Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Doubting Abbey

Doubting Abbey by Samantha Tonge

Another rom-com from a facebook friend. I love Sam's writing style so was looking forward to this one. When the price dropped to just 59p on Kindle I couldn't believe my luck!

Essex girl Gemma is persuaded to impersonate her aristocratic flatmate in a reality show set in a stately home. As a reader you need to suspend disbelief and accept that not only can she do this, but she can also switch back to being Gemma by changing her clothes, make-up and hair colour and people won't notice. But once you've accepted this you are in for a treat. The novel jogs along at a good pace, full of humour and wacky antics. The characters are larger than life and Gemma herself is particularly likeable. She's a great creation and I'd like to see a sequel to this book - how life progresses for her as the new Lady Croxley (because yes, she gets her man. Sorry, spoilers! But you expect nothing less from a rom-com.)

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time by Amanda James

Choc-lit novel by a facebook friend. I liked the idea of the time-travel element, so bought this one for Kindle.

Sarah has been chosen by the mysterious powers and their agent, John Needler, to be a 'stitch' - in other words to go back in time and put things right after blips have made things go wrong. First she goes to Sheffield during the Blitz, then to 1913 London, then the American wild west. Each time she needs to save someone but doesn't know who until she gets there. And all the while she's falling in love with John Needler.

This is a lively and entertaining novel. I enjoyed the historical aspects of it which felt very well researched, and the atmosphere of each period was well drawn. It's an unusual plot. The only thing that let it down for me is that I wanted to know who these powers were, and how it is all organised, ie how the timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly stuff works. But it wasn't trying to be a sci-fi novel - it's a romantic comedy with a time-travel element, and as such works well.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Catching up again

I am becoming rubbish at keeping this up to date, and the whole point is to write a few words about each book as soon as I finish it while it is fresh in my mind. But once again I have several to write up. I blame these short little ebooks I keep reading. I get through them pretty quickly, faster than I have time to sit here and write my blog.

Anyway, recently read:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Last read this one in my teens. What a wonderful book it is. So beautifully written. I love the leisurely pace at which events unfold, the way the narrator although first person fades into the background, eclipsed by a character who isn't even present. How du Maurier pulls this off is a masterclass in itself. It's a book to study if you're a writer, and savour if you're a reader. Creepy and clever and very satisfying.

Gracie's War by Elaine Everest
I've known Elaine mostly online for many years now and was delighted to see her first novel out. It's an enjoyable wartime romance, very evocative of the era and the location (north Kent). Gracie marries in haste to wide-boy Joe, but her heart belongs to soldier Tony. As the war progresses and Joe gets deep into the murkier sides of 1940s life, Gracie wonders whether she can ever have a chance at true happiness. But things do work out, as they always do in this genre, the story is well told and the end is satisfying.

My only quibble with this book was the number of formatting and punctuation errors which unfortunately did detract from the story. It's not a self-published book (if it was, there'd be only the author to blame). You would expect better from a specialist ebook publisher, so I was disappointed in this respect.

The Prince and the Singularity by Pedro Barrento
I came across this book because the author posted a link to his blog in a Facebook writers' group. The author looks EXACTLY like my brother, so I went to read his blog, was intrigued, and then went to take a look at his book. The blurb also intrigued, the 'look inside' feature showed the book was well-written (and crucially for me at the moment, well-formatted) so I bought it. That has to be the most surreal reason for buying a book - because the author looks like my brother.

The book is a take on creation myths. Gods are bored, playing cards, and creating universes as forfeits when they lose. Along comes a Prince who is somehow a bug in the system. Oh, I can't explain the plot. It defies description!

Back when I was about 20 I spent my days reading stuff by Richard Bach (eg Jonathon Livingstone Seagull) and Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Reading this book brought those two to mind. It's nothing like either of them - in fact it's nothing like anything I've ever read before but it's quirky and unusual and makes you think, just like those two do.

I loved the circularity of it, and the way it explains nothing in the end, but also asks the question what is reality and is it good or bad? Some things are currently unexplainable; the nature of reality is one such topic; but this book manages to show that reality is unexplainable in a very enjoyable way. If this review comes across as circular and doesn't actually tell you what the book is about, that's a good thing because that's what the book is like anyway.

