Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Book Review: The Faithful

The Faithful
By Juliet West
Published by Mantle
Available in hardback

Juliet West's second novel, The Faithful, is a coming of age story in England, a country on the brink of World War II. Communities are divided, generations have drifted apart. Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts are causing trouble on the streets. This is a fascinating story about families and friendships formed and also broken based on each other's beliefs.

Hazel, sixteen, lives on the Sussex coast, and her summer is dragging. She feels alienated from her family, her friends have gone for the summer and she feels isolated from the outside world. She is bored with life and the routines she has fallen into.

Her life changes when the Blackshirts, a far-right political group arrive for the summer. Hazel can see people helping each other, a community with the same values, a sense of belonging - everything she has been craving. She befriends Lucia, an upper class girl who is devoted to the cause and also Tom, a working class boy who is cynical to the Blackshirt's principles. Hazel's life becomes entangled with both her friends, leading her away from a life she was meant to have - get married and have children.

This is a novel about love and deception as Hazel runs away to London with a life changing secret. She tries to escape society's expectations for a girl her age. Her life steers Hazel away from society's acceptable behaviour.  West shows the reader how dangerous extreme political groups can be - they way they promise a sense of belonging, safety and security, manipulating their members with extreme views.

The Faithful is a interesting read not just to see a young girl battle against society's expectations but for the social history during this period. West combines the personal and political into a great novel where the reader can draw parallels with today's' society. You can buy The Faithful from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via the publisher.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

May's Reading Adventures

There wasn't much time for reading in May but I squeezed in three books... don't worry I've started to read in the park at lunchtime so I'm hoping to read more than 3 books this month.

Most of my time was spent rewriting chapter 37 not once but twice but I'm definitely happier and I've moved onto the next chapter...only two left and then this draft will be done. I've started to research agents and creating a synopsis...maybe after 4 years it'll be time to send this novel out into the wild.

So here are the books I read in May:

The Faithful - Juliet West
England is moving slowly towards war. Oswald Mosley's blackshirts are causing trouble on the streets. Hazel, a 16 year old girl is pulled into the clutches of this organisation one summer. Falling in love, forming new friendships and broken families push Hazel's life into an unexpected journey. This is a novel about loyalty, loss and guilt. I really enjoyed this novel, and you can read my review soon.

Anything is Possible - Elizabeth Strout
I'm one of those people who has only just jumped on the Elizabeth Strout bandwagon after reading My Name is Lucy Barton and Olive Kitteridge last year. Anything is Possible is a spin off of last year's My Name is Lucy Barton and tells the story of the inhabitants of rural Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton. Each chapter tells the story of a person who either directly knows Lucy or knows of her. The stories are rich, complex, and beautifully written. Looking forward to reading more Elizabeth Strout.

The Storyteller - Kate Armstrong
Kate Armstrong's novel, The Storyteller, is a story of coming of age, depression, isolation and relationships. You can read my review here.

So what did you read in May?

Monday, 5 June 2017

Book Review: The Storyteller by Kate Armstrong

The Storyteller
By Kate Armstrong
Published by Holland House

Kate Armstrong's novel, The Storyteller, is a story of coming of age, depression, isolation and relationships.

In a psychiatric ward, Iris an elderly writer, insists on writing Rachel's biography, a young girl, recently admitted to the ward. Rachel can not resist this tempting offer - to be fictionalised, her life captured.

Rachel has lost her sense of self after being discharged from the hospital and finds herself drifting from one experience to another, isolated from society, unable to cling to reality or relationships. Armstrong captures the feelings of being lost, emptiness and fear of mental health, showing Rachel directionless with no support. The writing style pulls the reader into Rachel's emotional state - the world around the characters and the reader is claustrophobic.

Rachel is disconnected from society and herself. She wanders through her life detached, observing other people's behaviour, trying hard to relate within the romantic and friendship relationships she has but finds herself drifting away. She looks for physical relationships, and uses these to anchor herself with reality.

The reader is always left wondering if this reality of Rachel is the one that she is actually living. The story is being told by Iris so the reader is left wondering, much like Rachel wonders, if we are in the correct reality. Armstrong builds up the claustrophobia with each narrative - Rachel's story is layered with Iris's version of rachel's story and then Iris own story is plastered across the top.

This is an intense coming of age story with sharp observations around mental health issues. If you're looking for something a bit different this summer then pick up The Storyteller as you won't be disappointed. You can order The Storyteller from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via the publisher.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Book Review: The Other Half of Happiness

The Other Half of Happiness
By Ayisha Malik
Published by Zaffre
Available in paperback and ebook

Sofia Khan is back, and she's ready to fight for happiness no matter the cost. Eloping isn't all it's cracked up to be once her mother finds out. A 'real' wedding must be arranged... but this wedding is going to need a groom and Connell has gone into meltdown.

Ayisha Malik's second novel follows on with Sofia's adventures through life with funny moments as she battles with her Muslim family's traditional values and the way she wants to live her life. Last time, in Sofia Khan is not Obliged, Sofia fell in love with her next door neighbour, Conall who definitely did not meet her family's expectations - Irish and white not a good Muslim man that they were hoping for!

