Thursday, 31 December 2015

Books of the Year 2015...

Hi All,

December has been a whirlwind for me and I have come hurtling to the end of the year. I thought that I couldn't let the year end without telling you my favourite books of the year.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the authors, publishers and fellow bloggers, readers and friends that I have had the pleasure to interact with this year, through a mutual love of reading.

I am particularly grateful to the members of the Book Connectors group on Facebook, a lovely bunch of supportive people. All that has happened is my massive book list has grown even longer. This group has given me more confidence with blogging and interacting with people.

I haven't read as much as I would like this year, things get in the way but on the whole I have enjoyed most books that I have read. Anyway time for me to stop waffling.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year. May 2016 bring you all lots of love, happiness, luck, and good health. Also of course lots of new books to discover.

Best Wishes,

Leah x


I never thought that I would be able to choose one book as my book of the year, but I have known since March, it would be this one. I think of it regularly. I have chosen this one because of its originality, its beautiful writing and how it had the absolute ability to move me. I always think that the best books have the ability to educate, to inspire and to engage deeply with a reader. This is one of those books that will always be special to me and to top it all off, it was also the first time my review has been quoted inside a paperback.

My book of the year is: 

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah


I have included my original review below:

I have put off writing this review for two days, not because I didn't like the story, but because anything you will read below will not serve to do this book justice.

The A - Z of You and Me is the story of Ivo, who is in a hospice. He is a troubled man with a troubled mind. He has regrets over things in his life and most probably the biggest regret of all, is the love that he has lost.

Sheila, his nurse senses that he needs to take his mind off of what makes him anxious and suggests playing a game called A - Z. Basically he has to choose a body part for each letter and think of a story or memory for each letter.

Here begins the recollections, piece by piece as Ivo looks back over his life.

It is on a very rare occasion that I have sat down to read a book and have completed it in one sitting, absolutely transfixed and unable to move until the end. I was left devastated with the tears pouring down my face. This is one of those books.

This author has been compared to Chris Cleave and David Nicholls. The latter incidentally being one of my favourites. I would suggest that the comparison is unfair. When you can write something as equally unique as it is movingly beautiful, you shouldn't be compared to anyone.

The language in this book is wonderful, there is not a superfluous word or a phrase too much, or out of place. I found it to be very poetic and even lyrical in places, for this reason it came as no surprise to find out that the Author is also a musician.

I found the alphabet game an interesting concept and something that I haven't come across before, it really helped with the flow of the story and the individual recollections.

At this point you might be thinking that this is a total weepy story, in parts that may be correct but not in the entirety. You see there is a dark humour that lifts the pace, there is the warmth of Sheila the nurse. I believe and hope that we all shall know a Sheila when the time comes.

This is essentially a story of friendship, acceptance, forgiveness and love. It is one that I will never forget. I found it refreshingly honest that as Ivo looked back over his life there was touches of realism, it wasn't twee or sentimental in any way. I really appreciated it for that. Ivo realises the mistakes and accepts it.

This book has moved me and it has changed me, and isn't that what it is all about? I want to knit hearts and blankets, that is all.

It is only March and I don't know if anything will top this one this year for me. Essential reading.



I also have some other books that I would also like to mention in no particular order, my other favourites for various reasons this year are:

How to Be Brave by Louise Beech



This is a novel about how stories bring magic to our lives. Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat where an ancestor survived for fifty days. Natalie struggles when nine-year-old daughter Rose is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and refuses her life-saving injections and blood tests. When they begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar they realise he has something for them - his diary. Only by using her imagination, newspaper clippings, letters and this diary will Natalie share the true story of Grandad Colin's survival at sea, and help her daughter cope with her illness and, indeed, survive. This is a haunting, beautifully written, tenderly told story that wonderfully weaves together a contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child's life through the medium storytelling with an extraordinary story of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War.

My review is here.

