Monday, 28 November 2016

Book Review: How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Our memories are what make us who we are. Some are real. Some are made up. But they are the stories that tell us who we are. Without them we are nobody.

Hattie's summer isn't going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to 'find himself" and Kat is in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum's wedding. Oh, and she's also just discovered that she's pregnant with Reuben's baby.

Then Gloria, Hattie's great-aunt who no one even knew existed, comes crashing into her life. Gloria's fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery - Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are erased from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.

Image: Clare Furniss / Simon & Schuster
How Not to Disappear is a surprisingly involving story, somehow managing to be both heartwarming and achingly sad at different points throughout the book. It is billed as a YA story, but I believe that it is actually much more than that. The author manages to transcend the usual limitations of the young adult genre to create a story that has the ability to appeal to a much wider audience. It is contemporary and deals with a whole host of complicated issues (teen pregnancy, dementia, family drama) in a very mature way, which is especially significant given the target audience. 

Hattie was a great main character, as a girl on the cusp of adulthood she played the parts of both maturity and immaturity with perfection at varying points. She is a highly conflicted character, and this works very well within the confines of the story. From the difficulties associated with denial then eventual coming to terms with her pregnancy, to the issues and final friendship with Gloria, she really deals with a true roller-coaster of emotions on her journey throughout the book. It is also particularly nice symbolism when you consider that the two women are embarking on a physical journey as well as personal emotional journeys, yet they are both sharing their personal journeys and forays into the past with each other (and us, as the reader) in dribs and drabs as the story progresses. Speaking of characters - I have a bone to pick with Zoe-from-Kettering for giving Kettering (my hometown) a bad name!


There were some absolutely glorious passages of prose and descriptive narration present in this book. Clare Furniss is already establishing herself as a master of the written word, and the hidden gems in this book only served to exemplify that fact. Granted, it may have been rather slow-paced and the ending felt rather forced and a little too happily convenient, but there are some real masterpieces in the characters and the writing style that made me want to keep reading. At the end of the day, it tackles some serious, important issues in an approachable way, without skirting around the situation. It has some good points and some slightly less good points, but it's still a solid novel. I, for one, will be looking out for more of Furniss' books in the future. 

Rating: 4 stars

How Not to Disappear is available to buy now. 

Are you a fan of Clare Furniss? Let me know in the comments below! 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Guest Post: A Journey to Help Save Lives by Paul Spelzini

I wrote My Wonderful Fran originally as a legacy to record Francesca’s life and times for posterity.

It was not until 2012 that I felt capable of starting to write Francesca’s story, but it was slow progress at first. That can be a detailed process which takes time doing research, as with any book. In this case, it also involved a steep learning curve about ASF (Asperger’s Syndrome), psychosis, depression plus schizophrenia.

In writing this book, it became apparent through contact with the ASF and other charities and through adoption work with the community rail partnership; that the book could also be a vehicle for furthering awareness of mental health issues, especially amongst teens.

Since completing the original book in 2015; I have also written a second book called Artificial Nocturne, which is a self-published concept fictional story about a young aspiring ballerina who dances to contemporary music and eventually finds her niche.

I have also written some adult short stories to help develop characters in stories, which have been published by several websites, and had fairly positive feedback overall.

Each of my main books has included a discography. This is not only to facilitate conversion to a film at some stage, but music to me is critical to understanding mental health. It is also a treatment for it, as my brother Mike is an occupational therapist dealing with severely disturbed people in North London. He is also a qualified Grade 8 trained pianist.


If all goes to plan; I expect to release My Wonderful Fran, followed by perhaps Artificial Nocturne in 2017. I don’t plan to publish a compendium of short stories; but instead, build up to writing the ultimate mental health story which I feel really needs to be written - The Dark Side of the Moon. That would probably be followed by my autobiography.

When Pink Floyd released their album in 1973, it included issues concerning mental health at that time. These included themes such as ‘Us and Them’, and ‘Brain Damage’. The album went on to become an unprecedented success story but did not follow the traditional route of book-film-album. Instead, the book and film remain a great story yet to be told.

Obviously, writing any new mental health story would be a real challenge and require considerable research. Mental health issues affect 1 in 4 people worldwide.

Returning to My Wonderful Fran, I felt it was important to write the story in a positive way, to avoid being depressing to read and to also show the positive side of mental health. Unfortunately, mental health is the hardest illness to deal with as it comes and goes and is so easily hidden for long periods.

I sincerely hope that writing this book can ultimately help save lives; either by better education of mental health issues and more advanced and quicker treatments. If that is the case, then it will have achieved its purpose.

About Paul Spelzini 

Paul wrote his novel My Wonderful Fran originally as a biography and record of Fran's life, but felt it could also help other families struggling with ASF, Schizophrenia, and other related mental illnesses. My Wonderful Fran was released on 31st October 2016 by Austin Macauley Publishers and can be purchased through Amazon.

Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Monday, 21 November 2016

Interview: E.H. Nolan

Today the lovely author E.H. Nolan is stopping by to answer a few questions about her writing, inspiration, and her new book Like a Closed Fist.

Welcome to TWG! Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in California, and I graduated from Chapman University with a BA in Political Science and Film Studies. Reading has always been one of my greatest passions. There’s no greater day than curling up by the fire with my kitten next to me and a good book in my hands. I use the term “kitten” loosely; she just turned 18 this month!


How did you first become interested in writing?

In high school. I was introduced to The Great Gatsby and my entire world changed. To this day, my senior research paper on The Great Gatsby is one of the pieces I'm most proud of having written. I've always loved to read, but it never occurred to me to write any fiction until after college. One morning, an idea came to me, and in the afternoon, the characters came alive and asked me to write their story. So I did.

