Tuesday 30 May 2017

The Vets at Hope Green by Sheila Norton

Published by Ebury on June 1, 2017

The Vets at Hope Green by Sheila Norton is the full length novel, combining serialised parts Escape to the Country, Follow Your Heart, Too Close to Home and A New Start. I’ve read a few four-part novels before and enjoyed them, but I’ve always found I prefer to wait for the whole book rather than the novellas, as they leave me wanting more. The Vets at Hope Green is the story of Sam who is receptionist at a veterinary practise in London. Her relationship with Adam, her boyfriend, has hit a rough patch, she’s unsure about her job and she is in need of an escape, so she heads off to her Nana’s house in Hope Green.

This really was an all-round lovely book which had me smiling all the way through. If I’d read each of the novellas separately I know I would have been driven mad waiting for the next one to be published as its one of those heart-warming reads you’re going to struggle not to read in one sitting. This is perfect summer reading and that’s exactly what I made of it as I sat out in the garden on a very sunny day reading this book from the front cover to the back.

Hope Green was a really idealistic setting, picture perfect, and the whole place comes to life with the author’s description of the place and the people we meet. There’s the typical village representation of everybody knowing each other’s business, which was in total contrast compared to Sam’s life in London where most people on her own street didn’t know her name. I loved how nothing really ever escaped anyone in Hope Green. The second something happens, everybody else seems to know about it and though at times they do come across as quite nosy, the close-knit community also brought about many friendships and it seemed to me as a much more appealing place to live than London.

Sam is an easy to like character. She has quite a lot of things to face up to, as we discover early on in the book, and this kept me interested in her story and I liked the heart and the fight she showed. Another character who intrigued me was the new village vet Joe. I have tired a bit of grumpy male leads but I was fascinated by him and why he came across as rude when around people but yet seemed the complete opposite around animals. The author develops his character nicely and my opinion did change on him throughout, but I’m still not fully convinced about him even now I’ve finished the book.

Whilst the author really draws upon the setting beautifully, one thing which I preferred even more was all the animals! I was hoping for lots of mentions of them since this is a book set in a veterinary practise, but in some books the romance can take over. Here though there are lots of animals and they are all really cute and had me pet-broody all over again. I loved Peggy’s dog Rufus, though his poor health did upset me at times. Poor Rufus. And then there were all the other animals that came into the surgery who had their own little story and personally I wanted to take them all home and keep them because they were all lovely.

As this book was written in four smaller parts, the pacing of the story is quite fast which kept the story fresh and interesting. It’s not particularly unpredictable but that didn’t matter one bit as it is feel-good and uplifting and that was all I was hoping for. There are a few mini cliff-hangers and twists throughout which kept me turning the pages quickly, eager to know what was to come. All in all I found The Vets at Hope Green to be a joy to read, and I am thrilled to have discovered a new-to-me author whose books I’m sure I’m going to love.

Monday 29 May 2017

Don't Wake Up by Liz Lawler

Published by Zaffre on May 25, 2017

How nursing influenced my writing

As a student nurse I had a brilliant tutor. She was ex-army and in appearance she always reminded me of a comic character, called Bessie Bunter. She had a ruthless approach in training young students. Her beliefs; actions speak louder than words, were practiced. We were asked to insert a nasogastric tube into each other. She gave us a little tip on how to make this task easier – to put the long length of tube in the fridge first, so that it became more rigid and less likely to wander around at the back of the throat. Even now as I write this I am swallowing hard to get that tube past the knot in my throat. Another lesson was on how to apply plaster of Paris. The lovely messy warmth of the plaster-embedded bandages being moulded over your arm and then left to set was an enjoyable session, until she said that she’d like us to wear them for twenty-four hours.

Nursing was a major part of my life for many years and will always be filled with the memories of those first experiences. The first time I washed a patient, I touched her as if she were made of porcelain, until she told me she wouldn’t break if I actually rubbed and not dabbed at her. The first time I lay out a body, my eyes were fixed on the dead woman’s face as I washed her and I nearly died of fright as I saw her eyebrows move. Throwing down the flannel, I ran down the ward to find the ward sister to tell her that the patient was still alive! Sternly, she marched me back to the body where I had to explain what I thought I’d seen. What in fact had happened was that as I moved the woman’s head, her hairline dropped back because the poor creature was wearing a wig, and that was the only thing that had moved! The first time I gave an injection, I had my eyes closed until this handsome rugby player asked me if I could please open them while I was giving it. The ‘first times’ will stay with me forever.