Escape to Perdition by James Silvester



Prague 2015. Herbert Biely, aged hero of the Prague Spring, stands on the brink of an historic victory, poised to reunite the Czech and Slovak Republics twenty-six years after the Velvet Revolution. The imminent Czech elections are the final stage in realising his dream of reunification, but other parties have their own agendas and plans for the fate of the region. A shadowy collective, masked as an innocuous European Union Institute, will do anything to preserve the status quo. The mission of Institute operative Peter Lowes is to prevent reunification by the most drastic of measures. Yet Peter is not all that he seems. A deeply troubled man, desperate to escape the past, his resentment towards himself, his assignment and his superiors deepens as he questions not just the cause, but his growing feelings for the beautiful and captivating mission target. As alliances shift and the election countdown begins, Prague becomes the focal point for intrigue on an international scale. The body count rises, options fade, and Peter's path to redemption is clouded in a maelstrom of love, deception and murder. Can he confront his past to save the future? This is a high quality page turning thriller and perfect for fans of Le Carre.

My review is here.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig




Aged 24, Matt Haig's world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.
A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive,Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.
"I wrote this book because the oldest clichés remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven't been able to see it . . . Words, just sometimes, really can set you free."

My review is here.


A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman


At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots - neighbours who can't reverse a trailer properly, joggers, shop assistants who talk in code, and the perpetrators of the vicious coup d'etat that ousted him as Chairman of the Residents' Association. He will persist in making his daily inspection rounds of the local streets.
But isn't it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so?
In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible...

My review is here.



Anything for Her by Jack Jordan



Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you. 

Louise Leighton’s life has fallen apart, all because of one fateful night. Her husband is an adulterer, her sister is his mistress, and soon, Louise will lose everything she owns. But she never imagined she would lose her daughter. 

Eighteen-year-old Brooke Leighton is missing. It’s up to Louise and the Metropolitan Police to find her. Has Brooke run away? Or has she been taken against her will? And can Louise aid the investigation without mentioning the night where all of her troubles began? 

If she mentions that night, she will incriminate her daughter for heinous crimes. But if she doesn’t, she may never find Brooke; and if she has been abducted, the person who took her may come for Louise, too. 

Sometimes the past comes back to kill you.

My review is here.




Anyway that is Six Picks from me. Thanks for taking the time to read and see you in 2016.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis


This book was published by Chicken House on the 3rd September 2015. It is available in print and e book versions.

While on holiday in Montana, Hope meets local boy Cal Crow, a ranch-hand. Caught in a freak accident, the two of them take shelter in a mountain cabin where Hope makes a strange discovery. More than a hundred years earlier, another English girl met a similar fate. Her rescuer: a horse-trader called Nate. In this wild place, both girls learn what it means to survive and to fall in love, neither knowing that their fates are intimately entwined.

My Thoughts

This book is a Young Adult Historical/Modern day romance story. Although outside my usual comfort zone, it has to be said that I was quickly drawn in and I found it thoroughly entertaining.

Firstly 1867 in Montana with Emily and Nate. Emily and Nate's story occurs when upon Emily trying to travel across America a disaster occurs and Emily is left alone, save for the care of Nate who rescues her and takes her back to his home and looks after her and what develops is an unlikely story of love.

In modern day Montana, Hope travels with her mother to stay at the ranch of Cal. Hope discovers a diary hidden away, telling the long ago story of Emily. History inevitably repeats itself, with similarites between the stories and the two strands seamlessly join together. Two separate times and two separate stories that are inextricably linked.

My favourite element is the story of Emily and Nate, it was beautifully written, and you could really imagine the time and place it was set.

Some important themes are tackled in this book. Firstly how two women from different times gain their independence and free themselves from their lives and futures that already seem mapped out for them. Elements of racial difference that occur in both periods of the story. Ultimately how it is possible to accept others despite their differences, with love being the over riding theme.

I really enjoyed it.


About the Author

Lucy Inglis is an eighteenth-century historian and curator of the award-winning Georgian London blog. She lives in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral with her husband and a Border Terrier. City of Halves was published in 2014, and this new novel, Crow Mountain, was published in 2015.

www.lucyinglis.com or twitter @lucyinglis

Thursday, 26 November 2015

** BLOG TOUR ** The Jazz Files (Poppy Denby Investigates) by Fiona Veitch Smith


This book was published on the 17th September 2015 by Lion Hudson. Many thanks to them and to Rhoda for inviting me onto the blog tour.

