Virtual Book Festival: Event 19 – writing in life’s difficult times by Christine Webber @1chriswebber.com #VirtBookFest #writing #books

Welcome to event number 19 at the Virtual Book Festival.  Today I’m delighted to welcome former TV news presenter, agony aunt, psychotherapist and writer, Christine Webber, to the festival.

Christine is taking a look at how real life issues can sometimes hinder the writing process but she also acknowledges how it can help during times of great stress.

 

So, over to Christine:

 When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

We all know about displacement activities that keep us from our keyboards:

  • I need to watch this TV drama – for research purposes
  • I better do something about those windows, they’re filthy
  • Perhaps I should get dressed before switching on the laptop
  • I’ll think I’ll just rearrange my CD collection in alphabetical order…

As writers, we also know that books or articles don’t appear by magic. At some point, the distractions have to be junked and we have to put some words down – rather a lot of them – on paper or a screen. It’s hard, but we do it.

But what happens when it’s not just delaying tactics getting in the way of our masterpiece, but major life events?

I remember hearing Margaret Drabble say that when her children were small, she usually had a baby on her lap while she was writing and had to reach her arms out over the top of that infant so that she could bash away at her typewriter on the table in front of her.

Motherhood is still a big deal when it comes to writing. As is holding down a full-time job, which so many really good writers have to do in order to pay the bills.

Then there are life’s reverses – a parent has dementia, our heart is broken, a child is being bullied at school, we move house and think we’re losing our sanity… These are tough times, but one might argue that they provide some of our best material. And the strange thing is that during these periods, we may find that though we cannot concentrate well enough to read someone else’s book, we have a strange compulsion, and ability, to carry on writing our own.

My biggest challenge came when David, my husband of thirty years, became terminally ill. I wanted to continue writing as it felt like the only normal thing that was happening. But I also wanted to spend most of my time caring for him as it became apparent that he was going downhill more rapidly than any of his doctors had forecast.

During those months, I was writing my novel It’s Who We Are, which has five leading mid-life characters and three locations, including the west coast of Ireland where David and I had had so many wonderful holidays.

At the beginning of his illness, he was still managing to continue his own work as a medical columnist, so our routine was not too altered, though there were loads of hospital visits, and scans, and blood tests to fit in. But during that period, I got the bulk of my first draft written. And I found that, actually, you can be more episodic in your writing habits than usual, and still complete a manuscript.

But around late summer 2017, David had to give up his last regular writing job – a weekly column he had had for fifty years – and began to spend many more hours a day in bed.

This was when the challenges mounted up, and people who have been through this will know what I mean when I say that my brain felt overwhelmed and overloaded with arranging carers, doctors’ visits, endless medication, trying to find food that would appeal and not take too much effort to eat and – most importantly of all – spending hours just talking together and celebrating the wonderful past we had had as we jointly planned David’s remaining future and my life after that.

Somehow though, writing was a thread that held together during that time, not least because my lovely husband was as supportive as he had always been. And what I found was that when I had no capacity to produce new material, my mind was capable – and indeed really enjoyed – editing.

And of course, those of us who are indie writers have a host of other activities to tackle in order to produce a book, so when we can’t summon up our creative juices, we can perhaps sort out our marketing ideas, or start planning a blog tour, or finalise a cover.

Somehow, It’s Who We Are was finished, and it came out in mid-January 2018, by which time my husband was terribly ill. But I had dedicated it to him, as I had all my previous books, and I was able to sign his copy, and put it into his hands. It was a poignant moment.

Now, seventeen months after his death, I am writing another mid-life ensemble novel.

It will not surprise you to know that one of my three protagonists is newly widowed. And I am sure that in many ways, I’m processing my own loss by attributing it to a character. We writers are so lucky, aren’t we, to be able to do that?

 

Anne: We are indeed fortunate in that respect, Christine. Thank you so much for sharing your, at times, moving thoughts on the difficulties but also the rewards of being a writer.

And now we have and extract from Christine’s book It’s Who We Are. I’ll let Christine introduce it.

It’s Who We Are

This, without any doubt, is my absolute favourite out of all the fiction and non-fiction I’ve written over almost four decades. It’s a story about identity and change, and it reflects the turbulence so many of us experience in mid-life just when we had assumed we would feel stable and secure. The novel takes place in Norfolk, where all the main characters were born, as well as in London and the west coast of Ireland.

And the plot centres on how often the demise of parents can lead to us discovering family secrets that shock us to the core. The surprise in this book is beyond what the characters, or indeed any reader, could ever imagine. And poses the question: do you really know who you are?

This segment is from a chapter near the end of the book. Philip and Wendy didn’t know each other at the start of the novel but as it has developed, they have become very good friends and she has been a huge support to him after a bad accident. They are in a hotel after leaving a party for her, which has been hosted by the other main characters at a house in Norwich.

 The two of them are chatting in the lounge and discussing their evening, and Philip takes the opportunity to outline a new business project to her, which Wendy responds to enthusiastically.

 

His smile broadened. ‘I knew you’d understand and run with it. Is it any wonder that I really, really love you?’

‘Well, I love you too, Philip. You’re a great person and a wonderful friend.’

‘No, but I mean, I love you!’

Wendy wrinkled her nose in puzzlement.

‘Do you understand?’ He pressed her.

She continued to look bewildered for a moment, then she raised her eyebrows as she considered a new option. ‘Do you mean, like, in italics?’

His face creased into the grin that she had become so fond of. ‘Yes, exactly. Not just as in “I love this smoked salmon drizzled with lime juice”.’

‘Mmmn, but that sounds really good! So, you mean you love me more than that?’

‘I do, actually. And in a rather lustful way.’

‘Lustful! But I’m sixty in…’ she looked at her watch, ‘forty minutes. Surely not? Are you drunk?’

‘Not at all.’

‘But do you really mean what you’re saying?’

He nodded. ‘Totally.’

‘Gosh!’

‘Are you surprised?’

‘Flabbergasted. I mean, we’re the two who’re well aware we’re hopeless at sex, and even worse at relationships.’

‘Perhaps we could try to push that assumption into the past tense?’