What draws you to writing women’s fiction?

Characters are like real people. A lot of people pick up a women's fiction novel and expect it to be light and fluffy. If a woman has a broken heart, she'll get over it in a paragraph and all is well. However, women's fiction is a broad genre, and while there are tons of books that are light and fluffy, there are also heavier dramas to round out the genre. Simply put, women's fiction is fiction that deals with women's issues, and a lot of those issues are serious. Real life is full of heartache, and it’s always really moving to read a book you can personally relate to.

Do you think it’s important to write about sensitive issues?

Absolutely. I believe there are lot of women who don't feel safe to express their anxieties and deeper feelings about heavy issues. When women read a book that not only discusses those issues but lets readers know it’s okay to feel the way they’re feeling, it’s enormously helpful. I find the most inspirational books to the most realistic books. It’s all well and good to read about a strong character who bounces back from every upset, but it’s more powerful, real, and moving to read about a character who has trouble moving forward and eventually finds peace.

Image: E.H. Nolan
Tell me about Like a Closed Fist.

If you look at the blurb on Amazon or Goodreads, it will tell you Like a Closed Fist is about a twenty-four-year-old girl involved in a love hexagon with six very different men. Although that is true, it’s much more than just a romance. It’s a cautionary tale of a wounded young woman who is anxious to grow up. Yes, she falls in love with a much older, very married man, and yes, she tries to perpetually rebound to distract herself from him, but at the heart of the story is a fragile, real girl who learns the hard way and gets into a little trouble.

How do you get inspiration?

My characters inspire me. They let me know when they’re ready, and they give me no choice but to write down what’s going on with them. Whenever I have writer’s block, I know it’s because a character isn’t fleshed out enough. If I don’t know everything about him or her, the story can’t go forward. So, I sit down and try to get to know my guy or girl a little better. Once I do, the writing can continue.

What’s your writing process?

I don’t really have a process, or a favourite chair or anything like that. Pretty much, whenever the mood strikes, I do whatever is necessary to record what’s in my brain. Once I was on a plane from Los Angeles to Nashville and came up with a song. There was no way for me to whip out my laptop and record it into my composer program, so I just sang it over and over for three hours until I got my luggage and was able to pencil it down.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Research. When I was writing my Mabel Crowley and Theodore Hartley novels, I did a ton of research into that time period, and into specific battles of WW1 and WW2. I wanted to be very careful to cross reference and make sure multiple sources gave me the same information so I wouldn't write a scene that seemed out of place.

What do you love most about writing?

The characters are the most important part of a story, because if you don't care about the characters, you'll care even less what happens to them. I love my characters. They're real and flawed and lovable. Also, what’s really fun is keeping the mystery from the readers. People only show us what they want us to see, so the majority of the time in real life, we’re not getting to know people as well as we think we are. Sometimes in my novels, I keep a character enshrouded in mystery. But as long as I know everything about them, I’m able to write them realistically, even if that realism means the reader doesn’t know them as well as I do.

Which authors inspire you?

F. Scott Fitzgerald, of course. John Irving blows my mind; I don’t know he comes up with half of what he writes, and I love his level of detail. And I love David Niven, both his fiction and his memoirs. He wrote with the perfect balance of sorrow and humour.

Image: E.H. Nolan
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

When you’re reading your work after it’s finished, checking for typos or just making sure you like everything, listen to the alarm bells in your head. I really can’t rattle off a single brilliant sentence I’ve written, but I’ll remember forever the icky sentences I wish I’d changed. If you’re reading to yourself and a word, phrase, sentence, or section sticks in your head, chances are it needs to be changed or cut. Sorry, but it’s your brain’s way of trying to help you.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

I don’t really have a favourite place. Usually my laptop is in my room, so I’ll do a lot of writing there. But I can’t count how many times I’ve been in the car when a song comes to me and I have to scramble around for some paper in the backseat to write it down.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

Not sure if I’ll be able to do it, but I’d like to produce a book a year. I know a lot of writers do more than that, but one a year seems to be my speed. So far, I’m three for three, so here’s hoping next year brings a fourth.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing?

Oh gosh, I have that conversation with myself constantly. Writing is a hobby. I’m a secretary right now, and I’ve been lucky enough to have the same steady job for five years. But I’m always trying to come up with about another profession that would be fun. So far, I haven’t come up with a winner yet, which is probably why I’ve stayed put.

What are you currently working on?

Right now, I'm working on a sequel called Like an Open Fist. Just kidding. I'm actually returning to my Mabel Crowley world and writing the third instalment, following my Amazon best-selling debt Mabel Crowley and the prequel Theodore Hartley. It was quite a jump from 20th century England to modern day America in Like a Closed Fist, and I hear my historical characters calling me back.

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books?


Traditional books, absolutely. I love everything about a paper book, from the smell of the pages to proudly displaying it on my bookshelf.

Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing?

I like self-publishing because you have more freedom. Yes, you sacrifice publicity and sales, but for me, my writing is a hobby not a career, and I prefer to have my books and covers exactly as I imagined them when they’re sitting on the shelf.

What are you reading at the moment?


One of my favourite movies is The Best Years of Our Lives, and I found the book it was based on last Christmas: Glory for Me by MacKinlay Kantor. I’ve been waiting all year to read it, hoping it’s as good as the movie, and now that it’s approaching the holidays again, I just can’t wait any longer!

To find out more about the author, visit her website, Goodreads page, or Amazon author page. Like a Closed Fist is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below! 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

* I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family - especially her teenage son - as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others - and themselves - might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion - and doesn't offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.


