Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 6 – An interview with book blogger Joanne Baird @portybelle #VirtBookFest #reading #writing

Hello, and welcome to event number six in the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a huge pleasure to welcome Joanne Baird to the festival. Joanne is a book blogger. She blogs about all things book related over at Portobello Book Blog which you can find here.

Book bloggers are the most amazing people. They give up their free time to write book reviews, to interview authors, to do cover reveals and book giveaways, and generally support writers and writing. And they do all this for love not money. Book bloggers rock! And Joanne is one of the best book bloggers out there. So I’m very excited to have her here today to do an festival event.

Hello, Joanne, I’d like to start by asking you, what got you into book blogging and how long have you been doing it?

I started blogging in April 2015. I have always read a lot and been a fast reader! Blogging was a way for me to chat about the books I’d been enjoying and to share recommendations with other book lovers. It was around that time that I really became aware of book blogs through some bookish Facebook groups I was in and I thought ‘I could do that!’. I didn’t really think that many people would read it and it started slowly with just a few views each time I posted. I was delighted! As I became more part of the blogging community and started reading and sharing other people’s posts, as well as making contacts within the publishing industry, more people started following the blog and visiting each day. I now have around 7500 followers over all the social media platforms and I find that just amazing!

Anne: Yes, amazing – but well deserved too.

How do you find/choose what to review?

As I am now lucky enough to be on lots of publishers’ mailing lists, I often get emails about forthcoming books asking if I’d be interested in reviewing them. Sometimes books arrive unexpectedly in the post which is always a delight. Sometimes an author will contact me directly to ask if I would like to read their book. I also get ideas from reading other bloggers’ reviews, from social media publishers’ posts, from newspaper book columns,  from whatever my book group is about to read and from friends. There’s never enough time in the day to read all the books I know that I would enjoy so I have to be strict with myself and sometimes say no. That’s not always easy when the books are so tempting! If I can’t manage to fit a book in but like the look of it, I can often offer the author or publisher a guest slot. So that might be an interview or an excerpt or a giveaway. It’s not a review, of course, but can help raise the profile of a book or author when the post is shared on social media.

Anne: There are only so many hours in the day. I don’t know how you don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books that come your way! I can see that sometimes you will have to say no – but I do like your alternative offer of posts that are interviews or extracts.

 What’s the best thing about doing a book blog?

Definitely the book community. I have met so many lovely people both online and in the real world (including yourself Anne) who I would never have met otherwise. I have found the bookish community to be so friendly and supportive. I’ve had the chance to meet up with bloggers and authors at book events in book shops, at festivals, at publishers’ events and at lunches, some of which I have organised. Some of these people I now consider good friends. Sometimes I have been a bit starstruck when meeting authors whose work I have loved but that quickly wears off when you get chatting and realise that authors are really just the same as everyone else!  And of course, getting the chance to read so many books ahead of publication is a huge privilege.

Anne: Haha! Yes, authors are just about human 🙂 And I totally agree the author/blogger community is awesome.

 What is your favourite type of read and do you stick mainly to reviewing that type of book?

I usually read mostly contemporary fiction, often with a romantic element or family based drama. I like books that make me smile and sometimes cry, with characters I feel I can understand or would like if I met in real life. I do enjoy some historical fiction too though it depends on the time periods. I also like some police procedural or thriller books but I don’t like my fiction too gritty or gory. The only kinds of books I don’t tend to read are fantasy, horror or sci-fi. Other than that, I’ll give most things a try.

Anne: Yes, I sort of knew what your answer would be to that one. I know we share the same taste – to my cost – or rather to my book-buying budget’s cost. I can never resist the book recommendations you make – I just know I’ll love them 🙂

 Apart from posting book reviews on your blog, what other types of post do you like to include?

My favourite type of guest post is probably my author in the spotlight feature. It’s basically a chance to be nosy and find out more about authors and their reading habits. My favourite question is the last one where I ask what fictional character an author would like to be and why. There’s been a huge variety of responses and reasons why!

Anne: Yes, the spotlight feature is great. I’ve enjoyed reading many of them. And I’ve enjoyed having you here at the festival too, Joanne. Thank you so much for agreeing to take part and for being in the spotlight yourself.

 

Joanne’s social media links

Blog address – here

Twitterhere

Instagramhere

Facebookhere

 

Joanne’s Bio: I can’t remember not being a reader and always have at least one book on the go. I started my blog, Portobello Book Blog, in April 2015 to share my love of the books I was reading and it’s been great fun. I’m a busy wife and mum to two lovely girls, an avid book reader of course, a nature watcher, a keen cook and baker, always on the go and I love living by the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put It In Writing: Virtual Book Festival 1st July -31st August 2019 – Introduction & Programme

No tickets, transport or travel time needed …

Just subscribe to this blog by email and your inbox is the only venue you need go to.

Introduction:

When I first had the idea of a virtual book festival it was in response to my frustration with some real world book festivals which no longer seem to be about books, authors and readers. One festival in particular which I’ve attended in the past, and where I’ve enjoyed events given by lots of different authors had nothing on this year’s programme that appealed to me.

The 2019 list was made up mainly of celebrities, television presenters and politicians, not all of whom had even written a book – and the few actual writers who were included didn’t include any who write genre fiction.

