Wednesday 28 June 2017

Review | The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

Published by Ebury on June 29, 2017

A new Rowan Coleman book is always a real treat for me and I knew from the opening chapter that The Summer of Impossible Things was going to be another special book.

When Luna and Pea’s mum dies, they are left with a whole lot of questions and a will to understand their mother more. We follow them to Brooklyn as they bid to uncover her secrets and the things which made her who she was. As soon as they arrive in Brooklyn, it is evident this is going to be a life-changing experience for Luna. Somehow, Luna realises she can travel back and forth in time. That means she could go back to 1977, a critical year for her mum. What if she could actually meet her mother there? What if she could change the past? What if she could put things right for her mum? And what would that mean for Luna?

First off, I absolutely loved this book. It felt new and different, yet it was still absolutely stunning. Rowan delivers brilliant books time and time again and I love how they are all so different to each other. The concept in this one had me gripped just from the blurb, and once I started reading the book I just couldn’t put it down. I have read a few time travel themed books before but a time travel book written by Rowan Coleman is a million times better. I found this so utterly fascinating and thought provoking. Luna being able to go back in time and meet her mum growing up opens up so many questions to the reader. It has book club written all over it. It needs to be a film. It's a book I have been dying to discuss with other people. It's one I haven't been able to get off my mind since.

The time travel element is written beautifully and subtly as Rowan transports the reader beautifully back to 1970s Brooklyn, disco and all. I adored all the intricacies to this book. If I’d been reading the ebook, this would have been highlighted to death as there are so many meaningful and thought-provoking sentences, paragraphs, almost full chapters, which had me in awe of Rowan’s wonderful writing.

I loved the way this book was written. I love how Luna tells us the story almost aware that we are going to be sceptical about what is happening to her. She knows what she is seeing and what she is experiencing is impossible and yet she also knows she needs to convince us of the impossible, convince us that the impossible is actually happening. I really warmed to Luna partly because of this reason. She came across as such a genuine character – who was I not to believe the things she was telling me? The style of this book is so enthralling and I found myself so wrapped up in the story that Luna could have told me anything and I would have believed it.

The love between Luna, Pea and their mother was incredibly heartening and heart-warming. Reading about the lengths they would go to to save their mother was something very special. The love between mother and daughter is a theme in so many books but it is the core of The Summer of Impossible Things. Luna’s love for her mother made my heart ache. It was so powerful and I could feel it almost overwhelmingly. She would have sacrificed anything for her mum, to get her mum back even though that in turn could mean that saving her mum’s life would lose her own. I could really understand the way Luna felt and I really admired her as a character and how she would always put her mum first. She was so brave and determined and the story of her and her mother was so emotional and life-affirming that I don’t think I will ever forget it.

The Summer of Impossible Things is 100% magical. And it is phenomenal.

Monday 26 June 2017

Review | One Summer in Tuscany by Domenica de Rosa

Published by Quercus on June 29, 2017

One Summer in Tuscany is perfect by-the-pool reading. With its stunning Tuscany location, the interesting characters, the romance and the atmosphere, this is a book best served with a glass of wine on a hot summer’s day.

Set in an Italian castle is a writer’s retreat organised by Patricia. It might not be a cheap retreat to get onto, but Patricia is still struggling to keep it afloat, as all the costs are racking up and the interest in the course is running low. She likes to keeps the number of writers small, so the writing is more productive, and the mentor can give them one-to-one sessions, but still, the writing retreat is under threat.

When I started reading this book, I was thinking there were quite a lot of characters to keep up with and sometimes, in other books, I struggle to keep up with a lot of characters and find myself losing track of the story. One thing that I loved about the amount of characters in One Summer in Tuscany was that the author cleverly kept the reader engaged and in-the-know about each character and their personal lives. For example, we could read entries from Mary’s diary, or read Anna’s emails to her husband. Jeremy's responses to the writers’ stories, his guidance and suggestions – they all gave an insight into his character too, as well as being a great way to start off some of the chapters. Then then were the postcards sent, and the snippets of their WIPs that we read. There are so many things the author does to keep the reader engaged with her characters, and not at any point did I feel there were too many, or that the book would have been better off without one of them.