Her eyes glinted with fun. ‘Do you mean what I think you mean?’

‘I imagine so.’

She giggled. ‘Well, I’m game to give it a go, if that doesn’t sound too impossibly romantic!’ Leaning towards him, she planted a tentative kiss on his cheek. ‘Your room or mine?’

‘You choose,’ he said.

‘OK, mine. Here’s your stick. Can you manage the stairs, or do we need the lift?’

‘Do you mind if we take the lift? Sorry, but I want to conserve my strength.’ He sighed as he rose to his feet. ‘Wendy, I’m hardly love’s young dream.’

‘I’m the one who’s about to be sixty! We’ll just do our best, shall we?’

‘I might have to experiment to find a position where my ribs or my leg don’t hurt, or my wrist doesn’t give way!’

She took his arm. ‘If you don’t shut up you’re going to talk yourself out of this, just when I’m getting keen on the idea!’

You can buy It’s Who We Are here

 

Connect with Christine online:

Christine can be found tweeting on a wide variety of subjects @1chriswebber

She is also active within various book groups on Facebook including Books for Older Readers, Book Connectors and The Alliance of Independent Authors where she is a partner member.

 About Christine: 

Christine Webber originally trained as an opera singer but had to re-think her career plans when her voice professor commented: ‘Your voice is ok, but your legs are very much better!’
Musical theatre beckoned. There was some success. But not much.
However, eventually, in 1978, she became a news presenter for Anglia TV. At last she had found something she enjoyed that other people thought she was good at. It was such a relief that she stayed for 12 very happy years.

Next, she became an agony aunt for various publications including TV Times, Best, Dare and BBC Parenting. She also wrote a column for the Scotsman and one for Woman called Sexplanations.

During her ‘problem page’ years, she trained as a psychotherapist and started a practice in Harley Street which she shared with her late husband, Dr David Delvin. That experience greatly informed much of her writing.

She has written 12 non-fiction books including How to Mend a Broken HeartGet the Happiness Habit and Too Young to Get Old, and has broadcast extensively over the decades on mental health and relationship issues.

In 2016, she embarked on a fresh career as a novelist and has now produced three titles: Who’d Have Thought It?,  It’s  Who We Are and a re-written version of her first book published in 1987, In Honour Bound.

Following the death of her husband, she’s returned to live in East Anglia because that’s where most of her good friends are. Forthcoming projects there include hosting an arts awards ceremony, judging the non-fiction section of the East Anglian Books Awards and a number of talks to women’s groups. She has also become a Trustee for a charity that provides mentors for offenders, to support them when they leave prison.

Further afield, she has become an occasional presenter and interviewer for the Royal Opera House Insights Programme and recently had the honour of interviewing Royal Ballet star Gary Avis and Britain’s best-loved baritone, Sir Bryn Terfel.

Next month, she is presenting and producing a series of video podcasts about staying as young as possible for as long as possible. And, having recorded the audio version of one of her own novels, she has now been approached to narrate a couple of others.

 

 

 

 

In Honour Bound by Christine Webber @1chriswebber #BookReview #RomanticFiction #amreading

This is Christine Webber’s latest book and the third one of hers that I’ve reviewed. You can read my reviews of her earlier novels Who’d Have Thought It and It’s Who We Are here on the blog too. Just click on the book title to do so. I also interviewed Christine back in January this year and you can read that post here.

I very much enjoyed this author’s first two books, so it’s safe to say I thought knew what to expect with her new one. And yes, I did enjoy it. And yes, the writing and the storytelling were first class.

But the story content was quite different from its predecessors.

First of all, unlike Christine Webber’s first two books, In Honour Bound is not quite contemporary fiction. It’s set in the 1980s and this is when it was written and first published. This latest edition is a rewritten and revised version of the original.

The story is set in London and it tells of the intense and passionate love between TV reporter Helen and Egyptian, but London-based, heart-surgeon Sam. There are highs, lows, and several shocks along the way. And it’s an emotional and poignant read from start to finish.

I enjoyed being taken back to a time when I too – like the main character Helen –was in my thirties. I enjoyed the insights into how the live TV set up works and into what Helen’s working days involved.

But most of all, I loved being immersed in Helen and Sam’s story which is so beautifully told.

All in all a great read.

From the Back Cover:

Set in 1980’s London, Helen Bartlett, a popular TV news presenter and Sam Aziz, a glamorous middle-eastern cardiac surgeon, meet on a live programme. They dislike each other on sight, and the interview is a disaster. But that is not the end of their story because later that evening, they find themselves at the same dinner party. 
Over the weeks, hostility morphs into passion, and soon they fall desperately in love. 
Both are looking for the right partner with whom to settle down and produce a family. They seem made for each other; they delight in the joy that they have found, and plan to marry. But then, the differences in their cultural backgrounds start to manifest themselves. And a debt of honour that Sam cannot ignore returns to haunt him. 
Struggling with their torment, while she is so much in the public eye and he is performing life-saving surgery on a daily basis, places them under intolerable strain. 
Must they relinquish the most magical relationship either of them has ever known? Can they find a way out of their dilemmas? Or do they have to accept that no matter how modern we are, we cannot fly in the face of the traditions that served, and shaped us, for centuries?

In Honour Bound is available to buy here.

It’s Who We Are by Christine Webber @1chriswebber #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

ItsWhoWeAre_3Dcov (002)

An entertaining, interesting and satisfying read

As promised in my previous post where I interviewed author, Christine Webber, here is my review of her new novel It’s Who We Are.

From the back cover: Five friends in their fifties find themselves dealing with unforeseen upheaval as they uncover long-hidden and devastating family secrets. Meanwhile, the world around them seems to be spinning out of control. This is a novel about friendship, kindness and identity – and about how vital it is to reach for what enhances rather than depletes you.

My Review: As in her previous novel, Who’d Have Thought It, Christine Webber has produced a perfectly judged contemporary tale. The protagonists are in their fifties and linked to one another through friendship. All five of them are facing challenges some of which are age-related and some of which are simply related to what it means to be human regardless of age or stage.