Available in paperback and ebook: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jazz-Files-Poppy-Denby-Investigates/dp/1782641750/ref=sr_1_1/279-6749217-2299761?ie=UTF8&qid=1447855908&sr=8-1&keywords=jazz+files


Set in 1920, The Jazz Files introduces aspiring journalist Poppy Denby, who arrives in London to look after her ailing Aunt Dot, an infamous suffragette. Dot encourages Poppy to apply for a job at The Daily Globe, but on her first day a senior reporter is killed and Poppy is tasked with finishing his story. It involves the mysterious death of a suffragette seven years earlier, about which some powerful people would prefer that nothing be said...

Through her friend Delilah Marconi, Poppy is introduced to the giddy world of London in the Roaring Twenties, with its flappers, jazz clubs, and romance. Will she make it as an investigative journalist, in this fast-paced new city? And will she be able to unearth the truth before more people die?

My Thoughts:

There are days when I adore blogging, days when a book gets drawn to my attention that possibly wouldn't have otherwise. Today is one of those days. I was immediately drawn in by the attractive cover, that sets the Era of the book perfectly.


I would describe this book as a mystery but it is so much more than that. The author skillfully sets the scene within the first few pages. First of all 1920's London, Kings Cross station, where you could almost hear the hustle and the bustle of another time. The sounds of the Jazz music in Oscars and sense the joy and the dancing. So vividly portrayed.

Poppy Denby moves to London under the premise of becoming a carer for her Aunt Dot, however her aunt and her friend Grace have other plans for her. Encouraging her to have a career and forge forward in life. Both Dot and Grace are Suffragettes. It is here where the most interesting element of the story lies for me, the history of the Suffragette Movement, a fascinating time and the strength of the women and their determination to bring about change and equality.

A wonderful, real and eclectic cast of characters that came to life on the pages, some of them I liked, some of them I did not. I don't think it is possible to like them all. Such as the characters and story played out in my mind, I could certainly envisage and television production of some kind. Poppy Denby is the real star of this book, a heroine. It was so refreshing to have a female lead character in this book rather than a middle aged man, that I read quite a lot in mystery books.

I love this era and have been known to be a bit partial to Agatha Christie, it could certainly seem that some comparisons could be drawn, only in a positive way of course. A truly wonderful book and in a current market of several types of thrillers and crime novels, this one is original, refreshing and stands out from the rest for all the right reasons.

Thoroughly recommended, and I am delighted that we will be hearing more from Poppy Denby in the future.



About the Author:

Fiona Veitch Smith has worked as a Journalist in South Africa and the UK. and is now an Associate Lecturer in Journalism as Newcastle University. She also teaches Creative Writing at Northumbria University. She was inspired to write The Jazz Files by the centenary anniversary of the death of Morpeth's Emily Wilding Davison, who died after being struck by the king's horse in a suffragist protest in 1912. 

You can find out more here: http://www.poppydenby.com/


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Sewing the Shadows Together by Alison Baillie


This books is published by Matador which is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd. My thanks to the publisher and the author for my review copy.


More than thirty years after thirteen-year-old Shona McIver was murdered in a Scottish seaside town, her brother Tom and her best friend Sarah meet again at a school reunion. The tragedy has cast a shadow over their lives, but when DNA evidence shows that the wrong man was convicted of the murder, their relationships and emotions are thrown into turmoil.

In the search for the real killer, suspicion falls on those closest to them: Tom uncovers dark secrets, Sarah's perfect family life begins to crumble, and they are caught up in a web of death, love and deception before the truth finally comes to light.


My Thoughts: 

The book starts of with the poem Bat by D.H. Lawrence. It creates an immediate sense of foreboding and also gives the book its title. I found this story very dark and felt the immediate mystery surrounding the characters and the events of the past.

The locations in the story were written very vividly and pulled me into the story even more. Locations such as Portobello and South Africa. 

The characters all have their own nuances and I particularly couldn't stand Sarah's husband Rory, who I thought was just totally objectionable. However even his character added to the story and I can understand why he was written as he was.

A complete book of mystery, there are elements of family histories, and suspicions. It kept me guessing as the plot cleverly and slowly unravelled throughout the book. This was an excellent example at building the suspense all the way along. Also involved in the plotline is adultery, self esteem and marriage. These other themes only serve to tie all of the strands of the story together expertly.