I think it's good. Read it and make up your own mind.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Haunting

The Haunting by Alan Titchmarsh

I've read a few of Alan Titchmarsh's books before, and I enjoy his easy-to-read style. So when my son sent me this book for my birthday I was delighted. The blurb talks about a novel told in two time frames, with a genealogy element - right up my street. In fact that pretty much describes my own completed novel. So I looked forward immensely to reading it and it was allowed a major queue jump.

In the historical story, maid servant Anne Flint is witness to a tragic accident, and is then abducted. She gets away from her abductor and is subject to more adventures before finally getting back to the Hampshire village where she'd worked.

In the contemporary story, Harry Flint gives up his job as a teacher, moves into a tumbledown cottage in a remote part of Hampshire and researches his ancestors. Next door to the cottage, in an old mill, lives Alex Overton, a young widow who soon catches Harry's eye. She's got secrets of her own. Inevitably the two fall in love.

I enjoyed this story, and it's definitely easy to read. However, and it is a big however, (spoiler alert) the plot relies entirely on coincidence. Not one, but several. Harry, Alex and Harry's best mate all turn out to be descendants of the characters in the historical story. Alex just happens to be living in the mill where Anne Flint spent her last days. Harry's best mate's ancestors owned the mill, and he just happens to have a diary from 1816. In the historical story, when Anne Flint is on the run in Portsmouth, her employer's son just happens to come across her. And so it goes on. This felt like lazy plotting to me. Each event ought to occur naturally out of what's come before. If people are researching the past, they should need to actually research it, not have a diary with all the detail just handed to them. I felt quite annoyed by this in the end. My own two time period genealogical novel has no such coincidences in it.

Recommended as an easy read but don't expect to be blown away by the clever plot.

Monday, 28 October 2013


Stranded by Emily Barr

Damnit, read this a while ago and forgot to write it up, which means I've already forgotten much about it. I do remember I really enjoyed it and found it hard to put down. Intriguing and with some great twists.

Bought this after a Facebook friend recommended it, though it's definitely not one to take on a island beach holiday.  Esther's marriage has broken up and she needed to get away for a holiday, so she goes to Malaysia. While there she takes a boat trip to a deserted island along with a few other tourists, but then ends up stranded when the guide goes off in the boat. The assorted holiday makers need to find ways to survive - they need water, food, shelter - and they need to get picked up by a boat. This part of the novel reads like an adult Lord of the Flies and is totally gripping. The castaways tell each other their stories, but Esther keeps hers to herself...

Interspersed with Esther's predicament we read of Cathy, a child being brought up in a religious commune in the 80s. Who is she, and what's her connection to the main story? It all comes together at the end, with plenty of twists and surprises.

There you are, I did remember quite a bit about it in the end. My main impression was of a superbly crafted suspenseful thriller, which would keep you up and reading till late at night.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Confessions of an Undercover Cop

Confessions of an Undercover Cop by Ash Cameron

I really enjoyed this. Short chapters, a no-nonsense style, all true life. Some tales were funny, some sad, some poignant and a few shocking. What shone through was the author's love of her job and the people she policed. It's not a thriller - by 'undercover' she means in plain clothes - but it's an insight into the reality of modern-day policing.
I loved it and learned from it.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Some short books read recently

All books by facebook friends and bought after they promoted them there!

Brief Encounters by Kate Harrison
Not really a book - just a short story included with the start of another novel, but it was free so who's complaining? Hope's on a train, on a surprise trip arranged by her sister, and is dreaming (or is she?) about the various men who've passed through her life, coming to terms with the end of each relationship.
Enjoyable, but as I said, very short. I would have preferred it to be included with other short stories - I never read the starts of novels included with other books.

The Blue Rinse Brigade by Douglas McPherson
A set of four stories, originally serials, about four elderly ladies who are helping the local police catch murderers. They're not your usual blue rinse ladies - one's ex MI5, one's ex-police chief, etc. They know what they're doing, and they do it better than the local constabulary.
I really enjoyed this. It raced along - the perfect light read that you don't have to think too hard about. Bit Scooby Doo in places but why not? Could have done with a better proof-read as I spotted quite a lot of mistakes but that unfortunately is pretty common in self-published ebooks.