Each character is different and there were no cookie cutter characters. Though I liked most of them, my favourite was Mary. I felt like she was underestimated by the group. She’s older, so Jeremy has already written off her book, expecting it to be trivial romance and uninspiring. She loves to swim, but people write that off too because of her age. They expect her to be less interested, less talented, and yet she could have shown them all a thing or two. I felt like she got pushed aside quite a bit by other people in this book and would have loved to stand up for her as she had so much to give.

I also loved the writing retreat format to One Summer in Tuscany. I loved that, though the characters’ lives are central to this book, the writing on their retreat is not forgotten. Though of course, like any good writing retreat, there is a beautiful location and plenty of food and alcohol to distract from the stresses of writing. Each chapter deploys a day on the writing retreat, and so the timeline is easy to follow. The book begins slowly in that we are getting to know the characters at the same time other people on the retreat are getting to know them but the characters do all blossom and their feelings develop and they face challenges which may or may not change the course of their lives forever.

There was a lot to enjoy about this book. It’s great escapism, but also as someone who loves to write, it was also interesting and inspiring too, seeing all these writers achieving varying degrees of “success” with their books, picking up on the advice and criticism they receive. I found One Summer in Tuscany to be utterly fascinating, and from the very first chapter I was hooked and had no intention of putting it down. Obvious given the title I know, but it really is a brilliant book to read over the summer. It will have you dreaming of your own sun-kissed holiday, new adventures, new friendships and it will have you unable to resist the urge to check out some travel brochures looking for your next escape.

Guest Post | Sweet Little Lies author Caz Frear: With ‘true crime' at its peak, should crime fiction authors be worried?

Published by Zaffre on June 29, 2017

‘With ‘true crime' at its peak, should crime fiction authors be worried?

Come closer, I’ve got a confession to make. Don’t judge me too harshly, will you?

*whispers, so the literary gods don’t hear

For the past two weeks I have barely picked up a book.

You might be outraged by this and you’ve every right to be. I mean, it’s not like there’s a lack of stonking books around at the moment - my TBR pile is as tall and inviting as a luxury skyscraper - and yet for the past fortnight, it’s been wobbling by my bed, mewing at me. Scowling at me for having the brass cheek to resist its usual charms.

But resist it, I have. And all because I’m entranced, nay obsessed, with The Keepers, a true-crime Netflix series that documents the murder of a nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik, and its link to the cover-up surrounding a paedophile Catholic priest. It is quite literally heart-stopping and strangely heart-warming in equal measure and when I’m not watching it, I’m talking about it. When I’m not talking about, I’m thinking about it. When I’m not thinking about it, I’m watching it again so I can double-check things. The Independent has claimed it’s even better than Making a Murderer.

Which brings me to Making a Murderer, of course. Let’s just say I was so obsessed with that headspin of a show that I actually went to see the two defence attorneys ON TOUR (and was more excited than when I saw New Kids on the Block, age 10).

Then there’s The Staircase, West of Memphis, Murder on a Sunday morning, The Jinx. And it’s not just US true-crime leading the way; recently the UK has aired Interview with a Murderer (the Carl Bridgewater case), The Chillenden Murders, Amanda Knox, Three Girls, based on the Rochdale grooming scandal, and who can forget the awful but spell-binding, Appropriate Adult, which dramatised the crimes and subsequent arrests of Fred and Rose West.

And that’s just TV. Don’t get me started on podcasts. Oh ok, go on then. Well there’s Serial, Sword & Scale, Criminal….

So what does this mean for our beloved crime fiction? If, as demonstrated by all these shows, the very worst monsters are real and living among us, how can crime fiction keep chilling our bones, day in, day out? How can our nerve-fraying prose, macabre plot-twists and inventive death scenes ever compete with the one abiding thought that haunts us while watching/listening to true-crime…

This ACTUALLY happened to someone.

That wild unfettered rage you feel for a real-life victim, for their families, or sometimes for the accused, in the case of a a miscarriage of justice, can never be quite evoked in crime fiction, can it? You can’t feel the same gut-wrenching anguish for a fictional character’s fate as you can for the destruction of a real human life, surely, no matter how great a job the author has done at drawing you in?