In The Other Half of Happiness Sofia has eloped with Conall and now they live Karachi while he makes a documentary but something is niggling away at Sofia - her happy ending just doesn't seem right. She's missing her family, her friends and London and Conall is distant, fully absorbed with his work leaving her in their shared house on her own. There are secrets bubbling on the surface - pride and principles battle, forcing Sofia and her love for Conall to the brink.

Secrets, deception and lies wreak havoc with Sofia's life. Coming back to London not only means dealing with her family but it means trying to find a place to fit within her family and social circle now that she's a married woman. Not only does she need to still deal with her family's high and demanding expectations but she needs to take back control of her own life, career and happiness. Ayisha has written a romantic comedy with a feisty modern narrator with many touching moments and laugh out loud segments. Sofia is a honest, down to earth character and everyone can relate to her naive wisdom.

Funny and smart, this book will have you wanting to hug Sofia as she soon realises that there might not be such a thing as a 'happy ending'. I'm really hoping for a third installment because I feel like Sofia's story isn't complete.

The Other Half of Happiness is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

April's Book Adventures

Talk about let the side down in April - I only managed to read three books but one of those was a doorstopper of a book so that counts as two - can we can agree on that so I can feel better about only reading three.

Well... I have a really great excuse! I've been distracted with painting my kitchen. I normally stick to neutral colours but this time I went for a eggshell blue and I don't want to blow my own trumpet too much but the kitchen feels fresher. At the moment I don't want to rip out the cupboards so I've cleaned them down and the kitchen doesn't look as dull as it used too. I did rip a hole in the lino so I need to find some time to replace it or even investigate what's underneath.

I did finish redrafting one of my chapters, and now I only have three left! Three! But this current one is a complete mess and if I'm honest, I need to start from scratch. So the end is in sight but it's complicated...

Right, so what three books did I read? Some great ones! Oh, you want more details... well, here you go!

Moon Over Soho - Ben Aaronovitch
This is the second installment of the Rivers of London series. DC Grant is still investigating strange occurrences in London's back streets. He finds himself tangled up with mystical creatures and going head to head with evil. This is a fun novel, and Ben Aaronovitch really is the next Neil Gaiman.

The Other Half of Happiness - Ayisha Malik
This is a hilarious book as Sofia Khan continues her journey for happiness. In the previous book Sofia fell in love with the guy next door much to the disappointment of her Muslim family. Here, we see her battle for a happy ever after. Sofia is the Muslim version of Bridget Jones. I'm hoping for a third installment! A fuller review will be on my blog soon.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair - Joel Dicker
Sometimes you want a long, long read which pulls you into a complex story, and this book delivers this. This thriller follows Marcus as he tries to prove his old professor is innocent of murder as well struggle with writer's block and the demands of fame. There are so many twists and turns in this story, and the writing is sharp and addictive. I really liked the way writing is compared to boxing and it wasn't something I considered before (I thought boxing was punch, punch, punch and then the opponent falls over - don't roll your eyes - I know differently now - we all have wrong impressions about professions - how many of us think writers just write, write, write and then get published).

"Writing a book is like loving someone. It can be very painful."

"You should prepare for you writing as you prepare for a boxing match... In the days leading up to the fight, you should be training at only seventy per cent so the rage that explodes on the day of the match has been allowed to slowly simmer and rise within you."

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Book Review: Behind the Mask is Nothing

Behind the Mask is Nothing
By Judy Birkbeck
Published by Holland House
Available in paperback and ebook

Judy Birkbeck's debut novel explores the potency and allure of cults which on the surface appear to be friendly groups, offering to enrich lives. Behind the Mask is Nothing is full of tightly wrapped tension where the reader can see the characters getting deeper and deeper into trouble but are helpless.

Stef is in crisis. Her teaching job is become more about paperwork and people pleasing rather than teaching children and she also suspects her husband is having an affair. Their marriage is drifting apart, having arguments over the slightest things and she is finding explicit messages on his phone from an admirer but he keeps denying the affair.

Stef is drawn into a community on a remote Exmoor estate run by the couple's counsellor with promises of fixing Stef's marriage. Here is a space where she can forget her job, the pressure to be a mother and wife, and learn to find inner peace with her troubles of that's what she thinks this community is about...

Birkbeck explores the power of manipulative communities and how they coax vulnerable people and abuse the authority, slowly controlling every aspect of their members lives. Stef's search for meaning and faith draws her more into this cult and its strange practices. I enjoyed the way that Birkbeck explores the effects of Stef's behaviour on her family, and they way they are pushed away and how the family falls apart as the cult's manipulation pushes it way through the tiny cracks in this family dynamic. Stef's life is consumed by the cult and her family are helpless on the sidelines.

A parallel story of Stef's grandmother weaves through Stef's story. She is writing her memoir about her time in Berlin when she was in the Hitler Youth group. Guilt and nostalgia make her more concerned for Stef. She can see the way the group are twisting reality and making Stef more detached yet she can also relate to the fact that Stef has found acceptance and faith.