Ten Weeks to Target by Della Galton
Janine has 10 weeks to fit into her outfit for her niece's no-expense-spared wedding so she starts going to slimming classes. There she meets gorgeous Pete who has a lot of weight to lose (as well as a wife, before Janine can get to grips with him...)
Lovely little book which I read in one train journey, and which is probably the perfect example of an ebook novella. Should we call them enovellas, I wonder?

Woman Walks Into a Bar by Rowan Coleman
Another perfect little novella. I really liked the structure of this one - single mum Sam is trying to find a new man through internet dating (set up by her daughter). Between the story of Sam's everyday life we get the stories of the dates. There's 'the one who lied about his age', 'the one who never showed up' etc. And Sam's backstory - her horrendous experiences at school and her later abusive relationship with her daughter's father - is very neatly dropped in. Really keeps you turning the pages.

Novel: Plan it, Write it, Sell it by Lynne Barrett-Lee
Great little how to book, which does what it says on the cover. Lynne's an advocate of the planning approach, building your novel from the inside out. I definitely work better with a plan, and am going to try to do more planning with my next novel.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Read recently and failed to blog about

I'm behind with this blog. But I must keep it up otherwise I forget what I've read, or what I thought of what I've read. It's me age, you see.

The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke
A true story, about an horrific killing in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century, when country people still very much believed in fairies. Not sure where I heard about this book but I'm interested in Ireland, fairies, magic etc so decided to give it a go. Poor Bridget was unwell, and for some reason her husband and other relatives got it into their heads she'd been taken away by the fairies and a changeling left in her place. To try to oust the fairy they dosed her with herbal medicines and then held her over a fire. When she eventually died they buried her in a shallow grave. Her husband still expected her to appear riding on a white horse out of the nearby fairy fort...

This book is a very detailed account of the events before and after Bridget's death, and an in depth discussion of the belief systems prevalent in Irish villages at the time. I did find it quite fascinating but I also found it too long. The author had clearly done a lot of research but had included it all in the final book - eg endless transcripts of what was said at the trial which I ended up skimming over.

Secrets and Rain by Cally Taylor
In total contrast, this book was far too short! It's an anthology of prize-winning and published stories by a wonderful writer. The stories all have a theme of hope after loss, and all were beautifully written.

Nowhere to Hide by Alex Walters
I hosted part of Alex Walters' blog tour for this book, so bought the book at that time. It's taken me a while to get round to it. I don't normally read thrillers but I'll read anything that's well written so was happy to give this a go. Very enjoyable, pacy book, but there was a lot of mentions of back story which I eventually worked out referred to Alex's earlier book, Trust No One, and indeed some Amazon reviewers recommend reading that one first.

That aside, I did enjoy this book and it kept me turning the virtual pages. Marie has been sent undercover to work for someone who is connected with a criminal gang, though she can't quite see why this particular person needs so much attention. She's got some suspicions about her own boss, too - is he straight or is he in the pay of the gangland boss? There have been lots of murders of people on the periphery of the underworld, and Marie needs to find out whether they're all connected or not. When smooth, handsome Jack Brennan joins the team she thinks she's got an ally against her boss, or has she? At home, Marie has a different set of problems in the form of her increasingly disabled partner, Liam. The book was full of twists and turns and although I suspected that some of the goodies would be baddies, I didn't guess all the final chapter twists. If you like thrillers, you'd enjoy this one a lot.

Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connolly
And now for something completely different. A friend recommended this, and I bought it along with 2 others by this author. I loved And Did Those Feet which I read first. This one, in which the author visits all the shipping forecast areas around Britain in one year, was just as quirky and amusing but not as interesting historically.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Read on holiday

Take My Breath Away by Sally Quilford
I had a signed paper copy of this, kindly sent by Sally. Actress Patty is playing Cleopatra, and her ex-husband is murdered while on set. Two other people connected with the film are also murdered, in ways resembling the ways their characters died in the film. Patty becomes prime suspect, but ends up helping insurance investigator Tony Marcus in working out who did it - and falling in love along the way.

As with every Sally Q novel this one twists and turns and keeps you guessing in a very entertaining way. I don't know the classic Cleopatra film, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of this pocket novel.

Foxden Acres by Madalyn Morgan
A Kindle read. Set during the second world war, this book follows Bess Dudley as she completes her teacher training but then returns to the country estate where her father works, to be part of the Land Army. She's fallen in love with James, the heir to the estate, but events conspire to keep them apart.

