Book Reviews

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours." Alan Bennett

'A super inspirational blog for readers and fantastic reviews for writers :-)' Sue Uden

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Tuesday Intro: Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat



First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea - every Tuesday, sharing the first paragraph (or a few) of a book you are currently reading or thinking about reading soon. Visit the blog here to join in.

I'm reading Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat.

I really enjoyed Spirit of Lost Angels, by the same author, and I've found myself drawn into this story very quickly too and keen to see what happens next. 


First paragraph

'We gather in the cemetery, before the ossuary, with the straggle of other remaining survivors and their families. Our heads dipped, the mayor beings his memorial speech to commemorate the tragedy that became a legend around these parts; the evil that part of me still believes was the result of my own reckless actions.'


Synopsis

Seven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt.

1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.

When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration.

As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for France.

Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen. But the decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days.

A woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

What makes a novel historical? - Jane MacKenzie - Author guest post

Today I'm delighted to share a guest post with you from author Jane MacKenzie. Jane's debut novel is Daughter of Catalonia, and is published by Allison and Busby on April 17th 2014. 



What makes a novel historical? by Jane MacKenzie


People are fascinated by the past. So, it’s understandable why so many good novels might be termed historical, including my own, Daughter of Catalonia. The period of my novel ranges from 1935 to 1958, before I was born. But it doesn’t feel like a historical novel to me, and when I look back on how the book was born it isn’t a period in history that I think about first, but a place.

I have a home in Collioure, surely one of the most beautiful places in France, just twenty kilometres from Spain, and full of Catalan influences. Matisse and Derain discovered colour here, and Picasso spent an important part of his life close by. With the Mediterranean on one side, and the Pyrenees on the other, the region grows peaches, and cherries, and apricots, and above all grapes, on the plains and on craggy hillsides where the sun bakes the ground hard and the vines cling like crow’s feet to the rocky soil. But this isn’t a region of grand wine chateaux, or indeed the glitzy Riviera. It is a place where fishermen and wine growers have always eked out a living a bit like the crofters in my native Scotland – small-scale and hardy, and keeping a lot of the good stuff for themselves!

So they made me want to write, but not the typical book by English settlers about how they converted a farmhouse, or the story of the holidaymaker who meets a romantic Frenchman. I wanted to write about the Catalans themselves.

It was a 91 year old ex-fisherman whose stories set me exploring the region’s past, and I ended up writing a novel which explores the war years, and the effect of the German occupation on ordinary lives in France. Setting the main action of the novel in 1958 allowed me to explore how people recovered and resumed their lives after the war, and I kept my promise to myself, so that my key characters are the fishermen, the schoolteacher  and the bar owner who make up the ordinary life blood of local villages.

But to me they don’t feel like historical characters. Perhaps a real historical novel is one set before living memory. The people who were falling in love and having babies in Collioure in 1958 are still alive today, and I know many of them. It is living history that I’ve written about, and the streets through which my own lovers walk, and the vineyards and the mountains which are their backdrop, are as real and unspoiled today as they were then. I imagine them now as elderly people, strolling down for a coffee or glass of wine in my favourite local café. They would be the age of my father, and he isn’t yet history!