This novel is full of paranoia, mistrust and warped realities. At times the reader is left not knowing which is reality is the truth and which one has been manipulated by the cult to draw Stef further into their clutches. Behind the Mask is Nothing is a novel that will keep twisting the tension until the end.

Behind the Mask is Nothing will be available for order from the 17th May.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Julia Crouch's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we welcome Julia Crouch to the Writer's Little Helper sofa to talk about her fantasy bookshop.

I would definitely visit Julia's bookshop especially as it combines books with a cinema - I don't think I would ever leave!

Her Husband's Lover is now out and available in paperback in June and ebook right now!


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Julia's Book Barn

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
It would be a destination bookshop in a beautifully converted barn, a little outside a town like Cambridge, where there are loads of readers. As well as parking places a-plenty, There would be a cycle path to get there, and a shuttle bus that runs on chip oil, and you'd get a discount for using your own steam or public transport. People would go and spend the whole day and part of the evening there.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
Yes - a stage, a cinema (both for events and themed, book related shows), a cocktail bar, a cafe, a children's book adventure area, couches to lie down and read on. There may even be an outdoor pool with sunbeds, but you'd have to buy the book before you went out there, because you might get it wet. A shop with bookish gifts and extensive stationery section, an antiquarian section – although all the books must be beautiful. A charity shop. A cross country running trail to work off all that lying around reading, with showers and a changing area. There would also be work areas for writers, who could come and spend all day there without feeling that they have to buy endless coffees to earn their place. There would be no wi-fi, except in a very limited area, like smoking areas used to be in airports.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
It would be entirely run on renewable energy. It would be a place to spend a day.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I would have all the sections that there are in, say, Waterstones. But the labelling would come from a left-wing/feminist point of view. So Women's Studies would be just 'Studies'. History and Politics and philosophy would be divided into progressive and reactionary. As would literature. Gosh. Am I sounding a bit Orwellian? This might need further thought...

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I would judge purely on the aesthetics of the covers. Each week it would change – silhouetted man covers one week, predominantly yellow covers the next. Women looking back over shoulder, then shattered glass motifs.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
The Brontes: sisters or rivals? Charlotte, Emily and Anne battle it out in a flash fiction stand off. YOU get to decide who is the greatest of them all.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
Her Husband's Lover is crossover literary/psychological fiction: page-turning, vividly written and with enough twists to make you question every assumption you have ever made. It has recently featured on our 'two women silhouetted against a blue background' display.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?

A literary cake - Alice B Toklas's pot brownies. That should get the party started.
Only for those arriving on public transport or under their own steam.


Please visit Julia's website for more information about her books and you can also find her on Twitter.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Things

The Keeper of Lost Things
By Ruth Hogan
Published by Two Roads
Available in hardback & ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Not only does Ruth Hogan's debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things have a beautiful cover but it is also a charming, gentle story, perfect for bank holiday weekends especially when you're belly is full of chocolate and all you can do is pull over a blanket and curl up with a book.

Anthony Peardew, an elderly gentleman, full of guilt about losing his fiancee on their wedding day several decades before, has spent most of this life collecting lost objects while out for walks, making up for a promise he feels like he broke. Hair ties, trinkets, even a biscuit tin containing human ashes, have all been gathered up and reside in his study. There they wait for their owners to claim them. Knowing he is about to die, he leaves behind his home and his collection to his assistant, Laura. She must fulfill his legacy and return as many of the treasures as possible.

Hogan has created a book full of warm and funny characters but she will also try to squeeze a tear from you with some of the heartbreaking stories told from the lost objects and our characters' past. Missed opportunities, tragedies, the curse of growing old or even growing apart. Actually, I'm selling this book in the wrong way because even though there are heart-breaking episodes this is a book with heart and will warm you from the inside. Unlikely friendships are formed, heavy sadness from divorce starts to melt away and love starts to blossom.

The Keeper of Lost Things explores the way people hold onto promises (maybe even for a lifetime) and the power of these promises when both made or even broken. Guilt runs through this novel and as the reader we get to see these characters confront these feelings of fear and move towards a happier, more balanced life. Hogan shows the reader how inanimate objects can have a hold over people and be full of memories and emotions - Laura not only has to honour Anthony's legacy but she must find these people, knowing that some people may not want to be reunited with their treasures.

Fans of The Man Called Ove will enjoy this book as they are very similar in the way neighbours can come together to form a community and help each other in this chaotic world. Both books show the healing power of friendships when letting go of the past.

I bet you won't be able to walk past a lost object you see on the street in the same way as you used to after reading this book. You can buy The Keeper of Lost Things from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy to review via Bookbridgr.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Helene Fermont's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Helene Fermont pops by to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop with some fantastic answers. Her novel, We Never Said Goodbye is now available to buy from your favourite bookshop.


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Readers Paradise.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
In one of the beautiful parks in my native city Malmö where people exercise, socialise and relax with a good book.

Would your bookshop have any special features?

Absolutely. It would have a reader’s corner where authors would be invited to read an extract from their books and designated cosy café. Hygge life style, Fika/coffee break and books are the perfect combination!

