Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival – Introduction #books #reading #writing

I Love Book Festivals

I’ve attended many book festivals here in Scotland over the years. My first one was the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) back in the 1990s and it’s one I’ve revisited several times since. And having just received the fabulous programme for this year’s EIBF I can’t wait to make a return visit in August. At the other end of the scale in the sense of festival size and budget is the Skye Book Festival held on the Scottish island of Skye which I have attended both as a visitor and as a guest author and is another favourite of mine. And there have been several others all around the country that I’ve loved visiting.

You Can’t Please All of the People

However, recently I was disappointed when the 2019 programme for one of those other festivals was announced and I couldn’t find a single event I wanted to attend. I guess this was mostly due to the fact that there were very few fiction writers on the bill (less than ten percent of the total) and they were from the literary end of the spectrum. The line-up consisted mainly of well known people from television and journalism and yes, some of them have written fiction and some would be attending to talk about their novels. But many of the events weren’t even about books.

Now I should say, I have nothing against an actor, comedian or journalist writing a book – fiction or otherwise – I’ve read and enjoyed many such books. I also get that for book festivals to survive the economics dictate that getting well-known folks from any walk of life to take part helps sell tickets. But for there not to be a single writer of genre fiction – bestseller or otherwise – included in the line up seemed really odd – especially as this festival has always included them in the past.

So in amongst the yoga, live music, celebrities and topical debates I couldn’t find any book events that were just about a good book and its writer. But it’s a thriving book festival and long may it continue. Due to personal taste I won’t be going this time but there’s always next year…

Welcome to my Virtual Book Festival

But all of the above got me thinking. Dangerous I know! And I found myself wondering – if I was organising a book festival that I’d want to go to – who and what would I include? And then I thought I could organise my own book festival – a virtual one here on the blog. So that’s what I plan to do.

Dream Team Line Up

Authors from across the genres will make up most of programme but I also want to include industry professionals like editors and designers, as well as representatives from author organisations, the book-blogging community and book-centred social media groups.

Festival Format

All of the above folks will have their own events/posts where they’ll speak about their work – the books they’ve either written, reviewed,or helped to produce – or the support they offer to authors. And the best thing for visitors is you won’t need a ticket and you can visit whenever it suits you. Events will begin to appear here soon and the festival spots will run until September. So watch this space…

Over to you

What do you think of real-world book festivals? Do you attend any? Do you have a favourite? What do they get right? Feel free to comment below.

 

Does Childhood Reading Still Matter?

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Do kids still read stories or is it all about the screen now?

My seven-year-old granddaughter like so many children nowadays likes her daily allowance of screen time. On the tablet she shares with her sibling she watches movies, YouTube channels and also plays games.

BUT she is also a keen reader of books – something that gladdens this reader’s, writer’s and former teacher’s heart.

In fact having graduated from picture books to those with chapters she’s recently become a proper little bookworm. And her parents are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand for more and more books.

The benefits and joys of reading

While I sympathise with the parents, I feel even more for my granddaughter in her pursuit of reading material. I too was a keen reader from the moment I could decode print. Reading was my passion and my pastime of choice – it still is. Reading fuelled my imagination and inspired me to write my own stories – and it still does.

For all ages and stages in life, book reading educates and stimulates, but it can also provide comfort and escapism. It worked for me, for my children, for my school pupils, and in my (not so humble) opinion book reading is as important now as it has always been.

Access to books

As a child I was fortunate to have a library within walking distance of my home. My granddaughter – like so many children now – is not so lucky. So this got me thinking.

I can’t do anything to improve library access, but I can buy books. So I’ve set up Grandma’s Book Club (GBC). And the way it works is once a month I buy a book or two for my granddaughter – and for her wee brother, who’s also developing bookworm tendencies – and I post them from here in Scotland to my grandchildren in Australia. GBC is proving popular and it means that much of my video-call time with my granddaughter is taken up with book talk – which is so lovely.

Old classics and contemporary stories

At first I picked the books and hoped for the best that they’d be enjoyed. Some have been by authors my children (and former pupils) enjoyed back in the day, and some are much more recently published. It’s encouraging to see there still remains plenty of choice. And feedback received seems to suggest I’ve chosen well. My granddaughter has enjoyed reading about children engaged in pastimes and sports she hasn’t yet experienced, she’s enjoyed and been informed by how children can deal with problems and setbacks, and she has been inspired to ask questions and seek out information.

And lately I’ve also started receiving specific book requests – most recently for books in Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series. This made me smile as, like so many others over the years, Enid Blyton’s books formed a large part of my own early reading material.

