Friday, 28 April 2017

Guest Post - How to Make a Cruddy Day Feel a Whole Lot Better by Fiona Gibson

Fiona Gibson is back with yet another fabulous book, The Woman Who Met Her Match. My full review of the book will be published in the very near future but do be assured that I really did adore this book and highly recommend it. 

In the meantime, as part of the incredible blog tour, I'm lucky enough to have a gorgeous piece today from Fiona all about how to make a bad day seem that little bit brighter. So without further ado, sit back, relax and enjoy this fabulous piece, one which certainly got me thinking about the things I do to look after myself when things in life aren't going too well... 

How to Make a Cruddy Day Feel a Whole Lot Better

I have a good life, and I’m generally a pretty happy person - but you know how it is. Some days you just feel a bit stale, as if your brain is filled with the murky water that lies in the dishwasher when it won’t drain properly. Here are 7 simple things that perk me up and make me feel properly human again. So, what are yours? 

1. The beauty of make-up… God, but I love the stuff. From piling it on in my teens to a more natural (but still very much there) approach in my fifties, I’ve never been too far away from a pouch of beloved cosmetics. If I’m feeling a bit bleary, even if I’m only heading to the park with the dog, I’ll get my kit out and apply the whole works: base, liner, lips, the lot. Suddenly, that murky dishwater sensation flushes away. 

2. The joy of running (yes, really)… On a holiday at a friends’ place in Devon, I noticed my mate Fliss looking ultra trim. Her secret? Just plain old-fashioned running. I gave it a go, and have sort of stuck with it. While setting out is torture sometimes, I always feel a whole lot better when I stagger back in through the front door. 

3. Inelegant dancing… Chic, Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, Candi Staton. A blast from the queens of 70s disco and all that dolefulness seems to magically disappear. (Warning: don’t try this at home if there are teenagers present - unless you are prepared to be mocked or, worse, filmed). 

4. The delights of kitchen faffing… I have no idea what I ate throughout the 80s or into the mid-90s. Chips, probably, and things on toast. Maybe the odd lump of cheese and a massive, hangover-quelling jacket potato with a fried egg on top. Then I had children, and suddenly I had to learn how to feel them. Weirdly - as I never thought this would happen to me - I now regard cooking as one of my favourite things to do. I don’t find it especially creative, and I’m not terribly good at it - there are plenty of disasters (I am often reminded of The Great Cheesecake Debacle of 1995). But I do appreciate the whole calm, methodical, step-by-step-ness of it, especially after a full day of hammering away on my laptop which usually leaves my brain feeling pretty fried. Perhaps it helps that I have a keen interest in eating too. 

5. For the love of cheese… Is there really any situation in life that can’t be improved with a lovely melty slab of Brie? I know it’s not the healthiest thing, but I am a firm believer in having a little of what you love, every day. 

6. The sheer joy-making nature of dogs… What is it about hanging out with an animal that makes a day feel a whole lot better? We adopted Jack, our collie cross, seven years ago and I can’t imagine sitting down to write a chapter without him curled up at my feet. How I love the scruffy, stinky boy. He runs to me whoever I come home and coaxes me out on walks. Which brings me to… 

7. The pleasure of walking with a friend… Yes, I love my my canine mate - but I need human company too. Writing novels generally means spending a ridiculous amount of time alone, which can send one a bit ‘funny.’ After striding around one of our local Glasgow parks - with our dogs, lots of chat and my lipstick on - normality is swiftly restored.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Review - The Married Girls by Diney Costeloe

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book quite like The Married Girls by Diney Costeloe and as such I found this to be a beautiful book, a real breath of fresh air. It was the first novel of Diney’s that I have ever had the pleasure of reading before and all I can say is that I really regret not having discovered her wonderful stories before now. 

