New Book

Out Now

Yes, at last it’s here! My new novel Settlement is now available. It’s the book I never planned to write – the sequel to Displacement. I thought I’d told all of Rachel and Jack’s story but readers of Displacement told me no. They insisted there was more to tell. And they were right. So much so – I’m now planning the third and final – yes final – part of this unexpected trilogy.

And, although it’s a sequel, I’ve written it so it can be read as a standalone – but of course I’d love it if people read both.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending more time with Rachel and Jack and their families and friends. I hadn’t realised how much I missed them and I can’t wait to get cracking on the final instalment.

 

So what’s it about?

Falling in love is the easy bit. Happy ever after requires work, commitment and honesty.

She wants him to be her friend and lover. He wants her as his wife. Can a compromise be reached? Or are things truly over between them?

When former Edinburgh policeman Jack Baxter met crofter and author Rachel Campbell at her home on the Scottish island of Skye, they fell in love. It was a second chance at happiness for them both.

But after Jack proposes marriage, it becomes clear they want different things.

Then, as Rachel prepares to return to the Middle East to work on a peacemaking project that’s close to her heart, and as Jack’s past catches up with him, it seems their relationship is doomed.

Can Rachel compromise on her need to maintain her hard-won independence?

Can Jack survive the life-threatening situation in which he finds himself?

Will they get the chance to put things right between them?

If you like a complex, grown-up romance with lots of raw emotion, dramatic and exotic settings, all mixed in with some international politics and laced with elements of a crime thriller, then this is the book for you.

Availability:

Settlement is available online as a paperback and as an ebook or, if you prefer, your local bookshop should be able to get it for you.

Online links:

Amazon UK Kindle

Amazon UK Paperback

Amazon US Kindle

Amazon US Paperback

Isobel’s Promise by Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

This book is one of several books I read while on holiday in Australia. I actually read most of it on the long flight home to Scotland – which was slightly weird but very fitting considering where the book is set. And not only is one of the best books I read on holiday, it’s one of my favourite reads of the year so far.

 Back Cover Blurb

A promise for the future. A threat from the past. Can Bel find happiness?

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.

But when an unexpected turn of events leads him to question Bel’s sincerity, Matt decides to take a drastic step – the result of which he could never have foreseen.

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

A sequel to ‘The Good Sister’, ‘Isobel’s Promise’ continues the story of Bel and Matt which began in Scotland

If you enjoy reading about strong women who have learned to live and love in later life, you’ll love Maggie Christensen’s books.

 My Review

Isobel’s Promise is the sequel to The Good Sister which I also very much enjoyed. But even if you haven’t read the first book this new one works well as a standalone. Although I have to say I’d recommend reading the first one too.

The novel is set in Sydney Australia, and in Glasgow and the Loch Lomond area in Scotland – and these settings provide the perfect backdrop to the story.

The plot is nicely balanced – not only between the two countries in which it takes place, but also between the differing points of view of the two main characters – Isobel and Matt. The reader is on both their sides – and is kept wondering if and how they will ever be able to resolve the problems and difficulties that stand in the way of them being together.

But it’s the characters who really make this book a page-turner. Isobel and Matt are in their sixties but they are not in any way stereotypically old. They are warm, likeable and flawed. They have full lives, families and friends who need them, and are open to new experiences – including falling in love. And they look forward – not back.

So, if you’re a fan of a good romantic story and you agree that age is neither a protection from, nor a barrier to, falling in love – then get this book. You’ll love it.

I was lucky enough to be given a pre-publication copy to read and was asked to give an unbiased review.

Isobel’s Promise is available to pre-order online and will be published as a paperback and as an ebook on the 2nd of August 2018.

Here a few links:

Amazon UK

Amazon Australia

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

The Homecoming by Rosie Howard @RosieHowardBook #BookReview #MondayBlogs #amreading

The Homecoming

This was a most enjoyable read. The Homecoming is a first-class example of intelligent, contemporary and credible romantic fiction.