Image: Hodder & Stoughton
I first received a copy of this book via Hodder's #ReadWithoutPrejudice campaign. The aim was simple - to read the book and judge it purely on its own merits as a story. We were given no cover or title, or even told who the author was - merely the book in its simplest form. 

I should mention at this point that a lot of my fellow book bloggers guessed the identity of the author before Hodder told us who it was. However, I didn't have a clue so finished the book as blind as I was when I started it, in that respect. (I have an inkling that was largely due to the fact that this was surprisingly the first Jodi Picoult book I've ever read!) 

But, regardless of that, I think the #ReadWithoutPrejudice campaign was a massive success. It got people talking about the book, sharing ideas and theories, plus it fits perfectly with the themes of the book itself. Whichever member of the marketing team at Hodder came up with this idea should definitely be given a pay rise this year! 

Picoult is known for not being afraid to tackle serious, complex, and extremely difficult and delicate topics in her novels. And out of all the tricky topics there are to write about, racial prejudice and privilege are surely some of the thorniest. Society has a tendency to shy away from any mention of racism, which is the very attitude that Picoult outlines and aims to address with Small Great Things.

If you don't feel uncomfortable or start to question your own thoughts, beliefs and ideals while reading this book, I honestly don't know what would make you uncomfortable. It's not only the fact that we are introduced to such incredibly hypocritical and close-minded viewpoints which is worrying - what's even scarier is the fact that there are still people out there who genuinely believe these things in the real world today. 

Small Great Things is the story of one black woman's fight against racial prejudice - though Ruth Jefferson's struggle is one that will surely resonate with people of colour around the world. And for that reason, this book contains one of the most honest and unflinching accounts of race and colour in America today. You won't read a more thought-provoking book this year.

Rating: 3 stars

Small Great Things is available to pre-order now.

Will you be reading the book? What are your thoughts? Share them with me in the comments below! 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Guest Post: Writing Out of Your Comfort Zone by Marie Lavender

When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming a novelist. I knew from a young age that storytelling was my thing. Scenes played out in my head, and it was my job to get them on the page. I was that girl, going around telling everyone, “I want to be a writer!”

As I grew up, I was influenced by romantic comedy films and romance novels. As I began to get interested in various subgenres of romance, I could feel the possibilities unfold. My writer’s mind was opening bit by bit. When I finally self-published my work starting in 2010, there was a good range of tales, from literary fiction and poetry, to contemporary romance or romantic suspense, even paranormal romance. There were even some romantic mysteries. In 2012, I was discovered by Solstice Publishing, and through them, I published historical romance, lighthearted romantic fantasy, even launched a paranormal romance/urban fantasy series, Blood at First Sight. My stories in progress? They’re all over the place as well, from romantic suspense to dystopian romance, more historical romance, time travel romance, erotic romance, even a six-book romantic comedy series. The list goes on.

Last year, I decided to reinvent myself as a writer. Why? Because out of nowhere, it seemed, my story ideas quickly took on a life of their own. Categorizing them had become difficult. I was crossing multiple genres. In July of 2015, I published a children’s fantasy novella, A Little Magick. Writing the story was a little daunting at first, but it was fun and so worth it! This was so far from my usual scope of storytelling that I knew I had to take a step back and reevaluate some of my priorities. I adore writing or reading about romance, and that will likely never change. But I knew I could no longer consider myself just a romance author. I took a look at my 117+ works in progress, and I knew something big had changed, whether or not I realized it right away. This writing journey was a constant evolution. I thought of the cocky writer who’d brushed off her professor’s advice in college, yet now it truly resonated with me.

“Don’t limit yourself to one genre.”

Truer words were never spoken. Suddenly I knew how to define myself in my writing career. I learned to open my mind further, to wherever the muse wanted to take me.

And here I am, just tackling the launch of the Code of Endhivar Series with Blue Vision, my first foray into science fiction (yeah, I never saw that coming!) with a strong element of romance. My mind is awake, open and ready to receive, to go in any direction, even if it’s a little scary to approach at first. Will I ever write horror or non-fiction novels? I’ve learned that life often has a way of both surprising and challenging us. So, maybe the muse will take me there someday.

In the meantime, I am comfortable with who I am. A sometimes weird, romantic visionary…I am a multi-genre author, and that’s all right with me.

About Marie Lavender


Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 21 other books. March 2016 Empress of the Universe title - winner of the "Broken Heart" themed contest and the "I Love You" themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers' Poll. Nominated in the TRR Readers' Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial's Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader's Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for over twenty years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 22 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. She has also contributed to several anthologies. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love series, The Magick series, The Code of Endhivar series and The Blood at First Sight series.

To find out more about Marie, visit her website or her Amazon author page.


Brooke Sanders just wants to get away from her life for awhile. A remote cabin in Montana fits the bill. She doesn’t expect to encounter a mysterious stranger with unusual blue eyes, or events that cannot be explained…

Colin Fielding is on a mission – scout a planet and return home to Endhivar. Simple really. What he doesn’t anticipate is that fate has a pretty twisted sense of humor. Suddenly, this human calls to him, every part of him, like the call of a true mate, and he can’t deny the connection as he gets closer to her.

Little do they know, someone is out to do them harm, as well as the world Brooke holds so dear. Can they stop what’s coming before it’s too late? Or will the universe lose a perfect gem?


Blue Vision will be released on 15th November.

What do you think about multiple genre authors? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Interview: Russell Atkinson

Russ Atkinson, author of the Cliff Knowles Mysteries series, has stopped by The Writing Greyhound to answer a few questions ahead of the release of Behead Me, the sixth book in the series.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.