What would make your bookshop different from all the other ones?
Staff would have an intricate knowledge of all genres, and both new and old titles in Sweden and abroad.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?

I would feature a mixture of current and old books and introduce new authors work regularly and ditch or minimise celebrity and ghost written books.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table and why?
I would ensure a variety of authors books are on display. Not just books by current authors subscribing to a trend and famous people's titles. I would in addition display books by little known authors in Sweden and abroad. Every author deserves to be recognised. Not just a chosen few.

If you could have only one author event, who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
If she was alive I would invite the fabulous Finnish author Tove Jansson and request she reads an extract from her novel The Summerbook. It's a wonderful book and bestseller all over the world.

A customer comes up to the till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I would tell them to buy the book if they enjoy strong and relatable characters and stories with a psychological twist and big heart!

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
I would offer several; Swedish sticky chocolate cake, Princess cake and cinnamon rolls!


Hélene Fermont is an Anglo-Swedish author of contemporary women’s fiction with a psychological twist. We Never Said Goodbye is Hélene’s second novel, following on from her 2016 debut novel Because Of You.

Hélene’s works feature a Scandinavian-British narrative and in-depth psychological characterisations inspired by her experience as a psychologist working with victims of abuse. Hélene lives both in Middlesex, UK and Malmö, Sweden. @helenefermont / helenefermont /

Sunday, 9 April 2017

March's reads

Best talk about the books read in March before April is over. Somehow, even though it was a busy month, I managed to squeeze in five books. I think I might have already found my book of the year… is that allowed when we’re only April?!

This book was massively popular a couple of years back. I bought a copy but shelved it away as I didn’t want the hype to ruin the book for me. This is a great short fable about Sprout, a caged-hen who is no longer satisfied with laying eggs on command. She has a dream to escape into the wild and to hatch her own egg. Sprout is a plucky heroine in the search for freedom, acceptance, individuality and mostly importantly she’s a rebel against tradition.

This is a powerful book about gender, families and society’s expectations. This is a fascinating book about the way we deal with gender in families and within society. You can read my review here.

This book is amazing, Just believe me. Go and buy it right now. Lindy West tackles feminism, body image, dealing with trolls, and being a woman in this book of essays. This book needs to be handed out to teenage girls. I really wish this type of book was around when I was a younger. Boys should be made to read it especially the ones who body-shame girls. This book is excellent, and I have a feeling it’s going to be one of my best reads of the year.

Laura is left a house and a collection of lost items by her boss, Anthony. She must find the original owners and in doing so she finds that she must let go of the past. This is a sweet story about endless possibilities, chance encounters. I will be reviewing this book in April.

This is a tense novel about marriages, cults and guilt and nostalgia. Birkbeck explores abuses of power, the way a sense of community can draw you into a web of lies and deceit. I will be reviewing this book later in the month.

Don't forget my story, I'll Love You Until The End of Time, is in the Dear Damsels anthology and you can buy it via this link.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Sullen Dainty's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we welcome Suellen Dainty to the Imaginary Bookshop series to celebrate her new book, The Housekeeper.


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
The Bookshop Café – short and to the point.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
The Bookshop Café would be in one of the streets off Seven Dials in Covent Garden. I love that part of London. It’s got shops and cafes that aren’t part of high street chains, and sections of the roads still have cobblestones. It’s magical.

Would your bookshop have any special features?
Yes. It would have a beautiful open plan kitchen, where cooks could prepare and serve delicious food and the best tea and coffee and fresh juices. There would be a large section devoted to free second hand books, donated by customers. People could just take them if they wanted. We’d charge for the new books. There would be armchairs as well, and a sofa or two for people to lounge about. It would be modern, but comfortable. I’d encourage people to read and talk to each other, and not use the place as an office where they could get free wifi.

What would make your bookshop different from all the others?
The free books and the wonderful food. Everyone who worked in the bookshop would love both reading and cooking, and be able to talk eloquently about both.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I’d have all the usual ones – cooking, fiction, non-fiction, plus the free book section. I wouldn’t have a children’s section, because around the corner, I would have another bookshop devoted entirely to them.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table?
I saw a lovely picture recently of a table of books with blue covers. It was for the people who couldn’t remember the title of the book they wanted to buy, but remembered the colour of the cover. So I might try that, changing the colour of the book covers every couple of days.

If you could run only one author event, who would you have? You can pick a living or a dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
This is an impossible question! I think I’d choose Charles Dickens, because he is the best storyteller. I’d let him do and say whatever he wanted.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I’d say that it’s a bit weird, with a lot of random tips on food and recipes, and a bit funny and sometimes very sad. And that once they got to know my heroine, Anne Morgan, they would like her very much.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Why would anyone have just one cake when they could have two or three? I’d bake a Delia Smith coffee and cardamom cake, a River Café pistachio and lemon cake and Claudia Roden’s fantastic flourless orange and almond cake. Oh, and just one more – Elizabeth David’s flourless chocolate cake. It’s always a winner.