An enjoyable read, very evocative of its era and I particularly liked the focus on the land girls, which I've not read about before. I believe the author is going to write a series of these, about each of Bess's sisters, and I imagine they'll do very well.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Elijah's Mermaid

Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox

This is the author's second novel, and like the first I bought the hardback because of the beautiful cover. It's dark, Victorian, gothic, melodramatic and probably not everyone's cup of tea but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

There are three central characters, all orphans with unusual upbringings and uncertain parentage. Elijah and Lily are twins, rescued from the Foundling hospital and raised by their grandfather. Pearl was rescued from the Thames when her prostitute mother drowned herself, and raised in a brothel by the veiled madam. Their lives clash when Pearl is sold to a violent and deranged artist as his muse, and Elijah goes to work for the artist as a photographer.

This book took me a while to get into, but I am glad I persevered. All sorts of terrors befall the young people, and in the last few chapters secret after secret is unveiled. No one, it seems, is quite what they seem. The author paints a terrifying but believable Victorian underworld.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

One Step Too Far

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

I read this self-published novel on my Kindle. Came across it after hearing the author speak at the Winchester Writers' Conference. She was there along with representatives from Amazon's KDP, as an example of a self-publishing success story.

I'm not surprised this book has been successful - it's a damn good read. Like many SP novels it could do with a better copy-edit but the mistakes aren't too distracting. The book keeps you turning the pages and wanting to know everyone's secrets.

One day, Emily leaves her family and gets on a train. Along the way she changes her identity completely and becomes Cat, and she never goes back, creating a new and very different life for herself. What triggered her to do this - that's the central question and the one which isn't answered until very  near the end. You know it must be big, very big, but like many readers (judging by the reviews) I did not guess at all and when the twist/reveal came it was a shock. Cleverly done, and very satisfying.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Trust In Me

Trust In Me by Suzanna Ross

Bought for my Kindle, was it on free promotion that day? Possibly, not sure! Anyway, I'd read some of Suzanna's short stories from her collection The Baby of the Family, and found I really enjoyed her style, so I wanted to read something longer from the same author. Plus she's a blogging and facebook friend anyway.

Rosie Farnham has been struggling to keep her father's old estate going since his death, while also looking after her much younger sister, and trying to keep her brother's hands off the finances. Then she finds her brother has sold the estate out from under her, to pay off gambling debts. The new owner, dishy Theo, turns up wanting her to move out. But she won't go, so he moves in, finding her not unattractive when it comes down to it...

This is a lovely, easy to read, sweet romance. It ends predictably but satisfyingly, and there are enough twists and turns along the way to keep you turning the pages. Lovely little book.

And Did Those Feet

And Did Those Feet by Charlie Connollly

The sub-title is, Walking through 2000 years of British and Irish history, but you'd guess what it's about from the title and the automatic next line that jumps into your head, 'in ancient times'.

I bought this because a friend recommended another of Connolly's books, and when I went searching for it there was an offer where you could get three of his books at a discount, and they all sounded marvellous. I love a bit of narrative non-fiction, especially if it's history based. And I love walking too, so this one was first off the pile when it arrived.

The author has retraced the footsteps of some of the great historical journeys made in Britain and Ireland. Boudicca's walk from Norfolk to London to try to chase out the Romans. King Harold's march from the battle of Stamford Bridge where he'd seen off the Vikings, down to Hastings where he was defeated by the Normans. Bonnie Prince Charlie's flight across the western isles, dressed as a maid. The book is informative, amusing and extremely well written. I lapped up every word of it and am very glad I have two more by this author still to savour.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Lydia Bennet's Blog

Lydia Bennet's Blog - the real story of Pride and Prejudice by Valerie Laws

A FB friend posted that she'd just bought this, and intrigued, I went off to Amazon to have a look at it. It's a self published Kindle book. I loved the idea so bought it, and read it immediately.

If ever a self-pubbed book deserved wider recognition it's this one. Brilliantly laugh-out-loud funny, very clever, and such a great idea you wonder why no one thought of it before. Basically it tells the story of P&P from Lydia's viewpoint - remember her, she's the youngest sister who runs off with the tasty Captain Wickham - but using modern-day teenspeak. ('Blog' is short for Buddies Log, where buddies is a corruption of rosebuds - Lydia's friends. We're to imagine she's writing these blog updates and posting them to her mates.)