I found this book to be thrilling, and engaging and proof that we can never really know anybody. Not completely at any rate. A very accomplished and entrancing first novel.

I would definitely recommend it, if you haven't read it already.




About the Author:

Alison Baillie was brought up in Yorkshire by Scottish parents. She studied English at the University of St Andrews and taught in various schools in Edinburgh and later in Switzerland when she moved there.  She enjoys going to crime festivals, reading, writing, travelling, spending time with friends and family and much more. Sewing the Shadows Together is her first novel.

Please visit her website to find out more: http://alisonbaillie.com/



Friday, 13 November 2015

Guest Author: Katey Lovell ~ The Meet Cute Series




I am delighted to welcome Katey Lovell to the blog today as a guest author. I have gotten to know Katey via social media and a mutual love of books and blogging. I am so pleased for her that she has published The Meet Cute Series with Harper Impulse. The series is available now as E Books, details of which are at the end of this post. 

Katey has written us a short piece about the traits she shares with the characters in her stories...


People often ask authors if the characters they write are based on real people, or if they are autobiographical.  The standard answer is generally that they’re not but that they’re influenced by either the writer or people they’ve come across in everyday life.

Without wanting to be a cliché, I definitely didn’t set out to base the characters in The Meet Cute Series on myself.  But as I look back through the stories there are definitely elements of myself in them…

Jade, the protagonist in The Boy in the Bookshop is nuts about books.  She loves her piercings and brightly coloured hair, but despite her colourful exterior is actually quite shy.  I can definitely relate to all of that.  And Marwan, who actually is the boy in the bookshop has strong family values, which I do too.

Lauren and Toby, the couple in The Boy at the Beach, originally meet online.  I’ve shared the story of my own ‘meetcute’ on my author blog (www.kateylovell.blogspot.co.uk) but my husband and I first ‘met’ on an internet forum way back in 1997 -  I wanted to write a story that showed how real relationships can blossom over the web!  Both Lauren and Toby are chatterboxes and love the warmth and lifestyle offered by Magaluf, where they’ve both ended up working.  I’ve never ventured abroad for work, but my best friend works as cabin crew for British Airways and loves travel so maybe I was subliminally influenced by her quest for adventure when writing this one.

Lily, the leading lady in The Boy at the Bakery is a sucker for a dimple and I’ll admit to finding them pretty irresistible myself.  In fact, when I first met my husband in person his dimples were one of the things I was most attracted to.  Also Cole, who works at the bakery in the story, has a goofy sense of humour and yes, I’ll admit to laughing at terribly cheesy jokes.  I can’t help it, I have a childish sense of humour! 

So in different ways there are little pieces of me scattered throughout the series, although none of the characters are based entirely on me or anyone I know.  I suppose I’ve just given that standard answer again, haven’t I?!


Thanks for stopping by Katey and I wish you every success with the series.


Katey Lovell is the author of The Meet Cute seriesThe Boy in the Bookshop, the first short story in the series was released on October 29th followed by The Boy at the Beach on November 5th and The Boy at the Bakery on November 12th.  All titles are published by Harper Impulse, the digital-first romance imprint at Harper Collins.





About the Author

Katey Lovell is fanatical about words. An avid reader, writer and poet, she once auditioned for Countdown and still tapes the show every night. Getting the conundrum before the contestants is her ultimate thrill.

She loves love and strives to write feel-good romance that'll make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

Originally from South Wales, Katey now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and their seven year old son.

Find Katey on twitter, @katey5678,  Facebook www.facebook.com/kateylovell and her author blog www.kateylovell.blogspot.co.uk

Monday, 9 November 2015

** BLOG TOUR ** London's Glory by Christopher Fowler


Published in hardback by Doubleday on 5th November 2015, priced £16.99. My thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy and the chance to be part of the blog tour.