Suellen Dainty grew up in Sydney, where she worked as a journalist and television reporter before moving to England more than two decades ago. She has worked for Sky News as a producer and director for the original series of The Book Show. Her experience running a B&B in Somerset and shadowing Michel Roux Jr at Le Gavroche, for his biography, have heavily inspired her writing of The Housekeeper. The Housekeeper is her second novel, her debut, After Everything was chosen as one of Target’s Emerging Authors in the US (the American equivalent of the Richard and Judy Book Club). She lives in west London.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Kate Armstrong's Imgainary Bookshop

Today we welcome Kate Armstrong to Writer's Little Helper to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop. Her novel, The Storyteller, is available, and I will be reading it soon so look out for the review!


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Something simple and straightforward. Probably 'The Bookshop'; why make it more complex than that?

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
With my social hat on, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, which is where I grew up. It's an old textile mill town left behind in the 21st century and becoming increasingly insular and poor. Books were what opened up a wider world for me when I was a child in that environment. I want every child to have that chance.

With a romantic hat on, it would be a destination shop on its own island off Scotland. A Lindisfarne of books.

But most practically, the best place would be in Worcester, where I live. It's a gorgeous old town without an independent bookshop, but with plenty of spare retail space, a population that cares about education and culture, and a literary festival every June.

Would your bookshop have any special features?
Coffee during the day; cocktails at night; a small performing stage. There's an incredible bookshop in Trieste, where James Joyce used to write, that is in equal parts coffee shop for writers and bookseller. I'd love to recreate that space where I live.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
The emphasis on enjoying the world of books in situ as well as just being a place to buy. See coffee and cocktails above. I'd also have creative writing workshops in the shop at quiet times of day - bringing the creators of books into the selling environment, providing teaching opportunities for local writers, and building an active literary community around the shop.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I wouldn't ditch a section, but I'd ditch books that are clichés. No celebrity bios, no books that are the continuation of last year's trends, no books on Hygge. Maybe I'm just showing my prejudices here, and this makes me sound like a snob. But each of us only has so much time in our lives to read, and I want everything I read to bring something new to my experience, not just to be a comfort blanket of the same thing over and over again.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
The five books most enjoyed by the staff in the last month - with a couple of paragraphs on why. I'd want a mix between well-publicised books, and those that have had no publicity at all. The latter are the ones it's hardest to find out about - that's where a bookseller can really help. Also a display of independent press books. There are some hugely exciting books coming out of these presses that deserve much wider audiences.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
Hemingway and Fitzgerald - the hunter and fisher vs the epitome of the Jazz Age. It would be a debate on whose style was a more true representation of life and why readers should read them. In reality Hemingway's style won in 20th century writing - most writers now aim for simple words, clarity, etc. But what if Fitzgerald had won; we'd be in an entirely different literary world. I'd love to see them battle it out. In costume.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
It shows you what depression is like from the inside out, what it is like to be in a different state of mind, what the effect of that is on relationships, on decisions, on the direction your life takes. It's also beautiful, and claustrophobic, and disconcerting. And it was long listed for the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses; who can say fairer than that?

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
I'm really not a cake person. Can I have cheese?


The Storyteller is now available from your favourite bookshop.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Book Review: This is How it Always is

This Is How It Always Is
By Laurie Frankel
Published by Headline
Published in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

This is How it Always Is is a book you need to read. Laurie Frankel's latest novel is a complex and powerful novel about gender, families and the way secrets turn to lies.

Rosie and Penn have always wanted a daughter especially after having four sons. They try one last time, and Claude is born. Five sons all full of beans, charging through the house.

Life is busy, full of noise, happiness and chaos for this big family. Claude announces one day, he wants to be a girl when he grows up. Rosie and Penn let Claude wear dresses, grow long hair, wear bikinis in the summer, and dream of becoming a princess. Claude's parents are happy for Claude to be whoever he or she wants. Claude's brothers and grandma are accepting, and do not question Claude's transformation.

Yet, the problems begin at school with the teachers wanting to follow protocol, demanding Claude make a definitive answer on gender. The shock spreads across their neighbours and friends. Everyone has an opinion and they are willing to express their views. Frankel takes the reader on a bold journey as the family as they battle for acceptance, becoming wrapped in secrets, lies and insecurities. The families frustrations and triumphs are so detailed and amazing. This is a family who deserves to find their place within this world.

Rosie and Penn face an impossible dilemma - should Claude change or should they try to change the world. Frankel will have you thinking about the way we define ourselves in a world with ingrained expectations on how we should live and behaviour.

This is a touching, thought-provoking novel full of warmness and joy as a family struggle to find a place in their community. This is How it Always is can be purchased from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy to review by the publisher.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Goodbye February...

Erm, so I’ve only read three books in February. It felt like more… but I’m guessing the stats are right. Don’t worry, I have excuses!

It was my birthday so I dragged that out for as long as possible, seeing family, friends, eating cake.

Plus, I spent most of the month writing a brand-new chapter for my novel. I wasn’t expecting that… I know it sounds cheesy but I woke up with the idea and now it’s fully formed.  I’m only four chapters away from finishing this draft and I’m hoping this is the year I can finally be happy with the novel.