The writer had to jump through a few hoops to make sure Lydia was there, or overhearing, or was informed of, all the main events of P&P because of course, the Lizzie/Darcy (or Arsey as Lydia calls him, snigger) and Jane/Bingley stories have to be told. So Lydia spends a fair amount of time listening at keyholes or hiding in the shrubbery, or mobilising her network of spies. But it works - it works all the way through, and because you know what all the outcomes are it's even better.

Lydia is such a great character, and the author of this novel has really brought her out. Thoroughly recommended, especially if you're an Austen fan!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A Half Forgotten Song

A Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb

This is the author's third book, and like her others, involves a historical mystery being unravelled in the present. I love that kind of book, and although this one took me a little while to get into, I did thoroughly enjoy it in the end.

Zach is trying to write a book about his hero - an artist from the 1930s who just might possibly be his grandad, if the tales his grandmother tells of being seduced while on holiday in a Dorset coastal village are true. Zach goes to the village of Blacknowle, where the artist and his family spent several summers, in an attempt to find out more about them. He meets Mitzy Hatcher, an old woman who as a teen had been the artist's muse back in those pre-war summers. She clearly has secrets she's keeping. Also in the village is Hannah, a feisty young widowed farmer, who Zach falls in love with.

We alternate between Zach's tale, and Mitzy's story of the halcyon days when she had glimpses of how the other half live - welcomed into the artist's family.

This is a very enjoyable story - great sense of place in this fictitious village. Some memorable characters. There were a few twists near the end which didn't seem very believable but by that point I was hooked so couldn't stop reading anyway.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Bella's Vineyard

Bella's Vineyard by Sally Quilford

I've never read a Western before but Sally had included the first chapter of this book in her soon-to-be-published How To book, Love Craft, which I was beta-reading for her. And it had me hooked so I rushed off to buy it to read the whole thing.

As you'd expect from a Sally Q book, the plot tumbles along at a page-turning pace. I read the whole book on a train journey and it was just the right length. Feisty heroine Bella inherits a vineyard in 1860s California, and has to contend with a weak-willed brother, local distrust, and a lawless neighbour who wants her land. Luckily there's the gorgeous new sheriff, Vance, to look after her...

Very much enjoyed this book.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

How To Write

How To Write by Harry Bingham

Came across this when my own How To book was doing well and in the top 20 for writers' books. I had a little browse through the competition, as it were. Liked the sound of Harry's books, and as I'd already corresponded with him when he sent me something for my other blog, I thought I'd give this book a go.

Am so glad I did! It's superbly written in a relaxed, easy to read style. It contains fabulous advice which manages to teach and inspire at the same time. The book is structured from the inside out - starts by looking at sentences - what makes a great sentence, what's overwritten. It comes up outwards from there, so the chapters on structure and theme are further on. I liked this - so often How To books do it the other way round.

Highly recommended if you're a writer and you like How To books, or if you feel you need to learn a bit more about the craft. And who doesn't?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Cupidity by Holly Hepburn

Aka Tamsyn Murray. Her first venture into the world of self-publishing and her first published grown-up book though she's sold plenty of teen fiction and children's books.

This novella was the perfect length to read on a long train journey yesterday. Cupid is getting lax at his job - he's no longer in love with love. So he's sent to Earth as a human - his mission, to melt the heart of Annelise and ensure she falls in love with Mr Right. When he first meets her, they don't hit it off too well and with only a week to fulfil his mission, Cupid's in even more trouble than before.

Beautifully written, amusing and entertaining. The perfect length for this kind of story.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Steps of the Priory

The Steps of the Priory by Sally Quilford 

Aka Sally's Saga, and possibly the first of several featuring the Harcourt family and residents of the local village. This book starts soon after the first world war, and covers the period up to just after the second world war. It opens with young Becky and her boyfriend Jed leaving a baby on the steps of the Harcourts' home, the Priory. We don't know exactly whose the baby is, or why it (a boy) is being abandoned, and what keeps us reading all the way through this remarkable novel is the desire to find out. Along the way there are endless twists and turns, and as with many of Sally's books, you never guess what's going to happen. There's nothing predictable about this book, though it is eminently satisfying with some memorable characters.

