prize.

Her first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, was shortlisted for the Costa, the Desmond Elliot, the Waverton Good Read and won the Author's Club Best First Novel Award. It was a Richard and Judy Book Club selection and a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime.

She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.

For more information about Carys Bray and her writing, visit
Follow her on Twitter @CarysBray


Thursday 23 June 2016

Wild Life by Liam Brown #Legend100 ** BLOG TOUR **

When we moved into the world. The wild moved into us.
When a troubled advertising salesman loses his job, the fragile wall between his public and private personas comes tumbling down. Fleeing his debtors, Adam abandons his family and takes to sleeping rough in a local park, where a fraternity of homeless men befriend him.
As the months pass. Adam gradually learns to appreciate the tough new regime, until winter arrives early, threatening to turn his paradise into a nightmare.
Starving, exhausted and sick of the constant infighting. Adam decides to return to his family. The men, however, have other plans for him. With time running out, and the stakes raised unbearably high, Adam is forced to question whether any of us can truly escape the wildness within. 

Welcome to my spot on the BLOG TOUR for Wild Life by Liam Brown,  published in paperbook and ebook on 13 June 2016 by Legend Press and  the author's second novel.

I read the whole of Wild Life in a couple of sittings. It's the sort of book that gave me that 'car accident' feeling; when you really know that you should look away, but you just can't help yourself from watching. I had a feeling of unease and strange anticipation as I turned the pages, and the author actually describes the feelings that I felt when he writes about Adam as he enters the woodland for the first time.

So, why was Adam in the woodland? What was he fleeing from, and how did he get there? To the onlooker, and indeed to his friends and family, Adam was a twenty-first century success story. He'd worked hard to make sure that everything he dreamt of when he was younger has come true; the big house, the flash car, the attractive wife and the two children. Adam's work consumed him, it was the centre of his being, and he was good at it. He was also good at the things that came with it; the drink, the drugs, the women.

When the economy crashed, so did Adam. It seems that he wasn't that important after all. Leaving the office with a cardboard box of belongings and a good pay off, he then went out and gambled the lot. After a heavy night of denial that involved vodka and cocaine and a knock-back from his young lover, Adam finds himself on the streets. His new sleeping companions are far and away from anyone he has ever spent time with before. But Adam kind of likes it.

Liam Brown has created an underworld of men; drop-outs, drunks, gamblers. Men who were all someone once, but now are nobodies. Lost and forgotten, except within their own circle, where human nature takes over, and there will always be a pack mentality, with the need for power and control. mixed up with a hint of madness.

Wild Life is unlike any story that I've read before. Unbelievable, yet totally realistic at the same time. It's almost a Lord of the Flies with adults instead of boys, it's dark and dangerous and unsettling, yet perfectly paced and very gripping. The men are perfectly drawn, not least Adam, who has reached the heights, felt the dizzying drop to the bottom and is slowly finding out so much about himself, and others.

Wild Life is a story of humans, and power and realisation. It is unsettling and brutal, but so honest. Liam Brown is a very talented and imaginative author.

My thanks to Legend Press who sent my review copy as part of the #Legend100 Club

After leaving school, Liam spent five years working a series of increasingly mundane jobs, including burger flipper, helium balloon pedlar, and a two-month stint manning the shooting alley at a travelling fairground.
After 18 months travelling and working in the Philippines, he returned to the UK and began writing stories.
Liam is the lead singer and guitarist in the band Freelance Mourners.
He lives in Birmingham with his wife and two children.

Follow Liam on Twitter at @LiamBrownWriter


Wednesday 22 June 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Mark Edwards

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.

I'm really pleased to welcome Mark Edwards to Random Things today.

I read Mark's first novel, The Magpies whilst I was on holiday in Corfu this month, and really enjoyed it.

I'm looking forward to catching up with more of his books very soon.

My Life In Books ~ Mark Edwards

Last year I was at a publisher's party (yes, my life is very swanky) where I met another novelist who told me never reads books. I was flabbergasted. Why would you want to be a writer if you don't like reading? And how can you learn to write well and find inspiration? It's like being a chef who lives on bread and water.