From the Back Cover:

Maddy fled the idyllic market town of Havenbury Magna three years ago, the scene of a traumatic incident she revisits most clearly in her dreams. Even so, when she is called back to help at the Havenbury Arms when her godfather Patrick suffers a heart attack, she is unprepared for the welter of emotions her return provokes. Psychologist and ex-army officer Ben is sure he can help Maddy to resolve her fears, until he finds himself falling for her, and struggling with a recently uncovered family secret of which Maddy is blissfully unaware. Then Maddy’s mother, Helen, arrives and Patrick himself must confront a few uncomfortable truths about his history and the pub’s future.

My Review:

This was such a good read. The two main protagonists, Maddy and Ben, despite being relatively young (she’s in her 20s and he’s in his 30s), have enough life experience for their approach to any sort of romantic relationship to be realistic. They are also portrayed in way that gets the reader on their side and to care about how things will turn out. I also liked the supporting cast of characters who were also well drawn by the author. And it was good to see the older characters – Maddy’s mother and her godfather Patrick – being presented in a realistic way.

The story is engaging with just the right blend of jeopardy, mystery and things at stake to keep the reader hooked.

If you’re looking for a heart-warming holiday read, this book definitely fits the bill.

My only minor gripe is the ending felt slightly too abrupt. I wanted a bit more of a sigh and a wallow. Maybe there needs to be a sequel…

The Homecoming is currently available as an ebook and is available to preorder as a paperback due out on 19th July 2018. The Homecoming by Rosie Howard @RosieHowardBook #BookReview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Smash All the Windows by Jane Davis @janedavisauthor #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Smash All the Windows

This novel is contemporary literary fiction at its best. It has humanity, emotion and a great story at its heart.

From the back cover:  
It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of fiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art. Written with immediacy, style and an overwhelming sense of empathy, Smash all the Windows will be enjoyed by readers of How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall and How to be Both by Ali Smith.

My Review:

This is a wonderful book. It has resonances with real life disasters and what happens afterwards. It’s a tribute to the human capacity to survive and heal and to the power of love that endures after death.

The story deals with the aftermath of an accident on an escalator on the London Underground. It tells of the traumatic effects on some of the victims and their loved ones. The author gradually draws you into each character’s story and she does it with such sympathy, empathy and insight that it makes for a gripping and emotional read. I liked how the grieving process was so honestly portrayed as messy and unpredictable and, at times, all-consuming. The characters couldn’t move on while they waited years for the revised official ruling into what caused the accident. But then even after that happens, comes the realisation that grief doesn’t conveniently stop. And this is portrayed quite beautifully.

A thought-provoking, poignant and uplifting read.

Smash All the Windows is available as a paperback and as an ebook.

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   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.

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns @june_kearns #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

What a great story! This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. It was one of those books where you want to get to the end to see how it all plays out, but you also don’t want it to end because you know you’re going to miss it.

From the back cover:

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.

My Review:

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is a romantic novel with a difference – at least it was for me. I’ve never read a romantic story set in nineteenth century America’s Wild West before. Indeed, before reading this, I would have said a Western setting wouldn’t have interested me. But having read a couple of reviews I was intrigued enough to give it a go. I’m so glad I did.

The main characters were vividly and convincingly drawn.

First of all there’s Englishwoman, Annie Haddon, who is tougher than she knows. The reader can’t help but root for her as she faces extreme adversity and danger following the crash of the stagecoach in which she is travelling. Her courage, her ability to stand her ground, and the way she copes with the cruelty dished out to her by her family, all keep the reader on her side.

And then there’s Colt McCall, a handsome and charismatic cowboy with an interesting and mysterious past, who comes to Annie’s aid. All I can say is – what’s not to love?

The rest of the characters form a strong supporting cast. There are Annie’s relatives – her cruel aunt and her horrible cousin. There’s Annie’s revolting suitor, and there’s a magnificent Sioux scout. They, along with various army personnel and saloon girls, all add interesting detail to the story – detail that is sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous and sometimes sad.

The descriptions of the landscape bring the setting to life – along with the details about clothing and culture.

So everything is well set up by the author for this most intriguing, will-they-won’t-they tale. And she certainly delivers. Yes, indeed – what a great story!

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is published by New Romantics Press and is available here as an ebook and as a paperback.

Read All About It: Writing News

writing desk
Photo by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

It’s some writing news of my own for this week’s post.