Sally promises a sequel and I hope she does write one!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Read this on my Kindle. It's one of those classic books you feel you probably should read at some stage in your life.

Esther Greenwood on the surface has everything - boyfriend, good looks, exciting summer job, scholarship at a top college. But inside she's struggling to cope, and succumbing to a deep and debilitating depression. The novel tells the story of her fall and subsequent struggle to climb up out of it again.

As you might expect from that brief synopsis, it's not what you might call a cheery tale. It's beautifully written and the subject matter is handled so well if you didn't already know you would guess that the author had some experience of depression herself.

Worth reading for the beautiful prose and economical description, but I'd avoid it if you need cheering up yourself.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Monkeys with Typewriters

Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas

This is by far the most inspirational book about writing I have ever read. The subtitle is How to write fiction and unlock the secret power of stories.

The author is a CW lecturer, and the book is more in depth than any other How To Write books I've read, but wasn't too academic. I found it very readable, and many times I stopped and stared into space, trying to apply what I'd just read to my current WIPs. I had two Epiphanies about my novel from reading this book. 

First epiphany - early on in the book she talks about Aristotle's story arcs - tragedies vs comedies. I realised the historical story in my novel is a tragedy, and the contemporary story needed to follow the comedy story arc to balance it. (Comedy as in happy ending, not funny ha-ha.) Currently my contemporary story wibbles along, but doesn't quite follow the arc. I can put that right now I've recognised it.

Second epiphany - near the end she talks about the 3 things you need when writing your novel. 1. Narrative questions - what's going to keep the reader turning the pages. There needs to be one main one and several smaller ones. Tick. Got those. 2. Thematic question - what's the novel really about, what does it make the reader sit and ponder? Tick. Got that.3. The 'seed' word. You think of all the single words which describe what your novel's about (usually abstract nouns) and try to find the one which encompasses all the others. Then write with that idea in mind at all times. She said once you realise what the seed word is for your novel, it'll make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. I had a think, and realised for my novel the seed word is 'identity'. Ping, went my neck hairs! 

I bought this book after reading a review of it on Cally Taylor's blog. I am very glad I did. I feel like I've just taken a CW course! Definitely recommend it.

Ice and a Slice

Ice and a Slice by Della Galton

Review on my other blog here.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Bad Mothers United

Bad Mothers United by Kate Long

Lovely Kate sent me a signed copy of this, her latest book, the sequel to her first, The Bad Mothers' Handbook. Fans of the first had asked her to write a sequel, so she bowed to pressure and did. And I for one am very glad! Although I've loved all of Kate's books, its the characters from Bad Mothers' Handbook that stayed with me the longest - that might be partly because I loved the TV show made from the book as well. So it was lovely to be treated to another 400+ pages about Nan, Karen, Charlotte and Daniel.

The Bad Mothers' Handbook ends with Charlotte coming to terms with teenage motherhood, Karen coming to terms with the news that she was adopted, and Nan fading away with dementia in a nursing home. There's hope for their futures but clearly more to tell.

Bad Mothers United picks up three years on. Charlotte's at university, with Daniel at her beck and call. Karen's working as a teaching assistant and bringing up baby Will during term time. Nan, sadly, has passed on, but we get transcriptions of recorded conversations with her, made by Karen as part of her project to document her family's history, so she lives on through those. (It's kind of Kate Long's trademark, using some quirky way of telling parts of the story other than straight narrative, and it works very well.)

Quite early on in the book you begin to think that Charlotte is not worthy of having such a lovely boyfriend as Daniel, and indeed, eventually he realises how much she is using him without giving much back. Even so, when he decides to cool things between them it's a bit of a shock - no Daniel in the book for a few chapters! Karen has a dishy new neighbour, but one apparently with secrets to hide. And her ex-husband Steve is hanging around far too much - when he's not whizzing off on his mid-life-crisis motorbike, that is. Karen's also very down, missing Nan so much she's almost seeing ghosts. Charlotte then has the bright idea to track down Karen's real mum, to cheer her up.... and at that point you just know that disaster is looming around several corners...