In my first ward placement, I was on night duty. After the lights turned down, the ward sister asked me to collect all the denture pots and to clean the teeth in the sluice. I was happy to this job and with a bucket I quietly collected the plastic pots. In the sluice I placed the bucket down in a very large sink and turned on the powerful taps. In the blink of an eye, the bucket filled with water and the denture pots tipped over and floated empty of their teeth. The ward sister said I had the rest of the night to find out whose teeth belonged to whom. It was easy enough to find the owner for some of the teeth as their name was inscribed on the side of the denture plate with permanent pen. For other patients it was a case of try and see if they fit. A fortnight later, I was still on this ward when during the night an elderly woman died. The first thing we were always taught to do was insert the false teeth to give the face a more natural form. The auxiliary nurse assisting me carried out the task while I prepared to wash her. I let out a gasp as I looked down at the poor lady. She looked like a human horse lying there, wearing two top sets of dentures, her mouth unable to close. To this day I will always wonder who ended up with two bottom sets of dentures.

In my first posting as a trained nurse, I was tasked with the job of taking a patient to the mortuary. It all looked straightforward. There were three tall fridge doors and behind each of these were three body trays. A specially designed lift enabled you to carry out the job. The idea was to pull out the tray and then to transfer the diseased from the ward trolley. It was all going smoothly until I pushed the body tray back into the fridge and realised only one side was inserted properly and now with the weight of the body was tipping sideways. Well there was only thing to do. Climb into the fridge and physically push the body back before the tray came crashing down onto the body beneath. Only once I’d climbed in to take the weight of the tray on my shoulder, I couldn’t move. He was too heavy. With my nursing hat crushed beneath the weight of the tray and my legs ready to buckle, the auxiliary nurse ran to fetch help. The strange thing I remember about that experience was that I was so afraid that I’d hurt the dead man if I let him fall. Despite the calamities of my student days, at the age of twenty five I became a nursing sister and was sent to Italy to assess the differences between the British and Italian healthcare. I became fluent in the use of the words: Mamma Mia.

Nursing has had a huge influence on my life and has given me back as much as I have ever given to it – in spades. To witness the fight people make to live, to witness bravery in both the young and old as they hear the worst of news and then as they try to comfort the ones they love, has inspired me beyond measure. To witness colleagues over many years performing minor miracles as they bring someone back from the dead, or salvage life from a wreck of a body so badly injured that you cannot imagine life ever being possible again. I’ve seen people carrying out great acts of kindness and I have also seen the other side of human nature – the destroyer – the life taker, the wife beater, the child molester who you can never walk away from and forget. There is no other job like nursing, no quicker access to being connected to a stranger, of having someone place their trust in you. The finest advice my tutor ever gave was to never look at a patient as just a patient, to imagine someone you love in their shoes. Nursing leaves little in life to be shocked about, but so very much to write about!

Don't Wake Up is out now.

Saturday 27 May 2017

Underneath by Anne Goodwin

Published by Inspired Quill on May 25, 2017

I loved the sound of the blurb for this book and had enjoyed Anne Goodwin’s previous novel, Sugar and Snails, so I was looking forward to reading Underneath. I think the blurb is brilliant and it really drew me into this book and had me eager to read it. As the reader, already knowing the cellar is going to be put to more sinister use made every mention of the word intriguing and because we already have an idea of what is to come, I raced through this book in anticipation of everything unravelling. I read this book with a sense of foreboding that the author delivered beautifully. There was always that apprehension and a feeling that something bad was going to happen, and this had me glued to my Kindle, my day lost in this menacing novel.

Steve and Liesel are in the early stages of their fast-moving relationship. Liesel has moved in, something which Steve had planned for and hoped for. He is quite obsessed with her, always thinking about her, jealous when she mentions other people, but there is a chemistry and fire in their relationship which they both find addictive. But one day, Liesel has something else on her mind. She wants a baby. She’s determined they’d make good parents and she’s already worked out when she’s most fertile. She hasn’t even considered that Steve doesn’t want to be a dad, but when he makes that clear to her, she threatens to leave him. Steve only knows one way to get her to stay…

Steve was a messed up character and I found him utterly fascinating. He has an obsessive personality and everything he seems to say or think has twisted layers to it and because of that, he was really compelling and engaging. From very early on in the book he had me engrossed, waiting in suspense to see what was to come from him. We get insights into his family and his childhood which give us more of an impression of why he is the person he is, but regardless of anything we learn about him, he always made my skin crawl. He was absolutely vile whether that was due to his upbringing, his mental health or otherwise. His family life was a strange one. I was just as interested learning about his sisters and his mother than I was him and Liesel. Whilst this book is told from Steve’s perspective, this didn’t prevent me from getting to know the other main characters too, and I found hearing about them through Steve’s viewpoint made me see the characters in a different way and question everybody’s motives more.