I'm a retired FBI agent and lawyer living in California, the Silicon Valley area. My hobbies include finger-style guitar, geocaching, and cipher solving. I'm the past president of the American Cryptogram Association and I was the Head Cryptographer for the movie The Red Machine.

How did you first become interesting in writing?

I've always enjoyed writing and my teachers and bosses always praised my writing style. When I practiced law after the FBI, the Chief Counsel would have me rewrite the briefs of the other attorneys. However, the idea of writing a novel only occurred to me when I was between jobs and had some time and a compelling true story about a particular kidnapping case that I thought was so interesting it should be told, showing what the real FBI is like, not the TV/movie version. I decided that it would not be marketable in a strict non-fiction narrative, though, so I decided to fictionalize it and turn it into a novel.

What draws you to writing mysteries and thrillers?

First of all, I like mysteries and the notion of righting wrongs. Solving crimes is what I did for a living for 25 years in the FBI. Perhaps more than that, though, is that I believe a writer, even of fiction, should write about what he or she knows. I enjoy other genres though, including science fiction and non-fiction.

Tell me about Behead Me.

Behead Me is the sixth novel in the Cliff Knowles Mysteries series. It combines some slightly disguised real FBI cases with geocaching, which is one of my hobbies. Cliff is now retired and working as a private investigator. He’s hired by a large high-tech firm to determine why sales of their spare parts are down. His investigation draws him to Utah where a young worker at a competing firm recently was killed by a hit-and-run driver, losing his head in the process. While there he decides to make a side trip to pick up a geocache in the desert and becomes the hunted himself.

Cliff’s FBI agent wife Ellen Kennedy is assigned to investigate the background of a woman applying for a presidential pardon. She’s shocked to learn that the woman had been convicted of drug dealing decades earlier and had attacked Cliff when he was the FBI agent arresting her.

Despite its grisly sound, the title actually refers to a type of word puzzle that was popular in the 19th Century. The book’s overall feel is light, almost a cozy mystery. It recently received an award from ReadFree.ly as one of the 50 Self-Published Books worth reading for 2016, and in fact was the top mystery and second overall, coming in behind a romance which took top spot.


How much of your writing is fictional and how much is based on real events?

It varies. Some of my novels, like Held for Ransom and Behead Me, follow real cases quite closely. Others, like Cached Out and Death Row, are almost entirely fiction, but even those have real cases mixed in here and there. The murders, however, are all fictional, and of course I’ve had to create totally fictional characters, both for privacy reasons and for dramatic purpose. The FBI has to approve all my novels on privacy grounds (not for their literary merit, thank heavens). I was once asked by an interviewer if I was Cliff Knowles. The answer is definitely no. I’ve given him some of my background because it makes it possible for me to write about what I know, but his physical appearance, personality, and family situation are totally different from mine. Some of my FBI agent friends think they recognize characters in some of my books as real persons, but they’re mistaken, too. All the characters are complete fiction.

What’s your writing process?

Once I have the basic story line in my head, I just sit down and start typing and keep going for days at a time. There are times when it becomes a bit of a chore and I take a break, but I don’t really get writer’s block. I can usually get a novel’s first draft out in anywhere from six to twelve weeks.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Fixing the first draft. It’s grueling to read and reread the story multiple times, but it’s totally necessary. I find mistakes every time, everything from typos to inconsistencies to badly written sections. Of course I use friends and fans as beta readers or proofreaders, too, and they find mistakes or just things that don’t work. Rewriting is an author’s curse, but it must be done.

What do you love most about writing?

The total freedom I have as a self-published author to craft the story. I often don’t know exactly how the story is going to go and I love the anticipation and surprise I get when I suddenly figure out how to get from point A to point B or when I come up with a clever turn of phrase.

Which authors inspire you?

I really enjoy many mystery writers, including Michael Connelly and Sue Grafton, among others, but I wouldn’t say they inspire me. I am perhaps more inspired, even awestruck, by many authors recognized for their classic works, from Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, and Jane Austen to Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Wouk, and C.S. Forester.

Image: Russ Atkinson
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Decide why you want to write and stay true to that goal. If your goal is to make a living at it, find an occupation that has writing as part of it. I enjoyed writing legal briefs, for example. I also recommend starting a blog to give yourself a creative outlet. But if you want to write books, you may have to choose between writing that great novel in you or producing a cookie cutter romance that a publisher wants.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

Last year my house was remodeled and I now have a cozy office overlooking my back yard. I love it.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I’ve never wanted or expected to hit it big, although like all writers, I’d love to see more people read my books. I really enjoy fan mail and other expressions of appreciation I get on social media. I hope I can continue to come up with ideas for more novels, but I enjoy writing my blog, too.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing?

Writing is a passion for me, but not an occupation. If I couldn’t write, I would need to find other creative outlets. I recently got a gig creating crossword puzzles for The Grapevine, the magazine for the Society of Former FBI agents, for example, and I upload guitar videos to YouTube. I write programs to solve ciphers and might even try to learn a new computer language. I just wrote a program to play Poker Solitaire. Of course, I’m also a big reader and I have many other hobbies like geocaching and running.

What are you currently working on?

My seventh Cliff Knowles novel. It is set in San Diego and the murder victim is Cliff’s sister. That’s about all I can reveal right now.

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books?

I read both but I still have a preference for the dead tree version.

Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing?