The various challenges which drive the plot include supporting adult children, coping with ageing parents, facing up to divorce, beginning new relationships, managing the demands of work and facing up to getting older. Bu the overriding theme is the one of relationships, of the ties that bind – familial, romantic and friendship and how they inform a person’s identity.

The five main characters are a great mix. They are realistically drawn and they’re a diverse group but the reader cares about all of them.

This is a story that deals with all of life – its joys, sorrows and imperfections.

All in all it’s a lovely satisfying read.

Author Interview: Christine Webber @1chriswebber #amreading #MondayBlogs

I’m delighted to welcome author Christine Webber to the blog today to talk about her new contemporary novel It’s Who We Are, and about her writing in general. I read and very much enjoyed her previous novel Who’d Have Thought It? and I reviewed it here. And I will be posting a review of the new book here very soon.

Welcome Christine!

 

I was intrigued to see that there was a thirty year gap between your first novel In Honour Bound and your second one Who’d Have Thought it? What were you doing in between?

Christine: As those of us of a certain age know all too well, thirty years can disappear in a flash! I wrote my first novel when I was working as a news presenter for Anglia TV. I always meant to carry on writing fiction, but shortly afterwards, I left the company to pursue a new career in medical and social journalism – and somehow fell into becoming an agony aunt. I wrote columns for Best magazine, TV Times, The Scotsman, BBC Parenting, Woman, Dare, Full House and several others – not all at the same time though! Then I started getting work as a ‘relationships expert’ on TV programmes such as Trisha and The Good Sex Guide… Late. While this was happening, I decided to train as a psychotherapist – and I started my own practice. Meanwhile, Hodder commissioned my husband and me to write a book about orgasms (The Big O). This did quite well and led to my staying with Hodder and writing a whole range of self-help books.  Later, I penned titles for Piatkus and Bloomsbury. I knew I longed to write more novels. It just took a while to get on with it!

 

Why was fiction writing something you wanted to come back to – especially after such a long gap?

Christine: I kept having ideas for fiction, but life was so busy, and I felt I had to focus on work that actually paid me. In some ways I regret that now. On the other hand, my years of writing about relationships, and being a therapist, gave me great insight into how our minds function – which is useful when it comes to portraying characters realistically. And the decades of juggling broadcasting, health writing, newspaper columns, and therapy did provide me with a financial cushion which has enabled me to do what I do now. I know many other indie authors, who have had long-term careers before writing, feel the same.

 

 You write what could broadly be described as contemporary romantic fiction, but it’s definitely not chick-lit. Why do you go for older protagonists who are in their fifties and sixties?

Christine: I suppose it’s all about wanting to read material that mirrors our own experiences. And – like many other writers and readers of my vintage – I feel there is a lack of good stuff about the people we really are. I first tried to change publishers’ attitudes to the over 50s in 2009, when I was planning a guide for female baby boomers. I wanted to write about finance, locations, housing, beauty, friendship, romance and health – basically everything that needs to be considered if we are to age more vibrantly than people of past generations.

I had to change agents and publishers to get this book accepted. I was told constantly, ‘no one wants to read about older people!’ Anyway, I did get Too Young to Get Old published and now I have transferred my zeal for writing about the individuals we are – as opposed to out-dated stereotypes – into fiction. But I had to venture into indie publishing in order to do it.

 

Do you detect a growing popularity for this kind of multi-generational novel where middle-aged and older characters are at the centre of the action?

Christine: I really do. And I would urge interested writers and readers in mid-life to investigate the excellent new organisation – launched recently by Claire Baldry – called Books for Older Readers. We are a growing band. One might even say that we are creating a ‘genre’!  Check out the website:  www.booksforolderreaders.co.uk. The group is also active on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Describe for us your typical writing day.

Christine: I’d love to describe something scheduled and organised. But I’d be lying if I did. Like lots of people, I have constraints on my time, for family reasons. I also think it’s absolutely vital to get exercise, so that has to be worked into every day too. And, as every indie writer knows, the marketing and social media aspect of one’s ‘operation’ also has to be managed. In practice then, I tend to do correspondence and marketing in the morning. And try to leave two or three hours to write mid-afternoon. I also have a new resolution, which is to find half an hour after lunch for reading other authors’ novels. I need an expandable day, really! The other component that forms an essential part of my writing day is that I always play music while I work. And I invariably start each day with Mozart, who feeds my soul and sanity. There’s nothing like tapping into creative genius for getting your own grey cells into shape!

 

And finally, please do tell us a bit about your new book, It’s Who We Are.

Christine: It’s Who We Are is a contemporary novel. It’s very different from Who’d Have Thought It? which is essentially a romantic comedy. People do fall in love in the new book, and there are plenty of comedic moments too, but it’s a far more serious work than the last one. But then life is more serious than it was just a few years ago. Think back to the London Olympics – we don’t feel like the same country now, do we? And writing contemporary fiction seems to me to have to reflect that.

I have five main characters in this book, and they are all facing tremendous upheaval in mid-life. One of the women has decided to divorce her perpetually unfaithful husband. Another is coming to terms with widowhood and contemplating a change of career. Then there are three men – a rich business man who hates running the family firm and is trapped in a loveless marriage, a priest who is so intensely lonely that he feels people must be able to ‘smell it’ on him, and a larger than life freelance singer who’s in a panic about his ageing voice and the fact that he has no savings whatsoever.

Like many of us in our fifties, these individuals are amazed at how unsettled they feel just at a time when they had expected to be living a calm and stable existence. Thrown into the mix there are family secrets, which become uncovered as elderly parents die or become ill – and these cause all five characters to question who they really are.

Thank you, Christine. An interesting and thought-provoking interview. And I agree that, as in your books, life goes on in all its richness and complexity for all of us –  regardless of age.

 

It’s Who We Are is published on January 16th and will be available in bookshops throughout the country and on Amazon 

You can follow Christine on Twitter at @1chriswebber

Her website is www.christinewebber.com

 

And, as always, it’s over to you, the readers of this blog: Do you like reading multi-generation fiction and/or fiction where the main characters are middle-aged or older?