Personally I preferred the first half of this book more than the second. There was something about the way the author gradually builds up the tension that had me gripped by the book from page one to the level I couldn’t bring myself to put it down because I was desperate to know what was going to happen next and see how the tension would be stepped up. But when that moment comes, the one I had been waiting for, what followed didn’t have that same edge to me. I still liked trying to work out what would happen next, but the tension felt a bit lacking and parts became a bit confusing. I couldn’t always work out what was happening and the ending left me baffled.

Underneath is a real slowburner that well draws upon dysfunctional families and the implications they can have on the rest of your life. I particularly enjoyed looking back upon Steve’s childhood and some of the things he went through. It’s almost as if the author is testing the reader into seeing whether we can find any sympathy for a man who is so very twisted, and though I could see how traumatic some of his childhood was, I didn’t find any sympathy for him in the end. Whilst this is an engaging psychological thriller, I felt at times it could have been made to be even more thrilling, although the author does nail the psychological part as the characters’ actions and their mental health were very interesting and thought-provoking. This is a book that I have definitely found difficult to get off my mind.

Monday 22 May 2017

Spandex and the City by Jenny T. Colgan

Published by Orbit on May 18, 2017

In Spandex and the City, Jenny Colgan has written a genius romantic comedy. I've read countless rom-coms and the format is almost always the same. The woman is clever or ditzy or a bit of both. The guy is tall, dark and handsome. They have everyday problems which impact on their relationship. They work it out in the end and have a happy ever after. Am I complaining? Not at all! But Spandex and the City is a rom-com with a huge difference. Imagine going on a date only to find your date actually wears purple spandex with a crappy superhero name emblazoned on his costume. Imagine that he never sleeps at night, or even during the day, and when you first spend the night together, he almost definitely won't be there when you wake up. Imagine how it would feel if someone tries to get in the way of your relationship? Not a disapproving friend but a villain who, shock horror, resents the internet! What if he switched it off? How would you survive?

Meet Ultimate Man. Holly has already met him when he rescued her from a mugging, causing a well-publicised accidental flash of unsightly knickers that Holly will never live down. I loved the way these two met and I enjoyed getting to know the man behind the mask. Ultimate Man is a lonely character, a bit awkward and uncomfortable when he is spending time with Holly, only there is a chemistry between the two of them that keeps them coming back for more.

This book grabbed me from page one with its sparkling take on dating and superheroes and the completely mad mash-up of the two. It was car-crash entertainment dressed up with a purple cape. Fast-paced, fresh and frenetic, there’s a lot to love about the way Jenny Colgan constructs this story. With the entertainment value just as good as the book’s brilliant title, I was always eager to see what was to come next.

One thing I struggled with a bit in Spandex and the City was trying to warm to the heroine. Holly was a bit of a difficult character, hard to please and almost always complaining about something. In a way, I really wanted to like her. She’s quite sarcastic and quick-witted and at times she made me laugh with some of the things she came out with, or some of the things she was thinking. Often this book featured bracketed pieces of humour from Holly and I did find her funny. But then there were many other times where I found her to be a bit irritating…

Something I did particularly enjoy about this book though was the divide between hero and villain, and the blurred lines in between the two. I sided with both Ultimate Man and his enemy Frederick Cecil (yep, Ultimate Man is not the only one with an unfortunate name) at times during the course of this book. I also found the outlook on our fascination with technology and the internet to be scarily realistic but reading this book does prove that there is more to life than the technology that lives within our mobile phones. I’m struggling with the idea that a superhero romance could be thought-provoking… but it sort of was!

As predicted, the story in Spandex and the City is a ridiculous one. This was a good thing. I loved the quirky, farfetchedness about it. Who doesn’t love to read something different every now and again? This book had me laughing out loud and it had me hooked. I just couldn’t help reading chapter after chapter and any other plans I had were soon forgotten as I got wrapped up in this superhero romcom – and that is a line I never thought I’d use! Smart, sassy and just a lot cheesy, Spandex and the City is a whole lot of fun, and highly recommended.