The Eleventh Letter – Tom Tomaszewski
This haunting tale of a psychotherapist as delves back into a case from twenty years ago where a mysterious woman is accused of murdering her friend and her friend’s husband. Part ghost story, part love story. Lies, murder and intrigue. The truth and reality bends inside out, leaving the reader wondering what is the truth to this story.

Young Hearts Crying – Richard Yates
I love Richard Yates novels. He explores the way people set out to find the ‘American Dream’ but end up realising that the reality isn’t like a dream. Everyone around Michael and Lucy seem happier and connected to their ‘art’. This novel explores Post-war America, relationships with each other, with art, mental health issues during the 1960s and 1970s as well as looking at the push and pull of creativity while trying to maintain a family and job. This is a fantastic novel.

Hold Back The Stars – Katie Kahn
Adrift in space, clinging to each other, Carys and Max look back at their relationship on how they found each and were pulled apart by the utopia they live in. Katie Kahn’s debut novel is a crossed between Gravity, One Day along with hints of Logan’s Run. This gripping novel is full of questions about the society we live in now and how it could evolve into a supposed utopia, a unique love story full of hope and fighting for what you believe in.

Don't forget Orlando Ortega-Medina stopped by to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series. You can read the interview here.

Right, lets continue with March which is going to be a barrel of laughs as I’ve decided to give up chocolate for lent (I’m not religious but I love a challenge). Don’t ask me why… it felt like a good idea at the time.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Book Review: Books For Living

Books For Living: A Reader's Guide To Life
Will Schwalbe
Published by Two Roads
Available in Hardback
Forthcoming in paperback

The world can be a lonely place even though we live in a connected world when you can't see someone on your timeline or in real life who has the same interests. You’re left with that feeling of being the last one left – the last reader. But Books for Living answers that question - no, you’re not the last reader left.

Will Schwalbe’s latest book, Books for Living, is a passionate, intimate, love letter to reading and books. He explores the power of books to shape our lives in times of crisis, contemplation and joy. Books have been a pillar in his life, and Schwalbe is opening the door and letting the reader find out his reading habits.

Asking a reader about their favourite book brings on sweating, mumbling and a mind going completely blank BUT the best question to ask is ‘what are you reading?’. This is the most joyous question to ask a reader. This is Schwalbe's response to this question, and it makes you feel like you're exploring someone else’s bookshelves – without realising it you’re putting your heart and soul on display and this is what Schwalbe is doing with this book. The reader gets a glimpse into the books which have influenced Schwalbe and shaped his outlook in life. He talks about the books which were there for him when his mother was dying, books to help him through school, books to say when it’s okay to be different.

Schwalbe points the reader in the direction of books to remind us that it’s okay to demand space and solitude, books to remind us to enjoy life and its small joys. Books to remind us to carry on living, be open to possibilities. This book contemplates if books can save lives. I think they can – either offering advice or escape in times of heartache, crisis or when there are turning points in our lives. Books can also guide us towards the life we want.

Books For Living contains a full range of book recommendations from the classics to Man Booker winners. My wish list is already bulging from the books Schwalbe talks about. At the moment, my list contains The Power of Habit (which I own but haven’t read), Azar Nafisi’s Reading in Tehran, and read more Daphne du Maurier.

This book is full of personal stories and recommendations and would be an ideal gift for any reader. Books For Living is available from your favourite bookshop.

This book was sent to me via Bookbridgr.

Saturday, 25 February 2017


"Finish it. There is nothing more depressing than an abandoned manuscript."  
Lionel Shriver 

I've had this quote in my inbox for the past year, and I read these words every time I doubt my writing ability and worry about every finishing this novel.

I thought it was time to share it and hopefully it might inspire you.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Orlando Ortega-Medina's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we welcome Orlando Ortega-Medina to the Imaginary Bookshop. Orlando's debut book, Jerusalem Ablaze is out now.

Jerusalem Ablaze includes 13 stories about love, obsession, faith, desire and redemption which take the reader from Japan to Quebec in Canada to California and to Jerusalem Notable stories include a Japanese boy’s understanding of the ferocity of hate an adulterant’s unusual fantasies about a werewolf Richard Wagner and a young priests’ encounter with a blood-thirsty dominatrix.


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Words Without End

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Mumbai – the largest city in the country with the most readers.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
The shop would be designed like the interior of the Star Ship Enterprise from Star Trek. It would have a multilingual staff, including at least one person who speaks Klingon, one person who speaks Elvish, and one that speaks Esperanto, and the books would be available in all the languages into which they have been translated. The shop would feature a combination performance space/cinema for events, readings, and screening Sci-Fi classics. There would also be a Star-Trek style cocktail bar for relaxing and networking, with recorded intergalactic jazz and pop playing in the background. The bookstore itself would have lots of interesting, comfy reading niches. Finally, there would also be a lending library section.