I had a literary agent for my first book, Held for Ransom, but no publisher picked it up. I hated the long drawn-out process and infuriatingly contradictory feedback I got from various sources in the business. I much prefer self-publishing, but that route is frustrating in how limiting it can be in terms of sales. I’m no salesman and I hate the necessity of marketing. Thank you for the opportunity to get some exposure here.

What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay and today I started A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino. It’s a mystery originally written in Japanese and an Edgar Award finalist.

To find out more about Russ, visit his blog. Behead Me is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below! 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Book Review: The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What happens when a tale with real magic, that was supposed to be finished, never was? This is a story about one of those stories . . .

Midge loves riddles, his cat, Twitch, and ‒ most of all ‒ stories. Especially because he’s grown up being read to by his sister Alice, a brilliant writer.

When Alice goes missing and a talking cat turns up in her bedroom, Midge searches Alice’s stories for a clue. Soon he discovers that her secret book, The Museum of Unfinished Stories, is much more than just a story. In fact, he finds two of its characters wandering around town.

But every tale has its villains ‒ and with them leaping off the page, Midge, Gypsy and Piper must use all their wits and cunning to work out how the story ends and find Alice. If they fail, a more sinister finale threatens them all . . .

A rich and twisting tale of magic, riddles and talking cats, from a classic author.


Image: Simon & Schuster / The Big Shot PR
The Other Alice is one of those classic YA fantasy stories that seems to instantly become timeless. Crammed full of rich storytelling, the myriad of characters are woven seamlessly alongside the storyline, pulling together to create a vivid tapestry which tugs at the imagination.

The basic premise is actually very similar to that of Cornelia Funke's fabulous Inkworld novels (Which, by the way, if you haven't read them before, I strongly recommend you do!) In both stories, fictional characters come to life and the lines between fantasy and the real world become blurred. However, both deal with this in a very different way. 
The Other Alice is as much about a little brother trying to find his missing big sister as it is about fiction vs reality. Combining part mystery and part fantasy, above all else is the human aspect of the tale, brought home by the emphasis on the overriding message of 'family is important'.

For what is actually quite a complicated story, the author has done wonders in making sure it flows well so it is well-paced while still being relatively fast-paced. It's also highly accessible to a younger audience. Harrison has created one of those rare YA books that can be equally enjoyed by people of all ages - I have no doubts that it would easily appeal as much to a 10-year-old reader as it did to me, aged 22. 

Fantasy can often be a tricky genre to pull people into, but with The Other Alice you will be hooked from the very first page. Expert storytelling and an excellent read from Michelle Harrison. 

Rating: 4 stars

The Other Alice is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below! 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Guest Post: The Key to a Fabulous Life by Amanda Akalonu

Hey Fabulous,

People's definition of a fabulous woman vary. Some define her as the woman with the most expensive piece of jewellery or designer shoes, who walks like the world is her runway. Others say she is the lady who rocks social media with her picture-perfect face. While there is nothing wrong with the above women, I would hate to limit them to the definition of a fabulous woman.

So, who is a fabulous woman?

A fabulous woman is that lady who unquestioningly believes that she is amazing. She looks herself in the mirror and sees the most beautiful creature in the universe. This woman is not afraid to be herself and own her story because she knows that's where her strength lies. A fabulous woman loves herself unconditionally and is willing to be a blessing to others. Whether she shops at Versace or the thrift store, whether she rocks Louboutins or 'nameless' flip-flops, this woman walks like the world...no, the universe, belongs to her - fearlessly, gracefully and authentically.

Most women go through life feeling 'good-for-nothing'. Some have even been told (directly or indirectly) that the only value she can offer is her vagina (and, by the way, she is not the only human who owns one!) Over the years, I have watched with a sickened stomach at how much women look for validation in all the wrong places and forget the only place that truly matters: deep within yourself.

I cannot begin to tell you how amazing you are. I cannot begin to tell you the wonders that will unveil before you once you start to see yourself with new eyes. Girl, you are a one-of-a-kind creature for which there s no comparison...see yourself as such!

I truly believe every woman can be fabulous. As a matter of fact, I dare say that 'fabulous' lies inside every woman just waiting to be unleashed. 

The question is: HOW CAN YOU UNLEASH YOUR FABULOUS? 

My answer: BE YOURSELF! 

'What? Really, Amanda? Be myself? Not walk sexy or dress sexy?' This is usually the response I get when sharing this with a woman for the first time, to which I always reply, 'yes, girl, be yourself!' I know it sounds boring, but it is one of the most exciting and fulfilling things you could ever do. Today we live in a world where authenticity is rare. Everyone is trying to be like someone else and we have totally forgotten who we really are.

Authenticity, which is being the totality of who you are unapologetically, is your visa to a more fabulous life. It is the daring adventure of living your life from the 'inside out', not the other way round. This is fulfilling. It is liberating and it is magical. Trust me, I know. I used to hate my life. I constantly compared myself to others and tried to be someone else and it sucked the very life out of me. One day I realised: I AM ENOUGH! I am magnificent and fabulous and will NEVER apologise for being who I am. I learnt to embrace this girl called Amanda Akalonu and made the radical decision to be the totality of who I am. The journey has been an exciting adventure and I have risen to heights I never thought possible and, girl, the view from here is amazing. 

Today I ask you this question: Who are you? The real you, and not the you that you want others to see. If you don't know her, don't be afraid to look for her, and when you find her, become all of her... unapologetically.

With authenticity and fabulousness,

Amanda

About Amanda Akalonu 


Amanda Akalonu is an author, women's lifestyle entrepreneur, teacher and speaker. She is passionate about women’s personal development and has dedicated her life’s work to it. Beginning at the tender age of 14 in 2006, Amanda has helped hundreds of women to break the bars in their lives and rise up to their higher selves. Her mission is simple: To Inspire a Woman to Unleash her Fabulous.