Friday 19 May 2017

Fat Girl Begone! by D.E. Haggerty

Published on May 1, 2017

A Day in the Life of Author D.E. Haggerty

An ordinary day in my life? This is going to be easy, I thought. I grabbed my agenda to get started and promptly began to freak out. In addition to a mess of scribbles here there and everywhere, my agenda is covered in three different highlighter colors: pink for promo opportunities for my own books, green for private engagements, and orange for book reviews I need to do. And then there’s the to-do list as well as several post-its with more tasks I need to somehow accomplish written on them. Ordinary day? I’m not sure that exists at the moment. But wait! No one said I had to write about an ordinary day in my life.

Let’s start this all over then, shall we?

My day always starts early. I may be grumpy as all get out in the morning and not want to actually converse with anyone, but I love to get my butt behind the computer and write in the morning. If I have a tennis match or boot camp class scheduled, I’ll get up an hour earlier to make sure I have at least three hours behind the computer before I need to leave the house. These early hours are when I try to work on my work in progress. Whether that works out or not, you can rest assured that a huge cup of coffee will be close by.

After I hopefully – fingers crossed – get a chapter written in whatever manuscript I’m currently working on, I finally allow my eyes to wander to the dog. You can’t look at the dog before then or he’ll want to go out RIGHT NOW! I hate getting out of my pajamas, but it’s necessary when you live in the city and walk the dog in the park. I don’t brush my hair or put on any make-up, however, and my clothes usually consist of a pair of ripped jeans and t-shirt. I’m sure the neighbors think I’m crazy since I live in a hoity-toity neighborhood. Seriously, I once ran into the King’s brother in the supermarket.

As soon as the dog has relieved himself, played with some puppies, and embarrassed me by refusing to listen to my commands or just plain crying, it’s back to work for me. Well, unless I’m going to play tennis, attend a boot camp class, or have a meeting for my duties as Vice-President of the American Women’s Club here in The Hague. Whenever I do manage to get my behind back to the computer, it’s time to work on my blog. My Readsalot blog – where I promote other authors – is updated daily. My personal blog – aptly titled My Musings – is only updated two to three times a week. Blogging takes up an hour or two of my time every day. In addition to writing and posting the blogs, I visit other blogs I follow and comment or like as appropriate.

Now it’s time for the fun stuff. Not. Marketing is the bane of my existence. I’m sure I’m not the first indie author to say that! I’m constantly switching up how I market. I may be searching for new bloggers to beg for spotlight posts or reviews. Or maybe I’m reading Goodreads posts on how to market. I may even be trying out a new marketing service.

In between all the above stuff, I update my social media accounts and spend some time interacting with my followers.

By the time I’ve written a chapter, blogged, and done some marketing, lunch has come and gone and the dog is back to giving me puppy dog eyes. Yep, it’s time for another walk. If I’m not too stressed, I’ll take him to the forest smack dab in the middle of the city that’s only a block from my house. After his walk, I try to spend some time reading a book for review. To be perfectly honest, though, that doesn’t always happen. It’s usually around 3 p.m. when I return from the walk and, considering I start work at 6 a.m., I’m often ready for a nap right about now.

Before I know it, dinnertime has arrived and with it, the end of my work day. I’ll spend some time on social media before I go to bed, but, otherwise, my ‘work day’ is done, and the fun can begin. Mostly fun is spent reading a book. Yep, after spending the entire day working on my writing career, I’ll pick up a book and read. Because I’m a nerd like that.

Re-reading this to myself, I realize I’ve written what my ideal day looks like. Reality is similar. Sometimes.

After twenty minutes on the bike, I’m ready to go home. I know I’m supposed to do that circuit thingy with the machines, but I can skip it for this once. No one needs to know. I slowly sneak my way to the women’s locker room.

“Hey, Everly.”

Crap. Gabe’s standing right in front of the door to my freedom. I wave. Yep, I’m a total dork. “Hi.”

“I saw you out there on the bike. Looking good.” He winks. Damn, he looks absolutely scrumptious standing there with his arms crossed over his chest. Trust me, it’s an impressive show of muscles. Not huge like a body builder but big enough to grab onto. “Looking for your clipboard?”

And there goes any chance I have of sneaking out of the gym. “Just refilling my water bottle before moving onto the weights.” I hold up my obviously full water bottle and try not to cringe.

“Sure, babe, but make sure you get your weight training done as well. A woman with muscles is hot.” With another wink, he takes off.

Did he seriously wink at me? Is this part of the personal trainer service? Flirt with the customers to ensure they want to do your bidding? Even in my head that sounded crazy. That hot man of muscles would never want me and my jiggly bits. I shake my head and force my legs to the personal trainers’ section to grab my clipboard.