So I think now, more than ever, with greater demands on reader’s time and infinitely more choices available, we need to focus on what we do best as crime fiction writers (and what true-crime documentaries can never really do).

We create worlds.

Done well, we create three-dimensional, all-singing, all-dancing, sensory experiences for our readers, and where true-crime tends to focus solely on presenting the key people and their actions, crime novelists go beyond and present the periphery, the context – smells, tastes, the tiny sounds, the inner thoughts, the whole shebang. Ok, sure, a nifty bit of footage can certainly convey to the viewer that it was a cold, crisp morning when the body was found on the dark, dusty building site, but it can never convey – or isn’t interested in conveying - how the cold sliced through the skin that morning, or how the dust from the site prickled the back of the throat.

Only words can do this.

Through words, stories, fiction, we allow the reader to create their own world, to bring their own experiences to the party. After all, my dark, dusty building site would probably look different to your dark, dusty building site, no matter how clearly the author has presented the details. Ultimately, we all see/interpret images differently and there, I think, is the enduring triumph of crime fiction over true-crime. True-crime, with it’s focus on facts and the way things actually happened, is restricted in nature, while in fiction, there are no facts, as such. There’s nothing the reader has to take as gospel. They’re free to put their own spin on even the most tightly-drawn narrative.

Weighing up my love for both genres, and putting recent obsessions aside, I’m glad to report that I’m very much with Willy Wonka….

Now, I really must cancel that Netflix subscription……

Sweet Little Lies, published by Bonnier Zaffre, is out Thursday.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Giveaway | The Sunshine and Biscotti Club by Jenny Oliver

Happy weekend, bookish folk! I'm glad some of you are still following my blog despite it being very quiet recently. I'm in the final couple of months of my degree so I've had to cut back a lot on reading and blogging, but I will be back later in the year when it's all done!

On the plus side, I have raided my bookshelves for some books to giveaway, and I have loads of them planned for the rest of the year. Please join me every Saturday for the newest giveaway - they're open to readers internationally, so everyone can enter.

This week's prize includes:
Paperback copy of The Sunshine and Biscotti Club by Jenny Oliver
Ohh Deer notebook
Emoji keyring

Giveaway begins on the 24/06/2017 and ends at midnight on the 01/07/2017.
Prize is as pictured above.
Open worldwide.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

The Watcher by Eli Carros

Published by Crooked Cat Books on June 21, 2017

Will Serial Killers Ever Rule The World?

We all have a tendency to be obsessed by death, sex, and ourselves. That might sound like a negative assessment but it’s not scary when it’s kept in check by a society that has its heart basically in the right place.

But does ours?

Well, it’s a fact we’re becoming desensitised, to people’s pain, deprivation, and loss. This is in no small part due to the rolling news channels that infiltrate our homes at all hours of the day and night. It’s no longer shocking to see the aftermath of a bomb blast, or the carnage of a terrible train wreck.

Not as shocking as it once was anyway.

There’s something else though, something that may be a bit more disturbing. You might have noticed it, a championing of the winner/ loser approach to life. Our current culture loves winners, but not everyone can be a winner. What is a winner anyway?

We currently define winner as money in the bank, celebrity, good looks, but primarily it’s money in the bank. All those other things are no good if they can’t deliver the goods, and these days the goods are how much you’re worth. Money defines your value now, not character, intelligence, or morality.

Is that a bad thing?

The problem is that you can’t tell what person is like by how much they have in their investment portfolio. They could be quite unpleasant, certainly not the kind of person you’d want to have lunch with, they could even be a psychopath.

It’s not that our society openly champions serial killers, of course we don’t. There is a prurient fascination with death, yes, and with serial killers, but that is actually completely natural because it reinforces what we are not.

Most of us are not deviant killers. We are not psychopaths.

But are we becoming more like them?

Maybe not individually, but as a collective, it’s easier than ever to be a psychopath and thrive in our society. Psychopathic ideals and attitudes are being openly embraced, such as strength and dominance at all costs. Even being seen as a bully isn’t seen to be such a bad thing.

Having the biggest cash pile is seen as the ultimate goal. Our me, me, me culture where it’s considered perfectly okay to consider yourself before everybody else, is encouraging malignant people to become dominant.