Bring on the rewrites

My next book is now with my editor and I’m braced and ready for the rewrites that will inevitably be required. I always think I’ve polished my writing until it cannot be improved before I send it off, but then I get the editor’s comments and realise it’s not perfect after all.

However, I do enjoy the editing process. I like the constructive criticism and I love to see how my writing is improved by rewriting. And even when I don’t at first agree with suggested changes I almost always see that the editor is right after I’ve slept on it.

I call my editor the Alchemist because he takes the base manuscript and gives me the means to turn it into writing gold (she says modestly).

Sequel challenges

Some of you already know that this new book entitled Settlement is the sequel to my most recent novel Displacement. I’ve never written a sequel before and it’s a slightly different process to writing a standalone book. Continuity and consistency in relation to the first book is vital and so is having the story make sense to people who haven’t read the first one without boring those who have. I think I’ve managed it, but I’m sure my editor will pick me up on any failures there.

Next job for Settlement will be cover design. I have a few ideas and will be discussing them with the cover designer very soon.

Next up

And while I await the editorial feedback, I intend to sketch out the third and final part of this series of books and to make some notes for my next children’s book. So, no, there will be no slacking at the writing desk.

Writing conference

However, I will get some time away from the desk this weekend as I’m heading off to the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW). I always enjoy this conference – a whole weekend of workshops, networking and meeting up with writer friends, as well as the announcement of the SAW writing awards for the current year. And the food’s always good too.

I’ll report back on how the conference goes in my next post. Until then I’ll leave you with a question: Do you like reading sequels and/or novel series or do you prefer standalones?

 

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas @OlgaWojtas #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Entertaining, eventful, erudite

This debut novel by Olga Wojtas is impossible to confine within one genre as it both kicks against and embraces quite a few of them. It is part crime, part comedy, but there are also elements of thriller, fantasy and sci-fi along with historical and romantic. All I can suggest is a new genre of olga-fic.

Back Cover Summary: “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?”

My Review: This book is brilliantly written, completely original and as far as my reading goes it’s unique. The main character, Shona, is well-educated and knowledgeable on many topics, she’s eccentric, kind-hearted, morally upright, brave and stoical – but she’s also utterly lacking in perception when it comes to understanding her fellow human beings and is completely bonkers.

I don’t know if the timing of the release of this novel is a coincidence or not, as this year is the centenary of the birth of author Muriel Spark, and there are currently many events going on in her home city of Edinburgh to celebrate her life and writing. And probably Spark’s most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is set in the fictional Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls in Edinburgh.

Coincidence or not, I love d how Olga Wojtas has taken this fictional school and made it Shona’s alma mater –  and that’s she also made Shona fiercely proud and protective of her former school’s reputation and extremely resentful of what Spark did, as she sees it, to trash that reputation.

The plot centres on the time-travelling mission given to Shona by her school’s founder and is a mad and clever mix of fact and fiction. The supporting cast are hilarious. I especially loved Old Vatrushkin, a most endearing serf. And Shona’s complete lack of understanding of what’s actually going is also very amusing.

I enjoyed, too, Shona’s attempts to introduce elements of Scottish culture to her Russian friends, the Burns supper and square sausage being just two examples.

I would however advise against reading this book on public transport. I read part of it while on the train and did get some funny looks from fellow travellers as I smiled and nearly choked on stifled laughter.

This novel really is the crème de la crème or rather, as Shona would prefer, cremor cremoris

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar is available as a paperback and as an ebook and is published by Contraband.

Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell @ aonghasphadraig #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Insightful, magical, truthful writing

Memory and Straw is yet another wonderful book from Angus Peter Campbell. It’s magical and it’s beguiling and it’s a book to be savoured as you read.

 

Back Cover Description: A face is nothing without its history. 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. He returns to England to look after his Grampa. Travels. Reads old documents. Visits ruins. Borrows, plagiarises and invents. But when Emma tells him his proper work is to make a story out of glass and steel, not memory and straw, which path will he choose? What s the best story he can give her? 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.