And it got me thinking about the books that made the biggest impression on me during my primary school years (age 5 to 12) and whether my granddaughter would like them too. It also had me reminiscing about how much they meant to me at the time – and still do. And I was delighted to find that, like Blyton’s books, some of them are still available today.

Long live childhood reading

So it’s safe to say I do think childhood reading matters. It matters because of the reasons stated above and it matters because it opens children’s minds to possibilities, to connections with the past present and future. And it matters for its own sake – it’s just so mightily marvellous!

What do you think?

PS: I know I haven’t mentioned e-readers versus paper books (especially for children) but that would take up a whole other post. For this post all I’m on about is the importance and enjoyment of childhood reading in general with particular reference to paper books. But feel free to offer your opinion on this below.

PPS: Do you think book reading remains important and relevant for today’s children? Or do you think that online pursuits are taking or will take over for good or ill? Please do comment below.

My Top 10 childhood favourites

And to finish I thought I’d share my own ten favourite childhood reads from back in the pre-historic era – and here’s hoping at least some end up on my granddaughter’s  list.

Mallory Towers (series) by Enid Blyton

Famous Five (series) by Enid Blyton

The Mystery of … (series) Enid Blyton

Heidi (and sequel) by Johanna Spyri

What Katy Did (series) by Susan Coolidge

Jill and the Perfect Pony by Ruby Ferguson

Ballet Shoes by Noel Stratfeild

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Little Women (series) by Louisa May Alcott

Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

And finally

What about you? Would you say you were a childhood bookworm? What would your Top Ten childhood reads be?

A Single Woman by Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #RomanticFiction #BookReview #amreading

Maggie Christensen Does It Again – Another Great Read

I’m very fortunate to have been given a pre-publication copy of A Single Woman, Maggie Christensen’s latest novel. It will be published on the 9th of May and will be available at all the usual online stores including Amazon and Kobo.

I always look forward to reading books by this author and this new novel more than lived up to my expectations.

It was good to catch up with Matt and Bel, characters from two of the author’s previous books – The Good Sister and Isobel’s Promise. But this time the main characters were Matt’s widower son-in-law, Alasdair, and the single woman of the title, Isla.

You don’t have to have read the earlier books in order to enjoy this new one, but if you haven’t I’d recommend that you do just for the sheer enjoyment.

A Single Woman is a second-chance, midlife romance where the last thing either protagonist is looking for is to fall in love. It’s set mainly in the Scottish city of Glasgow, and it’s the thoughtful and touching story of the developing relationship between two rather damaged people.

Alasdair is lonely and sad as he struggles to parent his two teenage children while grieving the loss of his wife two years previously. Isla is independent, self-sufficient and lives for her work as head teacher of a high school for girls. And when the two of them meet, although they’re attracted to each other, both struggle with admitting they’re looking for anything more than friendship. For Alasdair there’s the guilt of being with someone new and for Isla there’s the fear of opening up about her past and making herself vulnerable.

I loved the slow-burn of this story. And I loved the flawed main characters with all their human frailties and vulnerabilities. I’m sure most readers will, like me, find themselves rooting for Isla and Alasdair and willing them to, for once, put themselves first and take a chance on each other.

Yes, this is another great read from Maggie Christensen.

From the Back Cover:

Isla Cameron. headmistress at an elite girl’s school in Glasgow, is determinedly single, adroitly avoiding all attempts at matchmaking by a close friend.

Widower Alasdair MacLeod is grieving for the wife he lost two years earlier, struggling as the single father of two teenagers, and frustrated by the well-meaning interference of his in-laws.

When a proposed school trip to France brings Isla and Alasdair together, they find a connection in the discovery that each is suffering the loss of a loved one, but neither is interested in forming a relationship,

As their friendship grows, Alasdair struggles with his increasing attraction to the elegant schoolmistress, while Isla harbours concerns about the complications a relationship with him would bring.

Can Alasdair overcome his natural reserve, and can Isla open her heart to love again?

***                                                                                                                                         

Readers of Christensen’s earlier books, The Good Sister and Isobel’s Promise, will love reconnecting with Bel and Matt while enjoying Isla Cameron’s unique story.

 

 

 

A Winter of Love Gives Way To A Springtime Of Crime #amreading #books

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review here on the blog. Regular readers will know I’ve been busy writing my next novel since the start of 2019, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. However, it has meant I haven’t had so much time to write reviews.

So I thought it was high time to share my thoughts – albeit briefly – on my five favourite reads so far this year and also to share the titles of the five books I plan to read next.