We used to band together to collectively tut tut and show our disapproval to anyone who was too “grabby”, who appeared to be too “selfish”. Now we cheer them on, while wondering what we can learn from them.

All this might be fine in a normal person, who isn’t borderline sociopathic or wouldn’t meet the clinical standards for psychopathy. But many people do meet those standards and they’re not even serial killers.

Not killers but they can cause just as much devastation, albeit in a slightly different way.

Why? Because they are malignant dangerous individuals who cause disruption and chaos wherever they go and only ever think of themselves. Do we really want to champion that in our culture?


We better do something then.

Because it’s happening. Everywhere. Look around, and you can smell the value shift.

I wrote my debut crime thriller, The Watcher about a psychopath. I made a study of psychopaths and their character traits, including several infamous serial killers like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy and I found many common threads.

Bundy and Manson both displayed many of the kind of personality traits that are applauded today. Bragging about one’s talent is now seen as “promoting yourself”, while being manipulative is now seen as “smart”.

In my novel, my lead antagonist is a violent and dangerous psychopath who can completely justify harming and hurting his young female victims in the most vicious way because it makes him feel better. Why? He’s a deeply damaged individual with a highly traumatic childhood but that doesn’t go the whole way to explaining why he became what he became. After all, many people have horrendous childhoods and don’t go on to become psychopathic killers.

Mental imbalance is another obvious explanation but I’d like to venture one more. I think that a killer like the one in The Watcher, is also enabled by society. We hide those who do others harm sometimes, or perhaps they find it easy to conceal themselves in our midst. We don’t stand up to bullies, even though we know we should.

Am I wrong? Have we actually become more empathic as a society not less? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject so feel free to comment below with your own opinion.

And make sure to join me on Facebook here for the Online Launch of The Watcher on June 21st where I’ll be giving live author readings, hosting Q+A’s about the book and giving away prizes, including $25/ £25 Amazon Giftcard and a wine and cheese hamper.

Sign up to the mailing list for The Watcher at to get access to exclusive discounts and bonus content first and to stay updated with release news.

Friday 16 June 2017

Skin Deep by Laura Wilkinson

Published by Accent Press on June 15, 2017

Firstly the blurb for Skin Deep is brilliant – I found it impossible to not be drawn in – and really teases the story well. I was eager to read this book the moment I read the blurb. Normally I read them once and forget all about them by the time I start the book, but this one I couldn’t get off of my mind and this had me starting Skin Deep a lot earlier than I had planned.

Skin Deep is the story of Diana and Cal and what it feels like in a world where everyone is already judging you, where appearances mean so much.

Diana is a model turned art-student. She’s beautiful, but she’s not interested in using her looks for her career, something which certain people around her don’t understand, or don’t want to understand. Art is Diana’s passion, whilst modelling takes Diana back to a place in her life she doesn’t want to revisit. Diana meets Cal when he is a child. Cal was born facially disfigured and because of that his parents neglected him, hiding him away because of how he looks. As he grows up, we see that his mental health has been impacted, and also how Diana has decided that he is the perfect muse for her art.

The author sets a scene really well. Whilst I didn’t connect with the story straight away, I had already built up a vivid picture of the 1980s Manchester she was trying to portray early on. There was lots of drugs and drinking, and the world felt a bit of a murky place, which leads on similarly to the art world Diana craves being a part of. It was quite shocking to learn about the way Cal’s parents had hid him away, as well as sad to see how they were living in a haze without seeing what they really had in life.

Diana was a model when she was younger. She’s beautiful, but has had that beauty abused from the person who should be closest to her from a young age. Diana has no interest in pursuing modelling – she loves art and wants to be recognised for that, not her looks. Though I enjoyed reading about her, I never really liked Diana. There were aspects to her personality I could understand, and I found her interesting, but I couldn’t warm to her. At times I felt this made Skin Deep a bit hard-going as there was very little about her character that endeared me enough to read on, but despite this Skin Deep offered a lot more than that so it did keep me reading and the further into the book I was, the more I couldn’t put it down.