I write because I fell in love with reading at an impressionable age. I wrecked my eyesight reading under the covers by the light of a cheap plastic Star Wars light sabre. I need to read in order to write in the same way cars need fuel to run. For me, there's nothing as thrilling as finding an exciting, envy-inducing book, the kind that you want to press on all your friends. Here are the books that, at various points in my life, not only made a huge impression on me but influenced me as a writer.

The Fog by James Herbert   My parents divorced when I was eight or nine. One benefit of this was that my mum subsequently allowed me to stay up late to keep her company. She would nod off in her chair, leaving me to feast upon all sorts of inappropriate late-night films and TV programmes: Death Wish, An American Werewolf in London, Hammer House of Horror. One night, I found a library book that had the legend 'For goodness sake don't leave this on Aunt Edna's chair' emblazoned on the back. It was The Fog and it left an indelible impression on me. I am still recovering from the scene in the gym with the garden shears.

I spent my teenage years reading horror; Herbert and King and Clive Barker. I wanted to be a horror writer. Years later I discovered that no one wants to publish horror. But my imagination was warped and waned by those books, as if that greenish-yellow fog had crept into my brain .....

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham   When I was eleven my step-sister lent me a copy of The Chrysalids, and my love of John Wyndham's very English take on dystopian sci-fi was born. I had already read Triffids and went on to read all the others (even Web) but The Chrysalids is my favourite. The tale of a small group of 'mutants' in a post-apocalyptic England, it's about prejudice, religious intolerance and all sorts of Important Stuff. It's also an absorbing adventure story. But it was the first book that hit me with an emotional wallop. Over thirty years later, I can still remember the pain and joy and hope I experienced the first time I read it.

2000AD   OK, it's not a book. It's a comic. But it played such a large part in my writing and reading life that it needs a mention. If you're not familiar with 2000AD, it's a science fiction comic with an extra-terrestrial editor called Tharg the Mighty and it most famous character is Judge Dredd. I was a comic addict in the late 70s/early 80s and spent all my pocket money on them, Anything I had left was spent on paper and pens, because as well as reading comic books I created them. These were the first stories I wrote. I spent all of my spare time creating characters, dreaming up adventures for them, inventing universes. I would pass these comics around my friends - my first thrilling experience of having readers. I have spent many years as an adult trying to replicate that first thrill.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend   It wasn't all horror and sci-fi when I were a lad. At twelve, rumours of a sensational (and rude) book spread around our school. I learned an awful lot from this book and the follow-up, Growing Pains. Like Adrian, I was profoundly in love with Pandora, though Sharon Botts - who would apparently do anything for 50p and a pound of grapes - sounded more fun. I also experienced one of my most embarrassing moments thanks to this book, after asking my stepdad what a wet dream was. Cue excruciating birds and bees talk. Ah, how naive we were in those days. Now, every twelve year old boy has watched a hundred hours of porn online. The Adrian Mole books feel like a snapshot of more innocent times.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker   Despite being top of the class at English throughout my school years (I was bottom of the class at everything else) I hated nearly every book and play we were forced to study. Shakespeare - boring! Hardy - torturously tedious! I remember arguing with my English teacher about the merits of Stephen King's It, which she declared 'laughable', versus A Passage to India, which I declared to be 'the biggest pile of crap I've ever read'. English lessons seemed to be designed to put kids off books for life. The only one I loved was The Color Purple. What a book! This was what literature was supposed to be like: important, educational but above-all entertaining. Finally, there was something my teachers and I could agree on.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt  Anyone who knows me will at this point be rolling their eyes and  going, 'I wondered when he'd mention this one!'  The Secret History is not only my favourite book, it is my favourite anything. I love it more than any album, film, TV show or song. It came at exactly the right moment in my life. I was at university and hadn't been reading much. I picked this up after seeing a review in, I think, Melody Maker. And I was blown away. The atmosphere, the seduction of that elite and beautiful group, the dark wit. I was there, living that book, entranced and mesmerised. I've read it six times now. In 2014 I saw Donna Tartt give a reading from it. Afterwards, she shook my hand. It was the best moment of my life (um, apart from watching my children be born and when my wife said 'I do'!)
Reading The Secret History rekindled my desire to be a writer, and I spent the next ten years writing books that didn't get published. I probably tried too hard to emulate DT. Oh, and for the record, I loved The Goldfinch too. But nothing, nothing, is as amazing as The Secret History.

The Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly   These days I read crime novels almost exclusively but when I was in my twenties I mostly read literary fiction. Occasionally, I would treat myself to a crime novel (Val McDermid, Michael Dibdin, James Ellroy, Mo Hayder) but the books that mde me want to write in that genre were Michael Connelly's, which I still love. Bosch is such a moody, downbeat character, an old school hard man who probably votes Republican. But there's something lovable about him. My favourite is The Concrete Blonde, but it's the most remarkably consistent crime series out there. That plotting! Connelly is a genius. The TV series is excellent too.

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes  In 2010 my wife bought me a Kindle for my fortieth birthday. It went on to change my life, not just because of the publishing opportunities it brought but because when I was browsing Amazon for something to rad on my new device, I came across Into The Darkest Corner. By the time I finished it I knew I wanted to write psychological thrillers. ITDC is a work of genius. Dark, sexy, exciting, thrumming with menace. Since then, psych thrillers have become the hot genre and I've been lucky enough to be part of that over the last few years. But for me, this is still the one to beat. It's the gold standard of psychological thrillers.

Mark Edwards - June 2016

Mark Edwards is the author of five psychological thrillers, including The Magpies and Follow You Home, and also co-writes with Louise Voss.
Mark has topped the UK Kindle chart four times and sold over 1.5 million books.
His next novel, The Devil's Work, will be published in September 2016.

You can find him on Twitter @mredwards


Tuesday 21 June 2016

The Accidental Life of Greg Millar by Aimee Alexander

Lucy Arigho's first encounter with Greg Millar is far from promising, but she soon realises he possesses a charm that is impossible to resist. Just eight whirlwind weeks after their first meeting, level-headed career girl Lucy is seriously considering his pleas to marry him and asking herself if she could really be stepmother material.
But before Lucy can make a final decision about becoming part of Greg's world, events plunge her right into it. On holiday in the South of France, things start to unravel. Her future stepchildren won't accept her, the interfering nanny resents her, and they're stuck in a heatwave that won't let up. And then there's Greg. His behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre and Lucy begins to wonder whether his larger than life personality hides something darker - and whether she knows him at all. 

The Accidental Life of Greg Millar was published by Lake Union Publishing on 26 April 2016.

Although the title of this novel would make any reader assume that this is a story about Greg Millar, it is, in fact Lucy's story. Told by her, in her words.

I read this book whilst on holiday in Corfu, it's a couple of weeks ago now, and I do struggle to write a review if I don't do it immediately. However, I remember being really surprised by the turns that this story took. At first glance, and throughout the first few chapters it would be easy to assume that this is another run-of-the-mill romance. You know the kind of thing; two tortured souls meet and fall in love ......

It isn't, it really really isn't. Yes, there is a love story at the heart of this book, and a beautifully written one at that, but there are so many more layers to Lucy and Greg that add depth and feeling to the story.

Aimee Alexander creates characters that you can relate to, there are some awful people in this book, who do some pretty vile things, but there are also some wonderful people who take the story to another level, and even the vilest characters are perfectly formed.

Greg Millar is a complex and at times, very unnerving character and Lucy is forced to deal with not only his erratic behaviour, but also his two small children and their nanny who are determined that they are not going to share Greg with her. The French setting is very well done and the author has cleverly added to the suspense and discomfort with the addition of a stifling heatwave.

There's a lot packed into this book, the author deals with some pretty dark issues, and does it very well. There are twists and turns a plenty, a heavy dose of romance, some pretty dysfunctional characters and a wonderfully evocative setting.  I enjoyed The Accidental Life of Greg Millar very much and look forward to reading more from this author.

My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review.

Aimee Alexander is the pen name of Irish author, Denise Deegan. Denise writes contemporary teenage fiction under her own name. As Aimee Alexander, she writes contemporary adult fiction that focuses, largely, on family and relationships.

For more information about Aimee Alexander, visit
Follow her on Twitter @aimeealexbooks