What would make your bookshop different from all the other ones?
Words Without End would be a destination for lovers of Sci-Fi from all over the world, and for those who are Sci-Fi curious.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
Anything and everything that is Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and related, would go up on our shelves.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
Our display table would contain the best of the best literary Science Fiction books, including foundational classics, Sci-Fi by both female and male authors, and Sci-Fi (in translation) from all around the world, e.g. from Cuba, India, Israel, and Japan. Following are some specific titles we would feature on our opening day, in [Roman] alphabetical order:

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
A Legend of the Future by Agustín de Rojas
Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse
The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh
The Female Man by Joanna Russ

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
I would invite H.G. Wells, and we would compare and contrast with him the world in which we are living with the one he predicted in his books, and to ask him where he sees us going from here.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
Our idea of a great book is one that is well-written, tells a great story, takes risks, does not shy away from controversial or difficult issues, and stays with the reader for a lifetime. Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions is such a book.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?

Space Cake, of course. For those who prefer something more earthbound, we would offer Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Quinoa Cake with Halva Dairy-Free Ice Cream


Jerusalem Ablaze ( Cloud Lodge Books) by Orlando Ortega-Medina will be out on the Thursday 16th February.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

So January...

So January… 

You showed us how appalling people can be but also how this can inspire people to take a stand. It scares me the way people are so narrow minded, or don’t seem to think outside their own social situation. People seem to have forgotten how to be human and care for each other. It could be easy to get depressed with the world situation but we can make small differences just by being fairer and kinder to each other.

Somehow I managed to read six books in January:

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Such a short book but such an important book about creating happier women, happier women living in a fairer, truer world. This book should be posted through everyone’s door with a note saying read this. Especially to the road rage guy, with children in the back seat, last night who scream and shouted some nasty things because I was half parked across an entrance to another road in back to back traffic so no one could move.

How Much The Heart Can Hold – Various Authors
This short story collection contains seven stories on love but not the clichéd type. There are stories about a husband watching his wife die from starvation, a woman trying to hold together her family after her father ends up in hospital and a woman obsessing years later over a school crush. My favourite stories from the collection were Nikesh Shukla’s White Wine and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Before It Disappears.

Strange Weather in Tokyo – Hiromi Kawakami
Tuskiko finds herself drinking alone in a local bar and ends up sitting next to her former school teacher. Over the coming months they share drink, food and time, developing a deep intimacy. This is a book about a slow burning friendship leading to romance, and urban loneliness. This is a fantastic book. Think Haruki Murakami crossed with Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City.

The Empathy Problem – Gavin Extence

This is a book about second chances. Gabriel, a hedge fund Manager, finds out he has a tumour. It’s now or never as he starts changing his life around, trying to find meaning. You can read my review here.

The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
This is Carrie Fisher’s last book, and also the first book I’ve read by her. This is her diary from when she worked on the first Star Wars film. This is an interesting read showing that famous people are just as insecure as normal people.

Books For Living – Will Schwalbe
This is a fantastic book for readers as Will explores the power of books and reading in a series of essays. This is also a dangerous book as I’ve already added several books to my wish list thanks to this one book. I’ll be reviewing this book in more detail soon.

I have five chapters left to redraft! It has been a long slog and I’m still not there but I’m hoping that later this year I can start submitting it to agents.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Book Review: The Empathy Problem

The Empathy Problem

By Gavin Extence
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Following on from The Mirror World of Melody Black, Gavin Extence's latest novel, The Empathy Problem further explores the need for people to change their life when handed one last chance. This time Extence asks the reader to put their trust into an unlikeable character who has distanced himself from society. Can he turn his life around before it's too late?

Extence explores the effects of terminal illness through Gabriel Vaughan, an arrogant, highly successful hedge-funder and millionaire. He is ruthless and cunning, driven by power and money. His competitive nature has isolated him from his family and colleagues, leaving him with an existence which is empty with no personal pleasure. He is a modern day Patrick Bateman from American Psycho but there's not murder, blood or heads in the fridge.

Not even a terminal brain tumour is going to get in his way.

Yet, something does change. He starts feeling emotions and seeing the people around him not as an inconvenience rather than being stuck in a bubble all about him. Emotions start taking over, he starts getting involved and worrying about other people.

Caitlin busks on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral amongst the Occupy protesters, playing her violin, and grabs Gabriel's attention with her music. Not only is he mesmerized by the music but by Caitlin. Yet, she isn't like Gabriel's usual taste in women - he normally has to pay. He can not get this girl out of his head.

He starts to realise that there is more to life than work and money. His uncomplicated life starts becoming complicated, full of lies as he tries to create a dual life to make himself look 'human' For Caitlin - he even goes as far as renting a flat in a different part of London and faking his lifestyle. If anything he becomes more unlikable as instead of using his money for social good or even giving some money to his father he instead sets up a revenge plan on his bosses.

This is a book about finding second chances before time runs out. I liked this central idea of the novel and the way people can make changes before its too late.

However, I felt like I couldnt connect to the protagonist even when he starts to change and connect with society. I'm sure that readers could feel differently but for me. The Empathy Problem is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by bookbridgr.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Book Review: Fell - Jenn Ashworth

By Jenn Ashworth
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Jenn Ashworth's latest novel, Fell, captures the oddities within ordinary families, the ways people will believe anything even if it's supernatural in times of crisis and the way the past tries to bleed into the present. Lines are blurred between reality and the misty, mirky world of the supernatural. Hold on to your butts as this is a fantastic book.

