Thursday, 14 July 2016

** BLOG TOUR ** Dandy Gilver & A Most Misleading Habit by Catriona McPherson

I am delighted today to be taking part in this blog my thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy and to the author for writing a fantastic piece that gives us an idea about the thought processes behind the story. My review will posted within a week or so, so please do check back for that. 

Scotland, 1932. Aristocratic private investigator Dandy Gilver strikes again with her witty sidekick Alec Osbourne to solve sinister goings on at a convent on a bleak Lanarkshire moor. 

The convent was set alight following a mass breakout at a neighbouring psychiatric hospital on Christmas Eve, resulting in the death of the mother superior. Most patients were returned safely but a few are still at large. . . 

As Dandy interviews each nun in turn she senses a stranger is still lurking in the corridors at night - could they be the same person who left blood-red footprints in the sacristy? 

Welcome to the blog Catriona:

Behind the scenes . . . unsuitable for nervous viewers ;-)

 Dandy Gilver and A Most Misleading Habit is out today. It’s beautiful (thank you again, Hodder & Stoughton) and I’m delighted to give a wee skelp on the behind and send it off into the world.

But I want to acknowledge that it nearly did for me on the way.

It’s mostly set in a fictitious convent and orphanage – St Ultan’s – on the Lanark moor, with some scenes in a nearby insane asylum. There are twenty nuns and fifty orphans in residence in St Ultan’s. Dandy’s task is to solve the mystery of the Christmas Eve arson attack in the convent chapel, during a break-out from the asylum, which left one nun dead. Part of this task is making sure that everyone – all twenty identically-habited nuns – was where she said she was while the fire was raging.

And maybe that’s why someone told me recently that I’m a planner, not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser. He didn’t ask me. He stated it as revealed truth.

I managed not to collapse into hysterics. Because the fact is I’m a total pantser. I get a germ of an idea (e.g. NUNS!) and start to write, no clue whodunit or what they dun, or why, or how it’s going to be discovered. I just sidle up to the characters and join in with their lives, listening and typing. It’s a system that’s worked for fifteen years, ever since I wrote Dandy’s first case

But sidling up to those twenty nuns, some of whom were keeping secrets and all of whom were trying to protect the good name of their order, broke my system into tiny little shards.  I mean, look at the floor plan of the nuns’ cells. Even I know it’s like an illustration of a nervous breakdown:

So I admitted defeat, and, for the first time ever, I made a character chart showing everyone’s name, her job (within the overall category of “nun”, I mean), the page she was first introduced, the page she was first described, and leaving two columns where I could mark off whether she’d been interviewed and whether she’d told her whole story and/or if Dandy believed she had and/or if the reader was supposed to think she had.

I just asked my husband if showing this chart would constitute a spoiler. I wish you could have seen the look he gave me. What he said was: “Are you implying that anyone else in the world could make head or tail of that? Seriously? Okay.” It was patronising, but the guy’s got a point.

And I thought for a while the Sisters were going to scupper another cherished aspect of my writing process. I like to work with photographs of my characters propped up on my desk so I can commune with them. How it goes is about a third of the way into the first draft, once I know who they are and what they look like, I go searching for pictures of them, then cut the pictures out and stick them to card. Old magazines and newspapers are good hunting grounds. I had a Women Who  Dare diary one year, with black-and-white portraits of scientists and explorers and all kinds of pioneers. Many of those brave and brilliant women served as the faces of characters before the diary was reduced to tatters and thrown away.

But where was I going to find pictures of twenty nuns from the 1930s? They didn’t go in for much press attention. The cogs turned and the gears ground for a while but eventually I twigged that I didn’t need pictures of nuns. That the habits were the same for them all and Dandy would only ever see an oval of face framed by a wimple. Or – on my desk-top writing tool – a piece of white card.

 In a funny way, the fact that I could only see their faces made me commune with them all even more intensely than usual. And those misleadingly identical habits turned out to be a great plot device too.  

