5* Book Review – An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delany

30651519I really didn’t know what to expect from this book, but I was totally blown away by how intricate and beautifully written it was. The story starts in Newgate Prison during the eighteenth century where we first meet the mysterious Miss Tully Truegood. We learn immediately that Tully is awaiting trial for Murder, and as we get a glimpse into her thoughts, we are transported into her world, as the author takes us on the ethereal journey that is Tully’s life.

Born to a father who cares little for her, as a young girl Tully takes solace in the care of their cook. Forbidden to leave the house, the curious Miss Tully only manages tiny glimpses of the outside world through windows or colourful character’s that Cook and her father entertain. When she begins to experience not-of-this-world sights and feelings, Tully is soon taught to hide her ‘sinful’ abilities.

When her father marries his daughter off to cover a gambling debt whilst she is still but a child, Tully is relieved that she has no need to live or even know her husband, and instead returns to the embrace of Cook. However when she is also introduced to her new stepmother and step-sisters she fears the worst. It’s from here that Tully steps into an unknown world of affection and sparkle. Standing up to her father, she is flung into the open world and the arms of The Fairy House.

The Fairy House is a whore house with a difference. Told from Tully’s memories, it forms a beautiful part of the book, as she learns to embrace her magical abilities and use them to her advantage, dazzling her new friends and family. The author has very delicately shown the glamour, the love and the intense intimacy Tully experiences along the way, as well as the dangers women in this profession endured.

Tully meets some stunning characters here, as well as the less desirable, but they are the sort of characters that readers love to hate. It’s a book full of honest human emotion and fault, but with the touch of magic, this really has to be a one-of-a-kind story, and the author is to be commended for her originality as well as the outstanding writing.

When the final chapters loom, the reader is transported back to Newgate prison, where we learn the fate of Tully. Will she hang for murder? And will she ever see her first love again? I couldn’t possibly spoil the ending for readers, but the little I will say is that the final chapter of this book is one of the most spectacular I have ever read; so cleverly intertwined and utterly satisfying for a character that it’s impossible not to feel genuine fondness for after reading of her life.

One of the best books of 2016. Thank you to Harper Collins for allowing me to read an advance copy of this wonderful book.

 

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5* Book Review – Meternity by Meghann Foye

41hcBn62o4L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_As a woman, have you ever sat at work and pondered the advantages and perks that women with children receive without so much as a blink? If you’ve ever rolled your eyes when your co-workers trot off to their child’s school sports day, sigh as they take time off for appointments whilst you work late, or kept your lips sealed when you get lumbered with extra work whilst they take maternity leave, then this book is for you!

Meternity is a side splitting account of a woman experiencing just that. Liz Buckley works for Paddy Cakes, a ‘Mother & Baby’ magazine in New York, and whilst she enjoys elements of her job, she finds herself constantly taken advantage off, whilst the working mums work a strict set of hours and get promoted to boot, Liz is burning the midnight oil to maintain her position – and theirs.  Feeling as though she’s on the verge of losing her job, she’s pulled into a meeting feeling rather ill. When her nausea is mistaken for morning sickness, Liz has an insane lightbulb moment and plays along. Why shouldn’t she get lunch time manicures and the odd hour off for a ‘doctors appointment’? A Meternity instead of Maternity?

That was the plan anyway, however pretty soon, Liz can’t find a way out of her lie and eight months later she is still maintaining her story with the help of her friends. It’s not been an easy ride, as through each trimester, Liz has had to learn the hard way, all the complications of pregnancy to credibly carry on with her secret as well as learning to appreciate the struggles that pregnancy and motherhood include. An added struggle is also thrown into the mix when she finds she is falling for someone at the most inopportune time. Will she be able to keep her bizarre secret from Ryan and still maintain their relationship? At the beginning of each chapter the reader is kept in suspense, certain that the secret will be uncovered soon, but the author has created clever humorous twists throughout and Liz Buckley’s secret remains just that until the Very. Last. Moment!

Whilst this book has a serious undertone, the comedic value stood out the most for me, and with an added romantic value, this really was a story of an imperfect modern woman working her way through the ups and downs of life in a world that places pressure on everyone for different reasons. A highly enjoyable read!