5 Romantic Winter Reads:

Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard by Jo Thomas. A Spanish setting with flamenco, fine food, and a cherry farm provide a great backdrop to the story of Beti and Antonio. Lovely!  I reviewed A Winter Beneath the Stars by the same author here in early January.

The Northern Lights Lodge by Julie Caplin. Iceland is the setting this time and Lucy, from the UK, is the new manager of a lodge hotel there. Alex is the Scottish barman at the hotel but he’s not exactly who he claims to be. Expect lots of cosy log fires indoors and glaciers, hot springs and the northern lights outdoors as the backdrop to this well told story and intriguing love story.

The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin. Eva is way out of her comfort zone as she sets of on a round the world trip to fulfil the dreams of her late mother and the last thing she wants or expects is to fall in love. But you guessed it she does. And Thor the Danish tour guide is certainly beguiling…

Summer at the Art Cafe by Sue McDonagh. I loved this story of Lucy who wins a motorbike, and her developing relationship with both the bike and her, at first rather grumpy, motorcycle instructor Ash. Great characters and a refreshingly different story.

Meet Me at the Art Cafe by Sue McDonagh. Yes, a second book by the author above. I read a review of this one which recommended reading the above one first. I’m glad I did as you get to catch up with Lucy and Ash – as well as reading about the new but difficult relationship between Jo and Ed. These are two characters with all sorts of baggage but of course as a reader you end up rooting for them to get together. As with the first book in this series, there is a great seaside setting, a wonderful cast of supporting characters and yes, more motor bikes.

5 Springtime Reads to look forward to – as love gives way to crime:

The first two in the to-be-read list are romances, but then it’s set to get a bit darker –

Amazing Grace by Kim Nash. This definitely looks like my sort of romantic read.

A Single Woman by Maggie Christensen (due out on 9th May). The latest second-chance romance from a favourite author of mine

Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves. The final DI Perez story in the wonderful Shetland crime series.

Only the Dead Can Tell by Alex Gray. Another author whose previous crime fiction I’ve enjoyed.

Cold as the Grave by James Oswald. A new crime writer for me but he comes highly recommended.

And it’s worth noting that I’ve discovered most of the above books because of reviews by some amazingly dedicated book bloggers. So thank you to Anne at Being Anne , Joanne at Portobello Book Blog and Linda at Linda’s Book Bag to name only a few… These blogs are well worth a visit if you’re looking for reading suggestions.

So, what are your best reads of 2019 so far? And what are you looking forward to reading next? Feel free to comment below.

The Joy of Reading

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I cannot imagine a world without books – it’s an unbearable thought. I love reading. I’ve loved it since I first learned to decode print.

In fact I think I remember pretending to read even before I’d actually learned the skill. I would look at the pictures in the books I was given before the age of five and then made up my own narrative which I read aloud to myself and anyone else who would listen.

And then – oh the magic of going to school and being taught to read. Back in the day, in my part of the world, it was the Janet and John books that were the learn-to-read-text books. And I still remember the thrill of progressing through the various levels.

The first novels that I remember reading were Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers stories which I began when my granny gave me the first one when I was in hospital having my tonsils out aged eight. And I quickly moved on to Blyton’s other series.

From then on reading became as vital to my wellbeing as breathing.

It was also my privilege to teach young children to read during my thirty-six year career as a primary school teacher. And, latterly I was a learning support teacher and it was a joy to help pupils who were struggling with deciphering the written word become literate – including those with dyslexia.

And nowadays as a fiction writer myself, I still continue with my first passion of reading. And while I write the sort of books that I enjoy reading, my own reading choices include more than just those from the genre I write in.

I enjoy both non-fiction and fiction. Romantic fiction and crime fiction are my favourite genres but I also enjoy the occasional thriller or historical novel.

I always have a book that I’m currently reading. I read ebooks and print books. I read on the train, on the bus, on the couch and in bed. Reading takes me to so many amazing places and I meet so many fascinating characters with great stories to share. Reading is both stimulating and soothing, challenging and relaxing. It can educate, entertain and engross.

Last year I read 56 books. So far this year I’ve read 6. My two January favourites were A Brahminy Sunrise by Maggie Christensen and Inceptio by Alison Morton and I reviewed them here and here on the blog. They were very different but equally wonderful reads.

And, as for the books I write, I want to leave my readers feeling they’ve had a wonderful read too. I hope to deliver the sort of story they’re expecting, but also to offer some surprises along the way. I hope to transport them away from their own lives and steep them in someone else’s. And I certainly hope they’re engrossed and entertained enough to want to read more of my books.

In what come sometimes feel like a mad, uncaring world where we’re bombarded by all sorts of transient online information, books provide a solid reference point and/or a comforting source of downtime.