About the Author:

Catriona McPherson was born in the village of Queensferry in south-east Scotland in 1965 and educated at Edinburgh University. She left with a PhD in Linguistics and spent a few years as a university lecturer before beginning to write fiction. The first Dandy Gilver novel was short-listed for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger 2005 and the second was long-listed for the Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year Award 2007. In 2012 DANDY GILVER AND THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS was nominated for a Historical Macavity Award. Catriona writes full-time and divides her time between southern Scotland and northern California.

Thanks for visiting the blog today and please have a look at the other stops on the tour.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

** BLOG TOUR ** Fell by Jenn Ashworth

Thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Fell by Jenn Ashworth today. It is published in Hardback by Sceptre on 14th July 2016.

When Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home on the edge of Morecambe Bay, she despairs: the long-empty house is crumbling, undermined by two voracious sycamores. What she doesn't realise is that she's not alone: her arrival has woken the spirits of her parents, who anxiously watch over her, longing to make amends. Because as the past comes back to Jack and Netty, they begin to see the summer of 1963 clearly, when Netty was desperately ill and a stranger moved in. Charismatic, mercurial Timothy Richardson, with his seemingly miraculous powers of healing, who drew all their attention away from Annette... 
Now, they must try to draw another stranger towards her, one who can rescue her.
Blurring the boundaries between the corporeal and spirit worlds and subtly echoing the myth of Baucis and Philemon, this is an eerily beautiful, evocative and highly original novel, which underlines the eternal potency of hope.

My Thoughts:

Fell is the first book that I have read by Jenn Ashworth. There are times in my reading life when I order the back catalogue and then keep my eyes peeled for any further books that might be forthcoming in the future and this author has certainly caused me to do this. Her writing is quite simply sublime. This book also looks beautiful, the lettering looks like it is subsiding like the house that Annette returns to.

To be honest I wasn't entirely convinced that I would like this book, preferring to steer away from the supernatural. I can say however that I adored it. It is a little bit weird, but weird in a good way.  It has a rich and ethereal quality to it. The words danced off the page as shadows would do off of the walls of the eerie house of our story, a house called The Sycamores. Annette is returning to the house in the hopes of selling it but her parents spirits are around to try and look after her. I got the impression that they were watching from the window sill. The house is falling apart and adds to the bleak atmosphere that oozes from the pages and the cracks of the walls.

There are sections about Annette's mother and her illness, I found these sections incredibly well written and moving. We also meet another character called Timothy Richardson who becomes a Lodger for Jack and Netty. He is said to have healing powers, can he cure Netty?

I would say that this is a story of loss and loneliness, about feeling set adrift and left neglected. There is no let up from the haunting feeling and the location has been used perfectly to aid in the telling of the story. There are some questions in this story that remained unanswered. That sort of fade away like the voices of Jack and Netty floating on the breeze.

The language in this book ebbs and flows as does the story. The time frame shifting backwards and forwards. Steeped in mysticism and mythology, I felt like there was a continual chill in the air whilst reading. The writing is poetic and at times sparse.

I want to think of so many clever things to say, to convey to  you how much I love this book but it is an experience that you need to immerse yourself in. It is for you to become interwoven with the enchanting quality of it. Such an accomplished novel in so many ways. If you like to read something out of the ordinary but ultimately rewarding then let it be this one.

About the Author:

Jenn Ashworth was born in 1982 in Preston. She studied English at Cambridge and since then has gained an MA from Manchester University, trained as a librarian and run a prison library in Lancashire. She now lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Lancaster. 

Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, was published in 2009 and won a Betty Trask Award the following year. In 2011 her second, Cold Light, was published by Sceptre and she was chosen by BBC's The Culture Show as one of the twelve Best New British Novelists. In 2013 her third novel, The Friday Gospels, was published to resounding critical acclaim. 

Please do have a look at the other stops on the tour:

Monday, 11 July 2016

** BLOG TOUR ** Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent

Published by Penguin on 14th July 2016. My thanks to the author and the publisher for having me on the blog tour.