 

Interview with Ellie Holmes, author of The Flower Seller

contact1Q1. Could you tell us a little about yourself as an introduction?
My name is Ellie Holmes and I write commercial women’s fiction and romantic mystery novellas. Both Essex and Cornwall are very dear to my heart and I use those two places as the sources of inspiration for my writing.  Like most people I juggle commitments to family and friends with a part time job.  When you add writing into the mix it tends to make my days hectic and my nights long but when you enjoy what you do you don’t mind about the long hours.

Q2. When did you realise you loved writing, and what was your journey like in becoming a published author?
I have been making up stories since I was a child.  It was a hobby I felt compelled to pursue.  It chose me rather than the other way round.

Once I grew up, I continued to write.  After a few false starts, I developed a story I felt was potentially publishable and I decided to pursue the idea of writing professionally.  I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and went to one of their conferences and it was through that conference that I signed a contract with a literary agent.  We had several near misses over the years with different books I had written and after ten years of pursuing that elusive traditional publishing deal I decided to go the indie route and take my destiny into my own hands.

Q3. How did it feel when you first held a copy of The Flower Seller in your hands?
It was bittersweet.  My parents had longed for that day to happen and they were no longer there to experience it with me so the moment was tinged with sadness but I was also very proud of what I had achieved.

Q4. I love how relatable all the characters are in The Flower Seller. Did you spend time constructing character profiles, or did they just flow?

I do make character notes which I add to as a story unfolds in my mind – their strengths and weaknesses, their goals and dreams, the things they are most afraid of.  It’s a handy framework to refer back to especially if the plot takes a detour I hadn’t anticipated which often happens in my writing.

Q5. I found that the locations in the book also felt well researched and were easy to visualise through your writing. Especially ‘The Lodge’ and Wales. Are they based on real locations?
Thank you. I do work hard at making the settings of the book as realistic and relatable as possible.

The Lodge isn’t based on a real house but I had a very strong idea of how the outside would look early on and then conjured up suitable interiors.  I love interior design and home magazines and they are a good source of inspiration when you are putting together a look for a particular character’s home.

The holiday in Wales takes place in Hay on Wye.  It’s a place I have visited and I love the surrounding countryside.  Whenever I go somewhere new I always write up some notes of the look and feel of a place on the off chance it may appear in a later piece of writing and that’s what happened here. What Jessie could see from her hotel room window was pretty much what I could see from mine.

 Q6. Do you have a writing routine or any writing quirks?
Because I am limited with the amount of time I can devote to my writing I have to make the most of it so I aim for 5,000 words a week and then spend the rest of my time editing and working on the business side of writing which is less enjoyable but necessary.  I don’t know if you would describe it as a writing quirk but I have to write the book in sequence from beginning to end.  I know some writers who are able to write scenes out of order and then bring all the scenes together.  I couldn’t do that.

 Q7. What can we expect next from you? Is there anything in the pipeline?
Coming up next I have a romantic mystery novella called The Tregelian Hoard which will be out in September.  It is the first in my Cornish Intrigue series and will feature intrepid portable antiquities specialist Jonquil Jones.

Then in June 2017 I will be publishing my next full length commercial women’s fiction novel White Lies which will tell the story of Sam Davenport as she struggles to reconcile herself to her husband Neil’s actions and we discover what happens when seemingly innocent white lies get out of control.

FLOWER SELLER_FRONT copyReview of The Flower Seller

The Flower Seller is one of those rare novels full of heart-wrenching realism, and author Ellie Holmes packs a punch with her talent at emotive writing; breathing life into her characters effortlessly.

Jessie has a life she always dreamed of. A husband, a daughter, a lovely home, and a building career as a lawyer. But has her focus on her job taken its toll on her marriage? Her world shatters when her husband William confesses to an affair and leaves her for a younger woman. As Jessie tries to maintain her decorum and get through each day faced with his betrayal, her friends and family help pick up the pieces and encourage her to move on. I enjoyed Jessie’s strength, as she clearly wasn’t going to let William’s affair dictate her future. She maintains a civil relationship for the sake of her daughter and looks to starting anew.