Yes,it’s safe to say I love the world of books – I love writing my own books and reading other people’s. Books are a wonderful invention offering revelation, escape and infinite possibilities. Long live books – in whatever form – and long live reading.

How do you feel about the world of books and reading? What do you enjoy reading? Who are your favourite authors? As always, please do leave your comments below.

My Top 20 Books of 2018

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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
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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.

The Genre Conundrum in Fiction: Categories and Keywords

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Part 1 of 3

As the publication date for my next novel draws ever closer, my thoughts are now turning to how to ensure it catches the eye of prospective readers both online and in book shops.

An attractive cover and an engaging back-cover summary will of course be essential – and by working with my editor and cover designer I’m confident I’ll get both of these things right.

But nailing the precise genre and the single words and phrases that perfectly describe the book’s content are equally – some might say even more – important. And it’s here that I’m not so confident. And here’s why.

In the real world, bookshops and libraries shelve books according to genre. This makes it easier for readers to both seek out and browse the books that interest them. Similarly in an online book store, prospective book buyers will click on genre type or associated keywords in order to find what they might be looking for. It makes complete sense to organise things this way.

And if writers and publishers get it right, you won’t find cookbooks in amongst books on mountaineering and you won’t find detective novels in amongst science fiction. Simple.

Only sometimes it’s not that straightforward. What if the book you’ve written is cookery for mountaineers whilst they’re out on the mountain? Or, what if the seasoned, somewhat cynical detective with the disastrous personal life is part android/ part Martian and investigates crime throughout the solar-system? And no, I haven’t written a book like either of these examples.

But I do find myself in a similar quandary when it comes to classifying my new book, just as I was with the previous two.

All three books have a strong romantic element to them. But they don’t fit neatly into the romance genre. For one thing, the protagonists aren’t young, and besides coping with relationship issues, they are also facing up to other serious challenges.

In my first book, Change of Life, the main characters are a couple who have been married for more than twenty years and who are in their late forties. Their marriage is already under strain as the story begins with the female protagonist, Rosie, suspecting infidelity on the part of her husband, Tom. She is then faced with the even bigger shock of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The couple’s children and wider family too, all have significant parts to play in supporting Rosie and Tom as they confront the challenges ahead.

My second book, Displacement, also centres around two main characters, this time just setting out on a new relationship with each other. There is Jack, a retired policeman, and Rachel, a children’s book author and illustrator. They meet at the beginning of the novel on the Scottish island of Skye. They are both divorced and in their fifties. Rachel has recently lost her son, a soldier, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. And Jack is recovering from the heart attack which brought about his early retirement. There is a strong political element to the story too, because as part of Rachel’s attempts to come to terms with the loss of her son, and to move on from it, she travels to the Middle East to visit her brother in Israel-Palestine. She wants to explore her Jewish heritage, but she also finds herself facing up to some very difficult questions about conflict, nationhood and humanity’s difficulties in finding ways to peacefully co-exist.

And the new book, Settlement, is a sequel to Displacement. Jack and Rachel’s romantic relationship has deepened, but is under threat. Rachel is returning to Israel to begin work on a book about how ordinary people can be instrumental in working for peace, and Jack is returning to work as a police consultant in the Historic Crimes unit in Edinburgh. This time as well as the social/cultural/ political strands, there is Jack’s experience of being the victim of violence and of suffering from PTSD.

All three books have the romantic love and relationship between two people at their heart, but this ripples out and links into wider families, communities and issues. All three books are romance+ –  i.e. plus other issues. None are conventional romance/love stories. They are not centred around 20 or 30-somethings. The conclusions aren’t happy-ever-after – but are, rather, there-is-hope-for-the-future- as-long-as-they-work-at-it-and-accept-the-rough-with-the-smooth-and-give-each-other-space.

So wish me luck as I try to narrow down my latest novel’s genre and keywords from – Contemporary Romantic Literary (not sure about the literary) Fiction also featuring politics, crime and mental health in several very different settings – to something altogether more snappy. And don’t get me started on whether it should also be labelled Women’s Fiction. Short answer – I don’t know, probably…

As for where it should be shelved…

 

In Part 2 of this three part series of posts on classifying books, I will be looking at the romantic genre and asking what readers want and expect when reading romances.

In Part 3 I will be looking at the issue of age – the age of the main characters and of the target readership – in romantic fiction and in several other genres as well.

 

Please do add your comments below. For example: What genre(s) do you prefer? And what are your expectations when reading books in that/those genre(s)? Or for you, is it story first, genre second?

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.

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.