Within this glorious book, Diney transports us to the village of Wynsdown just after the war where for two women, Charlotte and Daphne, there’s a lot going on. Now happily married with two children, the last person Charlotte was expecting to return to town was Harry a man who she was once very close to and who it seems she is still deeply concerned about. Meanwhile Daphne has a terrible secret and one that, if discovered, could ruin everything she has worked so hard to achieve with Felix. As women who are both different from eachother in many ways, these two women both have something in common in that they both have a past they would much rather forget. This is a story about just what happens when the past catches up with them as all too often happens in life. 

The Married Girls is the second in a series of books and before reading it I highly recommend reading the first book, The Girl With No Name, before. This was something I really wish I’d done as whilst I thought all the characters I met throughout The Married Girls were wonderful, I couldn’t help but feel that I was missing out on some valuable background information. There wasn’t one character that I liked more or less than the others as they all had a vital and important role to play in the story. I certainly found it fascinating to read of the lives of the characters and follow them as they experienced all that they did after the war. 

Despite having not read the first book in the series, I couldn’t help but love every minute that I got to spend reading The Married Girls. Undoubtedly this is all thanks to Diney’s wonderful way of writing a story in a way that really did seem so effortless. I’m the sort of the person that loves a book with plenty of description and this was a book that certainly delivered plenty of that, with it being entirely possible to form a mental picture in my head of everything that was happening. With so much going on throughout, there was so much to hold my attention and keep me interested from beginning to end. 

As a book that had a lot of depth and emotion to it, one that you could tell Diney had poured her heart and soul into to make it as successful as it was, I ended The Married Girls feeling so glad that I had the opportunity to read this book. It will be very interesting to see whether or not there will be a third book in the series and if so the direction in which the author takes things next. Either way, one thing that’s for certain is that I’ll definitely be back to read more written by Diney in the future. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Review - The Escape by C L Taylor

One thing that can most definitely be said about C L Taylor is that she knows how to write a breathtaking psychological thriller that is guaranteed to have readers on the edge of their seats. The Escape is C L Taylor’s fourth book and having had the pleasure of reading all of them I can honestly say that she is an author who just keeps on delivering great things. The Escape was a book that I really couldn’t escape, one that demanded my full attention and that I couldn’t bear to be parted with. 

The Escape tells the story of Max and Jo a married couple who are all too familiar with heartbreak having tragically lost their first child but were then later blessed with a daughter, Elise. Despite suffering from terrible agoraphobia and the stress that comes with knowing her father is imminently dying, Jo wants nothing more than to provide for, protect and be a good mother to young Elise. One day Jo’s world is turned upside down when she is approached by a strange woman who asks her for a lift, a request she feels unable to refuse despite her reservations about doing so. Jo soon learns that this woman isn’t that much of a stranger after all - she knows Jo, she knows her daughter and her husband too - and she’s making threats towards Elise that Jo cannot ignore. Just what does this woman want and will Jo be able to protect her beloved daughter from danger? 

This is a book that is presented to us in an immensely clever and effective way, with chapters not only being told from the perspective of both Jo and Max but with little snippets of dialogue that are directed towards Jo from an anonymous source that I simply couldn’t figure out the identity of. Every single one of the characters that C L Taylor has introduced to us were expertly crafted being characters who really got under my skin, I just didn’t know who to trust. Each and every one of them really helped to make this book as wonderful as it was, and it was very clear to see how much time the author must have spent thinking about their development. 

This proved to be an incredibly addictive read that I was well and truly hooked on from the very first page. With twists and turns galore, every time I thought that I’d worked out what was going on something would come along to make me change my mind. Throughout the entirety of the novel the tension did nothing but grow at an alarming pace with surprise after surprise being thrown our way. Before I knew it, I had reached the end of this book and all I can say is that by ending like it did The Escape is a book that leaves other psychological thrillers with a lot to live up to. 

The Escape is an almighty novel that exceeded all of my expectations and one that quickly became the best book I’ve read so far this year. Sometimes you come across a book that you wish technology would allow to be rated more than five stars, and that is most certainly the case with The Escape. Over the years C L Taylor seems to have gone from strength to strength and I already can’t wait to read what she will write next!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Review - The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr, was an incredibly special book. In fact it was so special that after finishing it I had to take some time out to gather my thoughts before sitting down to write my review of it, hence why the review is coming some three weeks after finishing it. As a book that will stay with me for a long time, this was a truly memorable story and one that was quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I can only hope that within this review I do the book the justice that it so very much deserves. 