As she explores her new found freedom, Jessie meets Owen, the owner of a flower stall near where she lives. His clear understanding of her healing journey spurs her on to make a future for herself…with him included. Their romance blossoms and Jessie finds herself feeling like a new version of herself. But does Owen have a secret to hide and will Jessie find herself getting hurt all over again?

Meanwhile, William gradually realises he has made a huge mistake and vows to make Jessie realise that they belong together. Can he convince her that their future is together and that all they really needed was to work on what they had? Had they both just been lost for a while? Or has Jessie’s new relationship with Owen taught her what had been missing from her marriage all along?

I loved that this novel packed a punch of emotions and kept you gripped throughout. There really is no predicting which direction Jessie will take. A compelling and heart-warming debut novel from Ellie, who I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of, and I for one am thoroughly looking forward to what comes next.

Interview with Vanessa Ronan, author of The Last Days of Summer

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Q1. Could you tell us a little about yourself as an introduction?
Well, I just turned 29. I was born in Houston TX, but we moved around a bit, even living a few years in a colonial village in the mountains of central Mexico. I was home schooled till I left for university at 16 moving to NYC. My 1st degree was in dance and choreography (though I later received my Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh as well). After that first graduation in NYC, I subsequently got the travel bug, and, after a year working at the bottom of a totem pole of personal assistants to a multimillionaire, I left to backpack through Europe for six months. Eight years later, here I still am! And, long story short, that’s how I fell onto that path that lead to meeting my husband and Ireland becoming my home.

Q2. When did you realise you loved writing, and what was your journey like in becoming a published author?
Funny as it sounds, I started writing before I knew the alphabet. When I was three I had a black notebook I filled with squiggly lines. I brought the notebook to my mother and very proudly told her, “Mommy, I just wrote a book.” My mother swears that every time I read my “novel” to her I read the same story, word for word, as though I knew what each squiggly line meant. Nearly everyone in my family writes. It felt natural to start writing, too.

Vanessa RonanQ3. How did it feel when you first held a copy of The Last days of Summer in your hands?
Surreal. And at the same time more wonderfully real than anything. My husband was at work when the poof copies arrived so I had a couple hours alone to sit with my book, smelling it, turning each page. If anyone could have seen me, sitting there by myself, smiling ear to ear, I’m sure they would have thought I’d gone crazy!

Q4. It sounds as though you have travelled quite a bit. Have any places in particular influenced your writing?
I think almost everywhere I’ve lived has somehow or another impacted my writing. My experiences as a child living in a colonial village in the mountains of central Mexico definitely had a deep early impact, as did the time we spent living on the cusp of the Texas prairie. Edinburgh, New York City and Dublin are all quite inspirational cities. I’ve been very lucky to have lived where I have.

Q5. Did you have a set plot when writing The Last Days of Summer, or do you allow the characters some control?
I am very, very much a start writing and see where it takes you sort of writer. I know the direction a story is going, know the general arch—where I’m starting, a few points along the way, have a vague impression of the ending, know the story’s tone—but room for spontaneity is incredibly important in my writing process. I often close my eyes visualize I am the character. Think, “Where am I now? What am I doing?” My scenes then unfold from there.

As the characters grew in my head and gained strength, they took on a surprising independence I didn’t expect—each one said or did things at one time or another that I hadn’t planned. But I felt I had to ‘go with it’ each time because that was what Jasper would have done or Joanne would have said, so who was I to stifle their voices? That was my first experience where characters at times seemed to make their own decisions. Now, as I write my second novel, it has felt very strange having new voices in my head, seeing through new eyes.

Q6. Do you have a writing routine or any writing quirks?
I need complete silence when I write. I guess that’s kind of quirky. Even the slightest sounds or distractions can pull me from the world I’m trying to see into.

Q7. What can we expect next from you? Is there anything in the pipeline?
I am writing my second novel. Another dark tale told from multiple perspectives, set into the fringes of society.

 

My review for The Last Days of Summer will follow next week! I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.

The Chic Boutique on Baker Street by Rachel Dove

Today is very exciting, as we introduce our first ever author interview, and I am so pleased that our author is the lovely Rachel Dove, who is currently on a blog tour for her new novel, The Chic Boutique on Baker Street, published by Mills&Boon. I was very lucky to be sent a copy recently, which was thoroughly enjoyable. Our review can be seen below.