I've been a fan of Jenn's since reading her short stories online and really enjoyed The Friday Gospels but Fell is even better so much so that it was one of my favourite reads of 2016.

Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home, abandoned by her father years ago when her mother died, overlooking Morecambe Bay. Her father has died, leaving behind the crumbling house which needs fixing up and restore to its former glory. Like her parents, when they first moved in, she is short of funds to restore the house yet she can't let out rooms like her parents did as the house is full of mould, plant life and nothing seems to work - the house is a museum of her parents past - wallpaper peeling off showing the layers underneath. The roots of two overgrown sycamores have spread underneath, causing damage to the foundations and pipes. Her arrival has woken the spirits of her parents, Netty and Jack, both reunited in death, and who are desperate to make a amends.

Told from the perspective of a husband and wife who are no longer living this is a story about lingering memories and unnatural presences in ordinary life. The story goes back to the summer of 1963 on the cusp of change for the whole family. Netty has cancer and following many operations and doctor appointments she is now living on borrowed time but she spends most of her time repressing her illness, pretending she is fine in front of her young daughter, Annette. Jack invites a charismatic lodger into their house who claims to heal people in the hope that this stranger can save Netty. Trying to keep the illness is becoming a burden. Annette is left to entertain herself as her mother is kept in her bedroom, knitting projects discarded near her chair, while in pain.

Now, in the present, a stranger must save Annette when she cuts herself when trying to slash down the sycamores. The local tree surgeon is pulled into Annette's world and the magnetic pull of the house. Echoes of the past bleed into the present with events repeating themselves but instead of the isolation felt by Jack and Netty collectively is now on Annette's shoulders - she must work out how to fix the house - alone. The supernatural blurs with the ordinary, many things left unexplained and for the reader to piece together - can this lodger actually heal people, how did he manage to get Netty to choke up sea water?

Fell is an eerie, atmospheric book, beautifully written by capturing the ordinary lives with small details and pulling the reader into the lives of these characters. This is a compelling book, and I'm still thinking about the story weeks after finishing the book.  You can buy Fell from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Goodbye 2016

I’m sure everyone is glad 2016 is out of the way. It was a year where the political landscape changed, terrorism has intensified, actors, artists, musicians have died leaving a gap in many people’s hearts. Even though we don’t know these people some of the things they portray in either film or music can speak to us all on a personal level.

For me, this year was better than 2015. I’ve been making myself busy – keeping up going to the gym, road running, painting my flat, enjoying time with friends. I’ve also had a good year at work. There have been challenges but on the whole I’ve embraced them all, and I’m definitely a stronger person than what I was back at the beginning of the year. Hey, I’m not crying every hour like I was in 2015. Only one or twice a month – progress!

So here are my highlights for writing, reading and cultural events from 2016.

Writing in 2016

  • Continuing with redrafting my novel. My aim was to redraft one chapter per month and on average I’ve managed to keep this going and I even managed to redraft two in December. I’m now only 6 chapters away from the end.
  • I had five stories published. I have linked to the original blog posts so you can click through and have a read - so grab a tea and settle down on the sofa.

A Love Letter to My Slow Cooker – published at Murder and Glut
Ice-cream Van – republished in the Forge Fiction anthology
First Gear Dilemmas – published at Silver Birch Press

Reading in 2016
  • I have read 52 books this year ranging from short story collections, non fiction books about loneliness in the city to accounts of Chernobyl, and of course novels. I’ve read quite a few books published in 2016 but I’ve also tried to read a few things which I’ve been promising myself for years. This included the excellent Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and the slightly disappointing There But For The by Ali Smith.
  • You can read all of my monthly wrap ups via this link. You can find all of my reviews via this link.
  • Here are my top reads from 2016. I’ve linked to my reviews of these books, and all of these are highly recommended.

Culture in 2016
  • Arrival, High Rise and Lobster are my films of the year.
  • Going to the theatre and seeing 1984 (AMAZING) and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (AMAZING).
  • Emerald Street Literary festival in London. It was good but ticket holders were only allowed to attend three events, and I wanted to go to more. Hopefully it will run next year.
  • Seeing Neil Gaiman at the Word Factory event at Waterstones. Came away feeling inspired. Must read through my notes for some much needed inspiration.
  • I popped along to the Royal Academy to see ‘Painting the Modern Garden’ and really enjoyed seeing some Monets up close and personal but I really shouldn’t have left it until the penultimate day before it closed as it was very busy.
  • Harry Potter World was amazing. Fans of the films will love walking around the sets and looking at memorabilia. There was lots of insights into how they build the sets and special effects.
  • I’ve always wanted to see a ballet, and this year I got a chance to see Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall and it was amazing. I really want to see some more ballet in 2017.
  • I also got the chance to see both Jurassic Park and ET at the Royal Albert Hall. The film is played on the big screen with an accompanying orchestra. A great experience.

So, how was your 2016?

Come back soon for my ‘Hello 2017’ post!