As the title correctly suggests this book tells the story of Flora Banks, a 17 year old girl who has had anterograde amnesia since the age of 10 when she had an operation which removed a tumour from her brain. With her amnesia meaning that she is unable to keep memories in her head for longer than a mere couple of hours, one evening after going to a party Flora kisses a boy on a beach, something which she is so desperate not to forget and something that she writes down. Whilst perhaps not the most sensible thing to have done given the repurcussions it has on her friendship with her best friend, we see how that one kiss completely changes Flora’s life as she breaks free from the control of her parents and sets out on the biggest adventure of her life. 

Whilst I struggled to understand exactly what young Flora was going through, I have to say that I thought Flora was an extraordinary lead character. I loved seeing Flora develop and grow as the story progressed and thought that the transformation she went on from being completely dependent on her parents for everything to being so much more independent entirely fascinating, she certainly proved herself to be a brave and fearless character. For me, even though Flora was considerably younger than me, I found Flora’s whole story to be extremely powerful and one which made me feel that little bit more grateful than I already was before starting the book for my health. 

The way that Emily has written this novel is something that I found to be extremely clever although very different to books I’ve read previously. There was a lot of repetition in this book, which I have to say at first somewhat annoyed me until I grew to appreciate why it was there, the fact that it was really giving us a glimpse into Flora’s mind and accurately portraying exactly what she was both thinking and feeling. I loved the effort that Emily had put into her story, creating one that really set the scene for the reader and transported them to a whole new world particularly when the location of Svalbard was introduced to us. 

Whilst this is a book that seems to be being marketed as a YA book, I’d say that it’s actually a book that can be read and appreciated by anyone of any age. With a number of themes being touched on throughout this is a very important book that raises awareness about a condition that perhaps is poorly understood and which people may not have very much understanding of. Having now taken the time to really think about this book and all that it represents, this is a book that more than deserves to be read and given a chance. I’m looking forward to seeing what Emily writes next. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Review - The Secrets of Ivy Garden by Catherine Ferguson

Everything about The Secrets of Ivy Garden by Catherine Ferguson, from the cover to the story told within its pages, was absolutely divine. This was the first of Catherine’s books that I’ve read before and I have to say what a fabulous introduction to her writing it turned out to be. I adored every second that I was lucky enough to spend with this delightful little book, one that really was so lovely and heart-warming.

As Holly receives the devastating news that her beloved grandmother has passed away, we see her get on the train from Manchester and make the journey down to Appleton, an idyllic location in the Cotswolds. Determined to get her grandmother Ivy’s house, a place she is all too familiar with from her younger years, ready to be sold soon after arriving in Appleton she begins clearing out Ivy’s possessions. In doing so she comes across a diary, one that belonged to her grandmother and one that reveals things she never knew, things that have the potential to completely change her life. As the days go by and she starts to understand exactly what the diary has revealed, Holly finds herself staying in Appleton for far longer than she ever thought she would. Will she ever be able to leave? 

The Secrets of Ivy Garden is a story that is full of a whole bunch of lovely characters who all help to make this story as wonderful as it was. Holly is most certainly one of these and is one who has clearly experienced so much negativity in her life that you can’t help but follow her story and hope that everything turns out well for her. With her fear of the countryside, the reasons for which all become clearer as the story progresses, Holly’s character came across as being incredibly realistic one who sometimes lacked confidence and often under-estimated herself, things which helped me to connect with her even more than I already did. As the novel progressed it was clear to see what a truly caring person Holly was and it was a pleasure to read of the relationships she developed with those around her, particularly young Layla who with Holly’s support really did change for the better.