The characters are written with such warmth they become real friends by the end of the book, and once again you don't want it to finish. The northern dialogue is done so well you feel you can actually hear those Lancashire accents. And the plot lines are tied up in wholly satisfactory ways. I doubt there'll be a third book - Charlotte's finally grown up by the end of this one. It's rare that a sequel is as good as the original, but this is quite possibly better. I absolutely loved it.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Long Road to Sunrise

The Long Road to Sunrise by David Hough

Previously published under the title A Tangle of Roots by BeWrite, and about to be republished under the current title by Cloudberry books. David gave me this book in return for a plug on the womagwriter blog which I was only too pleased to do.

As with all David's books, this one is an absolute page turner. Once you start reading, there's no putting it down. The man certainly does know how to tell a story!

Douglas's world is thrown upside down when contact is made from a woman in Australia, who is the child of Douglas's wife, adopted before Douglas came on the scene. They decide to go to meet her, and hear her story. The woman, Faith, had what you might call an unusual childhood. She'd been adopted by an Australian couple who took her as a small child to the Amazonian jungle where they were filming a natural history programme for TV. Her parents were killed by a warlike tribe, and Faith was taken in and brought up by another, more peaceful tribe. But that was only the start of her troubles.

As her story unfolds, Douglas and his family find it hard to comprehend that so much has happened to this poor woman. Meanwhile, Douglas's nephew who has been brought up by them, is falling in love with Faith. He persuades her to go back to the jungle, making a new TV programme about her young life there. But then the warlike tribe capture her, and Douglas and his nephew must travel there themselves to rescue her...

Drama is piled on top of drama in this book, keeping you up all hours reading it. I felt the ending was a little rushed and left a few unanswered questions, but overall this is not a book I'll forget quickly. I loved the Amazonian scenes - having been there myself last year really brought them to life.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Medieval Underpants & Other Blunders

Medieval Underpants & Other Blunders by Susanne Alleyn 

A wonderful little book aimed at writers of historical fiction. This book (I bought the paperback as I thought I'd want to refer to it over and over) tells you of the most common anachronisms to be found in historical fiction, and teaches you how to avoid making the same mistakes.

The basic message is - look it up! Always look it up, even if you think you know. Did Dark Ages Irish peasants eat spuds? No, because potatoes originate in South America so BC (Before Columbus) they were unknown in Europe. What kind of underpants did medieval peasant women wear under their skirts? None. You try peeing in the corner of a field in long skirts, if you've also got to untie your knickers and pull them down.

Having once almost had my 1820s child go to sleep cuddling a teddy bear (which were named after US president Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt after he refused to shoot a bear during a hunting trip) I thought I could make good use of this book. You need to be very careful when writing historical fiction - it's not just the obvious anachronisms, but the less obvious ones such as use of colloquialisms and cliches. Your seventeenth century teenager couldn't be accused of going off the rails, for example (refers to train derailments); neither could he get tired and run out of steam (steam engines not invented till 1780s).

As the author says in her book, Wikipedia is your Friend.
This book is a lively and informative read, and is recommended for all those who love history, but especially if you are aiming to write historical fiction.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
I wanted to read this as soon as I read an early review of it, but waited for the paperback. 

Newly retired Harold gets a letter from a one-time colleague, saying she is dying of cancer. He sets out to post a reply to her, but doesn't stop walking, and in the end walks the length of England (south Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed) to see her in person, having phoned the hospice she's in to tell her to wait for him. His marriage has more or less broken down, and he's estranged from his son. His journey through England puts everything right. 

This is a beautiful book with some wonderful use of language. How's this for conciseness of description - setting an entire scene in 1 sentence on page 1: 'It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelled of clean washing and grass cuttings.' You are instantly in middle-class suburbia with that line! And it's really clever - we learn that Harold's wife Miriam is constantly washing and cleaning, and his job is to mow the lawn. But on the day the letter arrives, the lawn has been mown. He has nothing else to do, only walk to the postbox with his letter...

There are some wonderful characters, not least Harold himself, who you really warm to. And some emotional scenes as Harold comes to terms with his own past. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson

I read this on my Kindle. Bought it ages ago but took a while to get around to it. It's exactly the sort of novel I love - a timeslip novel, with a story from the past being uncovered in the present. In this novel there's a mystery in the present which is revealed as you hear more of what happened in the past.