If I thought the bike was boring, I was wrong. Doing a circuit of weight machines is what’s boring. I should download some podcasts or something. Or maybe some books on tape? Do they hire men with scorching hot voices to read the male parts in romance novels? Definitely need to do some research.

I quickly towel off the last machine and grab my water bottle. I stand from picking up my clipboard and nearly run straight into someone. “Shit! I didn’t realize anyone was standing there. Did you want this machine?”

“Nah.” He shakes his head. “How are you doing, Everly?”

It’s the guy I ran into on Wednesday. Shoot – what was his name again? “Um, hi.” If that’s not embarrassing enough, I do a little wave but the clipboard is still in my hand and I end up smacking him in the stomach. Thank goodness, I missed any important bits. “Shit. Sorry.”

He laughs and grabs the clipboard from my hand, presumably before I can do any more damage. “It’s Carter. Do you want to grab a smoothie?” My face scrunches up at the thought of a smoothie. He chuckles. “Or a coffee or something?”

“Um. I was going to head home like this.” With my now free hand, I indicate my ratty gym clothes.

Carter shrugs. “That’s okay. We can get a quick drink at the bar here.”

I can’t exactly say no after I ran into the guy and then hit him. “Okay, let me grab my stuff.”

He smiles and nods. I rush off with my thoughts whirling. Is he just being nice? Friendly? Or is this like a date thing? I’m not ready to date. Do I tell him that? Crap. It’s only a coffee. It doesn’t have to mean anything. But what if it does mean something? Can I give myself a concussion from thinking in circles?

I grew-up reading everything I could get my grubby hands on, from my mom's Harlequin romances, to Nancy Drew, to Little Women. When I wasn't flipping pages in a library book, I was penning horrendous poems, writing songs no one should ever sing, or drafting stories which have thankfully been destroyed. College and a stint in the U.S. Army came along, robbing me of free time to write and read, although on the odd occasion I did manage to sneak a book into my rucksack between rolled up socks, MRIs, t-shirts, and cold weather gear. After surviving the army experience, I went back to school and got my law degree. I jumped ship and joined the hubby in the Netherlands before the graduation ceremony could even begin. A few years into my legal career, I was exhausted, fed up, and just plain done. I quit my job and sat down to write a manuscript, which I promptly hid in the attic after returning to the law. But being a lawyer really wasn’t my thing, so I quit (again!) and went off to Germany to start a B&B. Turns out being a B&B owner wasn’t my thing either. I polished off that manuscript languishing in the attic before deciding to follow the husband to Istanbul where I decided to give the whole writer-thing a go. But ten years was too many to stay away from my adopted home. I packed up again and moved to The Hague where I’m currently working on my next book. I hope I’ll always be working on my next book.

Fat girl Begone! is my eleventh book.

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Thursday 18 May 2017

Island of Secrets by Patricia Wilson

Published by Zaffre on May 18, 2017

Tips for Writing Women’s Fiction

Women’s fiction covers a broad spectrum, from historical novels to modern chic-lit, so it is impossible to generalise on what makes good women’s fiction. Gone are the days when we read about cardboard cut-out characters that were dependant on men — ruled by their hearts — and obsessed by nothing more than housekeeping and handbags.

Today, we have female characters with a rich and varied background, and we also have shallow, self-centred women. To bring out these individualisms, we need to understand our females, learn their innermost feelings, appreciate their vulnerabilities and fears. What makes them the way they are? Perhaps their shallowness is deeply rooted in an unstable childhood, or their career obsession based on a secret inferiority complex instigated by a bullying parent. Dig deep, and get personal with each character. No two are the same.

Forget about your reader when writing intimate scenes. Once you start wondering what your mother, daughter, granddaughter might think, you will lose all prospect of exposing your character’s deepest/hottest/weirdest inner self.

What is interesting about writing women’s fiction, is that we can look inside ourselves, analyse our own feelings and draw from personal experiences. Even when we portray unlikable characters, we must find their heart, their vulnerability, and discover their fears.

All these traits are laid bare as we start peeling away layers. The diverse nature of our fictitious women needs to be exposed, or at least hinted at. Ruthlessness sandwiched between caring and humour. Fear between bravery, ambition, and romance. And yes, it’s all right to be girly, or old, or childish, or in love, so long as we’re honest and consistent with the mentality and voice of each, and keep our characters true to their personalities.

Once you ‘know’ your people, the important thing to remember is that the circumstances of your story will alter your women, or at the very least, your protagonist, by the end of the novel.

Know them, expose them, change them.

Island of Secrets is published in paperback today by Bonnier Zaffre.

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