But the research required to write the book was just as intensive as I imagine writing about the 15th century must be, and it focuses the mind to know that if you get your facts wrong you’ll get your knuckles rapped by readers who remember the period perfectly! And my next novel is set in the 1960s, so the pressures can only increase. A recent BBC survey of eminent academics came to no firm conclusion about when history stops and the ‘current era’ begins. One said history began a second ago. Another said it ended in 1968. For me it will be when I start writing about years I remember myself, so that I’m not sent flying to reference books to research. But where would be the fun in that?

~~~~~

About the novel...

When charismatic Spaniard Luis elopes with high born Elise from Paris in 1935, and takes her to live in Catalan France, they little know that war is going to rip France apart, separate them, and ultimately destroy them both, sending Elise into unhappy exile in England, and Luis to his death in the French Resistance.
It is many years later, in 1958, that their daughter Madeleine escapes to France, to the beloved village of her childhood memory, to seek out her roots and the truth of her parents’ story. Her journey liberates her from a childhood of stifled gentility in her grandparents’ home, and takes her through glitzy Paris and on to the heat and passion of Catalonia. But her arrival in her childhood village unleashes more than she had bargained for, as Madeleine confronts the secrets of war and learns the shocking truth behind her father’s death. And as her own Catalan love story begins, she has to come to terms with her past, and learn to forgive and to believe in the legacy of love her parents left behind.
Daughter of Catalonia is a story about love and war, about rupture and healing, and about survival and ultimately hope. It is a love story born in the heat of the Mediterranean sun.
About the author...

Jane MacKenzie has lived and worked in many far flung corners of the world, including the Gambia and Switzerland. Having built her own business and enjoyed a spell working at CERN in Geneva, Jane realised her dream of writing. She splits her time between the Scottish Highlands and Roussillon in the South of France, the region which inspired Daughter of Catalonia.  
Follow her on twitter: @JaneFMackenzie 
Author's Website: www.janemackenzie.co.uk

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Finding Mother - Anne Allen



'She knew there was something vital missing in her life but didn't know what it was.'

This is the second novel from Anne Allen, I've already read and enjoyed her debut, Dangerous Waters. (Link to my review below). In Finding Mother, we meet 35 year old Nicole Oxford as she is in a very emotional state, and having made a big decision. Her marriage is in trouble, her husband Tom has been unfaithful and destroyed her trust, she has had enough and as the novel opens, she walks out and leaves him behind in England to head to Spain. Despite a successful career as an investigative journalist, she feels the need to find out who she really is, having been raised by loving parents who adopted her as a baby, and never before having looked for her birth mother or indeed her father. So the time now feels right to search for her birth mother, if she is to discover more about her true self as she hopes to do if she finds her. 

The story sees Nicole visiting the parents who raised her, Mary and Ian, in Spain where they have retired, to undertake the delicate task of asking them if they have any information or clues as to her birth mother which she can follow up on. It's a difficult situation confronting them with the fact that she'd like to do this after so many years, and this was dealt with well by the author. She then travels back to the Channel Islands to look into her origins. Jersey was her home prior to her move to England, and her search takes her to Guernsey. Without wanting to reveal too many further plot points, I'll just say that the story unfolds as Nicole discovers the truth about her birth and adoption, and meets her birth mother and grandmother; the latter, Eve, is a well drawn character who I liked and whose story reveals secrets from the past. 

This is a novel with a nice pace, that is easy to read, it's a moving tale of families and relationships across the generations and of love and uncovering the past, trying to find a sense of self. It could be a good summer read for relaxing with in the garden or on the beach. I personally would have enjoyed a bit more complexity or drama to the story perhaps or more twists and turns in places, a couple of times I felt I could see where the story was going. Anne Allen writes with warmth and empathy about people dealing with difficult situations, and has created an enjoyable tale with a strong sense of place, settings beautifully evoked, making this reader keen to visit the Channel Islands one day. 


Views of other bloggers - A Spoonful of Happy Endings | My Reading Corner | Jaffa Reads Too | Bookboodle

My review of Dangerous Waters

Thanks to the author for kindly sending a copy of this novel for an honest review.


Author links: Website | Facebook | Twitter Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Dead Ground - Claire McGowan - Author Guest Post - Blog Tour

Today I'm delighted to share a guest post with you from author Claire McGowan. Claire's third novel is The Dead Ground, and is published by Headline on April 10th 2014. 
It's the second in a series featuring Paula Maguire. You can read my review of the first in the series, The Lost, here, and my review of Claire's first book, The Fall, here.


My writing process by Claire McGowan

There are a couple of questions that always come up when I’m being interviewed, and which I really should have worked out better answers to. One is: are you disciplined with your writing? And the other is: how much research do you do?

At the moment I write at least one book a year, and I always have other work to do as well, like most writers nowadays. So I don’t sit down at my desk all day every day and write – for one thing, it’s hard to crank out words eight hours a day. For another, life’s little jobs always get in the way, whether it’s proof-reading a different book, or promoting the one you have out, or going to the dentist or dry-cleaners. Part of this is procrastination, of course. When you don’t want to write a particular scene or you don’t know what happens next in your book, it’s amazing how much time you can fill up cleaning the taps, emailing, and watching YouTube videos of cats running into walls.