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Welcome, Rachel. Perhaps you could start by telling us a little about yourself?
I am 34, have lived in Wakefield all my life (so far) and am married to a wonderful man called Peter. We have two boys together, and a cat and a dog. I would have more animals, my plan is to have a mini farm one day! I am a home body, and love nothing better than chilling out with my family, or binge watching the crime channel while the kids are at school. I wasn’t always like this, I used to be a lot crazier! I have worked in lots of different sectors, from school governor to nightclub manager!

When did you realise you loved writing, and what was your journey like in becoming a published author?
At school I think. I was like Matilda, head stuck in a book, always have been and I always remember writing lots of stories too. I have lots of files stuffed full of work at home, and I often sift through them for inspiration.

I did a Writers Bureau course, which was invaluable, and studied the markets, read A LOT, looked at blogs, and generally just studied for the job I wanted, which was of course, to be a writer. I have self published things, and am part of a fantastic group called Inkslingers, who together have released a number of anthologies and raised over £2,000 for charity. I love them all to bits.

I have entered competitions since I was young, it’s always good to enter things, to practice submitting, and any feedback you can get is brilliant. I never got anywhere though, so when I heard I was in the final 10 of the Flirty Fiction competition, I couldn’t believe it. I still never thought I would win though, I even checked that they had the right winner!

How did it feel when you first held a copy of The Chic Boutique in Baker Street in your hands?
Indescribable joy and disbelief. I have been writing forever, and this was something I always strove for, but never believed would happen. I spent the day stroking it, and I cannot wait to see it on actual shelves in shops, next to authors I have known and respected for years. It’s amazing.

In The Chic Boutique on Baker Street, Amanda leaves her life in London for a new life and venture in the Yorkshire countryside. Apart from being an author, have you ever dreamt of doing anything else?
I always wanted to teach, and when I was at primary school, I wrote an essay, which I still have, saying that I wanted to be an author and a teacher. I qualified to teach adult education last year, specialising in family learning, so when I won the competition, it was like my life goals had been achieved, and that was thrilling and scary, as I always think you need a goal to drive you. I taught for two wonderful years, and have now taken a year off to write full time and be home for the boys more, so we shall see what next year brings. To be honest, I quite fancy the idea of travelling some with the children, enjoying them being young. Who knows what will happen when they are older? I get bored easily if I am not kept busy, so I am sure some plans will form. For now, I am very happy as I am, after working so hard for so long.

Where do you find your inspiration when writing?
Everywhere. I like to study people, and I read a lot of magazines and newspapers, where just a line can give you an idea for a story. I always carry a notebook with me, just in case. I think that the place settings are just as important, so having a good strong location in mind helps. An excuse for some more travelling in my future too!

Do you have a writing routine?
I have a daily minimum of 500 words, which is quite low, but I often do more. I try to write when the children are at school and the house is quiet, but often when the house sleeps works better. I am a bit of a night owl, so tapping away in bed on the laptop is often the norm.

What can we expect next from you? Is there anything in the pipeline?
I am currently writing a book which is very different from Chic Boutique, and I have plans for more tales from Westfield too. I have lots of characters that want to say hello! All I can say for now is…watch this space!

 

51AWPvSAqAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Review for The Chic Boutique on Baker Street by Rachel Dove – 4.5*

The Chic Boutique on Baker Street is a real feel-good rural romp! An ideal summer read and full of strong characters with plenty of personality. Rachel Dove has an exceptional talent with humanising her characters and it creates a great connection for the reader.

When we first meet our heroine, Amanda, she is a high-flying Lawyer working in London, attempting to conceal her love of craft and craving a simpler life. When she discovers her boyfriend is having a fling with his secretary, she finally gets the push she needs to create a life for herself. Taking a leap of faith, Amanda purchases a small shop and flat in the quiet Yorkshire village of Westfield. Changing her entire life overnight is a huge upheaval and when her instant impression of her new neighbours is not how she imagined, Amanda begins to wonder if she has made the right choice. The arrogant stranger from next door and local vet, Ben, seems intent on making sure she doesn’t ruin the sleepy village life and Amanda battles between their physical attraction and his obvious disdain for ‘city girls’.