In every detective’s life there are cases that can’t be discussed, and throughout the Bryant & May novels there have been mentions of some of these such as the Deptford Demon or the Little Italy Whelk Smuggling Scandal.
Now Arthur Bryant has decided to open the files on eleven of these previously unseen investigations that required the collective genius and unique modus operandi of Arthur Bryant and John May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit - investigations that range from different times (London during the Great Smog) and a variety of places: a circus freak show, on board a London Tour Bus and even a yacht off the coast of Turkey. 
And in addition to these eleven classic cases, readers are also given a privileged look inside the Peculiar Crimes Unit (literally, with a cut away drawing of their offices), a guide to the characters of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, and access to the contents of Arthur Bryant’s highly individual library.

My Thoughts

I admit to being relatively new to the Bryant and May books, but I have taken both of the main characters to heart almost instantaneously. The author has a wonderful skill of creating a whole array of characters with eccentricities and foibles. There is a certain amount of humour throughout and at times I found myself chuckling at the pair of ageing detectives latest escapades. I love the quirkiness and the originality of the writing, it is so refreshing. 

The books are set in London and I would say that London is a character in the books in its own right. I love the little trip around all the places that you wouldn't find in a guide book. Places from the past.

I could never get bored of this series of books, always something new and different everytime. However you know that everytime you will be absorbed into the London streets and absorbed into the lives and minds of Bryant and May.

This book is a collection of short stories, a look back on eleven classic cases. You do not necessarily need to have read the other Bryant and May books to enjoy this collection. It might be the perfect place to begin to get to know the marvels of the characters and the writing. 

It would certainly make a wonderful gift, if you like good dectective stories that are a bit different from the norm.

Really recommended.


                                                     ------------------



I am delighted that Christopher is joining me on the blog today to discuss the craft of creating short stories,  and the difference in the reading and the writing process compared to novels. 


I tend to think of short stories as single diamonds and novels as necklaces. The former can be polished until they’re perfect, but craftspeople rarely make a perfect necklace. I have only written two or three stories that I’m 100 per cent happy with. Stories are a great way to test ideas. If you get to the end of one and still want to write more on the subject, there’s a chance you have a novel. Many of my non-Bryant & May books started as short stories. It works the other way around, too. The last chapter of Waugh’s social satire 'A Handful of Dust' is in many horror collections as a stand-alone story. A list of my favourites would include;

            ‘The Cone’ and ‘The Door In The Wall’ – HG Wells
            ‘Leningen Versus The Ants’ – Carl Stephenson
            ‘Camera Obscura’ – Basil Copper
            ‘Evening Primrose’ – John Collier
            ‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’ – Evelyn Waugh
            ‘The Fly’ – George Langelaan

Alfred Hitchcock had put his name to a series of dog-eared anthologies that were wonderful assorted literary ragbags, and from these I started making informed decisions about the writing I enjoyed most. Now I read a vast number of short story collections because they’re ideally suited for electronic reading.
            
To answer your question best, I’d say that short stories allow for experimentation to an infinite degree. I’ve written stories told only in speech, one in futuristic teen slang, another in the form of a sinister travel guide, another like a museum booklet. John Sladek famously wrote a short story in the form of a questionnaire to be filled in. These formats are hard to pull off in longer fiction.

Anthologies are not collections. The former are compilations from a variety of authors under the aegis of an editor who (hopefully) makes an intelligent selection, and the latter stem from a single writer. Collections are less popular than anthologies, because anthologies can be themed more easily around a single subject.
Anthologies were once hugely popular in the UK and provided an inexpensive way of discovering new writers; a task now largely performed by e-readers. Many anthologies are now very collectable.

In 1937 Fifty Strangest Stories Ever Told was published and became an instant classic that stayed on household shelves for decades. The 700-page volume introduced readers to stories and authors they had never read before. One of the oddest anthologies is Poolside, which unusually doesn’t credit its editor. The stories all involve swimming pools. John Cheever’s classic ‘The Swimmer’ is here, along with Edna O’Brien’s ‘Paradise’. Poolside looks like a normal book but is printed with waterproof paper so that it can be read in a swimming pool.

Too many of these volumes under-represent female authors, but a volume called Alfred Hitchcock Presents sparked off a two-decade long set of short story anthologies that proved massively influential, and rebalanced the field by featuring a great many female authors who’d had little previous exposure in the UK.


Don’t get me started – we could be here all day!