My process of writing a book spans around a year. This is probably because I have a year. If I had more or less time, I’m sure the work would expand or contract. First I’ll get the idea. I get ideas all the time, but not all of these will be workable as novels. It helps that I’m writing a series, so I know roughly what has to happen to the cast of characters in that one. Then I start scribbling down bits of the book, gathering ideas as I go. At this stage I don’t know much about the plot but rather than panic I just try to enjoy the adventure of finding out what’s going on. I use a notebook for this part, which is a sort of fetish – I can kid myself it’s like sketching, just playing about, and it also stops me being distracted by the aforementioned cat videos. Then, I will usually get to thirty thousand words and stop, stumped as to what happens next. I might stop for quite a while, procrastinating and telling myself I’m thinking it over. At some point I drag myself between thirty and sixty thousand words – the hardest part. Then I will stop again to think about what is really going on? What’s the book about? You might think I would know at this point, but….

Then, the research question. I wish I had a good answer for this, like ‘I embedded myself with the police for a year’ or ‘I got myself arrested so I could experience prison’, but it’s nowhere near as exciting as that. I will usually read around the subject I want to write on when I’m in the early musing stages, then try to get the story down, and then check the facts after. I’ll do this either by reading, going online, or talking to people about specific questions. Again, I’m a firm believer that too much research can weigh a book down, and that story is much more important than being totally accurate at all times. I want to write stories, not be an expert in the police force or forensic pathology or something. It’s surprising how often you get things right anyway. The mind is very powerful.

Hopefully this rather haphazard approach will show any aspiring writers that you don’t have to have all the answers when you start a book. However, you absolutely do have to keep going. I’m a big believer in doing 1,000 words a day in the writing stage– this very quickly adds up to a book and is why I wrote my first in three months. If you do this, and keep going without reading back over it, even when you’re convinced it’s no good, at least you have something to work with and fix. The only perfect books are the ones that stay in your head, unwritten. Give it a try!



About the novel...
BOOK TWO IN THE NEW CRIME SERIES FEATURING FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST PAULA MAGUIRE WORKING IN THE MISSING PERSONS UNIT IN NORTHERN IRELAND, IN A NAIL BITING STORY THAT WILL KEEP YOU UP ALL NIGHT
A stolen baby. A murdered woman. A decades-old atrocity. Something connects them all...
A month before Christmas, and Ballyterrin on the Irish border lies under a thick pall of snow. When a newborn baby goes missing from hospital, it's all too close to home for forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, who's wrestling with the hardest decision of her life.
Then a woman is found in a stone circle with her stomach cut open and it's clear a brutal killer is on the loose.
As another child is taken and a pregnant woman goes missing, Paula is caught up in the hunt for a killer no one can trace, who will stop at nothing to get what they want.
The Dead Ground will leave you gasping for breath as Paula discovers every decision she makes really is a matter of life and death...
About the author... 


Claire McGowan grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland. After a degree in English and French from Oxford University, and time spent living in China and France, she moved to London and works in the charity sector and also teaches creative writing. THE DEAD GROUND is her third novel and the second in the Paula Maguire series.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The WoMentoring Project - free mentoring for female writers




What is it about?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project - from the project management to the website design to the PR support - is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project. 

Why do we need it?

Like many great (and not so great) ideas The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers - largely writers, editors and agents - who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

Applications

In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn't possible so instead we've tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time. 

Why our mentors are getting involved

The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project.
Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don't have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give.
Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work.
Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

The WoMentoring project is the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It's founded in the spirit of paying it forward, and I'll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I've gained with a mentee. I've benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you're in your solitary writing bubble. The formality of the mentoring arrangement also gives a sense of responsibility and focus - something that's invaluable when you're lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress - and it's beneficial to mentors too.
Emylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers

My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out.  The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it.

Francesca Main, Editorial Director, Picador

I wanted to get involved with this project because I'd like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard.

Jo Unwin of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

I'm interested in being mentored because although I think you have to make mistakes to learn, having someone who's been there help you work out the ones with no value can be really useful. Most of all I'd like to have someone to push and challenge me on what makes me and my writing tick. 


The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up - I think it's a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner.

Clare Archibald

I'm on my third novel; I've had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process.

Suzy Norman

Find out more...


Twitter: You can find WoMentoring Project at @WoMentoringP on twitter and we use the hashtag #WoMentoring

The illustrations used in this post were designed by Sally Jane Thompson.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

My publishing journey so far - Mark Edwards - Author Guest Post

I am delighted to share a great guest post by author Mark Edwards on the blog today.