Book Review: Who’d Have Thought It? By Christine Webber

whod-have-thought-it

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

This book is packed with interesting characters. There are friends, lovers, and families and lots of entangled relationships between the individuals. The characters are so well drawn, it’s easy to imagine the book as a TV serial drama.

The story centres around GP Annie Templeton who finds herself single in her fifties when her long marriage comes to an end. Having to cope with an elderly parent who has dementia, a demanding job, grown-up but still needy children, and friends who need her support through their own life challenges take up a lot of her time and energy.

But in amongst it all she does long for a new partner to share her life with. However, it’s not easy and her quest has false starts, dead ends and surprises along the way.

Who’d Have Thought It? is bursting with warmth, humour and poignancy. It’s a story of mid-life in all its vibrancy, frustration, messiness and joy.

Type of Read: One to two sittings, snuggled up with wine and chocolate. Grown-up fiction for mature women for whom life is still full of love and surprises.

Back Cover Blurb: A year after discovering that her husband no longer loves her, Dr Annie Templeton wakes up with a sudden relish for singledom. However, she soon realises that being single in your fifties is very different from being single in your twenties. How, she wonders, do people of my age – with careers, adult children doing unwise things with unwise people, parents going gaga, and friends falling ill, or in or out of love – ever have the time and energy to find a new partner? Who’d Have Thought It? is a romantic comedy, which will make you laugh and cry – often at the same time.

Who’d Have Thought It? is published by On Call and is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Virtual Book Festival: Event 13 – Age Matters in Romantic Fiction #VirtBookFest #amwriting #amreading #romanticfiction

Books for Older Readers

Today’s event is a joint one. It’s a Virtual Book Festival event and it’s also part of a Blog Blitz which has been organised by author  Claire Baldry who set up and runs the popular Books for Older Readers (BFOR)  website and Facebook group.

Claire set up the group and the website as places to highlight books which had older/mature main characters and which would therefore most likely appeal to older/mature readers. In doing so she was responding to the fact that older/mature readers often seemed to be finding it difficult to find such books – even although she – and lots of other authors she knew of – wrote them.

The initiative has proved popular and successful in matching books to readers who describe themselves as no longer young and the group and website have lots of members/followers from both the reading and writing communities – including myself.

So I thought in today’s event I’d like to explore and share with you what the concept of books for older readers – both writing and reading them – means to me.

Age appropriate reading

The Publisher Definition

Publishing is an industry and like any industry it needs to make a profit to survive and so it goes where the money is and it targets its customers. Therefore authors of commercial fiction have to follow the rules and conventions of their genre. Two genres in particular are mainly defined by the age of their intended readership – and these are: children’s fiction and its age specific sub-divisions, and Young Adult fiction. But for most of the other genres it’s not age but content that defines them. It’s taken as read (pun sort of intended) that readers will be adults.

And for the most part that works. But sometimes age, and attitudes to ageing, does seem to be an issue – especially when it comes to romantic fiction – and most especially when it comes to female characters

My Author Perspective

When I first sought publication for my debut novel – Change of Life – in 2009, I got lots of nice, but encouraging, rejections. I was told there was no doubt I could write, I could tell a good story, the characters were well drawn.

BUT, they said, the fact that my two main characters were in their forties meant it wouldn’t work as romantic fiction. I was told I could possibly get away with having the male character in his forties but definitely not the female one. She would need to be under thirty-five for readers to find it realistic.

I disagreed. And I’m now the proud author of three successful, independently published (including that first one) contemporary romantic novels with main protagonists who are in their forties or fifties. It turns out there is a market for what are now sometimes classed as second-chance romances. And I should also point out my readership spans the ages – from people in their twenties to their nineties.

Having said that, I don’t want to rule out the possibility that I might in future write novels that have younger main characters, but what I am advocating is an open mind when it comes to age and main characters in romantic fiction.

My Reader Perspective

Unsurprisingly, one of the genres I most enjoy reading is contemporary romance.

And, even although I’m more of an autumn chicken than a spring one, I’m still quite happy to read books where the protagonists are young. This year alone I’ve read several superb romantic novels where the lead characters have been in their twenties and thirties. And there will be more about them and their writers later in the festival.

However, I also like to read books where the main characters are in their forties, fifties and beyond who continue to live full lives – and who are definitely not too old to fall in love, enjoy sex, and begin new long term relationships. And these can be harder to find.

And just as a wee side note, I must say it brings out the grumpy old woman in me when women – and it does mainly seem to be women – over forty are portrayed as past it, frumpy and baffled by technology.

Things Are Changing

However, things are changing. And, as is often the way in publishing nowadays, it is the indie publishers who have made a significant contribution to satisfying demand. Authors such as Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, and the aforementioned, BFOR founder, Claire Baldry, all write successful and first-class romantic fiction with older protagonists. And the big traditional publishers are at last catching up 🙂

But I think there is still a way to go in raising the profile of books with older protagonists or ageing-related issues at their heart. And that’s where groups like BFOR come in.

I don’t believe ‘older’ readers only want to read about ‘older’ characters, just as I don’t want to restrict myself to only writing about them, but I do believe life after thirty-five can be as challenging, surprising and rewarding as it was before – if not more so. So the lives of characters in the older age groups can provide fertile ground for all sorts of fiction. And surely having the full spectrum of adulthood – especially perhaps female adulthood – represented in fiction makes sense. After all the biggest group of book buyers is women over 45.

Age is just a number and is only one factor in our personalities and interests. It shouldn’t be a barrier to inclusion or enjoyment when it comes to our reading. And I’m hopeful things will continue to change for the better in that regard.

So, I’ll get down off my soapbox now and hand over to you.

What do you think about ageism in fiction? Is it something you’ve noticed or care about? And would you read/enjoy a novel where the romance happens between older characters? And, as I said, groups like the BFOR one are good for helping readers find books they’d like to read – so, where do you find your next good book?

Please do leave your comments below.

And please do come back to the festival tomorrow when, also as part of the BFOR Blog Blitz, I’ll be sharing an extract from one of my novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top 20 Books of 2018

Photo by Us Wah on Unsplash

A Year of Reading

As 2018 draws to a close so does another year of reading. I’ve read 60 books this year. Yes, I’m a keen reader. I guess most writers are. But even if I never wrote another word I’d still be a reader. I love how it can transport, educate and inspire me. I love how reading can delight me and make me think.