With the element of mystery that surrounded the secrets that the diary revealed, Catherine Ferguson has written a story that kept me both interested and intrigued from beginning to end. Her writing style is quite simply beautiful, full of a variety of unforgettable moments some of which pulled on my heartstrings and others which left me with a smile on my face. With some gorgeous and vivid description throughout, Catherine successfully made the village of Appleton come to life and it really captured my imagination. 

From the very first page I had a good feeling about this book, that it would be one that I would love and that certainly turned out to be the case. I am so glad that I made the decision to pick this book up, one that makes for the perfect reading particularly at this time of year. I highly recommend The Secrets of Ivy Garden and will definitely be back to read more by Catherine in the future. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

Review - Right Here Waiting for You by Rebecca Pugh

Ever since I read her first novel, Return to Bluebell Hill, which I absolutely adored Rebecca Pugh has been one of my favourite authors. Whenever I finish one of her books I find myself instantly looking forward to reading what she writes next and so I couldn’t wait to get started with her latest release, Right Here Waiting for You. Going into the book I had very high expectations and I wasn’t at all disappointed, in fact I’d go so far as to say that this is Rebecca’s best book to date. 

Right Here Waiting for You is a book that draws the reader in from the very first page as we quickly become involved in the lives of Magda and Sophia, two characters who left school as the very best of friends and with the rest of their lives ahead of them. They thought they’d be best friends for the rest of their lives, that they’d fall pregnant at the same time and have children of the same age, but as is so often the way in life things happened and things didn’t quite go the way they anticipated. Years after their paths last crossed Magda and Sophia receive an invitation to their school reunion, something that fills them with both dread and anticipation. What have they been up to, what happened between them and what will happen when they both attend the reunion?

Throughout the entirety of this fabulous book, both Magda and Sophia were wonderful characters who never faltered once. Both of them were incredibly down-to-earth characters who seemed very real and believable, meaning that I quickly became engaged in their stories and caught up on the mystery that surrounded their friendship. Creating such characters is something that Rebecca does extremely well, something that Rebecca has consistently done within all of her books and something that really helps to make her books that little bit more special than they already are. 

For me a new book written by Rebecca Pugh is like Christmas has come early, it’s something I always look forward to as I just know that I will be in for a treat. A treat was exactly what I got with Right Here Waiting for You, a book that was beautifully written throughout with the perfect mixture of humour, intrigue and emotional moments. Just as with all of Rebecca’s books so far to date I not only finished Right Here Waiting for You with a smile on my face but also came away feeling inspired from having seen how her characters who hadn’t had the easiest of lives always looked on the bright side of life and got through whatever life threw at them. 

All that’s left for me to say is that if you haven’t yet discovered Rebecca Pugh and her fabulous books then what are you waiting for? Right Here Waiting for You was a book that ticked all the boxes for me, a book that is destined for great things and one that will most certainly appeal to those who enjoy books written by Holly Martin, Daisy James and Milly Johnson to name just a few. My only complaint about this book was that it just didn’t seem long enough but even that couldn’t stop me from awarding it five stars without any hesitation. I’m incredibly excited to read what Rebecca writes next and wish her every success. 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Guest Post - The Thing I Love Best About Writing by Catherine Ferguson

Today I'm absolutely delighted to be able to share with you all a gorgeous guest post from Catherine Ferguson, the author of The Secrets of Ivy Garden. I'm currently just over half way through this book and can safely say that I am loving it. It's every bit as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside. My full review will be up here on the blog very soon but in the mean time why not sit back, relax and read all about what Catherine loves best about writing. It's a truly fabulous piece that I thoroughly enjoyed reading!