Lydia Fitzsimons lives in the perfect house with her adoring husband and beloved son. However, there is one thing Lydia desperately yearns for to make her perfect family complete, and nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants…

Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons are on the surface an upstanding couple in the community. He is a judge and she is, although a little reclusive a housewife. They have a son called Laurence, but Lydia has always wanted more children. One fateful night a young girl called Annie is murdered by the Fitzsimons. You would imagine here that I have given something remarkable about the plot away but when you consider the opening sentence which is fantastic, it becomes clear that I haven't.

"My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it".

The murdered girl is buried in their back garden and what ensues is a gripping and sad story of domestic noir. A tale that had me on the edge of my seat, well if I am honest on edge altogether. I think this book is clever and well written. The author has managed to create a host of flawed characters and unreliable narrators. This is where the biggest skill of the story lies for me. The development of these characters and the paths they take and their thought processes proved insightful and at times frightening. 

Told in mainly narrative from Lydia (who by the way I found absolutely terrifying!), Laurence and Karen, this gave the story real voices and an authenticity that I found very realistic. The author managed to create a darkness around the mansion where the Fitzsimons lived and it created a bit of a Gothic feel, the darkness seemed to spread from the house and seep into their souls. 

Laurence was intriguing to me, he had a naivety about him and a slight innocence of nature. I think this is more to do with his upbringing and it is here that I began to realise the effects humans can have on one another without the other person realising it. 

Gripping and shocking, what frightened me most about this book is the lack of remorse. It is really excellent and I sped through it such was my need to get to the bottom of things. 

This book has left me with much to think about. There are thoughts of what happens when the events of our childhoods have repercussions in adulthood and it is also a story of a Mothers love and how far someone is prepared to go to protect the ones they love. It is also a story of truth and lies, cat and mouse and a story of control. 

Addictive reading, I would definitely recommend it. 

I am delighted to welcome Liz on the blog today as she has written a guest post on Opening Lines of which hers is fantastic. Thanks for visiting Liz!

Intriguing Opening Lines

I was not the best student in my school days but some things made it through the Sun-In dyed hair and registered in my cerebral cortex! When we started reading Pride & Prejudice, our teacher pointed out the opening line as a perfect example of how to start a novel:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

I agreed and began to note great opening lines when I came across them. A few years later, I discovered Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude and it’s opening:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

And then my particular favourite from Iain M. Banks’ The Crow Road:
It was the day my grandmother exploded.

All of these openers, although quite different, made me want to continue reading the book. They all suggested that something was going on. These lines raised questions that needed to be answered.

About ten years ago, I thought of an opening line for a story. I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her. I carried the line around in my head for about a year before I wrote it down. I didn’t know who was speaking, I didn’t know if it was a male or female voice and I didn’t know why he/she had hit her. Eventually, I got around to writing down the line and continued to write.
After a week, I had a full short story that I entered into a competition. It was shortlisted but didn’t win any prizes. Afterwards, I realised that within that short story, I had still never explored why he (‘I’ was now a middle-aged man) had hit her and I realised I still had questions to answer. I continued that short story until I had a novel- Unravelling Oliver.
The real challenge was to live up to that opening line. If you are going to grab the reader by the throat, you need to hold them there until the last page. I had to keep twisting the story, to confound expectations. There isn’t one big twist in the story, just a series of surprises and revelations that should keep readers interested.

When I began to write Lying in Wait, I knew I needed an attention grabbing opening line, as Unravelling Oliver’s had been quoted so much. In the first draft of the book, Laurence was the main character and he began by saying ‘We were all liars in our family, but Mammy was the best liar of all.’ But in the drafting and redrafting process, I realised that Lydia needed to be the main character and so I had to come up with a line that would be consistent with her character, that would seize the reader’s attention, and would make the reader want to read on. I toyed around with it. Originally, the line was: ‘Technically, it was manslaughter’, but that didn’t tell me enough about the character, so I cut that line completely and the second line became the first line ‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it’. Now, we have an idea of what kind of person we’re dealing with. She is ruthless and feels superior. Does the reader want to know more? I hope so!
I was very pleased when Penguin Random House put the line on the front cover!