For this round up of my year in books, I’ve picked out my top 20 favourite books of 2018 – 5 non-fiction and 15 fiction. Most of the other 40 came close to making it on to the list but there were, inevitably, a few which I didn’t enjoy or which I didn’t finish. Reading is subjective after all – and one woman’s can’t-put-down is another woman’s don’t-care-what happens.

My Top 20 Books

So what have been the books that have transported, or educated, or inspired me this year? What books have made me laugh, or cry, or think? The list is in no particular order.

Non-fiction

Somebody I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell

 

When she was diagnosed with dementia at the age of fifty-eight, Wendy Mitchell was confronted with the most profound questions about life and identity. All at once, she had to say goodbye to the woman she used to be. Her demanding career in the NHS, her ability to drive, cook and run – the various shades of her independence – were suddenly gone.

Philosophical, profoundly moving, insightful and ultimately full of hope, Somebody I Used to Know is both a heart-rending tribute to the woman Wendy once was, and a brave affirmation of the woman dementia has seen her become.

How to be a Craftivist by Sarah Corbett

This book is a manifesto for quiet activism: how to tackle issues not with shouting and aggression but with gentle protest, using the process of ‘making’ to engage thoughtfully in the issues we are about, to influence and effect change.

Divided by Tim Marshall

We feel more divided than ever. This riveting analysis tells you why.

Walls are going up. Nationalism and identity politics are on the rise once more. Thousands of miles of fences and barriers have been erected in the past ten years, and they are redefining our political landscape.

Understanding what has divided us, past and present, is essential to understanding much of what’s going on in the world today. Covering China; the USA; Israel and Palestine; the Middle East; the Indian Subcontinent; Africa; Europe and the UK, bestselling author Tim Marshall presents a gripping and unflinching analysis of the fault lines that will shape our world for years to come.

Beyond Tribal Loyalties by Avigail Abarbanel

There is an expectation in Jewish communities that all Jews embrace Zionism and offer automatic, unquestioning support for Israel, “right or wrong”. Jewish identity and Zionism are commonly and deliberately blurred. Jews who criticise Israel are often vilified and excluded. By expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, they risk being branded as traitors and accused of “supporting the enemies of Israel”.

Beyond Tribal Loyalties is a unique collection of twenty-five personal stories of Jewish peace activists from Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom & the United States.

The Biography of Story by Trish Nicholson

An entertaining cultural history and a highly original take on the power of stories in societies past and present. Trish Nicholson brings us a unique interweaving of literature and history seen through the eyes of storytellers, making a fascinating journey for general readers and students alike. From tales of the Bedouin, to Homer, Aesop and Valmiki, and from Celtic bards and Icelandic skalds to Chaucer, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Scott and Chekhov, some of the many storytellers featured will be familiar to you; others from Africa, Asia and the Pacific may be fresh discoveries.

Fiction

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas

Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name.

Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th-century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins.

But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?

 

Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell

Gavin and Emma live in Manhattan. She’s a musician. He works in Artificial Intelligence. He’s good at his job. Scarily good. He’s researching human features to make more realistic mask-bots – non-human ‘carers’ for elderly people. When his enquiry turns personal he’s forced to ask whether his own life is an artificial mask.

Delving into family stories and his roots in the Highlands of Scotland, he embarks on a quest to discover his own true face, ‘uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been’.

A novel about the struggle for freedom and personal identity; what it means to be human. It fuses the glass and steel of our increasingly controlled algorithmic world with the memory and straw of our forebears’ world controlled by traditions and taboos, the seasons and the elements.

Face the Wind and Fly by Jenny Harper

Love, loss and family life against the background of a controversial project that fractures the whole community. She builds wind farms, he detests them. Can they ever generate love? After fifteen happy years of marriage, Kate Courtenay discovers that her charismatic novelist husband is spending more and more of his time with a young fan. She throws herself into her work, a controversial wind farm that’s stirring up tempers in the local community. Sparks fly when she goes head to head against its most outspoken opponent, local gardener Ibsen Brown – a man with a past of his own. But a scheme for a local community garden brings the sparring-partners together, producing the sort of electricity that threatens to short-circuit the whole system.

The Long Walk Back by Rachel Dove

Does everyone deserve a second chance?

As an army trauma surgeon Kate knows how to keep her cool in the most high pressure of situations. Although back at home in England her marriage is falling apart, out in the desert she’s happy knowing that she’s saving lives.

Until she meets Cooper. It’s up to Kate to make a split-second decision to save Cooper’s life. Yet Cooper doesn’t want to be saved. Can Kate convince him to give his life a second chance even though it’s turning out dramatically different from how he planned?

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns

Jane Austen meets Zane Grey
The American West, 1867. After a stagecoach wreck, well-bred bookish spinster, Annie Haddon, (product of mustn’t-take-off-your-hat, mustn’t-take-off-your-gloves, mustn’t-get-hot-or-perspire Victorian society) is thrown into the company of cowboy, Colt McCall – a man who lives by his own rules and hates the English.
Can two people from such wildly different backgrounds learn to trust each other? Annie and McCall find out on their journey across the haunting, mystical landscape of the West.

Somewhere Beyond the Sea by Miranda Dickinson

Can you fall in love with someone before you’ve even met?

Seren MacArthur is living a life she never intended. Trying to save the Cornish seaside business her late father built – while grieving for his loss – she has put her own dreams on hold and is struggling. Until she discovers a half-finished seaglass star on her favourite beach during an early morning walk. When she completes the star, she sets into motion a chain of events that will steal her heart and challenge everything she believes.

Jack Dixon is trying to secure a better life for daughter Nessie and himself. Left a widower and homeless when his wife died, he’s just about keeping their heads above water. Finding seaglass stars completed on Gwithian beach is a bright spark that slowly rekindles his hope.