About the Author:

Christopher Fowler is a Londoner born (in Greenwich) and bred. For many years he jointly owned and ran one of the UK's top film marketing companies.

He is the author of many novels and short story collections, from the urban unease of cult fictions such as Roofworld and Spanky, the horror-pastiche of Hell Train to the much-praised and award-winning Bryant and May series of detective novels - and his two critically acclaimed autobiographies, Paperboy and Film Freak.

He lives in King's Cross.


You can find him on twitter: @Peculiar

Friday, 6 November 2015

** BLOG TOUR ** In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward


In Bitter Chill was released in paperback on 5th November 2015 by Faber & Faber. My thanks to the publisher and author for my review copy and inviting me onto the blog tour.

You can't bury the truth forever


Rachel Jones and Sophie Jenkins were abducted in 1978, but only Rachel returned home. Over thirty years later, Sophie's case is reopened when her mother commits suicide. The question is, why now? Did Yvonne Jenkins find out something about her daughter's disappearance. 
Rachel has spent years trying to put the past behind her. But news of the suicide makes her realise that the only way she can have a future is to finally discover what really happened all those years ago.

This is a story about loss and family secrets, and how the very darkest secrets are those that are closest to you.

My Thoughts:

This is a compelling story of mystery and intrigue spanning over thirty years. It flips backs between the present day and 1978 when the dreadful kidnappings occurred and Sophie never come home.

I found this book to be very atmospheric throughout. The setting of the woods in Bampton, Derbyshire and the surrounding area providing the perfect backdrop to these horrendous crimes.

I actually felt this book to be a mixture of all the types of crime books that I love, partly psychological thriller, part mystery and partly the solving of the police case. It worked well and all of the elements were perfectly blended to create a gripping and very real story. I felt alarmed that it is the type of story you could see in the news, anytime or anyplace.

The author managed to create a sense of unease in me throughout the story, and for me anyway there was no second guessing the ending. A brilliant examination of family secrets but also lies and how eventually they do catch up with you, and the lasting damage they can cause.

I loved the resilience of Rachel, how she has managed to forge ahead with her life after the abduction, clearly damaged but still whole. I found the elements of her working as a family historian fascinating.

The author has managed to write an excellent debut. Perfectly balanced between gripping and intriguing. Little clues coming about bit by bit, until the ending which was amazing and testament to the tangled web of lies and deceit that she had created throughout.

I recommend this one so very much.

About the Author:

Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces (www.crimepieces.com), reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad. She is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. She lives in Derbyshire. 

Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahrward1

Please have a look at the other stops on the blog tour.



Thursday, 29 October 2015

BLOG TOUR: Talk of the Toun by Helen MacKinven

I am delighted today to be taking part in the blog tour for Talk of the Toun. My thanks to Helen and the Publishers Thunderpoint for sending me a review copy.

Talk of the Toun is published 29th October 2015.

‘She was greetin’ again. But there’s no need for Lorraine to be feart, since the first day of primary school, Angela has always been there to mop up her tears and snotters.’ 

An uplifting black comedy of love, family life and friendship, Talk of the Toun is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale set in the summer of 1985, in working class, central belt Scotland. Lifelong friends Angela and Lorraine are two very different girls, with a growing divide in their aspirations and ambitions putting their friendship under increasing strain.

Artistically gifted Angela has her sights set on art school, but lassies like Angela, from a small town council scheme, are expected to settle for a nice wee secretarial job at the local factory. Her only ally is her gallus gran, Senga, the pet psychic, who firmly believes that her granddaughter can be whatever she wants.

Though Lorraine’s ambitions are focused closer to home Angela has plans for her too, and a caravan holiday to Filey with Angela’s family tests the dynamics of their relationship and has lifelong consequences for them both.

Effortlessly capturing the religious and social intricacies of 1980's Scotland, Talk of the Toun is the perfect mix of pathos and humour as the two girls wrestle with the complications of growing up and exploring who they really are.

My Thoughts:

This book is a wonderful evocative story of time and place. A flashback to growing up in 80's Scotland, jam packed with references and nostalgia, I loved every word.