 

My Review: Gavin, the narrator, is a scientist working in the very precise world of nanotechnology. His work and his twenty-first century lifestyle means that, like many people nowadays, he inhabits both the virtual online world and the real world.

As he undertakes his latest work project, he finds himself increasingly making comparisons and links to how, in the past, there was a different sort of virtual world, a world of magic and fairies. He concludes that whereas now the internet offers insights and solutions into how we should live our lives, in the past it was the supernatural world that did so offering as it did visions, spells and rituals.

As work and home pressures build to intolerable levels for Gavin, he decides to take some time out and to delve into his ancestry and heritage. He hopes by doing so that he’ll find a clearer idea of who he is and of his place in the world. As he carries out his quest, he finds the lines between past, present and future becoming increasingly blurred but he also comes to terms with where and how he fits in.

There’s a dreamlike quality to Campbell’s writing. His use of language to describe setting and people is exquisite. The plot is fragile. It has to be, but it’s like a spider’s web in its flimsiness. It has coherence and purpose and, for the reader, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and just go with it.

This is a book to transport you, to fully immerse yourself in and to take your time with. It’s an insightful and rewarding read.

 

Memory and Straw is available as a hardcover print book and as an ebook. It is published by Luath Press.

 

Bad Apples by JJ Marsh @JJMarsh1 #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Bad Apples

A satisfying, delightful, engaging read

Regular readers of my book reviews will know I’m a big fan of crime writer JJ Marsh. So my expectations were high when I came to read Bad Apples, the sixth and final book in the DI Beatrice Stubbs series. My high expectations were more than met but I was also gutted that this was to be Beatrice’s last case. However this meant I savoured it all the more.

 

Back Cover Blurb: Acting DCI Beatrice Stubbs is representing Scotland Yard at a police conference in Portugal. Her task is to investigate a rumour – a ghostwritten exposé of European intelligence agencies – and discover who is behind such a book.

Hardly a dangerous assignment, so she invites family and friends for a holiday. Days at the conference and evenings at the villa should be the perfect work-life balance.

Until one of her colleagues is murdered.

An eclectic alliance of international detectives forms to find the assassin. But are they really on the same side?

Meanwhile, tensions rise at the holiday villa. A clash of egos sours the atmosphere and when a five-year-old child disappears, their idyll turns hellish.

From Lisbon streets to the quays of Porto, Parisian cafés to the green mountains of Gerês, Beatrice realises trust can be a fatal mistake.

 

My Review: As in the previous books, Bad Apples has Scotland Yard detective, Beatrice Stubbs, working alongside police colleagues in Europe. This time the setting is Portugal and as always, JJ Marsh’s writing style ensures the reader really feels they’re there. The cities of Porto and Lisbon along with the Portugal’s mountains are all vividly brought to life with small details capturing so much.

There are two plotlines – one domestic and personal, and one criminal. The supporting cast are wonderful as always including old and loved characters as well as some new ones. And Beatrice is at her lovable and quirky best and still uttering those mixed metaphors of hers such as ‘ears to the grindstone’, ‘long in the hoof’, and ‘a dustman’s holiday’.

The action begins quietly enough with Beatrice, close to retirement and having been promoted to Acting Chief Inspector, preparing to attend a European police conference in Portugal. And for this final working trip, she has decided to combine work with pleasure. So whenever she’s free she intends to join her partner, the wonderful Matthew, and other family and friends at a villa they’ve rented in the Portuguese hills. But it’s not long before there’s a murder and some other sinister events which not only require Beatrice and her colleagues to investigate crime rather than attend seminars, but also threaten the safety of Beatrice and those close to her. Yes, all the usual ingredients of a DI Stubbs plot are there and the story is told with all JJ Marsh’s usual flair. The writing is clever, original, witty and warm and the twists and turns are far from obvious. And the end if both fitting and satisfying.

And so it’s farewell to Beatrice, and here’s hoping she enjoys a long and happy retirement. I’ll miss her. *

 

All the books in this series including Bad Apples are available in paperback and ebook formats and are published by Prewett Publishing. They are also available as two e-book box sets of three.

*PS: adding this to original post. JJ Marsh has been in touch and assured me that although Beatrice has retired, her adventures will continue and three more books are planned. Hurrah!