Oh Crumbs by Kathryn Freeman

Abby Spencer knows she can come across as an airhead – she talks too much and is a bit of a klutz – but there’s more to her than that. Though she sacrificed her career to help raise her sisters, a job interview at biscuit company Crumbs could finally be her chance to shine. That’s until she hurries in late wearing a shirt covered in rusk crumbs, courtesy of her baby nephew, and trips over her handbag.

Managing director Douglas Faulkner isn’t sure what to make of Abby Spencer with her Bambi eyes, tousled hair and ability to say more in the half-hour interview than he manages in a day. All he knows is she’s a breath of fresh air and could bring a new lease of life to the stale corporate world of Crumbs. To his life too, if he’d let her.

But Doug’s harbouring a secret. He’s not the man she thinks he is.

Isobel’s Promise by Maggie Christensen

Back in Sydney after her aunt’s death, sixty-five year-old Bel Davison is making plans to sell up her home and business and return to Scotland where she has promised to spend the rest of her life with the enigmatic Scotsman with whom she’s found love.

But the reappearance of her ex-husband combined with other unexpected drawbacks turns her life into chaos, leading her to have doubts about the wisdom of her promise.

 

In Scotland, Matt Reid has no such doubts, and although facing challenges of his own, he longs for Bel’s return.

Can this midlife couple find happiness in the face of the challenges life has thrown at them?

The Many Colours of Us by Rachel Burton

Julia Simmonds had never been bothered about not knowing who her father was. Having temperamental supermodel, Philadelphia Simmonds, as a mother was more than enough. Until she finds out that she’s the secret love-child of the late, great artist Bruce Baldwin, and her life changes forever.

Uncovering the secrets of a man she never knew, Julia discovers that Bruce had written her one letter, every year until her eighteenth birthday, urging his daughter to learn from his mistakes.

As Julia begins to uncover her past she also begins to unravel her future. With gorgeous lawyer Edwin Jones for company Julia may not only discover her roots but she may just fall in love…

The Perfectly Imperfect Woman by Milly Johnson

Marnie Salt has made so many mistakes in her life that she fears she will never get on the right track. But when she ‘meets’ an old lady on a baking chatroom and begins confiding in her, little does she know how her life will change.

Arranging to see each other for lunch, Marnie finds discovers that Lilian is every bit as mad and delightful as she’d hoped – and that she owns a whole village in the Yorkshire Dales, which has been passed down through generations. And when Marnie needs a refuge after a crisis, she ups sticks and heads for Wychwell – a temporary measure, so she thinks.

A novel of family, secrets, love and redemption … and broken hearts mended and made all the stronger for it.

The Winter that Made Us by Kate Field

When Tess finds herself unexpectedly alone and back in Ribblemill, the childhood village she thought she’d escaped, she’s sure she can survive a temporary stay. She’s spent a lifetime making the best of things, hasn’t she?

Determined to throw herself into village life, Tess starts a choir and gathers a team of volunteers to restore the walled garden at Ramblings, the local stately home. Everything could be perfect, if she weren’t sharing a cottage and a cat with a man whose manner is more prickly than the nettles she’s removing…

As winter approaches, Tess finds herself putting down her own roots as fast as she’s pulling them up in the garden. But the ghosts of the past hover close by, and Tess must face them if she’s to discover whether home is where her heart has been all along.

It’s Who We Are by Christine Webber

Five friends in their fifties find themselves dealing with unforeseen upheaval as they uncover long-hidden and devastating family secrets. Meanwhile, the world around them seems to be spinning out of control.
The events of It’s Who We Are take place between October 2016 and June 2017, against a backdrop of all the political uncertainty and change in the UK, Europe and America.
The story is set in East Anglia, London and Ireland, and is about friendship, kindness and identity. Most importantly, it highlights how vital it is to reach for what enhances rather than depletes you.

One Thousand Stars and You by Isabelle Broom

Alice is settling down. It might not be the adventurous life she once imagined, but more than anything she wants to make everyone happy – her steady boyfriend, her over-protective mother – even if it means a little part of her will always feel stifled.

Max is shaking things up. After a devastating injury, he is determined to prove himself. To find the man beyond the disability, to escape his smothering family and go on an adventure.

A trip to Sri Lanka is Alice’s last hurrah – her chance to throw herself into the heat, chaos and colour of a place thousands of miles from home.

It’s also the moment she meets Max.

Alice doesn’t know it yet, but her whole life is about to change.

Max doesn’t know it yet, but he’s the one who’s going to change it.

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

A retired couple, Gerry and Stella Gilmore, fly to Amsterdam for a midwinter break. A holiday to refresh the senses, to see the sights and to generally take stock of what remains of their lives. But amongst the wintry streets and icy canals we see their relationship fracturing beneath the surface. And when memories re-emerge of a troubled time in their native Ireland things begin to fall apart. As their midwinter break comes to an end, we understand how far apart they are – and can only watch as they struggle to save themselves.

Gift Horse by Jan Ruth

Caroline Walker’s daughter suffers a horrific riding accident. Her distraught parents wonder if she’ll ever walk again, let alone ride. And when Mollie’s blood group is discovered as rare, her husband offers to donate blood. Except Ian is not a match. In fact, it’s unlikely he’s Mollie’s father.

Eighteen years previously, Caroline had a one-night stand with Irish rock star, Rory O’Connor. Caroline fell pregnant. Deeply flawed boyfriend, Ian, was overjoyed. And Caroline’s parents were simply grateful that their daughter was to marry into the rich, influential Walker family.

Caroline turns to Rory’s friend Connor; and although his almost spiritual connection with his horses appears to be the balm she needs, Caroline cannot forget Rory, or her youth – both lost to a man she never loved.

Eighteen years on and after surviving cancer Rory lives as a virtual recluse in the Welsh mountains. Through his well-meaning but interfering sister, he is shocked to discover he has a teenage daughter. Or does he?

As the truth begins to unravel, Caroline finds herself faced with a complex trail of moral dilemma.

Snow Angel by JJ Marsh

December in a small Devonshire village is the perfect time for a Yuletide festival, a Narnian wedding or a murder.
Now retired, Beatrice is working on a book, planning a wedding and pretending she doesn’t miss the cut and thrust of Scotland Yard.