Although not a teenager myself in the 80's, the references were not lost on me. I used to play Ker Plunk and also wear Rimmel Lipstick in the shade of Heather Shimmer. This book is full of humour and at times I was simply roaring with laughter. I love the wit and sometimes the irony with which this author writes. The humour is there for all to see.

I initially thought I would struggle with the use of the Scottish Dialect, but I didn't. I think it is the only way this story could and should have been told. The characters came alive in my head, I could hear their voices, their accents and feel their awkwardness of their formative years.

Although not all funny, this book contains a level of grit and a sense of some of the struggles of that time, coming from a working class area and trying to do better for yourself. I cringed when reading this at some of the terminology that nowadays would be culturally unacceptable. However it was the 80's then, and that was how things were.

This book was brilliant and I loved every single word and every single page. I was sad to leave the characters at the end. I felt like I had truly gone back in time and could imagine myself right there at the centre of it all.

This book is going to be on the list of my favourites this year. The girl did good!


I was thrilled when Helen agreed to take part in a Q & A for the blog and you can see her answers below. I wish her every success with the book, and thank her for taking the time to visit us today.


1)      Where is your favourite place to write and is there any particular time that works better for you?

I prefer to write in bed and at night after I’ve had my dinner and a bath. The habit started when I wrote my first novel while working full-time so it was the only chance I had to write. Although I now only work part-time I still prefer to get into my jammies and stay cosy in bed to do creative writing rather than sitting at my desk (the base of an old Singer sewing machine with a pine top) where I spend office hours when I’m working from home.


2)      Where did the idea for Talk of the Toun come from?

The idea for the novel came from one of the assignments I did for my MLitt in Creative Writing. The task was to write a 4000 word A to Z on any topic with an average of around 153 words for each letter. I chose to write about the first 18 years of my life and felt that this assignment conveyed a strong sense of my writing voice.  After the course, I wanted to use some of these short pieces as a stimulus to write a fictional story of what it was like to grow up in the 1980s in a working class town in central Scotland.



3)      Are there any Characters that you would like to develop further in future, or a particular theme you would like to write about?

I see this book as a standalone coming-of-age story so I don’t feel a burning desire to follow any of the characters but who knows if that will change, especially if readers are interested to follow their next moves. The theme of identity and giving a voice to working class characters is definitely something which I plan to explore again in my next novel.


4)      Are you currently writing anything else?

I’ve made notes and written a few thousand words of a new novel. It’s set in the Lanarkshire town of Airdrie after the Scottish referendum result but with a local historical event related to the Leningrad Siege weaved into the narrative. Only time will tell if I follow the idea through and it becomes a full length novel but I’d like to give it a go.
          

5)      Which Writers inspire you?

 I admire authors such as Jackie Kay, Janice Galloway, Anne Donovan, to name but a few, I could go on but you get the idea, they are writers of Scottish contemporary fiction who bring the world I know alive and help me understand it better. I want to try to do the same, give a voice to Scottish working class characters that don’t often feature in fiction.
           

6)      Which book would you most likely give as a gift or recommend to other people?

 I kept a record of all the books I read last year and if I had to pick a favourite it would be The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer and so far this year it’s The Good Son by Paul McVeigh and I’d recommend both of these books as being well worth a read.

7)      Could you share with us something that other people don’t necessarily know about you?

I have two pet pygmy goats .They are twin boys named Jack and Victor after the characters from
            Still Game which is one of my favourite                     comedy programmes.


8)      If you could have written any book from the past, which would it be?

To have written a book that goes on to be described as a ‘classic’ and have people still talk about long after it was written must be an amazing achievement. Out of the modern classics I would love to have written Lord of the Flies by William Golding.


9)      What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to read and enjoy going to book festivals, theatre and art exhibitions. I love going on city breaks and try to visit a couple of new places each year to add another pin on my map of Europe. Apart from the goats, I have two working cocker spaniels and eleven chickens and I enjoy spending time with my pets.






10)   Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

Talk of the Toun published on 29th October can be ordered online from Amazon                                      http://amzn.to/1jtOvPu

I blog regularly at helenmackinven.co.uk and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @HelenMacKinven



       Thank you!