In the historical story set in 1923, Eva and her sister Lizzie, and a formidable missionary woman Millicent arrive at Kashgar in north-western China to set up a Christian mission. They try to help a young girl who's been outcast and is giving birth, but sadly the girl dies and Eva ends up taking care of the baby, while Millicent is accused of causing the girl's death. While under house-arrest, Eva starts writing her cycling guide to Kashgar (yes, she has brought a bicycle with her...)

In the present day story, Frieda unexpectedly inherits a flat-full of items from an old lady named Irene who she'd never heard of, but to whom she's apparently next-of-kin. Helped by a refugee Tayeb who's on the run, being an illegal immigrant, Frieda tracks down her mother to help find out who Irene was.

The book flips back and forth between the two stories. Both are completely absorbing, peopled by memorable characters who you really care about (except the deeply unpleasant Millicent, I guess) Kashgar and environs makes for an unusual setting  - especially in 1923! Very satisfying ending.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Sunday, 3 February 2013


ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer

Now that I'm getting more serious about running and am trying to increase my distance, I liked the sound of a book which promised to teach me how to run further, faster for less effort while removing the chance of injury. I have dodgy knees and will do anything to protect them while still allowing myself to be as active as possible.

The basis of ChiRunning is to develop a running technique which uses core muscles and lessens the stresses on your legs, knees and ankles. Essentially, you lean forward (from the ankles not the waist) while running, land on the mid-foot and never heel strike, and stretch out your stride behind you (by leaning further forward) to increase your pace. It all makes perfect sense.

There's a lot in here about being in touch with your centre, applying Tai Chi techniques, and knowing your own body etc. I glossed over the more hippy elements, but on the whole the book makes a lot of sense and I have begun trying out the techniques. Yes, I think it works, so far!

The book's style is very American which can be irritating to us Brits after a while, but is certainly worth reading if you're a runner or would like to run, especially if you are prone to injury.

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

I read this on my Kindle as I did not want the hardback and could not wait for the paperback. I'm a big fan of Kate Morton's books. She writes timeslip novels - where two connected stories from different time periods unfold in alternate chapters throughout the book. These are my favourite kind of novels, and I'm currently trying to write one myself.

This book was no disappointment. It opens with a young girl, Laurel, witnessing something truly shocking in 1961.  She finds herself covering the crime up, for her mother, but always wonders just what it was that drove her mother to do such a thing. Fifty years later, Laurel's mother is at the end of her life, and Laurel wants to finally get to the bottom of what happened that day and why it happened. Her mother is barely awake and barely lucid.

In alternate chapters, the back story is told. In wartime London, Dorothy and her suitor Jimmy meet the glamourous Vivien, wife of a respected author. Their lives become intertwined, and the secrets they keep from each other lead to dramatic events which will reverberate down the years. Can't say more for fear of spoilers.

Wonderfully drawn characters, an intriguing mystery and a fabulous twist which I did not see coming. Very enjoyable book and highly recommended.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Dot Dash

Dot Dash by Jonathon Pinnock

This is a collection of award-winning short and very short stories. By very short I mean just that - some are only about 20-30 words long. Most are surreal, imaginative, clever or just plain silly. Some make you reconsider what you thought was true; others bring a smile to your face.

All of these have won or been placed highly in competitions so if that's your market it's a good book to buy and study. The link above is to the paperback from Salt but you can get it as a Kindle book too.

In one or two cases I felt the stories ended a tiny bit abruptly - you know that feeling when you just need one more sentence, to let the ending fully sink in? Otherwise they are beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

My Future Husband

My Future Husband by Karen Clarke

Karen's a writing buddy and when she sold this novel in Germany but not in the UK I was disappointed not to get the chance to buy it, so I was delighted when she made it available for Kindle. This is a brilliantly lively chick-lit novel with a time-travel element, making it highly unusual.

Sasha is engaged to Pete who she is due to marry in a couple of weeks. Then Elliot turns up from the future, insists that she ought to be marrying the present-day version of himself, and that she must ditch Pete and also stop present-day Elliot from marrying his current fiancee. But when Sasha meets present-day Elliot she doesn't exactly hit it off with him immediately. Besides, she loves Pete, doesn't she?

This novel romps along with pace and wit, and keeps you turning the pages. I found I liked all the main characters immensely and was intrigued to find out how the messy situation would be resolved. Very much looking forward to reading Karen's next novel.