The Thing I Love Best About Writing

There are lots of things I love about getting a story down on the page.
                I love writing that very first chapter of a brand new book. I love the moment when a character, who’s previously been just a two-dimensional collection of characteristics, suddenly comes vibrantly alive as if they could step off the page. And I love speeding through the last chapter to reach the happy ending.
                But for me, the very best thing about the writing process is when the ‘magic’ happens.
                By ‘magic’, I mean the times I’m struggling to make progress and feeling frustrated and despondent, thinking I’ll obviously never be able to write a decent book ever again – and then without warning, the perfect solution arrives in my head, fully formed, apparently out of nowhere. And all at once, I can see the road ahead really clearly, which is very exciting considering I was almost on the point of tearing the whole manuscript up minutes earlier!
                These ‘magic’ moments don’t happen very often, so are all the more special when they do. And they almost always occur when I’m tramping the lanes around my house, taking a break from the computer screen. (Which is why I now consider a daily walk an essential part of my writing routine!)
                I experienced the ‘magic’ only last week, while trying to make headway with my latest book, to be released in time for Christmas. I had my lovely heroine, Poppy, and my luscious hero and a cast of quirky characters, and I knew roughly how I wanted the story to go, but it just wasn’t coming together the way I wanted it to. Poppy, who longs to turn her love of cooking into a business, has been hired to provide the festive food for a family’s Christmas. They’re an odd assortment of people, each with their own problems, and it’s fairly clear there will be fireworks before Christmas Day is over! My problem was: how could all these different characters shed light on the most important story of all, which is Poppy and the challenges she is facing?
                I had originally planned that the ‘Log-Fire Cabin’ – where the family gathers - would have a large, open-plan kitchen/living space. But on my walk, I suddenly had a clear image of a really cosy, Christmassy kitchen, right at the heart of the house, and a stool at a breakfast bar. This stool, I realised, would be just perfect for a character to perch on with a coffee or a glass of wine, pouring out their heart to Poppy as she bakes her cakes. One by one, the disparate guests would wander into the heart of the house and chat to Poppy (under the guise of grabbing a quick coffee) and in learning about their struggles, Poppy would come to a better understanding of the challenges she herself was facing. And she’d remain right at the centre of the book in that warm and inviting kitchen.
                I was so excited by this break-through, I hardly noticed that the heavens had opened. So I arrived home soaked through but happy – and desperate to get all my new ideas down on paper!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Review - Those Who Lie by Diane Jeffrey

Those Who Lie by Diane Jeffrey was most certainly a book that didn’t disappoint me in the slightest. Upon picking it up, when I previously hadn’t heard too much about it, I wasn't too sure what to expect but it delivered great things from the very first page. From beginning to end it proved to be an intense, immense and intriguing psychological thriller that was full of many twists, turns and surprises.

The book wastes absolutely no time in throwing the reader straight into the middle of the drama, when we meet Emily Klein who wakes up in a hospital bed with two police officers by her side, no friends or family present and absolutely no recollection of how she ended up there. Not long after waking up, Emily learns that she has been involved in a car accident, that she was driving, that her husband was in the car with her and that he didn’t survive. The problem is that Emily can’t seem to remember too much about what happened in those moments immediately prior to the accident and, as we see her try to come to terms with her loss and recover from her injuries strange things start to happen…things that leave Emily and those around her questioning her sanity. 

Diane Jeffrey has done a fabulous job at creating every single one of the characters that we meet throughout Those Who Lie with Emily being just one of them. They were all fantastically developed with stories and secrets of their own which made them seem like very real people, something which really helped me to become fully immersed in and engaged with the story I was reading. I found that Emily in particular was a wonderful lead character, one who was complex and had clearly experienced far too much negativity in her life and one who my heart really did go out to even though I sometimes struggled to understand her actions. All I wanted to do was figure out what was happening to Emily and why. 

With chapters alternating between both the past and present, I really appreciated the fact that the story was told to us in this way as it really helped to form the bigger picture and understand so much more about each of the characters and their backgrounds. Throughout the entirety of the book, Diane expertly builds the tension throwing revelation after revelation our way all of which I found were truly impossible to predict. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the ending came along which was breathtaking, unexpected and saw this novel become a very worthy five-star read in my eyes. 

An atmospheric, powerful and engaging read, Those Who Lie is a psychological thriller that any fan of the genre simply must read. It is a fabulous debut novel and one that has left me thoroughly looking forward to reading more great things by Diane in the future when I’m sure we’ll be in for a treat.