So I found myself thinking about who I would include if I was organising a festival. I reckoned I’d like authors from several genres, I’d like some people from the wonderfully supportive book-blogging community, and perhaps a couple of publishing professionals too.

And that then developed into the idea of using my blog to host a virtual festival.

Although I knew who I’d like to invite, I wasn’t at all sure they’d want to take part. So I was pleasantly surprised and very grateful that so many of those I invited have agreed to take part – and not only agreed but seemed very enthusiastic about it too.

The participants will be doing a variety of interviews and features and there will be novel extracts, a couple of book giveaways (UK only) and lots of insights into how a book comes together.

So here, without further ado, is the programme of events and the dates each virtual event will be posted for you to read, comment on and share.

Programme

July 1st Helen Forbes – Crime Author

July 3rd John Hudspith – Book Editor

July 8th Kate Blackadder – Magazine Serial Writer

July 10th Jane Dixon Smith – Book and Cover Designer

July 15th Jane Davis – Literary Fiction Author

July 17th Joanne Baird – Book Blogger

July 22nd Trish Nicholson – Non-Fiction Author

July 24th Linda Hill – Book Blogger

July 29th Linda Gillard – Literary Romance Author

August 2nd Alison Morton – Alternative History Author

August 5th Darlene Foster – Children’s Author

August 7th JJ Marsh – Crime Author

August 9th  Anne Stormont – Contemporary Romance Author

August 12th Anne Williams – Book Blogger

August 18th Maggie Christensen – Contemporary Romance Author

August 19th Kate Noble – Book Blogger

August 21st Anne Stenhouse – Historical Romance Author

August 23rd Kelly Lacey – Book Blogger & Blog Tour Organiser

August 26th Heidi Swain – Contemporary Romance Author

August 27th Kathryn Freeman – Contemporary Romance Author

August 28th Kate Field – Contemporary Romance Author

August 29th Sue McDonagh – Contemporary Romance Author

August 30th Claire Baldry – Contemporary Romance Author

August 31st End of Festival Look Back & Celebration

 

 

Buried Treasure by Gilli Allan @gilliallan #BookReview #amreading #romance

 

 

From the back cover:

Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again. But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems.

 My Review:

Buried Treasure is a slow-burning and thought-provoking romance with credible, flawed, and affecting main characters. I came to care very much about socially-awkward Theo and prickly perfectionist Jane. Their respective loneliness, sadness and difficult back stories made this seemingly mismatched couple very appealing. I liked that neither Theo nor Jane were conventionally physically attractive, that they were flawed, and that they lived in a very real sounding world in less than ideal circumstances. I also loved the unconventional way their relationship developed.

The supporting cast work well – including Jane and Theo’s truly ghastly former partners. And although the main setting is a university it is not portrayed as an ivory tower but rather as a modern-day institution that must pay its way.

This all makes for a realistic, contemporary romantic novel and a heart-warming and rewarding read.

Buried Treasure is available as an ebook here

Six of the Best: Five-Star Romance Reads #reading #books #romanticfiction

As a writer of romantic fiction, I suppose it’s not surprising that it’s my favourite genre to read and I’ve been having a bit of a romance binge with my reading lately. So I thought I’d do a brief round–up of the ones I’ve most enjoyed. I got them all as Kindle books from Amazon. Some of them are also available as paperbacks.

The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin. This is the story of Eva and Thor and as well as the beguiling characters, I particularly liked the rather different setting and plot for this charming and original love story.

 

Summer at the Art Cafe and it’s follow up Meet Me at the Art Cafe by Sue McDonagh. Both were wonderful. There are motor-bikes and learning to ride them, there are mismatched (to begin with) main couples and some likeable children too. I can’t wait to read more by this author.

 

Happiness for Beginners by Carole Matthews. This is the story of busy actor Shelby, and farmer Molly – who to begin with have absolutely nothing in common. But they’re brought together when Shelby’s teenage son, Lucas gets his last chance at an education at Molly’s alternative farm school for troubled children. Highly original premise for the story and great characters. A cracking read.

Crikey a Bodyguard by Kathryn Freeman. Two very different main characters  – Kelly a scientist whose research puts her in danger is assigned a bodyguard, Ben. This is such a well told, gripping story with some thriller elements and fizzing frissons of romance. Just perfect!

Poppy’s Recipe for Life by Heidi Swain. A community garden in a strong community setting is the backdrop to this moving romance. Kind, generous, positive Poppy cares for her troubled teenage brother and falls for even more troubled Jacob who is just not interested in any sort of relationship – at first. A fabulous, moving and absorbing story.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, all of the above books would make great summer holiday reading – if relaxing in the sun with a slow-burning romance is your thing. And if you’re in the southern hemisphere and want to curl up indoors with a heartwarming romantic tale, then these all fit the bill.

PS -Virtual Book Festival News

Sorry the reviews above are not the usual length but I’m very busy organising the Virtual Book Festival that I wrote about in my previous post here. I’ve got authors, book bloggers and industry professionals signed up to take part – and I’m excited and delighted to announce that the festival is due to kick-off here on the blog on 1st July and will run throughout July and August. Watch this space …

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?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

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

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

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

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.