Her latest book: LIVE YOUR MOST FABULOUS LIFE, 30 simple steps to increase your confidence, is available now.

Are you ready to unleash your fabulous? Let me know in the comments below! 

Monday, 14 November 2016

Jewellery Loves: Hungry Unicorn and Emma Kirkham Glass

Recently I've noticed that when I've been shopping, I've found myself trying to buy from small businesses and independent retailers wherever possible. I like to show my support for smaller outlets and I think it's important to try and keep independent shops afloat - just look at the state of our high streets if you don't think independents are necessary!

Supporting small businesses doesn't just have to happen in person on the high street, however. You can also fight against the increasing dominance of the big chains online, and still choose independents over conglomerates from the comfort of your own home.

To that end, I was thrilled when I happened to come across the two outlets I'm featuring today. Both sell jewellery (which I should really stop buying because I already have far too much!) and both are run by people I know personally - one professionally and one through a mutual Facebook friend. I always think that having a personal connection to a business is a nice touch, and I don't know about you, but it usually encourages me to spend more money with them!

Hungry Unicorn

Image: Lorna Holland
Pictured: Infinity Ring (£5)
Hungry Unicorn sells a range of jewellery, including rings, earrings, belly bars, and other assorted body jewellery. Their designs are varied yet all are unique, giving a quirky, edgy approach to your style.



Pictured: Fox Midi Ring (£4), Bow Midi Ring (£3.50), Love Midi Ring (£3).

The best part? Everything on the site is more than affordable, meaning you can stock up your jewellery box and stick to your budget at the same time.

Emma Kirkham Glass

Image: Lorna Holland
Ever since she first experienced glassmaking whilst studying 3D design at university, Emma Kirkham has been hooked on the medium of glass. She works from a little blue shed in her back garden, using molten glass and the technique of glass blowing to create her trademark pieces. As well as gorgeous earrings, Emma also sells bespoke necklaces, bracelets, and rings.

Image: Lorna Holland
Pictured: Emma Kirkham glass stud earrings (bottom left), Gemmed Daisy Clip-On Ear Cuff (£3)
What's special about Emma's creations is that every piece is completely unique. You can buy a hand-crafted, individual piece for a fraction of the price you would pay if you bought a similar item from a designer.

Will you be buying from either of these retailers? Let me know your favourite pieces in the comments below! 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play received its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Image: Little, Brown
First things first, yes, I know this review is about three months late. 

Now we've got that out the way, I should explain why it's three months late. 

Being the massive Harry Potter fan that I am, I dragged my boyfriend along to the midnight launch party in Waterstones Peterborough on 31st July, just so I could be one of the first to get my hands on a copy. I did strongly consider pulling an all-nighter to read the book, but figured aforementioned long-suffering boyfriend might have had something to say about that! Instead, I settled for absorbing as many pages as I could the following morning while he was in the shower, before finally getting a chance to read the rest of it in about two glorious uninterrupted hours later that night.

At this point, I feel as though we need to discuss the format. As if you didn't already know, it's written as a play script rather than the more traditional novel format we're used to from Rowling. In itself, this doesn't really bother me. I had to study all kinds of writing, including drama and scripts, during the course of my degree, so I'm not really phased by format or presentation nowadays. I even bought tickets to see the stage version of Cursed Child way back when the first batch of tickets was released (and yes, I'm still sitting here waiting patiently for next February to finally roll around, more than a year on) because I was that convinced I was going to love it. And in spite of everything, I'm still looking forward to seeing the play. It's always better to experience something in the medium it was first intended to be shown in, and from what I've heard about the show so far, it's going to be truly magical... Pun intended!
That being said, I do think Cursed Child would have benefitted from starting out as a novel. One of the biggest draws for me personally about the original Harry Potter series was the sheer level and intricacy of the description. (If you missed me harping on about the description the first time, check out my re-read reviews of the original series). The wizarding world is truly remarkable, and I honestly believe that is the main reason why Harry and Co still have such a firm hold on the world's imagination today, fifteen years after Philosopher's Stone was first released.

The problem with that lies with the very nature of a script; scripts are designed to be concise and functional, therefore you miss out on the vast majority of that crucial detail and description. Despite the fact that, as hard as it may be to believe, Cursed Child actually uses a lot more description and direction than many scripts, this sadly meant that I felt it lacked that vital spark which catapulted the books to global success.

That's not to say that it isn't good - it is, of course. It's just that I, like many other diehard Potter fans I know, came away from the book feeling a little disappointed and let-down. Aside from the poor decision to release it immediately as a script rather than waiting a little longer for a potential novel, the entire book seemed rather rushed and not well thought out. Even the copyediting and proofreading lacked the polish that I've come to expect from Harry Potter books, as I often found myself stumbling over unusual wording and clumsy constructions.

But what about the story itself?

Well, coming back to my original point, that's the reason why it's taken me three months to write this review. I love Harry Potter... but I just didn't love Cursed Child. 

I presume you've all read the story by now? If you haven't you might want to stop reading now... #KeepTheSecret

That's not to say that there weren't certain aspects of the book I liked. There were a few moments that were just so completely right which J.K. got totally on point. Albus and Scorpius' friendship for one. McGonagall for two. Ron for three. Revisiting Snape for four (though I have to admit, I kind of would have liked to see old Snape too). Did I mention how great Scorpius Malfoy is?



However, these moments of perfection were sadly interspersed with some other, rather less than great moments.