Pretty soon Amanda has made friends with a group of fellow crafting ladies, but these busy-bodies have made it perfectly clear that they intend to play matchmaker for her and Ben. Amanda, however has plans of her own, and fully intends to play them at their own game, quickly noting the chemistry between the head of the busy-bodies, Agatha, and her life-long friend, Taylor.

As Amanda and Ben are forced to spend more and more time together, they realise that first impressions may not mean everything after all, but as they each battle their insecurities, the author ensures that she keeps you guessing until the very end!

Full of country charm and now much loved character’s, The Chic Boutique on Baker Street is well worthy of 4.5 stars and I am thoroughly looking forward to the next offering from Rachel Dove.

5* Book Review – Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki

51SzhfuaisL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Sisi: Empress on Her Own is a fictional work by talented author, Allison Pataki, however it is clear that the historical research undertaken by the author has been both extensive and passionate. That passion for both history and her characters is clear in her writing and both Sisi and her smaller characters are concise and incredibly visual.

I was unaware before I began writing this review that there was a prequel to this book, called The Accidental Empress, so it is clear that this is a very successful stand alone book, although I will definitely be getting my hands on the first in the series soon!

Pataki’s second book, Sisi: Empress on Her Own follows the Empress of Austria-Hungary’s adult life. This isn’t a simple story however. This is a book of an extraordinary life and contains all the joys, pains, life, death and emotions that we all experience through decades of genuine living. Sisi endures heartache, love and loss, and with Allison Pataki’s  extraordinary writing, the reader is drawn into the drama with ease.

I have enjoyed many books on historical women and their lives, and I love how strong and independent Sisi is portrayed during a time where women were not encouraged to tend to their own happiness. Sisi’s need to find a place to call home, her travels and her struggles to bond with the children she rarely gets to see really pulls on the heartstrings. Throughout the book, Sisi reaches barrier after barrier that historical society dictated, but she deals with these issues in her own, almost rebellious manner. Pataki, however cleverly enables the reader to delve into Sisi’s private thoughts and the concerns she secretly holds close to her chest, further encouraging that vital link between character and reader.

When we meet Sisi, she is finding royal life increasingly difficult with a young infant daughter, Valerie, that she is determined to raise outside of court. During Sisi’s travels we meet a collection of bold characters and visit an amazing array of places. Left behind at court are Sisi’s older children and her rigid husband, Franz, who encompass their own problems whilst meandering their way through royal life. This book offers a fascinating insight into a life that many would perhaps wrongly envy.

Do not expect a flouncy, romantic historical novel with this. It is an accurate account of how difficult a life in this type of situation may have been. Beautifully written and a thoroughly fascinating insight into history and a woman whose strong will and refusal to live a life unworthy of herself is the real heart of this story.

5* Book Review – Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

51r4V8jqv8L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_‘Dear Thing’ by Julie Cohen is an exceptionally well written masterpiece. It’s the sort of story that unremittingly tugs at your emotions. It also offers an amazing insight into the world of infertility and the subsequent heartaches that go hand in hand with the decisions that must be made and those that are made for you.

‘Dear Thing’ follows the journey of a young couple, Ben and Clare, who have been trying to conceive through IVF treatment for many years. If that wasn’t a struggle enough, their hopes are snatched away again when Clare suffers a miscarriage. Having had her fill of treatment and dreams shattered, Clare makes a decision that rocks her marriage.

Deciding to give up on treatment, Clare expects Ben to be supportive, however his heartbreak is clear and instead of accepting defeat, he looks for answers elsewhere. When Ben’s best friend, Romily offers to be a surrogate, no one would expect the journey that lay ahead of them.

Romily has loved Ben since university. When he met and married Claire, she tortured herself by believing she could remain friends and secretly love him from afar. When she drunkenly offers to carry his baby, she wouldn’t expect that months into her pregnancy these feelings would surface. Writing a diary of her feelings in the form of letters to their unborn child, Romily spills her emotions onto the blank pages, writing to the baby she knows that she can never keep.

When Clare finds the diary, all hell breaks loose and Ben must decide which of his mixed feelings between his wife and the woman carrying his child are his future.

The story will keep you in a trance until the very last page, wondering if everyone’s happy endings will come to fruition…