Thanks Leah, for giving me the opportunity to write about this! x

About the Author:

Liz Nugent has worked in Irish film, theatre and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Her first novel, the No 1 bestselling Unravelling Oliver, won the Crime Fiction award in the 2014 Irish Book Awards. She lives in Dublin with her husband.

Please do have a look at the other stops on the blog tour where there will be other reviews and more:

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

** BLOG TOUR ** Buy Buy Baby by Helen MacKinven

Buy Buy Baby is published by Cranachan on 7th July 2016. My thanks to them and the author for inviting me on the blog tour and sending me a review copy.

Set in and around Glasgow, Buy Buy Baby is a moving and funny story of life, loss and longing. 

Packed full of bitchy banter, it follows the bittersweet quest of two very di fferent women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby.

 Carol talks to her dog, has an expensive eBay habit, and relies on wine to forget she’s no longer a mum following the death of her young son. 

Cheeky besom Julia is career-driven and appears to have it all. But a fter disastrous attempts at internet dating, she feels there is a baby shaped hole in her life. 

In steps Dan, a total charmer with a solution to their problems. But only if they are willing to pay the price, on every level…

My Thoughts:

I am thrilled to be reviewing Buy Buy Baby today, I was on the blog tour for Helen's debut novel Talk of the Toun last year. I reviewed it and had a very interesting interview, if you like you can see that here.

Sometimes the second novel from an author disappoints, never quite matching the excitement of discovering someone for the first time. I can actually say the opposite is true in this case. I preferred this novel way more.

From the outset this novel has a much more contemporary feel to it, whilst still maintaining the writing style that is unique to this author. I found this story to be bold and moving and some interesting themes have been tackled very well and have been handled with an expert touch.

Julia seems to be more about style and material items. Fiercely independent, she has a great job, nice home and designer clothes. On the surface she could be accused of caring more about labels than anything of substance. She isn't happy though, she wants a baby and it would seem that it is these instincts that she pursues at every waking moment.

Carol's son Ben died two years ago, she is still grieving and vulnerable. She has come a long way with moving forward with her life but she thinks another child might bring her the happiness again that she so craves. We get to read some of her story via her journal entries and I found these the best sections of the story.

Dan arrives on the scene with seemingly the solution to both of the ladies problems, but life is rarely that simple.

The author has managed to write a highly emotive story that is shot through with her now trademark wit and humour. An interesting story that tackles themes including grief, motherhood, abuse and many others. It also struck me that life isn't always what we think has been mapped out for us. I found it to be an interesting look at the desires and what drives women to the desperation of wanting a baby. I think it is also an interesting question as to whether these particular characters feel the way they do because they feel there is some sort of expectations of them. 

A thought provoking read that would garner much discussion, I really recommend it.

About the Author:

Helen MacKinven writes contemporary Scottish fi ction and graduated with merit from Stirling University with an MLitt in Creative Writing in 2012. Her short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and literary journals, such as Gutter magazine. Helen’s debut novel, Talk of the Toun, was published by ThunderPoint in 2015. Helen blogs at and you can find her on Twitter as @HelenMacKinven

Please have look at the other stops on the blog tour:

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley

This book was published by Quercus on 19th May 2016. I have read it as part of their Summer Reading Book Club. Many thanks to them for sending me a copy.