The relationship between Diana and Cal was utterly fascinating and the more I read it, the more I wanted to talk about it. Parts of it just didn’t feel right to me as it felt like Diana was using Cal for her own gain. He was her muse and she was taking advantage of him because he was different from the rest. Often it felt like Cal himself was not what she was interested in. It was Cal’s disfigurements, his “ugly” that Diana wanted, because that, contrasted with her “beauty”, would make for great art. It works at giving Diana recognition as an artist, but as this happens I felt her relationship with Cal becomes very one-sided as she needs him to help her progress further whilst leading him on at the same time. Honestly I was hooked trying to find out how it was all going to end up.

Skin Deep is such a powerful novel and I still can’t get it off my mind. Everything about it was utterly thought-provoking. There’s a surprisingly gritty feel about this book which gets under your skin in the style of a killer psychological thriller, leaving you turning the pages quickly to find out what happens next but feeling that bit of apprehension and discomfort at the turn the story is taking. The way this book develops had me engrossed. I would have liked for the author to have touched on mental health more, as this would have made it even grittier and more relevant in a time where mental health is much more well-known and well talked about. Without this, however, Skin Deep was still a wonderfully thought-provoking read, a difficult subject well written with characters and situations that linger on my mind weeks after finishing the book.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Always in My Heart by Pam Weaver

Published by Pan Macmillan on June 15, 2017

Tom & Shirley, evacuees, meet their host.

The door banged and a man wearing patched-up clothes and holding a battered hat with a greasy headband in his hands came into the hall. His gumboots deposited bits of straw and mud on the swept floor.

‘Only two left?’ he said, looking Shirley and Tom up and down. ‘I’ll take ’em.’

Mrs Dyer frowned. ‘Oh no, you won’t, Mr Oliver. If you had wanted evacuees, you should have told me before. You have to be vetted.’

‘You know me well enough, Mrs Dyer,’ he said, giving her a brown-toothed smile.

‘I’m supposed to inspect the rooms,’ she said haughtily. ‘I have no idea if your rooms will be suitable.’

‘Then come and have a look,’ he challenged. ‘I could do with some help around the farm.’

‘These children have to be in school,’ said Miss Lloyd stiffly. ‘They’re not unpaid workers.’

‘I knows that,’ said Mr Oliver, ‘but round ’ere, everybody mucks in. Besides, who else is goin’ to take ’em? I don’t see nobody. It seems to me beggars can’t be choosers.’

Shirley could hardly believe her ears. They were being bartered like the cargo on one of the ships in the docks. Tom seemed impassive. Perhaps he didn’t understand what was going on.

Mrs Dyer opened the main doors of the hall and looked up the deserted street. ‘He’s right,’ she whispered to Miss Lloyd. ‘Nobody else is coming.’

‘Then it looks as if we have no choice,’ Miss Lloyd said stiffly.

Mr Oliver was cleaning his ear with his finger.

‘Very well,’ said Mrs Dyer. ‘Miss Lloyd and I shall come to your farm to inspect the room right now.’

‘Suit yourself,’ he said. ‘You got a car? Only I’s on foot.’

‘Walk?’ said Miss Lloyd faintly. ‘How far is it?’

‘A mile, give or take,’ said Mr Oliver. ‘Nice evening like this, it’ll do you good, lady.’

Miss Lloyd gave him a withering stare.

Mrs Dyer locked up the hall and they set off. Although they were all tired, it didn’t take long to reach a small cluster of houses. It was very quiet. Apart from the occasional birdsong, the only sound was their own footsteps on the rough path.

At the run-down farmhouse a plethora of chickens ran around the yard, and a mangy-looking dog came out of its kennel and ran towards them barking furiously. For one ghastly second it looked as if it was going to attack them, but fortunately it was attached to a chain. As they came through the gate, the dog flung itself at them. Mrs Dyer cried out in shocked surprise, but before the dog could make any physical contact with her, its whole body was wrenched backwards as it reached the end of the chain. The dog quickly regained its footing and continued to snarl and bark angrily from a safe distance.

‘What a vicious animal,’ cried Mrs Dyer.

‘Nah,’ said Mr Oliver, rolling up his sleeve to reveal some old bite-mark scars. ‘A good watchdog, that.’

Always in My Heart by Pam Weaver is out now from Pan Macmillan (£6.99 paperback)

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