More twists and turns than a bucketful of snakes… My publishing journey so far.

by Mark Edwards

As everyone knows, in the old days there was only one route for writers: write a book, find an agent, then hopefully a publisher. If you didn't find a publisher, that was it, unless you decided to vanity publish (ie pay someone to print your book). You could keep trying and trying…but if you never found a publisher who was willing to sign you, your writing career was dead in the water.

That's what happened to me. I spent my twenties and early thirties writing and writing. I got an agent and thought that it was going to be easy from that point on. Three or four rejected novels later my agent dumped me. Even when I started writing with Louise Voss, who already had a book deal, and one of our books was optioned by the BBC, I still couldn't get published.

So I gave up. For years I wrote nothing. I had a good job, a growing family… The constant rejection was too painful. My writing dreams were over. I'd given it my best shot and it hadn't worked out. Like so many writers before me, I never made it.

And that's the way it would have stayed… if it wasn't for Amazon and their Kindle Direct Publishing programme. I've written about this quite a lot before so will be brief for the sake of those who know my story. In 2011 Louise and I self-published our two novels on Amazon and then set about promoting the hell out of them. It was agony at first: sales were slow, but just encouraging enough to convince us it was worth continuing. After several months, we suddenly had a surge of sales (prompted by a lot of the people who'd bought the first book, Killing Cupid, buying the second, Catch Your Death, all at once). We hit No.1 and No.2 on the Kindle chart and stayed there for a month.

Within weeks we had a four-book deal with HarperCollins. The day this happened I felt hugely emotional. The amount of time and pain and hope I'd invested over the years… It felt like it had finally all paid off. Our books were going to be in shops, we were going to cross over to the non-Kindle-owning public. With a big publisher behind us, success was guaranteed!

But it didn't work out like that. Catch Your Death's bookshop sales were very disappointing (it was only in a few shops for a very short period). Then Killing Cupid came out during the worst week of the year for sales, during the Olympics, at the very height of Fifty Shades mania. By the time our first brand new book came out six months later, our publisher had effectively given up on us. All Fall Down got absolutely zero marketing, wasn't in any shops… When Forward Slash came out I don't think anyone knew it existed.

This is the problem with the old system. Have one flop and you're done. Bookshops won't stock the next one. There are no second chances.  This is why writers often have to reinvent themselves with a new name, which is something Louise and I considered. I'm glad, now, that we didn't.

In early 2013, shortly before Forward Slash was due to come out, Louise and I had an utterly depressing meeting with HarperCollins  which felt like attending your own wake. At that meeting I told them I was going to self-publish my solo novel, The Magpies. They were nice about it…but what happened next shocked everyone.

Amazon have something called White Glove, which is where you can publish via your agent. This means that Amazon help with some of the technical issues like formatting and promise a small amount of promotion. I signed up to this and self-published The Magpies at the end of March.

By promoting it to my and Louise's loyal group of Facebook followers, I managed to sell a few hundred copies in the first couple of days. This was more than All Fall Down had managed! But then it started to drop down the charts. I was despondent. If The Magpies didn't sell I was facing severe financial difficulties. When we got the HarperCollins deal I had gambled by quitting my full-time job, and had put all the money I'd saved into getting onto the housing ladder, buying a little house in Wolverhampton. I had massive debts and a baby on the way…

Then on Good Friday 2013, I checked my Magpies sales figures and saw that I'd sold a lot more copies in the last hour than usual. I checked again ten minutes later. More sales. They started pouring in. I knew that Amazon must have sent an email to people who had bought the Voss and Edwards books. By the end of the day, The Magpies was in the Top 40 on Kindle. A couple of weeks later it was in the top ten, and after hanging around at No.2 for a month it finally hit No.1.

It was incredible. This book had saved me. The Voss and Edwards books started to climb the rankings too. The Magpies kept selling. It's now sold over 200,000 copies and has reached No.1 or 2 in the UK, the US and Australia.

Then Amazon Publishing stepped in and offered me a deal for The Magpies and another book. Despite my experiences with HarperCollins, I didn't hesitate. I knew that with Amazon things would be different. They would actually make an attempt to market my books. Louise and I have also now signed with Amazon Publishing for our next one, and working with them is an absolute joy.

Of course, there's a downside. No books in shops. But our HarperCollins books were barely in any shops anyway! Amazon get a lot of bad press, but pretty much everything good that has happened to me as a writer has been because of them.

Now, I am self-publishing a new book, What You Wish For. This is the beauty of the current system. Authors can be flexible, try different things, get out books as fast as they can write them. I have no idea if this one will achieve a fraction of the success of The Magpies. But for now I am doing what I've always dreamed of, what my nineties self wanted more than anything. I am writing full-time, doing the thing I love.

A lot of rubbish is said about indie authors and the death of traditional publishing, and how one is better than the other, blah blah blah. As someone who has done a bit of everything, my feeling is that there is no 'better'. It's just that now authors have options. There is no single route. And it's as hard to be successful at self-publishing as it is working with a traditional publisher, and vice versa. The important thing is to be flexible and keep your options open. Find your own way. Don't take sides. Yes, I harbour some negative feelings about what happened with HarperCollins, but it's a bit like a divorce. At first you feel bitter, but then you get a lovely new partner and you forget all about the old one…


The important thing is to never give up. I did give up, for seven years. But trying again was the best thing I ever did.

What You Wish For - amazon link | Mark and Louise's facebook page |