About the Author


Helen MacKinven writes contemporary Scottish fiction, with a particular interest in exploring themes such as social class and identity, using black comedy and featuring Scots dialect. She graduated with merit from Stirling University with an MLitt in Creative Writing in 2012. In her day job Helen MacKinven works with numbers, travelling all over Scotland to deliver teacher training in maths. By night, she plays with words writing short stories and developing ideas for her next novel. Helen's short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and literary journals, such as Gutter magazine. Originally from the Falkirk area, Helen now lives in a small rural village in North Lanarkshire with her husband. She has two grownup sons but has filled her empty nest with two dogs, two pygmy goats and an ever-changing number of chickens


Thanks for stopping by today, I would love it if you would visit some of the other stops on the tour.






Thursday, 15 October 2015

Around the World Blog Tour ~ Guest Author Hazel Gaynor


The Around The World Blog Tour is a partnership between TripFiction and #BookConnectors ~ bloggers and authors, travelling the world, through fiction.

TripFiction was created to make it easy to match a location with a book and help you select good literature that is most pertinent and relevant to your trip. A resource for armchair and actual travellers, it is a unique way of exploring a place through the eyes of an author. We blog, and chat books and travel across Social Media, and love to meet authors and bloggers as we take our literary journey.

Book Connectors  was created as a place on Facebook for Bloggers, Authors and small Publishers to share their news.We encourage book promotions; information about competitions and giveaways; news of events, including launch events, signings, talks or courses. Talk about new signings, about film deals .... anything really.

Book Connectors is  a friendly group, there are no rules or guidelines - just be polite and respectful to each other. 


I am delighted to have been paired up with Author Hazel Gaynor for the final stop on this month's tour of Ireland. 

Hazel kindly sent me a signed copy of her book, The Girl Who Came Home. I will discuss that below. There is also an exciting giveaway as well!

A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .
Ireland, 1912 . . .

Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.

Chicago, 1982 . . .
Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about Titanic that she's harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.

Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home poignantly blends fact and fiction to explore the Titanic tragedy's impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their 

My Thoughts:

Everybody has heard of Titanic, arguably one of the greatest maritime disasters of all time. There has been a lot of books written about it and a lot of films made, such is its importance in history.

I wondered whether another book about it, could bring anything fresh or new to the story but this one does. This book was written upon the centenary of the sinking in 2012. It was actually inspired by real events and real people. It tells the story of fourteen friends and family from Ireland who are wanting to travel to America to start a new life. 

This book has been written beautifully, with a poignancy and an accuracy. The attention to detail, makes life on the ship seem very real. It was a very moving read, as at the beginning you can sense the excitement of those aboard the ship. Little did they know the fate that awaited them a short few days later.

I also enjoyed the elements of the story where Maggie, a survivor tells her story to her Great Granddaughter Grace. A story that Maggie has kept locked up inside her, causing her much pain and sadness. 

Overall the book was truly wonderful, meticulously researched and I really enjoyed reading a different perspective on a disaster that we know so much about. I had little knowledge that so many people from Ireland set out that day for new lives, never to return home. I really recommend this one. I most definitely will be reading this author's other books.

About the Author:

Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME – A Novel of the Titanic (HarperCollins) was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller and winner of the 2015 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Romance Novel of the Year. Her second novel A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was also a NYT and USA Today bestseller and was selected by WHSmith Travel as one of their ‘Fresh Talent’ titles.

Hazel was chosen by US Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015 and was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers. She also writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for writing.ie and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Rachel Joyce and Cheryl Strayed, among others.

 Hazel’s third novel, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY will be published in the U.S., UK and Ireland in 2016. She has also contributed to WW1 anthology, FALL OF POPPIES – Stories of Love and the Great War, which will be published in March 2016.

Originally from East Yorkshire, Hazel has lived in Ireland for the past fourteen years. She lives in Kildare with her husband and two children and is represented by Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management, New York. 


Twitter: @HazelGaynor


Many thanks to Hazel for joining me for this stop of the Ireland Tour.

Finally, Hazel has very kindly and very generously provided a unique prize for one lucky winner. UK and Ireland only eligible to enter please. Entries from other places will not be counted. 

Hazel is giving the lucky winner the opportunity to have a signed copy of both of her novels, with some Irish Chocolates as well. I hope that I have tempted you enough above regarding THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, that you will enter.







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