Let's talk about Harry for a minute. The famous Harry Potter, worrying about his relationship with his family and working some menial office job in the Ministry? I'm sorry, but I just didn't buy that at all. Where did the stubborn, hot-headed, but ultimately loveable Harry Potter go in the intervening twenty-odd years? And don't even get me started on Ginny. Ugh.

Another thing that slightly put me off the plot itself was the fact that it included so much time travel. At this point, I'm willing to hold my hands up and admit that, on the whole, I'm just not that big a fan of time travel stories. Prisoner of Azkaban wasn't a problem because it was done so well and it wasn't the main focus of the plot, but I just couldn't immerse myself in Cursed Child. If I'm honest, it was beginning to feel like a lazy rehash of Prisoner of Azkaban. Why, oh why, did you have to rush the book, J.K.?

And then we come to the plot twist and the biggest surprise of all.

If you haven't read the book but you haven't stopped reading this review yet, warning: major spoiler ahead!

VOLDEMORT HAD A KID.

Yes, you read that right.

Where on earth did that come from? Voldemort having a child with Bellatrix Lestrange is the single most unbelievable thing I think I've ever read. It's basically impossible to wrap my head around because it goes completely against everything that Rowling has spent the last seven books telling us about Voldemort.

Bellatrix is infatuated with him, but, as we're told many times, he's not capable of love. Plus, Voldemort is obsessed with basically becoming immortal - that's the whole point of making not just one or two, but SEVEN Horcruxes. Why would he plan for a child so that his memory could live on when he had absolutely no intentions of dying at all in the first place? There are just too many gaping plot holes in this entire idea for my liking.

One more thing - where was George? And Luna? There are so many beloved characters that didn't make the transition from Deathly Hallows to Cursed Child. (And I'm not just talking about what happened in the Battle of Hogwarts). That's another thing that I think a novel version would have addressed in a much more satisfactory way.

Please, J.K., on behalf of Potter fans around the world, turn Cursed Child into a fully-fledged novel!

Rating: 3.5 stars

If you don't already own it, grab yourself a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child now.

Are you a Harry Potter fan? What did you think of Cursed Child? Let me know in the comments below.  

Friday, 11 November 2016

Guest Post: How to Write Fantasy and Have Fun While Doing It by Amie Irene Winters

It wasn’t until I stopped writing for the market and started writing what I really wanted to write did I realize that I was writing fantasy. And the more I wrote, the more I loved writing about magic, other worlds, and supernatural creatures. Simply put, I was completely in love with the limitless possibilities for imagination. But how does one write a fantasy book exactly? Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned on my publishing journey:

Love fantasy

Write what you love. If you genuinely love fantastical things and stories, it will show. You’ll also be more likely to create an original story since you’ll have a good idea of what’s already been done.

Read fantasy

Not all fantasy books are 5,000 pages long. Not all are cheesy. Not all have orcs. There are actually dozens of fantasy sub-genres. Find the sub-genre that inspires you and study the popular books in these categories. See what other authors have done and study how they did it. While writing my debut novel, Strange Luck, I was reading several Neil Gaiman books, The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride, The Maze Runner, and lots of H.P Lovecraft. These groundbreaking books really pushed me to try to think outside the box. Plus, they are so much fun to read! It also doesn’t hurt to watch fantastical movies to help get your creative juices flowing.

Do your research

If your story is completely fantastical, anything goes, so have fun with it! Do you want to have a character who shoots rainbows out of her eyes? Go for it! Why not? It’s your story and as a fantasy author, you have the power to create something original and imaginative. However, if your story is set in a specific period of history, like medieval times, research medieval life and get your facts straight (e.g., types of clothing, food, décor, etc). If something magical happens in the story, like there’s a sword that doesn’t behave like a real one, be sure to explain its magical properties.


Map it

Planning a magical world is hard work. Mapping your world with pen and paper will help you write about places and their characteristics more accurately. If you’re more advanced, use map-making software. Including a finished map in your book or on your website is an awesome extra for readers.

The rules

Figure out the rules of magic in your story, including limits. If a character can do absolutely anything, then there will be no suspense or struggle and your story will flop. Let your readers know what the most important rules are and be sure to follow them. Let your protagonist conquer obstacles and solve problems based on his or her abilities.

Be original

Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones - they’ve all been done. Be creative and use your imagination to create something never seen before. Remember, it’s fantasy, so anything goes!

Keep your story moving

It can be so much fun to create worlds and creatures with their own histories, geography, and supernatural rules, but sometimes these details can overshadow the actual story, leaving you with a lot of awesome detail, but with a story where nothing is happening. Your main character(s) should have a goal or problem that they need to solve. Throw in some complications and you’re on your way!

Share your story

The most important piece of advice I can give any author is to have other people look at your work. No matter how many times you’ve reviewed your story, there will ALWAYS be an inconsistency or error. That’s just what happens when you’re so close to something. Give your book to family and friends to read and ask for their honest opinions. Once you’ve ironed out some bugs, give it to people who love to read fantasy and see what they think. If you’re struggling to find people to read your story, join a local writer’s group or look for one online. Once you’ve ironed out any remaining issues, it’s time to hand it over to a professional editor.

Good luck on your fantastical writing journey!

About Amie Irene Winters


Amie Irene Winters is the award-winning author of the YA fantasy series Strange Luck. Before settling down as a full-time novelist, Amie had a lot of unique experiences - from participating in archaeological digs and survival camping in the Rocky Mountains to writing grants and designing natural history museum exhibits. When not writing, she can be found hiking with her dog, baking desserts, or unleashing her energy through kickboxing.