When a local celebrity dies in suspicious circumstances, Matthew encourages Beatrice to do some private investigating. Her enquiries reveal more than predicted and she discovers even her nearest and dearest are capable of deceit.

A snowstorm hits the village and Beatrice chases a lead, throwing everyone’s plans into disarray and threatening lives. The ancient forest conceals a primeval web of complex loyalties and lethal bonds.

Angels protect their friends. But destroy their enemies.

That’s it!

 

All the books above are available in a selection of formats and can be bought online and in book shops. And , of course, it’s always worth asking at your local library.

Have you read any of the above books? If so did you enjoy them too? What would your top read/reads be for 2018? Feel free to comment below.

The Genre Conundrum Part 3: Age and other issues in Romantic Fiction #amwriting

Read Me
Photo by Us Wah on Unsplash

When I was looking for a literary agent and publisher for my first novel, Change of Life, nearly ten years ago, one of the rejection reasons I was given was the age of my main characters. I was told nobody wanted to read a romance where the prospective couple were in their late forties and especially where they had to deal with awkward teenage children and cope with one of them falling seriously ill. It seemed realism was out and hearts and flowers happy-ever-after romanticism was in.

Things have moved on a bit since then. There are romantic novels, where difficult issues are included in the story. However, romance does still seem to be dominated by the ‘Cafe in the Seaside Village’ type stories with their matchstick female figures on their pastel-coloured covers. But even although the covers are clichéd, and the stories follow a formula, they can be very enjoyable in a hearts-and- flowers, young love, happy-ever-after sort of way.

But it seems to me that romantic fiction with older lead characters is still in the minority – even although the biggest part of the population in the UK is over fifty. I don’t believe it’s because people don’t want to read such novels and I think maybe the big publishers are missing a trick here.

I should also say before going any further that what follows is merely my impression and  my opinion. It isn’t based on any scientific research.

And my final disclosure is one of vested interest – I am 61 and three-quarters years-old.

Oh and PS – I should also say that I’m in no way anti romantic fiction with young main characters. I’ve recently read and thoroughly enjoyed three excellent  romances with protagonists in their twenties and thirties. These were June Kearns two historical romances: The Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy and The 20s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz. And my most recent read is Kate Field’s The Magic of Ramblings which truly is magic – and poignant and beautiful.

But I also enjoy reading about older characters falling in love. I like romances where the protagonists are in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond. And I like a bit of realism. I like to see the prospective couple facing up to the issues, complications and challenges that come with age. I like it when there are several generations of a family involved in the story.  And I like to see there’s hope and fun and love to be had by us all – regardless of age.

Authors in other genres – crime for example – have created hugely successful older lead characters. There’s Detective Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Novels and there’s the wonderful Vera in the series by Ann Cleeves – to name just two.

And there are some fabulous romance writers who are  nailing it in this regard. Books by Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, Gilli Allan and Hilary Boyd spring to mind. Do check them out if you like more mature, romance-plus fiction. You’ll be in for a highly enjoyable read with any of their books.

Which brings me to the age of the readers of books – I don’t as an author aim for a particular age group. I have young and old readers. Indeed my children’s novel The Silver Locket seems to have been read by as many, if not more, adults as children.

I don’t get the impression that Crime or Sci-Fi or Fantasy are particularly appealing to one narrow age group – Harry Potter is not just read by children, and I’m guessing the Outlander books appeal across the adult age range to those who like the genre.

Why should romance be any different? Although I do get that someone in their twenties might not want to read about people the age of their parents/grandparents falling in love and you know… But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and it doesn’t mean that older readers shouldn’t be able to read romances centred around people their age.

So I suppose what I’m saying is let’s have romantic fiction that’s a bit more relaxed about age, a bit more inclusive.

As a writer I enjoy writing about characters nearer my own age, facing up to life-changing challenges and dealing with all sorts of issues – as well as finding themselves falling in love. Other writers prefer writing about younger characters regardless of their own age.

As a reader I enjoy all sorts of romances and other genres too – and the characters ages are incidental – what matters to me is that it’s a good story, well told, and with a satisfying resolution.

And in conclusion – I’m no further forward with nailing this genre thing – but it’s been fun thinking and writing about it. I know my books aren’t chick-lit or ‘pure’ romance. But I don’t think ‘love-at-the-last-chance-cafe-for-the-chronologically-challenged-with-baggage’ classification is going to work.

Help!

As always please do leave your thoughts and comments below.

26 Books in 2017: Book 26 examples of excellence in self-publishing

The last book in the 26-books-in-52-weeks challenge has to be a self-published book. I’ve read many first-class self-published books, so as has been common throughout this challenge, I won’t be choosing just one.

First of all in the interests of full disclosure – I myself am a self-published author – or to use more up-to-date terminology I’m an indie-author.

But call them what you like – self-publishers, or author-publishers or indie-publishers – such authors are a growing presence in the world of publishing.

I would also say don’t be put off reading a book that is indie-published. Yes, there are some poor quality ones that have not been professionally produced, but there are also many diamonds.

The best indie-publishers have a completely professional attitude towards their books. It’s a given that they must be good at their craft. But they will also usually hire an editor and a proofreader at the very least, and sometimes both a book and a cover designer as well. Indie authors have to be commercially minded, they are in effect running a small business. So they will also have to spend time marketing, seeking reviews, and generally building up and communicating with their loyal readers.

So, below, in no particular order, I’ve listed some of my favourite indie-published books:

First of all three novels in the romance-plus genre (definitely not chick-lit):

  • Midnight Sky by Jan Ruth the first in a wonderful series of three. This author’s Wild Water trilogy is also well worth a read. 
  • Who’d Have Thought It? by Christine Webber. This was a most enjoyable story and Christine has a new book out in January.
  • The Good Sister by Maggie Christensen. This is the latest novel by this prolific Australian author. It’s a truly heart-warming read.

Then in crime fiction:

  • Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh the first in the marvellous Beatrice Stubbs series of detective novels set all over Europe and so amazingly original and entertaining.

And finally in historic fiction:

 

And that’s it – book(s) number 26 brings the challenge to an end. Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the trouble to read, comment on and publicise these posts.