Cuba, 1958. Elisa is only sixteen years old when she meets Duardo and she knows he's the love of her life from the moment they first dance the rumba together in downtown Havana. But Duardo is a rebel, determined to fight in Castro's army, and Elisa is forced to leave behind her homeland and rebuild her life in distant England. But how can she stop longing for the warmth of Havana, when the music of the rumba still calls to her?
England, 2012. Grace has a troubled relationship with her father, whom she blames for her beloved mother's untimely death. And this year more than ever she could do with a shoulderto cry on - Grace's career is in flux, she isn't sure she wants the baby her husband is so desperate to have and, worst of all, she's begun to develop feelings for their best friend Theo. Theo is a Cuban born magician but even he can't make Grace's problems disappear. Is the passion Grace feels for Theo enough to risk her family's happiness?
My Thoughts:
I enjoyed this book so much, a senuous and absorbing story set against the sizzling backdrop of dancing and Cuba. Past and present have been merged seamlessly in this evocative story of current loves and past loves, and those loves that never ever fade. 
The author has skilfully managed to bring the sights and sounds of Cuba to life, I could almost imagine myself walking around the markets and absorbing all that is going on around me, listening to the music and watching the dancing. You can tell that there was a real passion for the area from the way this story was written. Cuba hasn't been without its struggles though and I think that this has been portrayed well.
This story manages to merge 1950's Cuba with current day England and the dual narratives overlap. In my personal opinion it is Eliza's story that I cared for. I was willing her to get her happy ending so much. Grace's story whilst intriguing didn't captivate me quite as much. Although inextricably linked Grace and Elisa are at very much different stages in their lives. They are more similar than they think though, they both want the opportunity to take chances and find their ultimate happiness.
A story of love and friendship. Also a story of families and decisions that they make. It is also about dancing and its transformative and healing powers. 
This story has been written with as much soul as the countries where the stories are located. A beautiful read, that managed to hold me captivated. I will certainly be looking up the authors previous novels. 
About the Author: 
Rosanna Ley has written numerous articles and stories for magazines. A long-time creative writing tutor, she now runs writing holidays and retreats in stunning locations in the UK and abroad. When she is not travelling, Rosanna lives in West Dorset by the Sea. Last Dance in Havana is her fifth novel. 
Twitter: @RosannaLey

Sunday, 3 July 2016

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I'm Thinking of Ending Things was Published on 30th June 2016 by Text Publishing. My thanks to Alice Dewing of FMcM Associates for my review copy.

You will be scared. But you won’t know why…

I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.

Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.

In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin,
 I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.  

My Thoughts:

This quite frankly is one of the most disturbing books I have read, it is clever in its structure and it takes you in a choke hold and spits you out as the final pages rattle by. 

This is one of the more difficult reviews to write because I genuinely can't tell you all that much about the plot without spoiling it or influencing you in some way. Twisted and scary, I can assure you that I didn't sleep well last night. 

Primarily what I can tell you about the plot is that Jake and 'The Girlfriend' are off on a road trip to visit his parents. The journey and the route drive the narrative and enables a tension to build up throughout. The trip is a bit bizarre as is the return journey. The return leg involves a stop off at a Dairy Queen and a school and it is here that things turn the weirdest yet. Interspersed are small fragments of a different story about a terrible event that has happened. That is all I can tell you....

This book has been billed as Psychological Horror and I would agree with that description, it is unflinching whilst being sparse. This story plummets to depths that I haven't read before and the tautness of the prose lead me to gulp at the end and wonder what on earth just happened. At first I didn't understand the ending, after thinking about it now I do and everything that went before makes sense. There were clues and signs along the way of course that now make sense.

This book is short at just over 200 pages but it packs one hell of a punch, I hurtled through it, such was my need to find out the ending. It was gripping and horrific at the same time. When you have to look but know you shouldn't.

This book is an examination of ones identity, and of desire and longing. It is about things not being quite as they appear set against a backdrop of horror and sadness. 

I was scared witless and it was quite simply brilliant.

About the Author:

Iain Reid is the author of two critically acclaimed, award-winning books of nonfiction, One Bird's Choice and The Truth About Luck, which was one of Globe and Mail's best books of 2013. Reid’s work has appeared in a variety of publications throughout North America, including The New Yorker, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post. In 2015, he received the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is his first novel.