Find Amie online: Website / Blog / Newsletter / Twitter / Pinterest

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Are you an aspiring fantasy writer? Will you be following Amie's tips? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Spotlight: First Taken, Last Released by Howard Fields

Donald Trump's calls for interning Muslims and the upcoming 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that prompted the time when America did intern an entire class of people make First Taken, Last Released: Overlooked WWII Internment a timely read.

A short and easy read, the book follows one of the first 160 men taken from churches, temples or homes in Honolulu before the smoke cleared over Pearl Harbor. He and about 1,700 others were taken in Hawaii during the next several weeks, long before the more than 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were taken on the West Coast beginning in February, 1942.


Much has been written of those 120,000, mostly families, but there is little about the first men taken and held in men-only barbed-wire camps for the duration of the war. Some, as with the subject of First Taken, were not released until three months after formal surrender by Japan on Sept. 2, 1945.

These men were moved from camp to camp, in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Louisiana, Montana and then New Mexico with little, if any, contact with families or friends. The man we follow, a Buddhist minister, had sent his family to Japan before the war to be educated there, and they were trapped there when the war broke out. One son survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, another endured two years in a slave labor camp in Siberia, kept on the edge of starvation.

First Taken also is important for its new perspective on the lead-up to the Japan attack on Pearl Harbor. It relies on its own translations of recently released transcripts of the meetings of Japan's leadership, including Emperor Hirohito, in which they discussed whether to attack. It shows the extreme dysfunction of Japan's leadership at the time.

That, and other parallels with the U.S. leadership today, should send chills up the spines of Americans and the rest of the world as a presidential candidate calls for a return to those days of internment and belligerence.

First Taken, and the book from which it was extracted, Tommy's Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back, are available in the usual places: Amazon, by order from a book store probably no longer near you, or directly from the publisher.

About Howard Fields


Howard Fields is a semi-retired author, after a 35-year journalism career in Washington, D.C. Now in Hawaii, he established his own publishing house and authored First Taken, Last Released, which follows one of the very first 160 of those men through his four-year ordeal. Shinri Sarashina, a Buddhist minister in Hawaii, was moved with no advance notice from camp to camp, all men-only, and no contact with family or children until he was among the last few dozen released three months after Japan's formal surrender.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Poetry Block: The Golden Despair by Shubhi Raghav

Welcome to the first ever edition of my brand new blog feature, Poetry Block! 

The aim of Poetry Block is to banish the preconceived ideas a lot of people have about poetry, and to introduce a fresh wave of exciting and innovative poets, and their work, to you, my lovely readers.

Kicking us off is 16-year-old poet Shubhi Raghav, sharing one of the poems from her debut anthology, The Golden Despair.

Home.

Not the four cemented walls
but a heaven, my hall

i lay limp again on here
body breathing useless air
the rain and tears, synchronized
a broken heart trying to fix itself
a million pieces shattered there
giving up on the masterpiece

whimpering and looking
for that light to heal the sores
breathing heavy
as if i have lived my years
and now it's time to take the blade
and throw the paradox into hell

countless nights spent alone
burning wishes hoped no more
creaky silence still remains
the crooked eye from timeless pain
disappear into dust
for only then can there be end to lust
and hopefully I find my home
and spend no more worries alone.

About Shubhi Raghav


Currently, quite young and new to the world, Shubhi Raghav voices her opinion through poetry. It has been a way for her to clear her mind and maintain a positive outlook towards everything. These poems highlight parts of her life when she discovered intriguing feelings and emotions that affected her in such a way that she couldn’t simply ignore them. It was the freedom of expression in poetry that inspired her to write these poems. She says, “Many believe that a picture can tell you what words never will, but I believe that words can paint the pictures that one cannot draw."

The Golden Despair is available to buy now.

Are you a poet who would like to be featured in the next edition of Poetry Block? Get in touch via social media or the contact form in the sidebar to the right of the page. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Guest Post: Introducing the Locations Behind the Books by Jeff Widmer

In fiction, when does setting become character? When does location move from background to foreground?

Readers from New York to Newcastle have called out locales they recognise in my CW McCoy series of crime novels. Even with altered geography and names, those places seem to resonate like the images in a dream...or a nightmare.

They did with me while I was doing research for Tourist in Paradise, the second in the series that kicked off last year with Peak Season, Candace McCoy’s debut novel set in a tony beach town on the sunny southeastern coast of Florida.

Here, then, are some of the images that inspired the characters that inhabit those books. With winter closing on the British Isles, maybe they’ll inspire you, too.


Sarasota Marina, similar to the one where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in the CW McCoy novels.


Sansara condos in Sarasota, one of the models for the massive DeSoto Park complex in Tourist in Paradise.


Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, where CW and Tony Delgado meet in Peak Season.


The Sarasota skyline inspired creation of CW McCoy’s Spanish Point.


Drumming the sun down at Siesta Beach, where CW finds a second body in Peak Season.

About Jeff Widmer


Jeff Widmer is the author of four novels and two books of nonfiction. He lives in Florida, not far from where Horace Rumpole hung up his shingle in the John Mortimer novels. Jeff can be reached through his website.

Detective CW McCoy surrenders her gun, her badge, and her confidence after shooting a fellow police officer. Moving to Southwest Florida to recover and care for her ailing grandfather, CW swears off violence until a fugitive kidnaps her family and she’s forced to decide which side of the law she’s on.

Set in the tiny beach town of Spanish Point during the height of the tourist rush, Peak Season marks the debut of an investigator confronting the most dangerous enemy of all...her own fears.


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Do you recognise any of the locations in the books? Let me know in the comments below!