 

So for one last time in this challenge, it’s over to you.

  • Does it matter to you how a book has come to be published?
  • If you haven’t tried an indie-published novel then has this post maybe encouraged you to try one?
  • If you have read a book from this category, what did you think of it?

 

Good Reads and Independent Booksellers

Two main reasons for this post: It’s  Independent Booksellers Week in the UK (20th to 27th June 2015) and I’ve only done one book review so far this year.

It’s not that I haven’t been reading. I’ve read more books than usual since January. I’ve just not made time to get the reviews done. Apart that is from my (ahem – modest cough) prize-winning review of JJ Marsh’s Cold Pressed which I posted here.

So now seems like a good moment to flag up the best of the rest of the books-read-so-far in 2015 and to ask that if you’re tempted to buy any of them, you perhaps consider going to your local independent bookshop and making your purchase there. Even if they don’t stock the book they’ll be able to get it in for you. Independent bookshops offer a real booky atmosphere and a personal touch and they need booklovers to use them. (Yes, I’ve included Amazon links but only so you can find out more about the books before you go out and buy them 🙂 )

I should also mention that my two local bookshops have just agreed to stock my novels and I appreciate their support very much. Let’s hear it for Tippecanoe and for Aros.

To keep it manageable I’m doing mainly brief reviews. The books are an eclectic mix, fiction of several genres, non-fiction, bestsellers and lesser-knowns, established and debut authors.

And so here they are – my five star reads for 2015 so far:

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Torn by Gilli Allan: A contemporary romance-plus novel – no gush or slush – believable, flawed, three-dimensional characters, vividly drawn setting and not one, but two expertly crafted will-they-won’t-theys. An evening or  bedtime curl-up read. [Accent Press]

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Get the Happiness Habit by Christine Webber: (only available as e-book so not one for the book shop) Self-help book on how to improve your emotional wellbeing. Easy to read, practical down-to-earth advice on how to improve your optimism levels and to recognise daily moments of happiness. Focuses on taking exercise, practising altruism, developing an inquiring mind, building resilience, maintaining a social network – in the real world as well as online, finding soul-feeding moments, for example through mindfulness or meditation or just going for a walk or listening to music, adopting a stoical view of life and taking time to care for ourselves. All sensible and doable. [Bloomsbury Reader]

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Us by David Nicholls: It’s David Nicholls so hey, I was expecting an entertaining read. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a contemporary story of midlife crisis and re-evaluation told in first person by husband and father Douglas. His marriage is failing and his relationship with his teenage son is fraught. The holiday he hopes may set things right doesn’t go to plan. This is a sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, always brilliant story of a guy whose good intentions pave a chaotic path. [Hodder & Stoughton]

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: Contemporary thriller.  The story is told through the eyes of Rachel, Megan and Anna. Rachel is the girl on the train, commuting to work, fantasising about the people she sees from the train window, but then the fantasy becomes a much more challenging reality, a scary, tense and engrossing reality involving all three women. This is a gripping read – a definite page turner. great twists and storytelling. [Doubleday-Transworld]

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: I quickly followed up reading this book by reading its sequel The Rosie Effect. Both are great. Narrated by main character Professor Don Tillman, both books tell of life as experienced by Don, a brilliant geneticist looking for and failing at romantic love.  He also happens to have Asperger’s syndrome. His unique take on human relationships leads him to set up a project to find a wife. Against all odds it succeeds and the two books follow his finding Rosie and later marrying her. Both books are charming, witty, funny, highly original and are just sublime storytelling. [Penguin]

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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: This book, published twenty years ago, is a writing manual – except it’s not. Oh sure it has lots of good advice for writers about facing the blank page, about getting started, persevering, getting support and getting published, but it’s also about so much more. It’s really a sort of wry look at life in a way – in that a lot of Lamott’s advice can be applied generally and not just ti the act of writing. It’s warm, instructive and wise.

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Killochries by Jim Carruth: This was a first for me. I’ve never read a verse-novella before. Carruth is a prize-winning Scottish poet. He was poet laureate of Glasgow last year. This slim wee volume is stunning – brief and beautiful. It tells a redemptive story of two men, distant relatives, both very different from one another. One an atheist poet, the other a bible quoting, stoical Christian. They are forced by circumstances to live together for a year on the older man’s somewhat bleak farm but as they do so they gain a mutual respect and a renewed perspective on life. [Freight Books]

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In the Shadow of the Hill by Helen Forbes: There’s an Ann Cleeves meets Ian Rankin and Kate Atkinson vibe going on here – fans of crime fiction will know what I mean by this.  This book is not just any old crime fiction, it’s Tartan Noir crime fiction, and it’s set in the Hebrides –  so before I even started reading this book it was already ticking important reading boxes for me. This is the author’s first novel and I can’t wait for the next one. It’s starts in Inverness on a slow burn and gradually picks up pace until after several clever, unforeseen twists it reaches its exciting conclusion on the island of Harris. The characters are believable and well fleshed out, especially the main character of DS Joe Galbraith who is both flawed and likeable. I definitely look forward to getting to know him as well as I know Jackson Brodie and John Rebus. [ThunderPoint Publishing]

Bella's Betrothal

Bella’s Betrothal by Anne Stenhouse: (only available as ebook) This is a historical romance and it’s set in Georgian Edinburgh. And with this novel I’d say we’re sort of in Jane Austen meets Bridget Jones territory. But as well as the history and the will-they-won’t-they romance, there’s also a mystery at the heart of this novel. It’s an enchanting story and the author gets the tension level just right. There’s a great cast of characters from Bella’s good friends and her lovely aunt and uncle to her horrid mama and menacing pursuer. Being an Edinburgh native, I loved all the references to places I know and was impressed by the author’s attention to the details of the city’s development as its New Town was being established. Best of all though was Bella herself. Bella is no wimp. She’s resilient and feisty in the face of scandal and suffering and in the face of a real threat to her personal safety. She makes informed choices and she does what’s right even when it puts her at risk.  [MuseitUp Publishing]

So there you have it. What’s your favourite read of 2015 so far? And which independent bookseller do you support? Please do reply below.